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Three good questions for Clint Dempsey – Part III: Shunning complacency, and his second season at Tottenham Hotspur

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Hang around Clint Dempsey for a few minutes, and the words “get better” or  “improve” will soon spill out of his soft rural drawl.

These are the words and tenets around which the Tottenham Hotspur and U.S. international attacker have built a highly successful career. He seeks out betterment with a no-nonsense, businesslike focus, the way a bomb-sniffing dog, utterly unaware of distraction, diligently scans for the potential menace.

Complacency never an option, Dempsey got better every year at New England, leading to his recruitment at Fulham. Once ensconced at Craven Cottage, Dempsey kept the career curve pointed north, finding more grind and smarts in his game every year, adding to his personal bag of tricks while driving toward the goal of a bigger club.

A club like Spurs.

Dempsey’s first season at White Hart Lane was sure-footed enough. The U.S. man finished third in goals and second in assist with Spurs, starting in 32 matches and appearing in 43 overall.

But the numbers Dempsey would like to repeat: those 17 EPL strikes and 23 in all competitions for Fulham in the breakthrough 2011-12 season. That’s what he wants.

We’ll see …

In time arranged by Spurs and the United States national team, I talked to Dempsey on Saturday. (This is the third of three parts of the interview.)

Q: Your early days at White Hart Lane certainly could have been easier; getting into the team so late and then playing catch-up on fitness is hardly ideal. But manager Andre Villas-Boas seemed to demonstrate faith in your abilities straight away. Did that help push things along?

Yeah. He believed in me, gave me a chance to be out there and try to prove myself. I was unlucky in that first game at home, I would have scored goal in my first game at home [Sept. 20 in Europa League vs. Lazio] if I wasn’t offside. That might have gotten things rolling for me sooner, but it took just a little longer. But then I got my first goal, an away game at Old Trafford. It was first time we won there in quite a few years [since 1989]. So that was a good debut goal to get. So, yeah, he showed faith in me and I tried to repay him by getting some goals in some big games.”

“Toward the end of the stretch, I got my fair share, but obviously I would have liked to have done better and gotten to those levels that I got to in my last year at Fulham. Hopefully, that’s something I can strive for next year at Tottenham.”

Q: Everybody’s name gets tossed into the media’s transfer-madness meat grinder. Yours did in May, and I read that AVB might be willing to part with you because he likes players able to perform strictly defined roles; your game has always been harder to define. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that?

You always just go out and try to do the best you can. I’ve been told I can play a number of positions.  I feel like I’m a pretty complete player. But you just try to go work as hard as you can, to fight for your spot and get on the field. That won’t be any different. Far as I know, I will be there for the next three years. I go into preseason doing what I do every year, play hard, try to get into the team, get as many games as possible, get as many goals and assists I can get. That doesn’t change.”

“He tried me in different positions, and told me what he expected of me. And I would try to go out and perform that. Saying that, he did play me, I got quite a few games last season. Quite a few starts. I was happy with my first season. It was the best season I’ve had in the debut seasons at a club, so I’m happy with that. But like I said, I’m looking to try to get to the level of what I did when I was in my last season at Fulham.”

Q: What are your personal expectations for Year 2 at White Hart Lane? Are you the type to set individual targets on number of goals and such?

You want to play for the top four [in league positioning] every year and try to win silverware and get as far as we can in whatever the competitions were in, Europa League, F.A. Cup, Carling Cup and all of them. You try to get better every year. The focus this season is to try to finish in the top four [in the English Premier League], finish as high as possible and try to win something.

“I just try to better myself every year. I want to be better than what I was last season, obviously. I want to play as many games as I can play and start as many as I can, try to help this team do well. The goals are to try to qualify for champions League and try to win some trophies. If I can play a part in that, I’ll be happy.

“So like I said, I just try to get more goals than I got last seasons and more assists than I got last season, but I don’t put a number on it. Obviously, I’d like to get to those levels that I had with my last season at Fulham, when I got those numbers like I did. That would be a great number to shoot for.”

(MORE: Part I looks at Dempsey’s summers away and his ‘chill’ time)

(MORE: Part II … London calling)

 

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?