US standings

Big opportunity ahead as United States faces Honduras in World Cup qualifying action

1 Comment

SALT LAKE CITY – The United States has done such great work over the last two weeks, scooping up valuable points and invaluable momentum in the reach for a seventh consecutive World Cup, putting itself in such swell positioning ahead of a summer international break.

It really would be such a shame to fumble away all that momentum now.

So manager Jurgen Klinsmann is stressing the need to finish strong, to take care of the details and to demonstrate the kind of 24/7, ultimately focused regional watchdog approach – the one he has worked to build over two years – Tuesday against a vulnerable Honduran bunch.

Klinsmann’s team has so much going for it at the moment, starting with the momentum of a three-game winning streak. A 4-3 victory over Germany may have been a meaningless friendly, but it became a springboard of confidence before a highly meaningful World Cup qualifier win in Jamaica, then a boss-man performance in last week’s 2-0 win in Seattle over Panama.

The praise flew effusive for that one, probably the most complete match yet in 22 months under the German manager. Plus, it had the crowd sing-songy with the “We are going to Brazil! …. ” bit.

Not yet. Not exactly. But the United States sits majestically in first place in the six-team final round group, with three of the final five matches at home. “At home” is massive in these qualifiers as the United States has not lost one on U.S. soil since 2001. The team is 22-0-2 in that time.

Kickoff at sold-out Rio Tinto is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN  and in Spanish on UniMas.

“As you see, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said Monday. “We’re playing really good soccer. When we’re losing the ball, we’re fighting hard to win in right back real quick, making good decisions in the attacking third and scoring goals. It’s about keeping that going and, like Jurgen said, keeping that consistency.”

(MORE: Starting the vacation right, by feeling extra good about things)

(MORE: U.S.-Honduras lineup prediction)

Generally speaking, Honduras always looked like the tougher of two opponents in the States over the past week. Panama, frankly, proved a pretty tame opponent in last week’s memorable encounter in Seattle.

Honduras has talent to go with a true grit and big belief, and it was no accident that the Catrachos qualified for World Cup 2010. Two years later the under-23s were a real revelation during the London Olympics.

But the team has critical absences, notably to commanding center back Victor Bernardez. He would have been the chief obstacle for U.S. striker Jozy Altidore, the young U.S. striker who has shushed his critics with a goal in each of the last three U.S. matches.

Starting midfielder Luis Garrido is also suspended for Honduras and forward Jerry Bengtson, who struck the game-winner past Tim Howard in February, has left the team in playing-time feud with manager Luis Suarez. Finally, Honduras will also miss injured, wiry attacker and winger Oscar Boniek Garcia, who gave the United States real problems last time these guys met.

(MORE: Which is the bigger personnel loss for Honduras)

That was in Honduras in February, a 2-1 win for Honduras that ignited the latest predictable moment of “crisis” for U.S. Soccer. It happens once or twice each World Cup cycle, when the fandom and the chattering class fall over backward in disgust as the United States stumbles in one of these tricky Central American or Caribbean.

The United States is in such a vastly different place for tonight’s match inside Rio Tinto Stadium, situated wonderfully at the base of the Wasatch Mountains and home to Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.

Klinsmann has lineup choices ahead: Who replaces DaMarcus Beasley (suspended due to yellow card accumulation)? Does midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones get back into the lineup following his concussion recovery? Is there a place for Eddie Johnson, who held his own along the right in Seattle last week?

Presumably, Graham Zusi will be back into his spot along the right side after missing the win over Panama due to yellow card build-up.

(MORE: Jermaine Jones cleared to play)

The United States is already well positioned and another win Tuesday would leave the drive for Brazil 2014 in glorious shape. In all likelihood, Klinsmann’s team would need just one more win in the final four matches to officially qualify for Brazil. They could probably even make it with just a couple of ties – not that anybody wants to limp into a World Cup leaking momentum that way.

But first things first, and that means taking care of business Tuesday in Utah, where it will be windy and quite warm in the thin air. Honduras will be physical and tactically well organized, probably looking to concede possession and make the United States work especially hard once they reach the scoring third of the field.

“There is no easy game at all anymore,” Klinsmann said of the CONCACAF region. “You first have to somehow break them down, score your first goal and go from there. If you don’t break them down, which happened down in Mexico a few times, you struggle. Because teams are physically very strong, they keep the pace high with you, they keep the rhythm and they are tactically very well organized. They all go behind the ball once they lose it. There’s always a wall of nine or ten guys behind the ball.”

(MORE: United States notes ahead of the match)

(MORE: The atmosphere has been rocking at U.S. matches, and will be again)

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur battles with Kenedy of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Chelsea leads all-time: 65W-39D-50L
  • Spurs 8 back of Leicester
  • Clubs drew 0-0 in November

If Spurs want to keep their unlikely title charge alive, they’ll need to start in a historically difficult place (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Tottenham heads to Chelsea on Monday knowing a win at Stamford Bridge would be their first road London Derby win over the Blues since 1990.

[ MORE: Vardy wins English Player of the Year award ]

Spurs are leading the form table with 14 points from its last six matches, but hasn’t been able to gain ground on Leicester and would forfeit their title chances by losing even a single point on Monday.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa is 10th in the Premier League in goals with 11, but that’s 13 back of league leader Harry Kane. The Spurs forward has a one goal edge on Sergio Aguero and two on Jamie Vardy with two weeks left in the season.

What they’re saying

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink on Monday’s match: “That’s almost a personal challenge, but whoever will play in defence will like that challenge with Harry Kane. He is having an admirable season. He has maintained his form [from last season] and is doing very well.”

Harry Kane on trying to topple Chelsea“Playing London rivals is always a big game for us and this is no different. With the situation that we’re in as well, I’m sure Chelsea will be wanting to try to beat us but we’ve got to be prepared for that and make sure we go out there, play the way we have been and really take the game to them.

“We try to play the same way every game – we try to attack, play good football, keep possession and press high. We’ll do the same this week. Chelsea know the way we’re going to play but hopefully if we do it well enough they won’t be able to stop it.”

Prediction

Will Leicester’s miracle run to the Premier League title be completed while the Foxes crowd around a television? It wouldn’t fit the story line, but we have a feeling Chelsea has enough in the tank to make a season-ending stop. 1-1.

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy wins English player of year award

FILE - This is a Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 file photo of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy as he celebrates his goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Leicester City at St James' Park, Newcastle, England. Jamie Vardy’s unconventional route to the English Premier League’s record book began with heartbreaking rejection at 16 and back-breaking work in a carbon-fiber factory.  (AP Photo/Scott Heppell) UNITED KINGDOM OUT  NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
AP Photo/Scott Heppell
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Leicester forward Jamie Vardy has won England’s Footballer of the Year award on the day his team could clinch an unlikely Premier League title.

The Football Writers’ Association said Leicester players swept the top three places and seven in total got votes for the award seen as the most prestigious individual prize in England.

Vardy won 36 percent of journalists’ votes “making him a clear winner” ahead of teammates Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, the writers’ organization said Monday.

[ MORE: Ranieri up in the air while Spurs play Chelsea ]

“It’s been an amazing season for all of us at Leicester, based on the teamwork not individuals, which you can see in the voting,” Vardy said in a statement. The 29-year-old forward gets the honor just four years after playing in the fifth-tier division.

His 22 Premier League goals include a streak of scoring in 11 consecutive early-season matches, which launched Leicester’s historic title challenge after being a 5,000-1 outsider.

Vardy also scored his first goals for England, against Germany and the Netherlands, in March.

Leicester will win the league with two rounds to spare if second-placed Tottenham fails to win at Chelsea later Monday. Victory for Leicester at home to Everton on Saturday would also secure the title.

Leicester swept the main individual awards, after 17-goal Mahrez won the players’ vote last week.

Coach Claudio Ranieri is near-certain to win the manager of the year award later this month.

Champions League: Bayern Munich promise “fireworks” vs. Atletico Madrid

Atletico's Gimenez, left, and Bayern's Robert Lewandowski challenge for the ball during the Champions League 1st leg semifinal soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
AP Photo/Paul White
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) Thomas Mueller has promised “fireworks” as Bayern Munich seeks to overturn a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid and reach the Champions League final, where Real Madrid or Manchester City await.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Five-time champion Bayern could go out to Spanish opposition at the semifinal stage for the third straight season, after defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015.

Saul Niguez’ brilliant strike in the first leg in Spain is the difference between the sides. Another Bayern fightback in front of 70,000 fans is expected Tuesday, with Pep Guardiola’s side counting on the spirit that helped it recover from 2-0 down against Juventus to win 4-2 after extra time earlier in the campaign.

Guardiola still hopes to lead Bayern to the treble and match the feat of his predecessor Jupp Heynckes in his last season before he leaves for City.

City could yet meet its future coach in the final if it completes the job against Madrid on Wednesday. After a scoreless first leg in Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side knows a score-draw will be enough to reach the final for the first time.

[ MORE: Man City, Real Madrid draw | Atleti top Bayern at home ]

Here is a closer look at this week’s Champions League matches:

Bayern missed the chance to clinch its fourth successive Bundesliga title on Saturday, when it was clear that thoughts were already on Atletico’s visit.

With the league title all but certain to arrive sooner or later, Guardiola decided to rest Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski in the 1-1 draw against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

“Tuesday’s match is going to be different, we have to play better then,” Guardiola said.

Since losing the 2014 semifinal to Madrid, Bayern has won all 11 Champions League games at home.

[ MORE: Ronaldo back in training three days before decider vs. Man City ]

However, Bayern has been made to sweat in the Champions League this season, leaving it very late against Juventus and scraping past Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.

“The assurance has suffered a bit the last few weeks,” Mueller said. “We stand together well as a team but it’s no longer as easy as it was.”

Most fans were surprised to see Mueller starting the first leg in Madrid on the bench. The 26-year-old scored his 20th league goal of the season Saturday, bringing his tally across all competitions to 32, and it was his injury-time goal that forced extra time against Juventus.

If Bayern had trouble breaking through Atletico’s defense in Madrid, it will now have to deal with the addition of Diego Godin to the Spanish team’s backline. Godin, a key player for Atletico, and winger Yannick Carrasco were both cleared to play on Sunday after recovering from injuries.

Coach Diego Simeone also rested most of his first-choice players over the weekend, starting only four players from his lineup that beat Bayern. Atletico won 1-0 against Rayo Vallecano to stay level on points with league leader Barcelona.

MLS Snapshot: Sporting KC 1-1 LA Galaxy (video)

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, front, works in front of the net while covered by Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme, back, during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): In theory, playing with a man advantage is supposed to provide just that — an advantage. In practice, it’s been a largely fruitless exercise for Sporting Kansas City in 2016. Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC have played 153 minutes with a man advantage (four red cards shown to opponents on the season), and scored all of one goal on the season, all the way back on the opening day of the season. Ashley Cole was the latest to see red against Sporting (video below – if you’re anything other than a Chelsea fan, you’ll enjoy this one), and once again Peter Vermes’ side failed to hit pay dirt in the game’s final 20 minutes. The draw sees the two sides pick up a point each, with the Galaxy climbing one spot in the Western Conference standings, up to fourth, while Sporting hold steady in sixth.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

30′ — Davis curls a left-footed beauty for 1-0 — Attention, defenders of MLS; Brad Davis’s left foot — it’s still good.

42′ — Dos Santos finishes off a devastating counter — In the blink of an eye, from one end of the field to the other, and the Galaxy were back on level terms through Giovani dos Santos. Cheeky, cheeky.

70′ — Cole sees two yellows in the span of 13 seconds — Cole has mostly flown under the radar while in MLS. That is no longer the case.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Roger Espinoza

Goalscorers: Davis (30′), Dos Santos (42′)