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

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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)

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UCL AT HALF: Man City, Celtic in thriller; Walcott driving Arsenal

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  David Silva of Manchester City runs with the ball uner pressure from Nir Bitton of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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The goals have been flying in around Europe, as the UEFA Champions League treks on through the group stage with an octet of Wednesday games.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Celtic 2-2 Manchester City

The Scots have opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho has one for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things in a thriller at Celtic Park.

Arsenal 2-0 Basel

A Theo Walcott brace has the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 Barcelona

Well, well, well… the middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, had staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot.

Elsewhere
Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 PSG — Matuidi nabs equalizer
Napoli 1-0 Benfica — Hamsik scores for hosts
Besiktas 1-0 Dynamo Kyiv — Quaresma the scorer
FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven — Two for Dmitri Poloz

LIVE, UCL group stage: Celtic-Man City, Arsenal-Basel, Atletico-Bayern

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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We have another packed slate of UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday as Groups A through D are in action across Europe.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Manchester City head to Celtic and Pep Guardiola‘s boy can expect a cauldron of noise at Celtic Park, while Arsenal host Basel at the Emirates. Elsewhere a mouthwatering clashing takes place in the Spanish capital where Atletico Madrid host German giants Bayern Munich.

City will be hoping to avoid an upset ahead of their next two UCL games against Pep’s old side, Barcelona, while Arsene Wenger will look to build on Arsenal’s solid draw away at PSG in their Group A opener two weeks ago.

All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.

Wednesday UCL schedule

Celtic vs. Manchester City
Arsenal vs. Basel
Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Barcelona
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Benfica
Besiktas vs. Dynamo Kyiv
FC Rostov vs. PSV Eindhoven

Men In Blazers podcast: Arsene Wenger on 20 years at Arsenal

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Roger Bennett
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Rog talks with Arsene Wenger about his 20 years as manager of Arsenal Football Club, the Premier League’s changing landscape, and what motivates him to continue.

Rog’s film, “Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger,” airs on NBCSN Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Vieira embracing life in New York City as NYCFC continue to flourish

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Patrick Vieira is making the most of life in New York City as he team continue to become a major player in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Born in Dakar, Senegal, Vieira explores New York in his spare time and often visits Harlem to eat in authentic African restaurants as he enjoys the rich cultural offerings of the Big Apple.

In his debut season as a head coach at the senior level, Vieria, 40, has already enjoyed plenty of success, leading New York City FC to the playoffs in Major League Soccer in just their second season as a franchise. His star is rising as a coach.

With impressive performances on the pitch from star names Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, plus youngsters Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton and Steven Mendoza emerging, all is well at Yankee Stadium as Vieira and NYCFC prepare for the postseason.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a community event to promote healthy eating among children in Harlem, which Vieira attended alongside NYCFC’s Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, defender Jason Hernandez and Lampard, the former French national team captain revealed just how much importance he places on his team being an integral part of the NYC community.

“It is really important for us because we have some responsibility in the community as well,” Vieira said. “These kids are New York City FC fans and to get the chance to meet some of the players, to come to this event, it is really important and we know that New York is a big city with the five boroughs so it is important for the supporters to be involved in all of the five boroughs.”

As a second-year team, NYCFC has continued its impressive attendance records in MLS with an average crowd of over 26,000 in the Bronx making them the fourth best supported team in the league. They are always trying to find new ways to connect with the vibrant community they’ve only recently become a huge part of.

Speaking passionately about how he wants his team to not only win games but represent NYC in an authentic manner through their play on the pitch, it is clear Vieira feels at home in the hustle and bustle of the USA’s largest city.

“That is the aim. That is what we try to do, to represent New York City. I strongly believe that the city is really dynamic city, 24 hours a day there is something to do and this is how we want to represent the city,” Vieira said. “We want to be really offensive, really dynamic and play with a lot of energy. Of course it is not going to be easy but we need to find a way to do it because we want to represent the city.”

But how exactly does that mantra manifest itself on the pitch in their style of play?

“It is about attacking football, an attacking way of playing, it is scoring goals and I think at times we have done it quite while,” Vieira admitted. “It is also to play with a lot of energy, passion and for the players to give 100 percent. You can win the game, you can lose the game… but what is important is that when the players are on the field, they give everything.”

The pace and passion with which Vieira talks represents the city too. It is full of life and fast.

Vieira was speaking from Ginny’s Supper Club, located in Harlem, as esteemed chef Marcus Samuelsson hosted a “Healthy Hat Trick Cooking Class” for kids from East Harlem’s Lexington Academy. The aim of the event was to teach the children how to cook healthy meals for themselves and Vieira was enthused to connect with a future generation of NYCFC supporters.

“I believe we are in one of the most important places in New York, in Harlem. It is a really authentic place with authentic restaurants and authentic chef, one of the biggest chefs in the world. When you know his story to get to where he is now, for myself and the football club to be here is really important,” Vieira said. “When you look at the kids who are here, they love the game, of course, but I think it is important to explain to them that it is not only football. You can be a chef like Marcus who has been really successful and the interaction between the players, Marcus and the kids has been really good.”

Of course, the main reason Vieira is in New York is to continue his coaching education after excelling as a the leading man for Manchester City’s development squad from 2011-15. The former Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan and Man City midfielder who won the World Cup and European Championships with France is quietly going about his job and is not losing any focus on why he’s taken on a completely new challenge in MLS.

With a steely focus, he is eager to continue to get better each and every day.

“I’m visiting different places [in NYC] but I am here because of my job,” Vieira said. “My number one priority is to do well with the team and to be a better coach every single day. When I have a day off there is a few places I go to visit and of course Harlem is one of them. But I know why I am in New York. It is my priority to be a better coach.”

From the coaching side of things, his opening season in MLS couldn’t have been much better. Sure there’s been some speed bumps along the way but despite making the playoffs by beating the Chicago Fire last Friday in front of their home fans at Yankee Stadium and currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, Vieira wants more. Much more.

“We are in a really good period. We had some ups and downs during the season but to qualify for the playoffs was just a small step to what we want to do as a football club. We want to be successful. We want to win silverware. Of course being in the playoffs is a step up but it is just a small one compared to what we want to achieve.”

With New York City FC the top goalscorers in MLS with 55 through 31 regular season games, going into the pivotal final few matches of the regular season with the Conference title on the line, plus with the playoffs lurking, Vieira wants his side to stay true to their playing style despite some criticism about their defensive play this season.

Will the pressure situation of playoff soccer impact that outlook at all?

“What is important is to believe in ourselves. We managed to play some games really well to get to the playoffs but the playoffs is of course, win and you keep going, lose and you’re out. I want us to really focus on what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season,” Vieira said. “I think we’ve had a clear philosophy of how we want to play and we have to stick to that philosophy and not try to do something that we didn’t try already and which didn’t work. I think our togetherness has helped us to be there and we just have to believe in that.”

Veterans Lampard, Villa and Pirlo will play a key role in the postseason and Vieira is counting on them to led the team.

“They have a lot of experience on the field and off the field, so that’s why they will help and be really important in the playoff time,” Vieira added. “I am really quite pleased because I have a really good mix between young players and experienced players and I think if we manage that well, we will give ourselves some more chances.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In his debut season in MLS, there’s been widespread chatter about how impressive Vieira has seamlessly handled the challenge of moving to a new country, plus coaching in a new league while he is still developing himself as a coach.

When it comes to what Vieira expected of MLS, he has been pleasant surprised be all that he’s experienced in NYC, so far.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived but I am happily surprised because there are a lot of good players, it is really competitive and the atmosphere in the stadiums is really good. I have really enjoyed my experiences, so far.”