Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans

Can the United States deal with success vs. Honduras?

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SALT LAKE CITY – History has taught us that the United States national team is often at its best when backed into a corner, when belief in the team among the great unwashed drop to low ebb.

It’s been this way going back to Bob Bradley’s days in charge and even before; the days under Jurgen Klinsmann look little different. Players have spoken lately about the loss to Honduras in February, about how the team rallied around it, fueled by the in-house heat generated that night in San Pedro Sula.

Some of the same key figures (Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley most notably) were stuck in the Confederations Cup mud four years ago. They fell hard to Brazil (3-0) top open the tourney, and that was three losses in four overall. Consternation rose to crescendo status.

But the telling response came in a huge win over Egypt, setting the stage for a signature win over mighty Spain to gain a spot in the Confeds Cup final.

(MORE: U.S.-Honduras match preview)

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

The team is at its best when realization kicks in that ever ball must be contested, when every detail must be fretted over. When the U.S. men grind their teeth and dig in. The collective U.S. talent still isn’t at a place where 80 or 90 percent is good enough. They still have to channel that inner mad dog, reaching into the stores of  “fighting spirit” and optimism (attributes that at one time were pretty much all the United States had).

Which brings us to tonight’s match in suburban Sandy, just outside Salt Lake City. Things are going just swimmingly for the United States, with Klinsmann’s kids now so well positioned in the reach for Rio.

A centerpiece of Klinsmann’s initiative in 22 months in charge has been the effort to foster consistency, to dislodge the comfort zones and help ensure that nothing is ever taken for granted. We have arrived at the perfect proving ground to demonstrate progress.

Honduras may be wounded, but there is a big belief and spirit within the emerging soccer nation. (Emerging on a performance scale, that is, not in terms of broader regard for the game.) The Catrachos will make Klinsmann’s team work hard tonight – and any momentary loss of focus, any drop in intensity, any wavering in the recent display of good decision making could be punished. And fast.

Backs against the wall? That’s Honduras. The United States is sitting pretty – so let’s see how Klinsmann’s team handles it.

For all the improvement and forward progress lately (and credit for all of it) this is one thing the team has yet to prove it  can do under the current man in charge.

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

(MORE: Match preview for U.S.-Honduras)

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.