Both Michael Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann believes the tough test against Scotland is great preparation for teams the USMNT may face in Brazil next summer.

United States player ratings vs. Honduras

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SANDY, Utah – How the United States men did individually in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium:

GK Tim Howard (7): Was only asked to do something beyond routine when Andy Najar got loose late in the first half, parrying the Honduran blast, and in stoppage time in pushing away a ball with a heavy-impact collision surely coming. Otherwise, claimed a couple of potentially dicey, low crosses after the break and beyond that … just offered some pats on the back here  and there for the inexperienced center backs in front of him.

RB Brad Evans (5): As a stop-gap defender, the Seattle Sounders’ utility knife did fine once again. But there were definitely times when Evans needed to be more aggressive with the ball, to turn and take on a defender rather than playing balls safely rearward, to push further up the wing the way Fabian Johnson was on the other side. This is where Steve Cherundolo was so sorely missed – because the veteran right back would have been more comfortable in adding further push up the right side.

CB Omar Gonzalez (6): Still some wobbles here and there in his game, like the bad give-away that led to an early Honduran free kick in a spot where no team wants to face them. Afterward was happy to distribute with the safety cap on, so to speak, allowing Michael Bradley and Matt Besler to direct the chancy stuff the rest of the half. A couple of nice passes early in the second half seemed to restore confidence to his efforts out of the back.

CB Matt Besler (7): Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, who was better than his central partner in this one. (And some of those clearances were quite important ones, not the easiest to handle, either.) Easily the better passer of the two central stoppers. One hiccup was a big one, dispossessed by Andy Najar, and the former D.C. United midfielder got a good chance out of it.

LB Fabian Johnson (7): Once again tucked into the left back slot (for the suspended Damarcus Beasley), Johson may have been the top U.S. attacker in the first half, combining well with Eddie Johnson in front of him and delivering several well-placed balls into scoring areas. Honduras paid more attention to Johnson after the break, but he picked his spots and was dashing once again into position as Graham Zusi dummied Clint Dempsey’s through ball, leaving it for the U.S. left back to arrange a game-winner. Defensively he was solid, with just a couple of lost challenges.

MF Jermaine Jones (5): Jones has been sharper with the ball; a few too many forced efforts toward Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore marked this night. And giving up two free kicks in the defensive third could have turned to disaster. He did have his moments, like winning a bunch of midfield headers, and like a big 33rd-minute run through the heart of the Honduran defense.  That one earned the United States a dangerous free kick and saw the first visitor booked. Managed to keep his cool despite some rough stuff inside. And Tuesday saw a return to some of the old communication issues with Bradley, as in, who holds the screening job and who pushes forward?

MF Michael Bradley (6): As usual, he called the shots in midfield, although finding the holes in a well-organized defensive midfield triangle (within Honduras’ 4-3-3) proved tricky. Pushed forcefully with the ball through midfield twice in the first half as a useful change of pace, something Bradley appears to have added to his game lately. Tried the Route 1 approach a few times with marginal success as the United States probed for ways through. Mostly, Bradley was his usual tidy and considered self in possession.

RW Graham Zusi (7): He was one of the main guys who “turned up the tempo,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said, after intermission. Rather tame in the first 45 (other than those sharp set piece hits, which are almost always well targeted), Zusi found more places to be effective. He suffered in the first 45 a bit from Evans’ inability to get forward more aggressively, which would have prevented Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre from latching onto Zusi so tightly.

MF Clint Dempsey (6):  While Dempsey didn’t always find ways to be useful beyond the 18, and while he wasn’t always expertly linked into Altidore’s movements, he certainly managed to find opportunities near goal – which really is what Dempsey’s game is about. Probably should have done better with an uncontested header off Zusi’s corner kick just 8 minutes in. On the other hand, he probably should have earned a penalty kick during that mad scramble-jamble of the 64th minute, when his header near goal hit Wilson Palacios’ arm. Dempsey did work more into the game in the second half, and it was his shrewd through ball that sprang the only goal.

LW Eddie Johnson (6):  Started on the left, swapping sides from last week but in the same essential role. And he swapped liberally with Zusi throughout Tuesday. Drew an early foul for a U.S. free kick (but soon fouled Roger Espinoza to create an early, dangerous free kick for the visitors.) Found ways to put his speed to good use at times and was generally good in possession.  Johnson did fall asleep once on defense, and was beaten here and there, but that’s what you get when you ask a striker to fulfill additional defensive duties as a winger/midfielder.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): Where would the United States qualifying be right now if not for this guy? There was precious little room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post, but the United States’ brilliantly in-form striker found it with the well-targeted, calm and technical finish. (The U.S. striker also had a sweet finish in the 59th minute, but he was two steps offside on Dempsey’s through ball.)  Altidore was not as proficient as a week ago with the little flicks and the other technical work 20-30 yards form goal, but he still managed some effective target play. Oh! And the game-winning goal, of course.

Subs:

Brad Davis, 73rd minute for Zusi (6) – A swell run in the 82nd minute earned a great scoring chance on a free kick. Tracked back like a pro to help kill the game.

Geoff Cameron, 73rd minute for Jones (7) – By his third minute, had already delivered more telling balls forward than Jones. The guy really covers ample ground with those long strides. Another solid shift as a holding mid.

Edgar Castillo, 87th for Eddie Johnson (NR) – Brought on late for additional defensive help.

 

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, buys $725 million Texas ranch

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Well, Arsenal fans, you know that big splash in the transfer market you were hoping for? Umm, this is awkward.

[ MORE: Leicester fan set for huge bet win ]

Okay so maybe the majority shareholder of the Gunners, American billionaire Stan Kronke, isn’t directly responsible for pumping Arsene Wenger‘s transfer war chest full of money but imagine if he’d offered to give Arsenal $725 million rather than buying this incredible ranch in Texas?

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Kroenke sealed the deal for the legendary Waggoner Ranch in Texas — the largest ranch within one fence-line — and he now owns over 865,000 acres of land which easily placed him among the top 10 largest landowners in the USA.

That land also equates to three times the size of the City of Los Angeles which is the city, coincidentally, that Kroenke has just moved his Rams NFL franchise to from St. Louis.

SO, what do you get for $725 million at the Waggoner Ranch? 14,000 cows, 500 horses and 1,100 producing oil wells to start with. It also lies in six counties, has 30 cowboys on the property and 120 employees overall.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

What would you get in the soccer world for $725 million? Well, Wenger could probably sign Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo plus pay their wages and still have some cash left over.

Don’t get carried away though, Arsenal’s sustainable business model has seen them rise up the rankings in Forbes’ rich list and there will be no haphazard spending anytime soon. Much to the annoyance of every super-ambitious Arsenal fan out there.

That includes you, Piers Morgan…

Here’s a few pictures of what Kroenke has just bought. Preseason tour to Texas for a but of lassoing with Alexis Sanchez, Mr. Wenger?

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

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With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.