Cuba up next for United States national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup

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Cuba is likely to pose a little more threat today than little Belize could to the United States’ stab at dominance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage – but only a little bit more.

There are definitely tougher tasks ahead in the three-week tournament to crown a regional champion in North and Central America and the Caribbean, they are just slow to arrive for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men, who made quick work of its first match, a 6-1 win in Portland.

The team relocated south to Salt Lake City for today’s contest against Cuba, which had  its own troubles in a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica to open the Gold Cup.

It did take the Ticos of Costa Rica 51 minutes to break through on Tuesday, finally bettering the Cuban back line and beating Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina, who looked suspect on more than one of the goals.

”We got a little bit disorganized in the second half, which cost us the result,” Cuban manager Walter Benitez said.

More of the same will surely cost Cuba goals Saturday when the teams line up at Rio Tinto Stadium just outside of Salt Lake City. (Kickoff is set  for 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel.) That’s because fate has intervened to stockpile the U.S. lineup with two or three attackers who might not be around otherwise.

Klinsmann has a “B” team for this tournament, giving some of the top men in the U.S. player pool a few weeks off before they get back into league play in Europe. More accurately, he “mostly” has a “B” team.

Turns out, the national team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan, needed re-introduction into the national team after his well-documented time away from pro soccer. So he was around to strike twice in a 6-0 rout of Guatemala eight days ago, and then to chip in a goal and two assists in an equally dominant 6-1 win over Belize to open the Americans’ Gold Cup account

With the two assists, Donovan became the first national team man record 50 career goals and 50 assists. Not bad for a “B” team type, eh?

Then there’s Stuart Holden, who would definitely be among the first 16-18 players in the U.S. pool but for those career-threatening injuries that stripped away almost two years from the versatile midfielder. The Gold Cup is also Holden’s re-introduction.

(MORE: Player ratings from the win over Guatemala)

(MORE: Player ratings from the 6-0 win over Belize)

Even if the opposition is decidedly of the lightweight variety, Holden’s first two extensive runs in the national team shirt have been wonderfully encouraging for all.

“For me now it’s not a matter of being back, it’s a matter of getting better than that,” Holden said after playing 45 minutes against Belize. “I want to be better than I was before. I want to reach new heights that I didn’t before my injury. In terms of being back, that word is overplayed. I’m there. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and taking it to the next level.”

Brek Shea has also appeared threatening along the U.S. left side in the matches of the last eight days. He was a first-choice type when Klinsmann took the U.S. post almost two years ago, but lost his way amid a string of injuries and a move to Stoke City that has yet to pay dividends.

Klinsmann has personnel choices, like whether to bring Oguchi Onyewu back into the central defense. And whether to get Herculez Gomez back into the starting lineup, which could come at the expense of Chris Wondolowski, who had three goals in a hige night  in Portland against Belize.

With a tougher match coming up against Costa Rica, Klinsmann also has the option of using the match to rest some of the starters and introduce some younger types, like MLS scoring sensation Jack McInerney, who is in his first camp with the senior national team.

“The decisions for Gooch (Onyewu) and Herc (Gomez) were based on the fact that they’ve had knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf field,” Klinsmann said in explaining some of Tuesday’s lineup choices. “The same thing with Stuart Holden was that if we need you, you’ll come off the bench when things open up a little bit. There are always situations when it’s not that kind of style in the game and others have the opportunity. Wondo realizes every minute he’s on the field that he has an opportunity, and he better take it, and he did very well.”

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.