Preview: USA aim for yet another win vs. old foes Costa Rica

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  • The US have won seven straight games
  • Wondolowski has scored six goals in three games
  • All-time US vs. Costa Rica record, 12-12-6

A feisty and lively encounter will take place as the US national team and Costa Rica meet at Rentschler Field at 8pm ET tonight.

The Gold Cup Group C finale will have an extra edge to it, despite both teams already through to the quarterfinals. But more on that shortly.

With a huge crowd expected in Hartford, the outcome of tonight’s clash will determine which nation faces the easier route to the last four, as the Group C runner-up will have a tough test against Honduras in the quarters.

Here is where it gets even more interesting.

These sides last met in March, in a controversial game that will undoubtedly spill over into tonight’s contest. Costa Rica unsuccessfully petitioned to postpone and reschedule their 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss in near white-out conditions in Commerce City, Colorado. Clint Dempsey scored the winner but as the snowy conditions worsened during the 90 minutes, Los Ticos were clearly unhappy that the game was taking place.

And they may still be harboring grudges about that defeat when kick off rolls around this evening. Expect some hefty challenges from both sides as these CONCACAF powerhouses lock horns in Hartford. Currently the USA sit top of the Hexagonal for World Cup qualifying but Costa Rica are in second place and just two points behind the Yanks. This is about more than Gold Cup standings. Trust me.

(MORE: Rehashing the Kyle Beckerman-USMNT argument. Yes, again.)

Over the years there hasn’t been much to separate the nations, who are dead even at 12-12-6. However the Nats are undefeated against Costa Rica (5-0-1) in the Gold Cup. And after their recent rich-vein of form the USA can win their eighth straight match.

Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to put out a full-strength team to try and secure the best possible passage through to the Gold Cup final, while Costa Rica have several players MLS fans will know well, such as Alvaro Saborio, Rodney Wallace, Jairo Arrieta and Roy Miller. Going forward Costa Rica have struggled thus far in the Gold Cup, while the US are quite the opposite as they lead the way with 10 goals scored in their two opening games. Red-hot forward Chris Wondolowski has five of them.

What they’re saying

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Costa Rica: “Tomorrow we’ll [put out] our best lineup because we want to win this game. Absolutely. We want to send out a signal. We want to see where we’re at right now. We all understand that the previous games we were expected to win and also expected to put some goals in. We know that this is now the first real test for us with this group. We are very well aware of the challenge Costa Rica pose. It’s one of the toughest opponents in CONCACAF.”

US striker Chris Wondolowski on his hot streak: “Yeah, definitely. I think I’m very confident in my play and I think just even getting the goals is so huge. I’m feeling more confident in my passing and in my touch and things like that where it’s really helping me, and it’s really raising my level.”

Costa Rica head coach Jorge Luis Pinto on the US: “We have to know how to control the game. We know they have a lot of important players in the attack. Donovan is raising his game, Corona sees the field and opens it well, Beckerman is someone who provides quite a bit and [Diskerud], too. At the same time, we have to make the U.S. think about us a bit, too.”

Pinto on the snowy defeat in March: “I’ve said 10,000 times that no we shouldn’t have [played that game in those conditions]. It was absurd. After the game, everyone from federations and from soccer around the world said that didn’t make any sense. No one in their right mind would have allowed a match like that to be played.”

(MORE: Klinsmann keeps working hard to establish a “No complacency!” zone)

Prediction

I can see a really entertaining game taking place up in Connecticut tonight, both teams have nothing to lose and want to send out a message ahead of the final few games of World Cup qualifying. Klinsmann will want another offensive outburst but the U.S. must sharpen things up at the back because Costa Rica have some real stars like Saborio who can change a game in an instance. I’m going for a U.S. win, but only just. A high scoring draw is also in the cards but I think the home crowd will roar the USMNT onto yet another victory.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

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One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.