United States v Costa Rica - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup

U.S. national team sets new record after eight straight wins, but what does it really mean?

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s record-breaking side are on a roll.

But in the grand scheme of things, are people getting too excited about wins against minnows Belize, Cuba and Jamaica?

Some may argue you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and that’s true.

But it seems as if every four years or so, this same debate crops up as to how good the USA really are.

Simply put, we all know and acknowledge that the CONCACAF region is severely lagging behind in quality when you look at the likes of UEFA and CONMEBOL.

There’s no shame in admitting that. But it does provide the U.S. with a huge shock every time they reach the World Cup and come up against the world’s elite.

However Klinsmann’s tactic of playing top European nations in friendlies may bear fruit once the U.S. reach the World Cup in Brazil — come on, you’ve already booked your tickets and time off work next June, haven’t you? — next summer, and the fact that we’re already talking about the USMNT’s presence in that competition is a problem.

(MORE: United States nicks Costa Rica on a late goal)

Hexagonal qualifying is what it is. Every time the U.S. compete in it, they suffer one bad loss or tie and blame it on the conditions and environment in a Caribbean or Central American nation. The rest of qualifying, especially the home games, are a piece of cake.

But this is where the current Gold Cup success comes into play. After three wins from three, the USA are clear favorites to win it.

The pressure and winning mentality placed on the shoulders of players who aren’t guaranteed a spot on the World Cup roster is making everyone get better. Fast. Guys like Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman and Joe Corona don’t want to watch the World Cup from their armchair. They are desperate to be there.

As Steve Davis pointed out in the things we learned from last night’s win over Costa Rica, time is running out for some national team players who are making desperate attempts to impress Klinsmann.

In turn, Nats regulars like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are seeing the desire of their teammates to win the Gold Cup this summer and that’s has to be lighting a fire in their belly. Competition for places has never been greater in the U.S. national team. I truly believe that. There’s a solid pool of 35 players who are up to the task of competing for minutes at the World Cup.

That is the real reason why they’ve won eight games in a row. You can point to some shaky displays here and there but they’re getting it done with so many different players and you can’t fault their effort and commitment, as they clamber to make sure they stay in Klinsi’s plans for Brazil 2014.

They’re hungry to succeed and don’t want to be the group of players who lose and are left out of the 23-man squad heading to South America.

Breaking a record is great. Eight straight wins for the first time in U.S. national team history is an amazing achievement.

But I’m extremely confident it’s only the start. And until CONCACAF catches up with the USA, expect plenty more streaks like this.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.