Belgium v United States

Happy Birthday Jurgen Klinsmann, what’s in store for the US next?

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Today is Jurgen Klinsmann’s 49th birthday. Many happy returns, Herr Klinsmann.

It has been two years and a day since Klinsmann took charge of the US national team on the eve of his 47th birthday.

So have the USA improved under Klinsmann’s 732 days of stewardship?

Let’s look at the journey so far.

After his first six months of charge, murmurings of discontent were beginning to reverberate throughout the US soccer community. Many weren’t happy with the job the much lauded German coach was doing.

In his first six games the USA lost four, drew one and beat Honduras 1-0 in Florida. Klinsi had picked tough opposition, with Belgium, France, Mexico and Ecuador the opponents. But the jury was still out on Klinsmann as 2012 arrived.

However things got better, as marquee friendly wins helped the German coach get a footing with the USA’s ambitious fans.

First the US beat Slovenia away to round off 2011, and then came the historic 1-0 win in Italy as Michael Bradley was the hero in Genoa. A 5-1 rout of Scotland in Jacksonville was followed by a heavy defeat to Brazil, and despite a defeat to Jamaica and a 1-1 tie in Guatemala City, Klinsmann’s men safely negotiated their passage through to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

(MORE: History repeating, Klinsmann and Eriksson’s time in Mexico)

A spirited 2-2 tie with Russia rounded off the year, with the European based Yanks showing their was plenty of depth in the squad.

But there was a storm brewing as 2013 arrived.

And up until March of this year, things weren’t going so well. Landon Donovan was left out of his plans after taking a self-imposed sabbatical and many didn’t agree with the way Klinsmann was treating the prodigal son of US soccer.

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Good times ahead as Klinsmann approaches his 50th birthday?

Then the US lost 2-1 in the Hexagonal to Honduras. Soon pandemonium broke out, as Klinsmann’s methods and man management were questioned by an anonymous player speaking to the national press. Rumors of discontent with the German’s reign began to spread like wildfire. And all of this came on the eve of perhaps the USA’s biggest World Cup qualifier, a home tie against Costa Rica in snowy Denver.

However that tumultuous period was the turning point.

A 1-0 win in the near white-out conditions vs. Costa Rica, followed by a historic 0-0 tie in the Azteca against Mexico, put the US firmly back in the hunt to make the World Cup.

And despite a heavy friendly defeat to the classy Belgians in Cleveland in May, 11 straight wins later, here we are.

(MORE: Klinsmann’s improvement bid on the line in crucial World Cup qualifier)

Klinsmann may be celebrating his birthday quietly today, or probably in is helicopter above California somewhere, but plenty of national team fans will be celebrating with him and wishing him many happy returns.

A year ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. But if you feel like it, go wish Jurgen a happy birthday on his Facebook page.

The USA have come a long way in such a short period of time. There have been ups and downs but now Klinsmann is producing results and an incredibly strong squad to go with it. Some still aren’t impressed, but I think the Nats have improved drastically since 2011.

July 29 2014 marks Klinsmann’s 50th birthday. That date also marks just over two weeks after the FIFA World Cup will have finished in Brazil.

What will we all think of Klinsmann then?

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.