Clint Dempsey

Questions linger in U.S. camp over Clint Dempsey’s fitness for tonight’s qualifier vs. Costa Rica

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A potentially important sidebar has fallen between cracks ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica, lost amid the dominant narrative of Friday’s match in the San Jose suburbs, the silly and probably highly ineffective gamesmanship at high levels from the Costa Rican federation.

(Serioulsy, guys … do you Ticos believe you are doing anything other than adding motivational fuel to the U.S. fire with these hijinks?)

Clint Dempsey will hardly be at his best tonight. Dempsey will surely play when the teams meet at Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional, but there is an awareness in the U.S. camp that his spring and his stamina just aren’t where they need to be.

A source close to the U.S. team confirms that manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff has assessed that Dempsey is well behind where the “full-on Dempsey”  would be, currently at roughly 60 percent of ideal fitness.

(Considering the advanced testing performed to begin every U.S. camp, percentage estimates are probably a little more than just “estimates.” There is a real, quantifiable percentage of potential maximum output to be gleaned from all the blood work, hydration assessments and scientific physical tests that go on.)

Klinsmann apparently regards Dempsey at or near the same place at this time one year ago, when his holdout from Fulham workouts and 11th hour transfer into Spurs meant missing about a month of team training.

(MORE: U.S. – Costa Rica rivaly reaches new heights)

Interestingly, Dempsey started both World Cup qualifying matches at this time last year even though he was clearly and substantially less that 100 percent fit. He even scored in the first contest, a 2-1 qualifier loss at Jamaica. Four nights later, Dempsey started again in a 1-0 win over Jamaica in Columbus.

But if we got back and examine those matches, Dempsey’s influence was marginal other than the early goal vs. Jamaica. The effort and the will were there; it’s Clint Dempsey, after all. But the legs and lungs simply weren’t properly prepared for two international level matches, plus the tax of travel, etc.

So why wouldn’t Dempsey be more than the estimates in camp of 60 percent or so? He has, after all, been with the Sounders almost a month, and has gone 90 minutes for Sigi Schmid’s MLS side three times now. (Plus almost an hour in his debut off the bench against Toronto back on Aug. 10.)

source: Getty Images
Klinsmann is 24-8-6 with the U.S. national team in two years.

It’s a good question, one that Klinsmann has not addressed specifically. But the manager has talked in the past about differing approaches by MLS clubs, most of which concentrate on recovery between matches rather than building longer-term endurance.

Plus, Dempsey did a lot of promotional work as he joined the Sounders last month. Appearances on the national talk show circuit are a major and figuratively profitable publicity score for MLS. But there is an undeniable price to pay in terms of short-term performance. Dempsey, through no fault of his own, in fairness, because he would always prefer a soccer field to a TV studio, is paying it now.

Best guess: Dempsey will start tonight but will perform on a relatively short lease. After all, Klinsmann (pictured above) has something he did not at this time last year, when the manager forced fitness on Dempsey by playing him all 90 minutes in those two big qualifiers, even though the U.S. attacker was clearly not at his best.

This time Klinsmann can potentially turn to Landon Donovan, who was in the “Dempsey” role for that entire, swashbuckling Gold Cup run. And come to think of it, a Donovan-for-Dempsey switch somewhere between the 60th and 70th minute doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all, does it?

(MORE: Who might start tonight for the United States?)

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.