Klinsmann promises another businesslike approach in tonight’s qualifier closer at Panama

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There will be lots of tension inside Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez – but all of it on Panama’s side.

Panama has to beat the United States tonight (9:30 p.m. ET kickoff on beIN Sport) and look for help from Costa Rica in order to make history and keep dreaming about a World Cup; it would be the first appearance in the finals for the small, Central American nation.

They’ll only have a chance to get there with a win Tuesday, combined with a Mexico loss at Costa Rica. (The matches kick off simultaneously.) That would leave the Panamanians in fourth place as the CONCACAF final round of qualifying closes, putting them into a playoff with New Zealand.

(MORE: Mexico’s chances of a point against Costa Rica? Pretty good)

The United States has little to play for as a team, having already clinched its World Cup berth a month back, and having already secured first place in the group. But this remains a critical opportunity for the bubble types of the U.S. player pool, guys who will be increasingly desperate to impress manager Jurgen Klinsmann and better position themselves for the 23-man World Cup roster.

“We know what’s at stake for Panama, we know what’s at stake for Mexico, but we have to take care of our own situation, and we badly want to take three points out of this game,” said Klinsmann, echoing the approach he has adopted since, literally, minutes after the United States clinched its spot.

source: Reuters
With Friday’s comfortable 2-0 win Friday over Jamaica, the national team is 26-9-6 under Jurgen Klinsmann.

It is all part of his bigger plan to create a more aggressive U.S. mindset, one less content with status quo. He wants the United States to be more of a bully, to squash the teams it might have merely beaten before. So finishing out the 2014 qualifying campaign with a win plays snugly into that narrative.

“World Cup qualifying is very serious business,” he said Monday from Panama City. “Everyone who is here is very highly focused and wants to show a great game. Obviously, we are very happy that we have already qualified. But I have already told the players last week, we are already preparing things for Brazil, so whoever goes on the field needs has to show the best he can in order to build their case for Brazil.  We only have a few games going forward [before Brazil 2014], there is not much that we can go ‘try out and see,’ so all of our players are 100 percent focused.”

Klinsmann’s men certainly heard the message on Friday, steering comfortably through a young Jamaican squad with a 2-0 win in Kansas City. Panama, with far more motivation, presents slightly more of an obstacle. The nation’s World Cup dream took a potentially fatal blow on Raul Jimenez’s instantly famous goal turned a draw into a loss in Mexico City, so the desperation will be firmly on Panama’s side.

(MORE: Revisiting Jimenez’s stunning, spectacular goal for Mexico vs. Panama)  

Some of the obstacle factor for Panama and top man Blas Perez has been removed as Klinsmann sent four players home, mostly because of injury concerns. The U.S. starting lineup tonight will be missing its four best players, goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and forwards Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

In addition, starters Jermaine Jones and Omar Gonzalez are missing, and starting left back DaMarcus Beasley is questionable with a hamstring issue.

(MORE: Klinsmann makes several roster changes ahead of Panama match)

(MORE: Klinsmann says Brad Guzan deserves a qualifier start)

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.