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)

Charity match raised significant money for Hurricane Harvey victims

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On Saturday night, a charity soccer match in Houston, Texas helped raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Bournemouth to go fourth ]

The “Kick in for Houston” game was organized by former Houston Dynamo and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Stu Holden — now an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Holden served as one of the team captains, while former NBA star Steve Nash captained the other team.

In total, Holden’s event raised over $239,000 for hurricane relief funds, per the event’s website.

Saturday’s match featured several other notable celebrities and current, as well as, former soccer player, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Mia Hamm and U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino.

The game — which was an 8 vs. 8 fixture — finished 12-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Holden spoke after the match about the overall success of the event, and the sort of impact it had for the Texas community.

“Amazing,” Holden said after the game. “If I pictured three months ago after I sent that tweet that this was going to be the turnout… everybody that came, all the athletes, all the people in the crowd, all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes, I can promise you it’s a lot more than it seems.

“I’m caught up in the middle of all this, but I thought this was an amazing, amazing night, and I hope to do another of these in the future.”

Additionally, Holden and Co. will be auctioning off game-worn kits from Saturday’s game to also benefit hurricane victims.

Rooney says Man City have work to do be better than ’08 Man United

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Perhaps it’s the bias talking from the former Red Devils star, but Wayne Rooney doesn’t believe the Premier League leaders have surpassed one of his ex-squads.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Cherries to go fourth ]

Despite Manchester City’s amazing unbeaten start over the club’s opening 18 matches, Rooney says his former rivals aren’t quite yet better than his 2008 Manchester United team that went on to beat Chelsea in the Champions League final.

“I’m not sure they [City] are quite there. They would have to keep going and do a lot more,” Rooney told TalkSPORT. “There have been so many great teams throughout the years in the Premier League. This City team needs to win trophies and needs to do it for a longer period to be in that bracket.

“The best ever? I would go with the Man United team from 2008!”

Only one Premier league side has ever finished a season undefeated in league play, which was accomplished by “The Invincibles” of Arsenal from the 2003/04 campaign.

With Man City nearly halfway to that feat, and accumulating 52 points through the first four-plus months of the domestic season, Pep Guardiola and Co. appear on track to track to break several records.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table in Man City’s world ]

However, Rooney says the balance of competitions and a tricky fixture schedule over the holiday window will make staying unbeaten an impossible task for the Cityzens.

“I don’t think they can go unbeaten,” he added. “They have done incredibly well with the run they have been on, but the Premier League is so difficult, especially now with this Christmas period coming up.

“I know they have a huge squad, a great squad of players. But there are so many top teams. I think in previous years it has been two teams and you went in knowing you would win most of the other games.

“But now there are five or six other teams that can all beat each other and I’m sure in one of those games Man City will get beaten.”

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.