Preview: USA aim to impress against Scotland at Hampden

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GLASGOW — On Friday night under the lights at the famous Hampden Park stadium, the USMNT will be going all out for their first-ever win on Scottish soil.

This will be no friendly.

The last time these two sides meet in Jacksonville in 2012, the U.S. hammered Scotland 5-1 and Landon Donovan bagged a hat-trick. This time, away from home in front of a passionate crowd in Glasgow, facing the Tartan Army will be a much tougher proposition.

For the U.S. this game, and the trip to Vienna to face Austria next Tuesday, not only acts as a great ending to a phenomenal season — where 15 wins from 21 games, World Cup qualification, moving up to 13th in FIFA’s World Rankings and  record 12-game winning streak made for a fabulous year — but also a valuable preparation tool for facing European sides in the World Cup next summer.

WATCH USA vs. AUSTRIA LIVE ON NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 2:45pm ET, TUESDAY NOVEMBER 19

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes the USA will face a much stronger Scotland side than the team they beat 5-1 last May.

“We are expecting a completely different game this time,” Klinsmann said. “Everyone is well aware of that. Scotland did us the favor the last time to come over after their season, to Florida in 95 degrees. We knew that it was going to be very difficult for them to bring everything they have when their season was already done. For us, it was a very important preparation game for the World Cup qualifiers, so we were on a totally different page at that moment focus wise.”

(MORE: U.S. national team in high spirits as sensational 2013 draws to a close)

This time around the USMNT has plenty of injury concerns as Jurgen Klinsmann has already lost captain Clint Dempsey and winger Fabian Johnson through this week.

New Scotland boss Gordon Strachan has transformed the Scots fortunes sine Craig Levein left, with the Tartan Army defeating Croatia home and away in the latter stages of World Cup qualifying as a renewed sense of vigor surrounds the Scottish national team.

Scotland have Premier League regulars in Robert Snodgrass, Steven Fletcher, James Morrison, Charlie Adam and many others, whilst plenty of promising youngsters forcing their way into the side. This will be no walk in the park for the USA as the well-organized and physically commanding Scots look to bring their A-game.

(MORE: EXCLUSIVE: U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard is looking forward to the challenge of playing away from home in boisterous atmospheres, something the U.S. have fared quite well with in recent years.

After drawing with Russia and beating the likes of Italy and Bosnia away from home in other friendlies on Europe, the task of taking on a team with a distinctly different style to most of the teams in CONCACAF also provides a huge plus in preparation for any potential match ups with Euro nations at the World Cup.

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Both Michael Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann believe the tough test against Scotland is great preparation for teams the USMNT may face in Brazil next summer.

“That’s why we’ve taken the games on, because they’re going to be difficult opponents away from home. It is never easy and that causes its own problems,” Howard said. “It will be a good test for us. But, you know, we’ve played away from home in Europe before in the last two or three years and done quite well, so we will be expecting to win this game.”

That confidence was evident throughout the lively training sessions during the week, as a relaxed yet focused attitude reigned supreme around the U.S. squad.

However most of the players I spoke with weren’t getting too carried away, as they agreed that nations like Scotland and Austria are a step up from teams in their home region. USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley believes it will be a tougher test than World Cup qualifying.

“When you compare them to certain teams in CONCACAF, yeah, probably,” Bradley said. “Obviously Mexico have had a tough run but they’re still a very good team and we’ve had big experience playing against other top teams, Germany, Italy, Russia For sure we look forward to these types of games against good opponents in Europe. Good atmospheres, great stadiums.”

As for Stoke City right back Geoff Cameron, he’s looking forward to the games against top opposition in Europe but gave CONCACAF a pat on the back… of sorts.

“CONCACAF is a very tough thing to overcome,” Cameron said. “The teams, you go down there and the conditions and what they do to try and throw you off is very difficult to overcome. But obviously playing over here the pitches are all the same, good quality, maybe just dealing with the cold weather. But Scotland is a good side and Austria will be a tough side as well. It’s obviously two sides with good competition and building up for the World Cup that’s good for us.”

Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who has scored five times for the USMNT in 2013, believes it’s not only important to get together and use the game as preparation, it’s all about keeping that winning mentality going too.

“I think it’s about every time we get together as a national team to play on European soil, it’s important for us to come here and try to get a result,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t schedule a better side to play against this coming Friday, who have some good players who play in the Premier League, the biggest league in the world, so it will be a good test for us in preparation for the World Cup. We know it’s going to be a fantastic crowd and two good sides to play against and prepare for the World Cup and get better as a national team.”

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.