Michael Bradley, Tim Howard

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.”

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?