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.


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.”

Conte: My Chelsea will never play for a draw, home or away

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts to his team scoring during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte knows what he’s doing — he’s playing the game made popular the world over by his predecessor and Sunday opponent, Jose Mourinho, and so many others who went before him.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Where other managers shy away from the controversy and the spotlight brought upon themselves by the psychological warfare waged by so many of the giants of the managerial profession, Conte has embraced the added attention he’ll now face when Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

While Mourinho hasn’t been quiet in the build-up to his return to Stamford Bridge — how could he, given the considerable demand for comment? — he has mostly kept the cheap shots to himself and attempted to treat the affair like any other. Of course, it’s not that for him; for the Chelsea fans; for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who made the decision to fire Mourinho 10 months ago; and now, for Conte, who’s suddenly thrust onto the other side of the battlefield ahead of Mourinho’s grudge match — quotes from Goal.com:

“No, I think it is always right to play for a win. I try to transfer these thoughts to my players always. If you play at home or away, it must be the same.

“You must start the game with only one target: to win. Not to play for a draw. I don’t like this. It is not football. I don’t like this.”

“I think it is important to win, but for me also, it is important to win in the right way. Because, sometimes, it happened to me. I won in the past with other clubs, but I wasn’t satisfied with the performance.

“When you win is important, but it is important to also play good football, to play with a good intensity, to show always the will to win, the passion. For me, that’s important.”

The obvious inference here is that Mourinho’s teams have always been set out to play in a defensive manner — often times aiming for, or, at the very least, achieving 0-0 draws — something the Portuguese did earlier this week, away to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Conte didn’t ask to be the anti-Mourinho when he was named Chelsea’s new boss — not directly so, at least — but it comes as part of the territory when taking over from a mountain of a manager like Mourinho. Cool as ever, Conte is relishing his new role.

Introducing Zabivaka, Russia’s 2018 World Cup mascot

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Official Mascot Wolf was chosen as Official Mascot of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia and Nazario Ronaldo during 'Vecherniy Urgant' (Evening Urgant) TV show on Channel 1 at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) Russia has chosen a cocky wolf wearing sporty goggles as the mascot for the 2018 football World Cup.

The wolf was chosen in online voting over two other mascot candidates — a cat and a tiger wearing a space suit.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

The announcement was made early Saturday at the end of an hour-long broadcast on state Channel One television. More than 1 million Russians voted in the contest, according to the broadcast.

World Cup matches are to take place in 11 cities in June and July 2018. The venues are in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Wolf, the winer of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko, TV host Ivan Urgant and Nazario Ronaldo attend at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Aguero looking vulnerable as Man City evolves under Guardiola

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City shows dejection after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City’s spine of goalkeeper Joe Hart, center back Vincent Kompany, midfielder Yaya Toure and striker Sergio Aguero has anchored the team since 2011 in the most decorated period in its history.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

One by one, it is being dismantled by Pep Guardiola.

Hart has been sent out on loan to Italy.

The injury-hampered Kompany no longer appears first choice.

Toure has been ostracized.

And the seemingly unthinkable is happening: Aguero is coming under pressure for his place.

Aguero started on the bench for the English Premier League game against Everton on Saturday after playing two matches for Argentina during the international break. More surprisingly, he stayed among the substitutes for the Champions League match at Barcelona on Wednesday, when Guardiola preferred to play midfielder Kevin De Bruyne up front.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Aguero has been untouchable, a guaranteed starter since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2011. Suddenly, possibly the most popular player among City fans – and a scorer of 102 league goals in his first five seasons at the club – is vulnerable and seemingly dispensable, even if he is likely to regain his place for the Premier League match against Southampton on Sunday.

When asked if Aguero was being phased out, Guardiola said on Friday the player’s future was at City.

“When Sergio decides to leave Manchester City, it will be his decision,” Guardiola said. Then, echoing comments he made about Hart in August before allowing him to leave, Guardiola added: “I appreciate him (as) a football player. I appreciate (as) a man what he did here.”

It’s not just the recent selection decisions that hint at a sense of unease between Guardiola and Aguero.

Guardiola has said publicly on at least two occasions this season that he wants more from Aguero than just goals, just like he wanted more from Hart than simply making saves. After Aguero’s hat trick in the Champions League win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, Guardiola said: “I cannot teach him (about his talent in the penalty box) but he has to know that behind, the rest of the team wants to help him and that is what I want to convince him.”

While on international duty with Argentina this month, Aguero was quoted as telling Argentine media that Guardiola “is very picky about everything, (and) it’s good.

“The good thing is that I’m getting used to him and automatically going straight into pressing the centre backs.”

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL preview — Mourinho back at the Bridge; City-Saints ]

Aguero, who is contracted to City until 2020, has 11 goals in 10 appearances this season, and 19 in his last 20 dating to last season. There are few better, attainable strikers around and it will be intriguing to see how the situation pans out, especially with Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus due to arrive in December to provide competition up front.

Guardiola said on Friday he had no regrets about his decision to drop Aguero for the Barcelona game, which City lost 4-0 after having goalkeeper Claudio Bravo red-carded. That made it four games without a win for Guardiola, and a failure to beat Southampton would equal the longest streak without a victory in his coaching career.

In an answer that lasted more than 6 1/2 minutes on Friday, he defended his tactics at Camp Nou and praised the personality of his young players like John Stones and De Bruyne.

Guardiola repeated he will not change his style.

“I think about that, yes,” he said. “But after that, the solution is not better than what I believe. So I cannot. Do you know why as well? Because in seven years (at Barcelona and Bayern Munich), I won 21 titles. … So it’s three titles per year playing in that way.

“No, no, I’m not going to change. First, it’s going to happen that (if) it’s not going well in the future, next season isn’t going well in that way, I will go home.”

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Messi wins it late for Barca; AC Milan shock Juve

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team mates as Neymar Jr. and Luis Suarez reacts on the pitch after being hit by objects thrown from the seats after scoring his team's third from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Valencia 2-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez led Barcelona back from 2-1 down to take all three points at the Mestalla Stadium and reclaim the top spot in La Liga. There’s lots to unpack here, beginning with the nasty tackle that’ll keep Andres Iniesta (knee ligament damage) out of action for up to two months. Then there was the controversial fashion in which Messi gave Barca an early lead.

Valencia hit back twice before Suarez drew the visitors level again, and Messi converted from the penalty spot in the 93rd minute to seal the victory, at which point Neymar was hit by a bottle thrown onto the field by someone in the stands. In the end, Barca are back on top, until Real Madrid are allowed to have their say on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-3 Eibar
Real Sociedad 3-0 Alaves
Granada 0-0 Sporting Gijon

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Celta Vigo vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid — 10:15 a.m. ET
Malaga vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

AC Milan 1-0 Juventus

The kids are (a whole lot more than) alright at AC Milan. 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli unleashed a stunning strike in the 65th minute, as Milan shocked the world by upsetting the five-time (and six-time, presumably) defending champions, Juventus, at the San Siro. Then it was 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s turn to play his part, in the form of a stunning save to deny Sami Khedira an equalizer with the last kick of the game.

Juve remain top of the Serie A table, but it’s Milan who now sit second, just two points behind them.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sampdoria 2-1 Genoa

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Udinese vs. Pescara — 6:30 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Lazio — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina — 9 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Napoli — 9 a.m. ET
Empoli vs. Chievo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Sassuoo — 12 p.m. ET
Roma vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET