United States finishes 2013 with 1-0 loss at Austria

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A fantastic year for the United States has ended on a bit of a downer, two consecutive scoreless nights.

In the latest, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team dominated Austria after intermission Tuesday but could not match the home team’s first-half goal in the driving rain of Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. So something of a breakout year for the Klinsmann and the World Cup-bound United States finished with a 1-0 loss to Austria.

Austria’s Marc Janko took advantage of some questionable defensive positioning from young U.S. center back John Brooks, converting from close range for the game’s only goal. Perhaps most disappointing among a bunch of defensive mistakes was that Austria had gotten the ball originally on a foul throw-in, of all things.

Jozy Altidore was involved in the best U.S. chances, but good opportunities were sparse as both teams dealt with the slippery footing. So the United States finished its year by being shut out twice in a row. The team played to a scoreless draw last Friday in Scotland.

Still, Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team will finish with a 16-4-3 record, its best winning percentage ever.  The 16 victories are a record for a calendar year, topping the previous mark of 13 wins in 2005 and 2009.

(MORE: Geoff Cameron certainly helped himself with a good night)

The night was a big test for two young attackers in particular: Brek Shea, not playing at all for Stoke City, started on the left in the team’s 4-2-3-1. And Aron Johannsson, having lined up previously as a forward, was assigned the role of attacking midfielder, tucked in behind Altidore, once against Klinsmann’s first choice at striker.

Brooks, the 20-year-old German-born center back, also got his second start under Klinsmann. He was generally solid, aside from some needed positional adjustments here and there.

(MORE: Video of Geoff Cameron’s goal for the United States … that wasn’t counted)

United States pressed mightily through the second half, energized by a steady flow of attacking substitutions. While Klinsmann kept his back line intact until the game’s final minutes, the U.S. manager added young striker Terrence Boyd along with veteran forward Eddie Johnson early in the second half.

With a shift into a 4-4-2, in fact, Klinsmann had three natural strikers on the field; Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson, who was on the left.

United States’ lineup (4-2-3-1): Tim Howard; Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, DaMarcus Beasley; Jermain Jones, Michael Bradley; Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson, Brek Shea; Jozy Altidore.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.