David Alaba, Jermaine Jones

What we learned from United States versus Austria

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  • Jozy Altidore isn’t finishing … but he’s still contributing

We know Jozy Altidore can score. He just came off one of the best years a U.S. striker has ever lived.

Obviously, confidence is a big part of this scoring thing, and it may become an increasingly worrisome spot for the Sunderland striker. But for now, Altidore continues to be a bother on opposition defenses. He certainly was on Tuesday at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel Stadium – and with benefit of the doubt firmly in pocket on the scoring front, that’s good enough for now.

He was busy in making himself available, which is always essential and never exactly easy in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (Tuesday’s alignment for manager Jurgen Klinsmann). And like Friday against Scotland, Altidore came close a couple of times. So even if the guy is not scoring at the moment for the United States, it’s not like he’s wildly off target.

And wouldn’t it help if the man could get a little bit of service from wide areas? At times Tuesday, Altidore must have felt like he was (Eee-gads!) back at Sunderland.

Which brings us to our second point …

  • The flanks have issues

If Alejandro Bedoya on the right and Brek Shea on the left got off a good cross Tuesday, then I missed it.

Which is really disappointing, considering that both U.S. players needed a big night. The opportunity is there because all the U.S. attacking strength right now is right up the gut, so precious little of it from the wide areas.

(Fabian Johnson could do something about this. So could Landon Donovan … but they have to get healthy. So, uh , get healthy.)

Bedoya has been getting prime minutes lately, but he just isn’t doing much to justify Klinsmann’s ongoing faith. Tuesday, like Friday against Scotland, was full of cutting back onto his left foot. Which is odd … a right-wing man who doesn’t seem to want to cross with his right foot. (Presumably, Altidore thinks so, too.)

In fairness, neither wide man got the ball in good spots Tuesday. Shea didn’t, although some of that was his own doing, as he some tactical inexperience showed.

Shea must learn to vary his positioning some, moving in and out, rather than remaining out wide all the time, predictably so. That makes it easier for defenders and midfielders to shut down passing lanes into him – which means he gets fewer chances to gallop past defenders with those long legs.

The bottom line on it all was that everything was going through Altidore and Aron Johannsson, who was given a shot as a central, attacking midfielder. Which brings us to …

  • Aron Johannsson showed enough in his new role

The young Alkmaar man, a recent U.S. convert from Iceland, has been impressive as a striker in his first few appearances as a Yank. So Klinsmann assigned Johannsson a new role Tuesday, as a playmaker tucked behind Altidore. He had plenty of room to operate since Michael Bradley played just a little further back than usual, a fellow holding mid in a 4-2-3-1 rather than more of a linker in a 4-3-3.

So some early trouble wasn’t in the spacing, but in the touch. Johannsson looked nervous initially, losing the ball four times within the game’s first 13 minutes. The field was slick, and it certainly wasn’t easy out there. Jermaine Jones lost the ball a lot, too. In other words, pretty much the same old, same old there.

But Johannsson did ease into the night. His shot from about 24 yards about 15 minutes in troubled Austrian goalkeeper Robert Almer and seemed to settle the young U.S. prospect, and he worked the channels adequately from there.

It wasn’t a signature night for the man born in Alabama and raised in Iceland. But he keeps showing enough. There is enough control in tight spaces, enough vision and enough speed of thought to keep us all excited. He’s 23 … not exactly a youngster, but hardly a finished product, either. And every time Johannsson steps on the field, his case for a place among the final 23 for Brazil seems to grow stronger.

  • Jermaine Jones gonna Jermaine Jones

Jones’ game-by-game assessment checklist: Lots of turnovers — check. Do something impulsive, potentially harmful to your team and just kind of silly, like give a little slap to an opponent, as Tuesday — check.

Well, we covered this ground before. Nothing new to see here … so let’s just move on.

  • John Brooks will be good … someday

With Goeff Cameron pushed out wide, John Brooks got his second start as a U.S. center back, this time alongside Omar Gonzalez.

Brooks had trouble here and there with positioning, but the foibles looked like teachable moments. It’s not like he cannot cope, in other words.

Brooks stepped aggressively toward the slippery Marc Janko when he might have been better to hold the line, and other times he needed to be closer to Austria’s top striker rather than further away.

But the tools all seem to be there, and his passing from the back was sufficiently varied and technical. He’s not ready to challenge Matt Besler just yet as Gonzalez’s central partner – but the 20-year-old German-American isn’t that far, either.

(MORE: NBC highlights from Tuesday’s 1-0 loss)

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

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

(MORE: U.S. finishes 2013 with a 1-0 loss to Austria)

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.

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?