USA fear toughest ever World Cup draw but relish chance to make history

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EXCLUSIVE — After asking plenty of U.S. national team players how strong the other nations are that they’ll be facing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I got the same initial response from most of them.

They puff their cheeks out and look down to the ground in a reflective pause before answering the question. Without saying anything, they’ve already answered my question.

On Friday, the draw for the World Cup next summer in Brazil will finally be made after 32 nations have risen to the top of international soccer and qualified. Now they’ll find out who they can pit their wits against in the Group Stages in South America next June.

Arguably the 20th edition of the world’s greatest sporting showpiece will be the hardest test yet. Is that the way the USA see it?

“Yeah… that’s the way it looks when you break down the pots,” U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard said. “Who can get who and potential match ups. It’s hard with so many different challengers. I’ll be an interested observer come December 6. But at the moment I’m not trying to figure out too many scenarios.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – Here’s how it’s going to work)

Central midfielder Michael Bradley, who will arguably be the USA’s most pivotal player in Brazil, echoes Howard’s sentiments that an incredibly tough task lies ahead as all the big names in world soccer will be in Brazil.

“For sure, when you start looking at the pots and looking at the draws… you realize it,” the AS Roma maestro said. “Look. it’s going to be a good World Cup and there’s not going to be any easy groups, that’s for sure.”

Placed in Pot 3, the USA are unseeded for the tournament and know a clash against either the host Brazil or one of the big names in European or South American soccer awaits. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are up for the battle and after an encouraging year that has seen them knock off some top European opponents in friendlies and totally dominate CONCACAF, they’re better equipped than they’ve ever been for a World Cup, expect this one is a tournament many are calling the toughest in living memory.

(MORE: What US Soccer wants from the World Cup draw)

Howard believes the fact that he’s now a veteran of two World Cups, and most of his teammates are too, will help the USA reach the top of their game when the big matches come around in Brazil.

“When you play at the highest level the more big matches you can have, the bigger occasions you can have, it just kind of hardens you and allows you to have that fear factor dissipate,” Howard said furrowing his brow. “Because you’ve been there before and you’re not rattled by the crowd, the occasion or the moment or ‘oh my god this is a big game, we need a result.’ We’ve been there and done that, so that’s what you see our players are all about. And that’s why it’s  important to have senior players in your team so you can settle everyone’s nerves.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – Everything you need to know)

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Klinsmann and his team face an anxious wait on Wednesday to see which nations they’ll face in the Group Stage.

There will be some World Cup virgins in the U.S. squad though, and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron is one of them. Recently when I spoke to the man many believe is nailed on to be the USA’s starting right back at the World Cup, Cameron insisted he’s just focusing on getting to Brazil and isn’t too bothered about the draw.

“It’s all about just putting your name on the list,” Cameron said. “That’s obviously the goal, going to the World Cup. You just have to be consistent and be a regular player and go from there, little baby steps you know? I’ll watch the draw on December 6 and kind of go from there.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – The sum of all fears scenario for the United States)

Right now, as all the different permutations and worries about who the USA will be playing in Brazil swim around the heads of management, players and fans, what we can expect when the USMNT turn up in South America in six months time has sort of fallen by the wayside.

(MORE: 2014 World Cup Simulator – One last time, lets fret over how hard it’ll be for USA)

So, what can Klinsmann’s men achieve? Is a semifinal berth out of the question, or is the aim to just get out of the group?

“It’s always a tough one to put your finger on,” Howard said. ‘I think our best ever finish was quarter finals [in the modern era], I think if you look at this team and the results that we’ve had and how we’re put together, certainly we want to get out of our group as we did in 2010. Unfortunately we lost in the second round, but we feel like if we can win that game and get ourselves to the quarter finals… we’re in touching distance of doing something special. What that is, I don’t know. But we’re all going to try and get ourselves back to that quarterfinal game.”

Make sure you log onto NBCSports.com and ProSoccerTalk for live updates of the World Cup draw and plenty of analysis and reaction from Brazil.

Atlanta United fans pack 20,000 into new stadium for training session

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Atlanta United is currently in the midst of a three-match road trip in MLS play, but that didn’t stop the club from unveiling its new home venue to a massive crowd of supporters on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Over 20,000 fans of the Eastern Conference expansion side filed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch Gerardo Martino’s side train on Saturday as Atlanta prepares to finish out its road trip against D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union.

Atlanta will open up home play at their new stadium on September 10 when they host FC Dallas. The club will have the benefit of playing eight of its final 10 regular season matches in front of its Georgia fan base.

The first-year MLS side will share the stadium with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL.

Here are some sights from the training session

Follow Live — Fire host TFC in MLS headliner

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With most MLS sides having 10 matches or less remaining in the regular season, it’s crunch time for many clubs seeking out a playoff position.

Saturday features several massive fixtures in both conferences, including the Chicago Fire taking on East leaders Toronto FC — who are unbeaten in their last six matches.

[ MORE: Van Damme exits Galaxy, joins side in native Belgium ]

Meanwhile, Sporting KC hosts FC Dallas out West as the playoff battle heats up in the league’s other conference. As it stands, the top seven sides in the Western Conference are separated by just six points.

Here’s the full rundown of Saturday’s MLS matches.

Montreal Impact vs. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 8 p.m. ET
Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas — 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. D.C. United — 9 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — 10 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union — 10:30 p.m. ET

La Liga & Serie A: Video replay used in Juve win, Atleti draws

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A roundup of Saturday’s action from around Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: PL roundup — United rolls past Swansea, Arsenal falls to Stoke ]

Girona 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Everything that could go wrong did on Saturday for Atletico Madrid, but it was Girona’s gain as the promotion side began its La Liga journey with a draw. A first-half brace from Cristhian Stuani gave the hosts a 2-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes, and from there, matters were made worse for Atleti when Antoine Griezmann was sent off in the 67th minute after picking up a second yellow card. Angel Correa pulled a goal back with 12 minutes remaining for Diego Simeone’s side, while Jose Gimenez tied the match in the 85th minute.

Celta Vigo 2-3 Real Sociedad

Future LA FC forward Carlos Vela played a key role for Real Sociedad in their comeback win over Celta Vigo. The Mexican international drew a penalty kick with two minutes to play in regulation, before Willian Jose buried the ensuing spot kick to give Sociedad the victory. Celta Vigo led at home twice on Saturday, but the visitors showed their resiliency, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes of play.

Sevilla 1-1 Espanyol

Clement Lenglet and Léo Baptistão scored on the afternoon in the draw, and despite Sevilla’s overwhelming possession the hosts couldn’t muster up enough to secure three points in the opener. The home side was reduced to 10 men with under 10 minutes remaining as well when second-half substitute Ever Banega was sent off.

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe — 12:15 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Real Betis — 2:15 p.m. ET
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Madrid — 4:15 p.m. ET


Juventus 3-0 Cagliari

Everything was status quo for Juventus as they kicked off another season in Serie A as the reigning Italian champions. The Bianconeri controlled the flow of play throughout the match, limiting Cagliari to just two chances on target. Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala struck in the first half to put Juve up 2-0 at the break, while Gonzalo Higuain tacked on a third finish in the second stanza.

Cagliari’s best chance came when Duje Cop was taken down in the box, prompting referee Fabio Maresca to utilize VAR for the first time in a Serie A match. After mulling the decision for a moment, Maresca pointed to the penalty spot, but Diego Farias’ attempt was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Hellas Verona 1-3 Napoli

Napoli boasted one of the top attacks in Europe last season, and the club didn’t waste any time in picking up where they left off. An own goal kicked things off for Napoli in the first half, before Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam put the finishing touches on the match. Meanwhile, a late red card from Elseid Hysaj allowed Hellas to score their lone goal of the afternoon through Giampaolo Pazzini’s penalty finish.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta vs. Roma — 12 p.m. ET
Bologna vs. Torino — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crotone vs. AC Milan — 2:45 p.m. ET
Inter Milan vs. Fiorentina — 2:45 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. SPAL — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Benevento — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Genoa — 2:45 p.m. ET
Udinese vs. Chievo Verona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer rumor roundup: Mbappe to PSG? Torino rejects Belotti bid from Chelsea

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Although all the major European leagues have all kicked off, the transfer rumors continue to swirl as the window closes in on deadline day.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — Chelsea meets Spurs in early London derby ]

In another twist that could make Paris Saint-Germain clear favorites to win the UEFA Champions League, the French giants appear close to signing Monaco teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe.

While PSG remains under UEFA’s microscope for the club’s unwillingness to obey Financial Fair Play laws, the Parisians have launched a $211 million bid for Mbappe, according to Mundo Deportivo.


Chelsea continues to look for more options up front, but their latest attempt at poaching one of Italy’s brightest strikers has failed.

Torino has reportedly declined Chelsea’s $74 million bid for Andrea Belotti, with the Serie A side unwilling to part ways with the 23-year-old unless a team meets his $103 million release clause.

The Blues have already added Alvaro Morata this transfer window in the wake of the Diego Costa saga, while Michy Batshuayi is also in the Chelsea squad.


West Brom is playing hard to get with defender Jonny Evans, and Manchester City will have to fork up more money if they want the Northern Ireland veteran.

The Baggies are reportedly seeking over $41 million for Evans, as the Citizens continue to spend at a lightning pace during this transfer window.

[ MORE: Saturday PL roundup — Man United rolls, Arsenal falls at Stoke ]

Manager Pep Guardiola and Co. have already added the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at the back, while Bernardo Silva has been thrust into the team’s attack.