A dreaded World Cup draw having arrived, Jurgen Klinsmann’s transformative efforts are about to pay off

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When discussing the United States’ draw, painful as a bad toothache it seemed, someone quipped that U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann should add a psychologist to his World Cup preparations, someone to lift spirits and ward off doom and gloom through mood-altering techniques of Zen and such.

My response to him: Klinsmann has been doing that all along.

Forging a positive, confident, aggressive mindset was a cornerstone of Klinsmann’s efforts to transform the United States national team from Day One.

Klinsmann told us all along – although it seemed to take a while for it to sink in – that any transformative efforts would not start at tactics. Whether the team lined up in 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or even that notorious 3-6-1 was almost irrelevant. What did matter was the way his team approached the game. The way it attacked the entire project.

He wanted a team that imposed rather than reacted – tactically and in mental approach. In fact, that mind-set, that positive framing, was absolutely paramount.

He wanted the United States to stop being considered this sleeping giant and start acting like one. That meant imposing its will, regardless of the opposition. He wanted the players to lean on teams the way a New Jersey goodfellow leans on a target. He wanted a team that strode fearlessly into any situation – and then go take it to the poor saps.

So he stressed the benefits of seizing the initiative … and then not letting loose. He scheduled friendlies in tough places and then said “go take it to them!” No, it didn’t always work out in those friendlies, but winning friendlies was never the destination.

Against the lesser sides, if the team got ahead by a goal he wanted the players thinking “get a second.” When a two-goal lead was achieved, he wanted the charges thinking “now we need a third!”

The tactics and strategic approaches (like pressing up higher) would help create a mindset; the mindset would then help drive those strategic approaches, thus completing the behavioral circle.

source: Getty ImagesAnd now we see this tough draw and must say: Klinsmann’s drive to establish a different, more aggressive mentality is about to pay off.

It’s not like Klinsmann had a crystal ball and had somehow become aware that the United States would be heaved into such a difficult situation. But he definitely wanted the team prepared for such an eventuality, ready to see a pit of despair and see a way out rather than feel bad about wading into it.

And now that the United States has, in fact, been lumped in with three teams that are either favorites to win the whole thing (Germany), blessed with one of the world’s best players (Portugal) or a historical troublemaker for the United States (Ghana), there is reason to believe the immediate, psychological blast wave has been deflected.

Listening to the United States players last week, there was zero indication of any real intimidation. While it’s reasonable to assume the United States players would say such positive things, and while it’s dangerous to guess what is rattling around someone’s noggin, from up close it certainly looked and sounded like Clint Dempsey (pictured above left), Omar Gonzalez, Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi and others were just happy to know more about the impending task – and ready to get the heck after it.

If the United States makes some hay in Brazil next summer, we’ll have to point back to Klinsmann’s initial initiative, his efforts to craft a more positive, less reactionary mindset – his essential Klinsi-ness, really – as a major contributing factor.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.