The US is peaking at the right time, and above everything, that’s most important

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla — On a night where talk of formations, positional awareness, and confidence dominated the narrative landscape, one thing stood above all.

Form.

They say “form is temporary, and class is permanent.”

The focus of that saying is usually to explain how a certain player or team will be able to pick themselves up during a difficult stretch, but not often is it used to describe positive runs of play.

If the United States is to advance through one of the most difficult groups in 2014 World Cup play, they will need to not only match up with the other team tactically, but they’ll need to be on their very best form as well.

That’s why, after a performance like the US’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria, it’s important to point out that the pathway to Brazil has included a steady improvement culminating in one of the more solid performances the US has produced in some time, against a fellow World Cup opponent.

“We were very fortunate to have the progression of Azerbaijan into Turkey into Nigeria, that worked out really well,” said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “At the same time it’s nice that we got away with wins, but there’s always something you can take away.”

This kind of steady improvement doesn’t happen just on the pitch.  There is so much behind the scenes the public doesn’t see, and it all comes to fruition in the form of chemistry between the players.

Nowhere in this send-off series was that chemistry apparent than here at EverBank Field against Nigeria, where every piece to the puzzle came together in the first 70 minutes to build a comprehensive performance that gave supporters a real boost of confidence.

“We see that the team is making real progress the last three-and-a-half weeks,” Klinsmann said. “Everybody’s growing in his own role within the team of 23 guys.  They see that everybody’s so important to the chemistry, to every training session, to the environment, and when you know you have a striker that had a tough year at Sunderland…we see he’s back on the right track, he’s happy here, and he takes that spirit with him to Brazil.”

With that mention of Jozy Altidore, Jurgen gave airtime to one of the most confidence-relient players in the squad, and his two goals – whether he admits it or not (which he didn’t) – is exactly what the doctor ordered for the 24-year-old who hadn’t scored for anybody since December 4 of last year.

Nothing about this match was perfect – things broke down late when substitutions came pouring in and the shape was disrupted – but as a whole the team has shown that the past 30 days haven’t gone to waste.

In fact, every training session, every beep test, every team meal, it’s all built towards this moment.  That’s why they call it the Send-Off Series, because they built towards the moment where the team leaves for Brazil.

Had the US blown out Azerbaijan like everyone expected, then struggled against Nigeria, the tune would be completely different.  Instead, they made mistakes, fixed them, made different mistakes, covered those up, and worked towards a more complete result. They didn’t blow out Nigeria by any means, but 2-1 might look closer than it really was.

“Obviously the Turkey game was a lot more open because we left too much space open,” Klinsmann said. “So we worked on it the last few days, we explained a lot on the whiteboard as well, and I think [the players] took it really well. They had the right focus, and it wasn’t difficult for them to open things up again.”

Form is temporary, class is permanent.

These players have the ability, but to be riding the best form of the summer into Brazil is exactly how Jurgen Klinsmann drew it up. It doesn’t last forever, and the team better ride it now while they can because they’ll need every bit of it when Group G comes to play.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely for the winner takes all second legs. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Grimsby Town vs. Derby County
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm

Celtic qualify for UEFA Champions League group stage

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Celtic survived a scare in Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the second season on the trot.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Brendan Rodgers‘ side beat FC Astana 5-0 in the first leg of their playoff last week at Celtic Park but the trip to Kazakhstan proved much trickier with Astana leading 4-1 late in the game which had pulled the score back to 6-4 on aggregate.

However, Scott Sinclair had scored a priceless away goal to make it 1-1 at half time and despite a late flurry of goals for the hosts Olivier Ntcham scored a deflected effort and Leigh Griffiths wrapped things up late on as Celtic lost 4-3 on the night but went through 8-4 on aggregate.

Last season the Scottish champions went out in the UCL group stage after being drawn with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time around.

Premier League clubs on League Cup upset alert

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The second round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18 for sponsorship reasons) kicks off on Tuesday with 13 Premier League clubs in action.

[ MORE: League Cup scores live ]

All 13 have been drawn against lower-league opposition and those klaxons you can hear signify upset alerts.

Below is a look at how each Premier League club will get on as they enter the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday with a ranking on each game out of 10, with 10 being the most likely for an upset to occur.

Remember: the seven PL teams in European competition will enter the League Cup in the third round.


Upset alert ranking for PL clubs

Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 8/10
Brighton vs. Barnet – 4/10
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom – 7/10
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City – 6/10
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth – 7/10
Watford vs. Bristol City – 5/10
MK Dons vs. Swansea City – 5/10

Wednesday
Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest – 6/10
Southampton vs. Wolves – 7/10
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United – 7/10
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United – 8/10
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 6/10
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley – 6/10