Italy Soccer Europa League Final

Europa League group draw: Everton, Spurs face stiff tests

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There was a time when capturing the UEFA Cup was considered a better accomplishment than winning the European Cup, which only included league champions and thusly left out plenty of top opponents.

Winning the trophy now has a bit more luster with the added bonus of a Champions League berth to the victor, though certainly no one’s comparing the two trophies much anymore. The UEFA Europa League group stage draw was conducted this morning, as teams learned the next step on their desired paths to the UCL.

There are some groups where it’s relatively easy to predict the two clubs who will emerge but, unfortunately for fans of Everton and Tottenham, Groups C and H are not among them.

The latter group features Spurs, and will find the London club battling for a spot in the Round of 16 alongside Turkish powers Besiktas and respected Serbian club Partizan Belgrade. In the rankings of fourth teams to put in a group, Asteras may not be a household name but hail from a Greek Super League ranked No. 12 in the UEFA coefficient. Still, you’d have to figure Mauricio Pochettino’s boys will be favored to emerge.

Meanwhile, Everton has a beast of a challenge ahead of itself. They’ll take on Divock Origi and the dangerous Great Danes of Lille, a Wolfsburg team that boasts Kevin De Bruyne and Diego Benaglio, and Kubin Krasnodar of the eighth-ranked Russian Premier League.

Returning champions Sevilla get a tough draw in Group G.

Here are the groups. As an added bonus, I’ll italicize the two teams I predict will emerge from the group (provided their clubs like the prospect of advancing in the competition and treat it seriously).

Group A: Villarreal, Borussia Monchengladbach, Zurich, Apollon

Group B: Copenhagen, Club Brugge, Torino, HJK Helsinki

Group C: Spurs, Besiktas, Partizan Belgrade, Asteras

Group D: Red Bull Salzburg, Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb, Astra

Group E: PSV Eindhoven, Panathinaikos, Estoril, Dynamo Moscow

Group F: Inter Milan, Dnipro, St Etienne, Qarabag

Group G: Sevilla, Standard Liege, Feyenoord, Rijeka

Group H: Lille, Wolfsburg, Everton, Krasnodar

LINEUPS: Tim Howard starts for USMNT against Costa Rica

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Tim Howard of the United States gestures during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Costa Rica in a friendly tonight at Red Bull Arena, as the USMNT must put the Mexico match behind them and focus on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The biggest inclusion in tonight’s starting XI is that of Tim Howard in goal, marking his return to the national side after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. It will be Howard’s first appearance for the USMNT since his legendary performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.

Klinsmann has chosen to go with a 4-4-2 tonight, and Geoff Cameron remains the only starter in the back-line from the Mexico match. He’ll partner with Michael Orozco in the center of defense, with Brad Evans and Tim Ream on the outsides.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson sent home from USMNT after fall-out with Klinsmann ]

In the midfield, Klinsmann has put some speed on the wings through the likes of DeAndre Yedlin and recent call-up Brek Shea. Danny Williams joins Jermaine Jones as the central midfielders.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will play alongside Gyasi Zardes, who returns to his more comfortable position as forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo wins record fourth European Golden Boot

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 13:  Real Madrid football player Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his four Golden Boot Awards as maximun goal scorer of European leagues at The Westin Palace Hotel on October 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo has added another trophy to the collection, winning his fourth Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer for the 2014-15 season.

The award accounts for goals in league play only, which means the Champions League and domestic tournaments are not included. In La Liga, Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 35 appearances.

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Ronaldo first won the award after the 2007-08 season with Manchester United, and has now added three more with Real Madrid in 2010-11, 2013-14, and 2014-15.

With his fourth win, Ronaldo moves ahead of Lionel Messi as the only player to win the award four times. Messi has won three, while eight players have won two.

Below is a post from Ronaldo’s Facebook page reflecting on the award:

What a special moment in my professional life!

Winning four Golden Boots is a privilege for me and I’ll keep challenging myself because I want to do better every time and I want to keep chasing for more records.

I have to thank everyone in Real Madrid that made this possible and we want to keep winning more titles and more trophies. Thank you everyone.

Ronaldo alone scored more goals in La Liga play last season than 14 clubs did, which shows how prolific his season was. The only player to score more than 48 league goals in a European season was Messi, who scored 50 in 2011-12.

[ EURO 2016: A look at the 20 teams that have qualified for France ]

While it was a successful year for Ronaldo personally, it was a very disappointing campaign for Real Madrid, who fired manager Carlo Ancelotti after finishing the season without a trophy.