U.S.- Costa Rica prediction for tonight, and where a bit of creeping self-doubt can be a good thing

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – History has taught us that the best U.S. national team performances have arrived when the Americans feel backed into a tough spot.

The big disappointments – think “Ghana,” and then “Ghana” again – have often arrived when the team begins feeling good about itself.

I have this theory that as the United States talent pool gradually improved, the team lost a little bit of the gritty element that got it through the 1990s and pushed it forward in the early part of the 2000s. It lost a little bit of that useful chip-on-shoulder effect.

Past U.S. versions knew they had to try harder. Unblessed with a superior first touch or the collective soccer brain to think three moves ahead rather than two, the boys in star-striped blue or red (or that awful denim) had to close the gap through heart, hustle and a stubborn competitiveness. And also through that most quintessential of American values, that optimistic, unbreakable belief that good things were ahead.

You only have to spend a little bit of time in other lands to gain perspective on the U.S. virtue of heady expectation. There are plenty of countries where the populace really does sit around and wait for the next bad thing to happen.

That brings us to tonight’s match at DSG Park in Commerce City. U.S. backs against the wall? Yeah, I’d say we are there.

Feeling the weight of it all, the pressure to get the job done tonight against Costa Rica amid the team’s first real test of locker room accord since the days of Steve Sampson, John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, etc.? That seems reasonable as an assessment.

So I wonder if a little bit of creeping self-doubt isn’t a good thing? I wonder if the players don’t rally a little bit around the unrest?

I chatted yesterday with Ian Darke, who will call tonight’s game for ESPN (10 p.m. ET).  We agreed that Brian Straus’ Sporting News piece – the best piece of American soccer reporting in a long, long time, in my opinion – might just be a good thing for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.

Straus certainly didn’t make any of that stuff up; players were saying it.

Well, you want that stuff in the open, ready to be mopped up and dealt with. Better that than whispered around certain corners of the locker room, like so much toxic sludge, slowly rotting the floors, so to speak.

It may have made some people mad (like Michael Bradley – and good for him for adding a counter-balance and saying things that needed to be said.) And perhaps Klinsmann will understand that some of his communication methods may need a re-think.

In the end, the team might just be better for it.  We’ll know more in a little while.

I say it will help. I say the U.S. back line will get lots of protection and will dig in accordingly, stubbornly rather than nervously. The fullbacks will be aggressive in moving forward, but not wildly so.

Michael Bradley will be cautious, also endeavoring to protect a weakened defense.

The United States will find a goal … but perhaps not multiple goals.

I’m calling a 1-0 U.S. win.

Van Dijk presents $100k check to global organization

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Virgil Van Dijk is still making a contribution to Liverpool despite his inability to play in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League match against Bayern Munich at Anfield.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday ]

The 27-year-old defender was recently named to UEFA’s Fans’ Team of the Year for 2018, and has been chosen to present $100,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC helps reunited separated families around the world. Here’s Van Dijk via LiverpoolFC.com:

“I can’t imagine not being able to see my kids or that they could be somewhere where you don’t even know where they are,” said the 27-year-old. “I can’t imagine and hopefully I won’t ever have to imagine that, but as I said, it is very special that the ICRC is helping these families.”

According to the Liverpool release, the ICRC reunited 1000 families including some 800 children in 2018.

Spain revamps Super Cup (and others should follow suit)

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Ever read a tournament concept and immediately think nearly every other league should adopt it?

La Liga is taking its version of England’s Community Shield — the Spanish Super Cup — and making changes that see the league season kick off in style.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday ]

Normally the winners of the Copa del Rey and La Liga meeting for a piece of hardware, the Spanish federation will now hold a four-team tournament abroad.

The tournament would include the Copa del Rey finalists and the two top league finishers (obviously extending to the third and fourth place teams if needed).

Flip it on its ear and imagine that MLS was kicking off its season not with myriad friendlies and the CONCACAF Champions League, but the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner, MLS Cup finalists, and Supporters’ Shield winner (especially if it was mandated that the cup finalists mixed it up in the semis).

For the Community Shield, you could include the Premier League winners, League Cup winners, FA Cup winners, and either the second place team or the “reigning Community Shield winner.” The gut reaction might be to rebel against “ugh, another game,” but if it’s taking the place of a Stateside friendly between second-choice sides? Come on!

CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston

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The CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday night with a pair of Major League Soccer sides seeking a positive start to their seasons after substandard 2018s.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

In the case of Toronto FC, their season went downhill in a big way after CCL success driven largely by Sebastian Giovinco. He’s gone now, as is Victor Vazquez, and TFC opens its bid to return to the final with a visit to Panama’s Independiente for the front end of a two-legged tie.

The Reds are almost even money to win, according to most oddsmakers, but anything can happen on a CONCACAF pitch in February.

Having helped the USMNT start life under Gregg Berhalter following its World Cup collapse, TFC captain Michael Bradley is prepared to engineer another turnaround following his club’s playoff-free 2018. From TorontoFC.ca:

“Nobody is sitting around worried about last year anymore,” added the TFC captain. “For me, that’s been the best part of this last week or so: coming into camp, looking around and feeling right away that there was an excitement and a real motivation of the guys to get going; to work and make sure that we use every day in the right way to push ourselves forward.”

Jozy Altidore is still out for Toronto, which should give new import Terrence Boyd the chance to star in Panama.

That match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, two hours before Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champs Houston Dynamo enter the CCL with a visit to 5,000-capacity Estadio David Cordon Hichos in Guatemala.

That’s where they’ll meet Guastatoya. We don’t know a ton about the Guatemalan side, other than they won both the Clausura and the Apertura last season.

Familiar faces return for the Dynamo in the form of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, but there will be new talent on show. Defender Kiki Struna arrives from Palermo, while Marlon Hairston joins the Dynamo from Colorado, and could end up being a very productive player in Wilmer Cabrera’s system. Tommy McNamara also gets a new lease on life in Texas.

Klinsmann received $3.35M settlement from U.S. Soccer

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CHICAGO (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann received a $3.35 million settlement of his contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation, according to the USSF’s tax filing.

His replacement, Bruce Arena, was given a $300,000 settlement during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2018, according to the filing, which was released Monday.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

Klinsmann was hired in 2011 and in December 2013 was given a contract extension through December 2018. He was fired in November 2016 after an 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. His contract was settled for $3,354,167, the tax filing said.

Arena earned $899,348 in base pay during the fiscal year and a $50,000 bonus, according to the filing, which was first reported by The Washington Post. He quit after the U.S. loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances.

Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant, was the interim coach from October 2017 through last November. He had a base salary of $223,656 during the fiscal year.

Klinsmann’s top assistant, Andri Herzog, was given a settlement of $355,537 during the fiscal year. He is now Israel’s national team coach.

U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis earned $291,029 in base pay during the fiscal year, which did not include a major tournament. He compensation was topped by under-20 men’s coach Tab Ramos, who had $295,558 in base pay plus a $30,000 bonus.

USSF CEO Dan Flynn, who has said he may be retiring, had $684,617 in base pay and $130,000 in bonuses. Chief operating officer Jay Berhalter, brother of new U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, had $466,195 in base pay and $115,563 in bonuses.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports