2015 Gold Cup: With the rest of CONCACAF making strides, this is USMNT’s chance to show they are, too

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FRISCO, Texas — When the US national team kicks off its 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against Honduras here at Toyota Stadium on Tuesday (9:30 pm ET, Fox Sports 1/UniMas), there’s more on the line than the matter of defending and retaining their Gold Cup title.

[ PREVIEW: USA to defend Gold Cup title ]

On top of that is the chance to re-affirm their status as CONCACAF’s preeminent, top-of-the-food-chain national power. While Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT has been busy putting together watershed friendly victory after watershed friendly victory after watershed friendly victory over the past four years, the rest of North and Central America and the Caribbean have also been busy closing the gap between themselves and the Americans when it comes to official competitions.

For proof, look no further than last summer’s World Cup, when Costa Rica, CONCACAF’s second-place qualifier to the 2014 tournament in Brazil, took eventual third-place finishers, the Netherlands, all the way to a penalty shootout in the quarterfinal round. Los Ticos outlasted not only the US in the summer of 2014, but fellow CONCACAF giants Mexico, as well.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage | USMNT | Mexico ]

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Costa Rica — 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists

During the 2013 Gold Cup, long-time middling side Panama beat El Tri not once, but twice (once in the group stage and again in the semifinals) as they advanced to the final before ultimately falling to a Landon Donovan-led buzzsaw.

“This region is a very difficult region,” Klinsmann said Monday evening during his pre-game press conference. “It’s very different to Europe, or even to South America.”

So many of the CONCACAF’s “other” nations boast a number of key players plying their trade in some of Europe’s biggest, most competitive leagues — Mexico’s Carlos Vela (Real Socided), Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Hector Herrera (Porto) and Miguel Layun (Watford); Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz (Fulham and PSV), Joel Campbell (Arsenal and Villarreal) and Giancarlo Gonzalez (Palermo); and Honduras’ Andy Najar (Anderlecht).

[ MORE: Previewing USA’s Group A | Group B | Group C | The stars of CONCACAF ]

Meanwhile, a number of key players for Klinsmann’s side have decided to make the controversial career decision of moving to Major League Soccer during the primes of their careers. For the MLS players to show up to this Gold Cup and not only replicate previous levels of performance, but to exceed those accounts of themselves, showing continued growth and maturation as players, is paramount for this tournament and the fortunes of the US program going forward. It’s not going to be easy.

source: Getty Images
Michael Bradley, USMNT

“We have a lot of guys who have played in these Gold Cups before,” said newly-named USMNT captain Michael Bradley Monday afternoon. “They’re unique challenges when you factor in everything — the opponents, the climate, the travel, the quick turnaround. We understand that’s how it goes, and there’s certainly not going to be any excuses on our end. We feel like we have a group that is ready in all ways to get going [Tuesday] night and give this thing a real go.”

In the coming years, World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup titles will become yet increasingly hard to come by for the Yanks, as their fellow North and Central American and Caribbean nations continue to trend upward. As for Klinsmann, he’s focused solely on game No. 1 and will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

[ MORE: USA 4-0 Guatemala | Klinsmann “not happy” | Player ratings ]

“I think it’s crucial in a tournament that you start on the right foot,” Klinsmann said of beginning the Gold Cup on a positive note, just as his side did last summer with a 2-1 victory over Ghana in their World Cup opener. “You want to build on that, therefore the first game is always very, very important. Obviously we know that the tournament motus is a little bit different than the World Cup. We’re not in the group of death like we were in Brazil, but you want to get started with three points, there’s no doubt about it.”

Simply showing up over the next three weeks, expecting a coronation and, either 1) laboring to unimpressive victories, or 2) failing to maintain their regional dominance and superiority, would be the worst possible sign for current and future editions of the US national team.

LIVE, FA Cup 4th round: Spurs visit Southampton in all-PL tie

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The fourth round of the FA Cup is set to get into full swing at 10 a.m. ET, with eight ties kicking off simultaneously, including a pair of all-Premier League clashes.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Southampton host Tottenham Hotspur in the premier matchup of the time slot, with Jose Mourinho desperate for Cup success amid a difficult run of results at Tottenham. Elsewhere, Burnley will host Norwich City at Turf Moor. Fellow PL sides West Ham United, Newcastle United and Sheffield United are also in action.

Check the schedule of fixtures below, and hit the link above to follow along with the scores and results. As always, check back on PST for recaps and a roundup of all the action.

Saturday’s FA Cup schedule (all games at 10 a.m. ET, unless otherwise noted)

Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur
Burnley v. Norwich City
West Ham United
v. West Bromwich Albion
Newcastle United v. Oxford United
Millwall v. Sheffield United
Portsmouth v. Barnsley
Coventry City v. Birmingham City
Reading v. Cardiff City
Hull City v. Chelsea — 12:30 p.m. ET

FA Cup: Leicester survive trip to Brentford, reach 5th round (video)

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Brendan Rodgers made nine changes, but Leicester City were simply too much for an equally rotated Brentford side in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Griffin Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Leicester took an early lead through Kelechi Iheanacho with just four minutes on the clock, and that was all the Premier League’s third-place side needed to see off the EFL Championship’s third-place side. Dennis Praet gets no official credit for the goal, but it was the Belgian midfielder’s seeing-eye through ball that carved the Bees up and found James Justin for the routine cross followed by Iheanacho’s tap-in finish.

It was far from easy or straightforward for the Foxes, though, as Brentford turned things around following the first-half whistle an so nearly pulled level just past the hour mark. Emiliano Marcondes whipped in a curling, in-swinging cross that needed the slightest of redirects to find the back of the net, but Halil Dervisoglu couldn’t get a toe on the ball and watched helplessly as it hit the inside of the post and settled on the ground a yard or two off the goal line.

Bryan Mbeumo came off the bench and put the ball into the back of Leicester’s goal with his first touch, but the Frenchman was correctly ruled offside when Rico Henry looped the ball over the Foxes’ defense.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.