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USMNT: Howard always stayed optimistic he’d be healthy for WCQs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) As his U.S. teammates trained under cloudy skies on a brisk Bay Area morning, Tim Howard sat on the sidelines and stretched out his shoulders. He balanced on his left leg and warmed up his hips.

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This is the new normal for Howard, fresh off his 38th birthday and a November surgery on his right thigh to repair the adductor muscle.

“I’m old,” chuckled Howard, the Americans’ top goalkeeper the past two World Cups. “That’s every day for me now, between now and the next three years that’s what every day looks like. It’s a process, but hopefully it’ll pay off.”

Howard is expected to start for coach Bruce Arena in Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras at Avaya Stadium, home of the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, before the Americans play at Panama four days later.

“It’s good to have him back,” said defender DaMarcus Beasley. “He’s been a big part of this team for a long time now. Big games, World Cups, qualifiers. To have him back with the team and the group is a big plus for us and for everybody to see him back, especially after the injury he had at the end of last season.”

[ MORE: Arena names 24 to senior roster ahead of WCQs next week ]

Brad Guzan, who was in net for two losses in World Cup qualifying last November, was replaced last week and he and his wife welcomed a baby girl Sunday night — “9 pounds, I’m told, and 22 inches long,” Arena announced, though he didn’t know the baby’s name except that she arrived a little early.

“In these situations, I think family comes first, despite what we’d all like to think otherwise around the sporting side,” Arena said. “He needs to be with his family this week, so the decision for him to stay makes sense.”

Howard is confident kicking with his right foot again but he notes, “Thankfully I have half a decent left foot” when he needs to use it.

The U.S. is 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time, and Arena returned to coach the team 10 years after his firing when he was hired in November to replace Jurgen Klinsmann. That month, the Americans lost to Mexico 2-1 at home and 4-0 at Costa Rica.

Arena will be cautious with Howard as well as Clint Dempsey , who is back playing after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.

Leading into his first MLS season with Colorado, Howard had hoped his body would allow him to return to the Americans’ roster for qualifying, but didn’t want to put anything in stone without knowing for sure he would be healthy. Now, he never expects to be fully 100 percent.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s learn group-stage opponents at World Cup in May ]

“I kind of felt that I’d be ready but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. It was a long rehab,” he said. “A lot could happen between whenever that was, January, and now. We have setbacks all the time. I was on the right path, I was always going to be March 11 or there about, but I didn’t want to put a timeframe on it and have a setback, so for me it was just personal. I’m 38, I don’t think I’ll ever be 100 percent again. But I’ve played through everything in my career, so it’s not an issue for me.”

Fellow goalkeepers Nick Rimando and David Bingham worked through drills Monday with position coach Matt Reis. Arena wouldn’t say whether he had decided to promote Howard to No. 1 keeper before Guzan’s availability became a question.

“We haven’t decided our starting lineup yet. We’re playing Friday, it’s Monday,” he told The AP.

Sounders stars Dempsey and Jordan Morris didn’t train Monday, though Dempsey came to the field. Morris stayed at the team hotel Tuesday for treatment on the right ankle he injured during the first half of Seattle’s 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.

While Howard said the “unknown” concerned him in regards to his comeback and trying to simulate game action, he considers himself fortunate his timing and instincts are still intact at this stage of his career.

“I’m thankful that my reflexes and my reactions haven’t slowed,” he said. “So that’s been a good thing. I probably take less risks and I think that’s helpful.”

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

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2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2

Arsenal issue injury update

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Arsenal have issued an injury update on several players after their win at West Ham on Monday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg will have an injury headache to sort out, especially at full back, as Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were both injured before and during the 3-1 win at the London Stadium.

Bellerin felt his hamstring go in the warm up and the Spaniard was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who performed well.

“Hector had a feeling in his hamstring during the warm-up and we took the decision. Not going to force anyone to play if they don’t feel 100%,” Ljungberg said. “It was a straight swap on that with Ainsley. Ainsley has been out in the cold a little bit but came in and did really well. I’m really proud of him.”

As for Tierney, who suffered a shoulder injury during the game, the prognosis on the Scottish left back doesn’t appear as positive as Bellerin.

“It’s something with his shoulder but I don’t know exactly what that is. We obviously had to take him off. He’s going to hospital to get it checked,” Ljungberg added.

The Gunners have enough defensive issues as it is without throwing a few injuries to arguably their best right and left backs.

Arsenal have plenty of walking wounded right now, as Rob Holding wasn’t in the squad to face West Ham due to a knee injury flaring up, while Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe are still working their way back to full fitness.

Remarkably, Arsenal are just seven points off the top four given the firing of Unai Emery, their woeful defensive displays and their worst-ever start to a season.

Ljungberg’s boys host Man City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) which looks like being a straight shootout between two teams who can score at will but can’t keep them out at the other end.

The Gunners are great to watch for the neutrals, but these defensive injuries continue to hamper any recovery post-Emery.