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USMNT faces must-win trip to Honduras as World Cup qualification hangs in balance

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The United States’ loss to Costa Rica was a wake-up call, one that has raised yellow flags all around the U.S. soccer community, but not one that has doomed their 2018 World Cup hopes. Yet.

No, that loss has not deterred the hopes of the United States, but with Bruce Arena and the United States level on points with Honudras and just three games to go, this game in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday evening is now a must-win.

According to ESPN stat expert Paul Carr, the qualification chances for the United States still currently sit at 80%, but a loss to Honduras would plummet those chances to under 50/50, near 43%. Plain and simple, the US must win. Should they fail, not only would they be at best even with Honduras still, but Panama – currently just a point back – would likely be ahead, with a home date against Trinidad & Tobago on the docket.

[ MORE: UEFA qualification sees blowouts dot the map ]

They must get a result, and they must do it without their third all-time leading scorer Jozy Altidore, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation after his caution in the Costa Rica loss. Altidore left U.S. camp, returning to Toronto FC and leaving Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Chris Wondolowski the remaining strikers for Arena to pick from.

Arena must also address the numerous problems from the failure at Red Bull Arena, which include both tactical repairs and underperforming players. The most glaring issue was the spacing between center backs Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron, the latter of whom had a disastrous game, wandering aimlessly and giving the ball away profusely. Also an issue was the midfield, which was porous manned only by Michael Bradley and the offensively-minded Darlington Nagbe. Fabian Johnson was nearly invisible on the wing, moved up from his usual national team spot along the back line. Finally, Christian Pulisic was ineffective out wide, hacked repeatedly as many CONCACAF opponents have decided to do.

Meanwhile, Honduras is where they are thanks to a road victory over T&T last time out, with a quick 2-goal start and a solid finish. Midfielder Alexander Lopez was fantastic in central midfield, passing with a 95% accuracy including a trio of key passes and scoring a goal. They attacked with success down the right flank through Alfredo Mejia and Alberth Elis, the latter of whom also scored. Jorge Villafana will need to have a better game, after being substituted off after an hour with the U.S. struggling.

The heat and humidity in Honduras is also a factor in determining Arena’s lineup. On Monday, highs in San Pedro Sula reached 91 degrees with 82% humidity. The forecast for Tuesday is more of the same. Arena told reporters on Monday that domestic players could play a larger role since their fitness is at a heightened level being further into their season.

All these issues need to be navigated or corrected – and quickly – or else Arena’s job as stopgap manager will have fallen flat on its face.

Oxlade-Chamberlain back in Liverpool training

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in Liverpool training, nine months after a horrible injury cost him the chance to appear in the UEFA Champions League Final.

Initially ruled out for the duration of the 2018-19 season following an ACL year, “The Ox” is giving the Reds a boost in Dubai.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The 25-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain posted five goals and seven assists in his first season at Liverpool.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has 32 England caps and 283 senior appearances between Southampton, Arsenal, and Liverpool. He left the Gunners in part because of a desire to play a more central role in the midfield.

Oxlade-Chamberlain detailed his recovery late last year. There’s yet to be discussion of when he might be fit to return to match play, but Liverpool will be careful with its industrious playmaker.

Montreal owner Saputo hands presidency duties to Gilmore

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Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is giving the reigns of his club to a new president.

Saputo announced Tuesday that he’s handing over presidency duties to Kevin Gilmore, the former chief operating officer of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The Saputo family founded the Impact in 1992, and Joey Saputo shepherded the club into Major League Soccer.

The Impact is coached by Remi Garde, the former Aston Villa boss, and has Designated Players in Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taidir. The Bleu-blanc-noir just started training camp.

Cardiff “very distressed,” “praying for positive news” regarding Sala

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Cardiff City executive director Ken Choo has released a statement on the missing flight from France to Wales which carried new signing Emiliano Sala.

Crews in Wales continue to search for the plane, which disappeared from radar late Monday night.

Fans have flocked to Cardiff City Stadium and Nantes town square to lay flowers in hopes of a miraculous recovery for Sala and his pilot.

From Cardiff City’s official site:

“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.

“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation.

“We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire Club with Emiliano and the pilot.

“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.

“We continue to pray for positive news.”

Ronaldo pleads guilty to tax fraud at Madrid court

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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The Juventus forward, who was facing charges stemming from his days at Real Madrid, was in court for about 45 minutes and signed an agreement which will cost him nearly 19 million euros ($21.6 million) in fines.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Ronaldo arrived at court in a black van and was wearing a black sports coat and black pants. He walked up some stairs leading to the court house and even stopped to sign an autograph.

Ronaldo made the deal to plead guilty with Spain’s state prosecutor and tax authorities last year.

In Spain, a judge can suspend sentences for two years or less for first-time offenders.

In 2017, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($16.7 million). Ronaldo was accused of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights.

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