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Finally fully fit, Spurs ready for season-defining month

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The next six games, spanning exactly four weeks, will go a long, long way toward defining Tottenham Hotspur’s 2017-18 season as either a progressive success, or an untimely failure.

[ MORE: Spurs cruise past fourth-tier Newport, reach FA Cup 5th round ]

This Saturday, it’s Arsenal who’ll visit Wembley Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), followed by the first leg of a Champions League round-of-16 tie with Juventus, followed by an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Rochdale, followed by a pair of banana-skin fixtures in the Premier League (Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town), and finally the decisive second leg against Juventus.

For all of his side’s recent success, Mauricio Pochettino is yet to guide Tottenham to the club’s first piece of silverware since the 2008 League Cup. While they’re outsiders to triumph in Europe, a trip to the semifinals — or even the quarters — would more than suffice for Spurs fans. The FA Cup, on the other hand, is well within reach, should someone do everyone a favor and knock off Manchester City.

[ MORE: Forecasting the Premier League’s top-four race ]

Following Wednesday’s fourth-round replay victory over Newport County, Pochettino reaffirmed his desire to continue to compete on every front available,  — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s the FA Cup and it’s difficult. But I am happy because we wanted to be in the next round.”

“It is important to keep going and winning games. We are going to be very busy in the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup but we want to keep this run.”

[ MORE: PFA urges Mahrez, Leicester to resolve standoff “ASAP” ]

In many ways, Spurs arrived a season (or two) ahead of schedule when they were the nearest challengers to Leicester City and Chelsea in the Premier League title race two years running. The idea, at least one might presume, was that Mauricio Pochettino’s side would continue to rise through the ranks before finally peaking in the first or second season inside the club’s new White Hart Lane stadium (set to open August 2018).

The highlight on Wednesday, however, was undoubtedly the return of star defender Toby Aldeweireld, who missed the last two months with a hamstring injury. To a lesser degree, Danny Rose and Harry Winks (both out since Boxing Day) also made their way back into the starting 11 following injuries of their own. Given it’s already a thin squad, the importance of having everyone available for selection isn’t lost on Pochettino — quotes from Sky Sports:

“It’s important for many players to have the possibility to play. It’s tough to find a place to play because the team is doing well. Today was a great opportunity for different players, like Toby, Danny and Harry Winks, to play games and compete at this level. It’s completely different to training.”

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois talking new deal, but “heart is in Madrid” ]

Successive third- and second-place finishes, coupled with the ease with which they breezed through this season’s Champions League group stage — brushing aside the likes of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund — have left Spurs in something of a confusing no man’s land, where simply finishing fourth would represent a literal step back, even if not in terms of perception and expectation.

It’s a testament to the work that Pochettino’s done thus far, as well as a reminder of how far Spurs had, and still have, to go.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.

Ronaldo staying at Real Madrid: ‘See you next year’

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MADRID (AP) — For a third straight year, Real Madrid are celebrating a European title with their fans.

Madrid brought the Champions League trophy home on Sunday and paraded it through the streets of the Spanish capital as thousands of fans saluted the newly crowned champions.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Madrid was back in Spain after winning its 13th European title with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday.

Players and team members participated in a ceremony at a local cathedral. After this they met with the city mayor and community president before addressing fans from a terrace at the Puerta del Sol square, one of Madrid’s main locations.

“It has become a routine to be here,” captain Sergio Ramos said. “Hopefully it will continue for many years.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, who after the final hinted he could be leaving Madrid, heard fans asking him to stay at the club.

“Thank you for all of your support,” Ronaldo told the crowd. “We made history, it’s time to be happy.”

The team then got on an open bus and paraded with the trophy until reaching the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where fans had been waiting for the champions for hours.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The players chanted “Campeones, Campeones” and “We Are Kings of Europe” along with the fans. Ramos and Marcelo carried the trophy across the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cibele with a Spain flag that carried Madrid’s name on it. Ramos also put a team scarf around the goddess’ head to huge cheers from the crowd as the song “We Are The Champions” was played.

The next stop was due to be the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where nearly 80,000 fans were expected to attend a ceremony honoring the European champions.

The stadium was packed on Saturday with fans watching the match on eight big screens set up at midfield. Confetti blasted from a stage behind the screens when the players lifted the trophy in Ukraine.

Thousands had already made it to the Plaza de Cibeles right after the game in celebrations that lasted into the early hours of Sunday.

Madrid has won the Champions League in four of the last five years. It had beaten Juventus last season, and city rival Atletico Madrid in finals in 2014 and 2016.

Preview: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype

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With the rest of the world’s premier soccer nations gearing up for next month’s World Cup in Russia, the U.S. men’s national team is set to host fellow non-qualifiers Bolivia in a futile friendly at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn., on Monday (6:30 p.m. ET), the Yanks’ fourth time out since that infamous night in Trinidad.

[ MORE: Ben Olsen confirms D.C. United’s interest in Wayne Rooney ]

Five days later (Saturday, June 2), they’ll face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, followed by a trip to Lyon, France, to face World Cup-bound Les Bleus (June 9).

Youth movement continues

Once again, the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard — senior figures for the last decade-plus — are nowhere to be found as Dave Sarachan completes his sentence tenure as interim head coach following Bruce Arena’s resignation in November. Back for the first time is 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, native of nearby Hershey, Penn., who with 20 caps is the joint-most veteran member (Joe Corona) of the squad.

Average age of the 22-man roster: 22.8 years old.

“As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program,” Sarachan said this week. “We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that. We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Youngsters forging careers in Europe

The just-completed 2017-18 season was a promising, encouraging one for a number of American youngsters — some not named Pulisic, even — plying their trade for a number of sides around Europe.

22-year-old defender Matt Miazga completed his second season on loan to Vitesse, made 36 appearances between August and May (43 in all competitions), and played a pivotal part in the Eredivisie side qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Come this August, he’ll be hoping to impress Antonio Conte(‘s successor) and win his place in the Chelsea squad.

19-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie made 22 Bundesliga appearances (13 starts), plus another three in the DFB Pokal cup competition, for second-place Schalke. After undergoing surgery for a knee injury in January, McKennie returned in March to reclaim a full-time spot in the gameday squad and a semi-regular place in the starting lineup.

21-year-old forward Andrija Novakovich, another Yank out on loan (from Reading) this season, bagged 21 goals in 37 league appearances for second-division Dutch side Telstar en route to an appearance in the promotion playoffs. Novakovich made his USMNT debut against Paraguay in March.

20-year-old defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur) saw first-team action this season while on loan to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday; 21-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown signed for Premier League champions Manchester City in January and spent the final four months of the season on loan to Belgian side Kortrijk; 18-year-old forward Tim Weah made his first-team debut for Paris Saint-Germain in March and made his first Ligue 1 start earlier this month.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Potential lineup

—– Hamid —–

—- Lichaj —- Miazaga —- Zimmerman —- Villafaña —-

—- Gooch —- McKennie —- 

—- Rubin —- Pulisic —- Weah —- 

—- Novakovich —-

Neymar appears in good shape after Brazil training week

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar has finished his first full week of training with Brazil in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Real vs. Liverpool ]

The striker continued his recovery Saturday in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before setting camp in London on Monday.

Brazilian football confederation footage shows Neymar passing and dribbling at high speed in training that was closed to the media.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

Brazil players will be off duty until Sunday morning. They travel to London hours later.