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US will need road results to reach 8th straight World Cup

Published: Sunday, September 03, 2017 @ 7:17 PM
Updated: Sunday, September 03, 2017 @ 7:16 PM


            U.S. coach Bruce Arena, center right, shouts during the second half of the teams' World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
U.S. coach Bruce Arena, center right, shouts during the second half of the teams' World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Michael Bradley realizes the huge distinction between home games and road matches in international soccer.

"In some cases it couldn't be more different," the U.S. captain said last week at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. "You look around here: a beautiful stadium, a field that's in great condition."

And then he thought ahead to the Americans' upcoming trip to Central America.

"Tuesday in Honduras will be the complete opposite," he predicted, "so your group has to have a mentality that understands that, embraces that and realizes that the way to get results on the road is different."

Teams usually reach the World Cup by winning home games and occasionally picking up points on the road. The U.S. had lost once in 50 home qualifiers (42 wins, seven ties) since 1985 before defeats to Mexico last November and to Costa Rica on Friday night.

During that same span, the Americans had 19 wins, 15 losses and 16 draws in away qualifiers.

A temperature in the low 90s is expected for the late-afternoon game, which kicks off at 3:36 p.m. (5:36 p.m. EDT). High humidity could make it feel like about 110, and rain is possible. The Americans won a night game here 3-2 eight years ago, then wasted a one-goal halftime lead in the afternoon in 2013, wilting during a 2-1 loss to the Catrachos.

Gaining at least a point at Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano has become critical for the Americans, who are third in the North and Central America and the Caribbean with eight points, ahead of Honduras on goal difference. The top three teams qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation goes to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 finisher.

Mexico (17 points) clinched Friday night and Costa Rica (14) is on the verge of assuring itself a World Cup trip. While Panama (seven points) could move into third with a home win over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, the U.S. hosts the Panamanians next month and could move back ahead.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard said Friday's 2-0 lost to Costa Rica doesn't change the U.S. approach to Honduras.

"I think we would have anticipated us going down there and getting a win," he said.

The U.S. probably will need wins or draws from all three of its remaining games to reach its eighth straight World Cup. The Americans host Panama on Oct. 6 at Orlando, Florida, and conclude the hexagonal four days later at Trinidad, which probably will have been eliminated by then.

After the U.S. opened the final round with losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, the U.S. Soccer Federation fired coach Jurgen Klinsmann and brought back Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. Qualifying started to get back on track in March with a 6-0 rout of Honduras at San Jose, California. The U.S. figures to play a bit more defensively on the road.

Arena made three changes to his lineup for the March qualifier at Panama, when his players had three days' rest, and seven for the June match at Mexico City, when there were just two days between games and the U.S. had little time to adjust to altitude.

He will have to make at least one switch Tuesday: forward Jozy Altidore is suspended for yellow card accumulation.

Howard was at fault on Costa Rica's first goal Friday and defender Geoff Cameron's poor pass led to the second. With a 25-man roster, Arena has ample maneuvering space.

"We're going to go down there with the mentality to win the game," Bradley said. "We're going to be aggressive. We're going to make sure we've got 11 guys on the field who are ready to give everything, and we will. If at the end of 90 minutes we're in a position where we take one point, then we'll take that and know that everything's still in our own hands in the last two games."

Jay Z turns down offer to perform at Super Bowl 52

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:20 PM

Being chosen to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show is considered one of the biggest stages in music. Rapper Jay Z does not care.

Jay Z, his real name is Shawn Carter, turned down an invitation to headline the Super Bowl 52 halftime show, according to The Source.

The rap mogul has expressed solidarity with free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is currently being blackballed by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem to protect racial injustice. Jay Z hasn’t specified why he brushed the NFL off his shoulders. Yet, one could hypothesize that Jay Z has issues with how the NFL is treating Kaepernick as well as other matters.

Jay Z’s wife Beyoncé performed at Super Bowl 50. Michael Jackson and Prince have also at the coveted event.

The 47-year-old rapper won’t be adding the Super Bowl to his resume.

Jay Z might have 99 problems but the Super Bowl isn’t one.

NFL executive: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley ‘is better in every area’ than Ezekiel Elliott

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:16 PM

The praise continues to flow in for Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. This time, it’s an anonymous NFL executive saying Barkley tops Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott “in every area.”

That quote comes from an anonymous polling of five NFL executives conducted by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah on who they think is the best comparison to the Nittany Lions star.

The other names thrown out: David Johnson, “a better version of Kareem Hunt,” Corey Dillon and “a more explosive Joe Mixon.” The name Superman was also thrown out. But it’s the Elliott blurb that stands out.

“I was at the game a few years ago when Elliott and Barkley shared the same field. As impressive as Elliott was, Barkley was the better player. They have similar skill sets but Barkley is better in every area.”

Anonymous NFL executive on Saquon Barkley

That’s obviously high praise given that Elliott, an Ohio State alum, was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and led the league in rushing last year as a rookie. You’d really think that’s the best you can get when it comes to a young running back.

But Barkley’s hype train just keeps picking up steam. Todd McShay said he would take Barkley No. 1 overall in a college football draft and the Penn State star is shooting up both Heisman polls and draft boards.

On the South Carolina football beat: Gamecocks have little margin for error

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:11 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. – For those who don’t work in the online publication world, the term SEO probably means absolutely nothing.

But if you own a laptop or smartphone and have ever told someone to ‘just Google it,’ then SEO is everything.

Just Google “ Will Muschamp Florida conservative” and see what pops up.

That SEO lights up like a Christmas tree and shares all sorts of stories from right around the time he was fired as the coach at Florida. It was the theme during Muschamp’s downfall in Gainesville.

Somehow, three games into his second season at South Carolina, a few folks are wondering why his current team didn’t run the ball more often in the 23-13 loss to  Kentucky. Imagine that. Times really do change, but then again, the boss from TV show The Apprentice is now the president of the United States.

So, yes, anything can happen in the year 2017.

To the slightly more astute South Carolina football observer, the real question about what’s going on with the running game is this: Why weren’t they more effective, especially where it matters most, on third-and short and fourth-and-short?

A.J. Turner is actually a reliable option between the tackles. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

“In those situations we have to evaluate, first of all, schematically what we’re doing and revisit some of those things, which we have done since the [Kentucky] game,” Muschamp said. “We look back first at scheme and then challenge the guys a little bit to understand the situational football and being able to get 1 yard. I think it’s a combination of both.”

In a roundabout way, that translates to this: South Carolina’s has to do a better job of making room for its running backs, whether that’s A.J. Turner going between the tackles on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, or Rico Dowdle pushing it outside on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

When your running back gets hit before he comes close to sniffing the line of scrimmage, it doesn’t really matter who’s carrying the ball in whatever situation. While Turner has proven to be capable of picking up tough yards between the tackles, he weighs 184 pounds. Physically, Ty’Son Williams (215) and Dowdle (220) are a little more equipped for that type of work.

“In those situations, we certainly have revisited on who is in the game, but what we do in short yardage and goal line, we’ll continue to try and improve that situational football part of our game,” Muschamp said.

Will Muschamp (left) demoted Alex Woznick (right) from place-kicking duties. (Hale McGranahan/SEC Country)

Unfortunately for South Carolina, there were a few other issues to take away from that forgettable night against Kentucky— special teams and clock management, to be specific. Given the inexperience with the entire battery — holder, snapper and kicker — it should come as no surprise that special teams played a part in costing the Gamecocks a win.

Before the first 50-something-yard field goal attempt against Kentucky, Alex Woznick, the former-short-yardage-guy, was sent out, though he never attempted the kick. Muschamp burned the first timeout, presumably to sub in Parker White, the former long-yardage-only guy.

Even before hindsight made this thing a perfect 20/20, a Jake Bentley throw to Hayden Hurst or Deebo Samuel on fourth-and-5 could have worked, right? I’d take my chances there over a redshirt freshman walk-on attempting his first-ever college kick, which just so happened to be from 52 yards.

Additionally, burning that timeout may have cost South Carolina some points with 5 seconds left before halftime.

White made a kick from 49 yards, but a delay-of-game penalty negated the score and pushed the kick back to a 54-yard try. After the penalty, Kentucky iced White, who missed the attempt that actually counted.

For a team that has very little margin for error, the mistakes are magnified. Unfortunately, for the Gamecocks, those mistakes were compounded on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Mississippi State podcast: National media thinks Dan Mullen should leave Starkville, and MSU fans should be happy about that

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:11 PM

Welcome to More Cowbell, SEC Country’s daily podcast about Mississippi State   sports with host Brandon Walker.

Once again, Mississippi State is winning. Once again, Dan Mullen is off to a 3-0 start. And once again, Mullen is becoming a hot name nationally, as media members are racing each other to write stories about Mullen needing to leave Starkville. It’s nearly an annual tradition, and one that MSU fans should welcome with open arms.

At 3-0 and ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25, Mullen has MSU positioned for another strong season. In his ninth year at MSU, Mullen has survived rumors of his leaving before, and likely will again. But in the onslaught of media members trying to coax Mullen out of Starkville remains something positive for MSU: If Mullen’s name is hot, that simply means MSU is a good football.