An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wishing I had a share of the profits from meldonium sales to Russian athletes.

Crunch time

Bruce Arena’s ability to motivate his players is facing its biggest test.

Friday night’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica was a disastrous result for a United States men’s soccer team that needed to continue claiming maximum points from its remaining home games in World Cup qualifying.

Instead, Arena watched as his squad suffered what was just the USA’s third qualifying loss at home since 1985.  And here’s the real problem: two of those losses have been suffered by this team.

The last time the U.S. lost two games on home turf in one qualifying round robin was 1957.

Arena had even said before the Costa Rica game that a win was “critical if we are going to have any hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.” But because they lost, the pressure will be ramped up even more for Tuesday’s game in Honduras.

The good news is that Arena’s first game back in charge as the national team coach was a 6-0 win over Honduras in March. The bad news is that the USA and Honduras are tied in the standings for the third berth to advance to Russia next summer. That 6-0 win did at least establish a big edge in goal differential.

“We’ll move on,” Arena said. “This is how you deal with competition in sports. You don’t win every game and when you have a bad result, you have to put it past you and focus on the next one.”

After Tuesday, the U.S. has two games in November to clinch the third spot – at home against Panama and away to Trinidad. If the USA finishes fourth, Arena could still get the team to Russia if the U.S. wins a playoff  with the fifth-place team from Asia qualifying.

But no, that’s not an option this team wants to use as a fallback plan.Captain Michael Bradley was blunt about what needs to happen Tuesday and beyond.

“We all understand that getting to a World Cup is pass or fail. And at the end, nothing else matters,” Bradley said. “It’s our responsibility as players to step on the field and make sure that we find the right ways to do whatever it takes to qualify.”

The other bad news Arena will have to deal with is that forward Jozy Altidore picked up a costly yellow card that will force him to sit out the game because of accumulated penalties.

 Replacement player

Defending national champion Clemson might not have a problem replacing all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson, after all.

Making his first start, junior Kelly Bryant passed for 221 yards, including a 61-yard hook up with Deon Cain as Watson was watching from the sidelines at Memorial Stadium.

Since the NFL doesn’t start play until next week, the Houston Texans draft pick came back to the South Carolina campus to watch the Tigers unveil the championship banner.

Bryant completed 16 of 22 passes and also gained 77 yards on just seven carries in a 55-3 rout of Kent State. Clemson had 665 yards of total offense and Bryant set the school record for total offense by an individual player in an opening game with 313 yards, surpassing the 312 yards Tajh Boyd had against Georgia in 2013.

“To see Kelly Bryant set the record for total offense by a player in an opener when he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter was impressive,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “It was a fun game for the team coming off of a long camp. It was something that we can really build off of.”

Kelly’s first real tests will come in the next two weeks with Auburn visiting Clemson next Saturday and the Tigers traveling to Louisville a week later.

 They said it

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Did you see where the New York Times is reporting it has evidence Florida State’s 2013 national-championship team was sullied by athletic favoritism and academic fraud. In related news, I am reporting that so has every other national champion of the last 50 years.”

Brad Dickson of Omaha (Neb.) World Herald:The NFL is going to begin paying some referees a full-time salary in hopes of attracting better talent. Hey, that worked for SEC players.”

Janice Hough of “With all the bad press NFL players get, often deservedly so, may I just say that JJ Watt seems to be a seriously fine human being.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Last Wednesday, in case you missed it, was National Coloring Book Day. Or as it’s better known around college jock factories, National Textbook Day.”

R.J. Currie of “At Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader tryout, Holly Marie Powell lost her halter top during a morning solo dance. In the afternoon, she was the best performer – bra none.”

Best seat

For Friday night’s game against No. 8 Washington, Rutgers had hot tubs placed in the student section as a special Labor Day Holiday Weekend promotion, “War Before the Shore.”

The idea was to give the students a reason to stay in town Friday before they left for a long holiday weekend at the beach.

The Huskies won 30-14, but at least the students who came with their swimwear didn’t have much to complain about.

There was also a sand sculpture and beach volleyball courts outside the stadium. The first 5,000 fans received beach towels and the first 2,000 students were given tank tops.

There were even lifeguards for the hot tubs.

Passing Pele

In other international soccer news, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals in a 5-1 win over the Faroe Islands to move past Brazilian legend Pele on the chart for all-time national team goals. Ronaldo now has 78 goals in 144 appearances to move into the top five, and one more than Pele.

Ronaldo is now tied for fifth with Iraq’s Hussein Saeed, while Zambia’s Godfrey Chitalu is fourth with 79. Iran’s Ali Daei tops the list with 109 goals, while Hungary’s Ferenc Puskás is second with 84 and Japan’s Kunishige Kamamoto is third with 80.

Headlines “Ejected Little League coach forced to stand on other side of chain link fence until game is over.” “Texans cut J.J. Watt for focusing on Houston fundraising efforts instead of football.” “Blocking sled having career day vs. Jets’ O-line.” “Tim Tebow plans to hit .220 again in 2018.” “Callaway 9 iron once again named Gold Digest’s best club for smashing in cheating ex’s windshield.” “Desperate Jaguars head coach names Peyton Manning starting QB.”

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