Not six months after an impressive World Cup showing, the U.S. men's national soccer team is in distress.

Four matches since October have failed to yield a single win for the squad. As young players have been brought on to take the place of aging veterans -- a common practice at the start of a new four-year World Cup cycle -- the personality that defined this summer's national squad is nowhere to be found.

The low point came earlier this week, when Ireland stomped America 4-1 -- the worst loss for the U.S. under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

After the loss, players and Klinsmann himself were making light of the mental problems afflicting the team. Always an optimist, Klinsmann only had one prescription for what ails his roster:

"We have to get nastier."

Some of the struggles have been credited to a wave of new, inexperienced players Klinsmann is hoping to develop the next few years. These players have taken the places -- for now, anyway -- of older players like Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones, who have been excused from the team while they play in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

But questions of toughness are rampant throughout the roster. Jozy Altidore admonished himself after the loss to Ireland, saying he needs to play tougher for the team. After an impressive summer, the American soccer psyche is backsliding less than six months later.

This fall, the USMNT has managed only two ties against underdogs Ecuador and Honduras, followed by a loss to Colombia and then to the Irish.

While there's plenty of time before those poor performances take on real consequence, the team's current symptoms indicate widespread dysfunction and a loss of identity.

With Klinsmann aiming to take the USMNT even farther in the 2018 World Cup, such mental lapses aren't acceptable. The next World Cup remains far away, but there is urgent work to be done with the U.S. squad.

In Clark Kellogg's opinion, there's no point in guessing how incoming freshman might perform at the college level.

While it's fun to wonder, the expectations are unfair to those athletes. And, many times, that speculation is off.

"As much as I've read about them and heard of them, I usually haven't seen [those freshman] much in high school," Kellogg says. "Even if I had, I reserve judgment until I see them in the college environment.

"I try to give the freshman a few games to evaluate and see whether they will live up to their hype. Some will live up to it, others will exceed it, and some will fall short."

Along those same lines, Kellogg isn't a fan of preseason rankings. With so many unknowns, the CBS commentator thinks it's better to let the season play out for four to six weeks, so that a fair judgment of teams being made.

Kellogg's views are uncommon in an era where offseason speculation has become a legitimate hobby for sports fans. And in college basketball, where freshmen factor into the national title race almost every year, Kellogg enters each season with only the most fundamental of preconceptions.

Based on its returning squads, Wisconsin and Kentucky rank highly in Kellogg's mind as teams that have a shot at the national title. Both have experienced upperclassmen, proven coaches and experience in the NCAA tournament.

But Kentucky also boasts an acclaimed freshman class, arguably the best in the country. When you factor in those expectations, along with coach John Calipari's plans to play two five-man units separately, Kentucky becomes one of the country's most intriguing teams.

"Will [the Wildcats] stay with this platoon system that they’re trying to employ?" Kellogg says. "Because of how unique it is, because of Calipari, because it's Kentucky, they might have more legs to stay with [the rotation] than another team.

"Because it’s so against the grain, I think it could be one of the stories that keeps our attention."

Wisconsin's big disadvantage, meanwhile, is that a strong returning roster hasn't been bolstered with any notable freshman additions.

Kellogg, who also serves as an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup, places a premium on experience in college basketball -- particularly once the single-elimination tournament hits. For that reason, he already has a few Cinderella-type programs on his radar.

"[Harvard] under Tommy Amaker, in the last few years, has won a second-round tournament game," Kellogg says. "They have that experience. [A lot of] those guys have returned.

"VCU is another one of those teams. ... After its run to the Final Four a few years back, [the program] has still been successful, but it might be primed and poised to go a little further. The weight of expectations can be burdensome, and I think [VCU] felt that for a while."

Every year, the NCAA hands out dozens of trophies to championship athletic programs.

In the Capital One Cup, there can only be one winner. The annual contest, which is entering its fifth season, seeks to crown the most successful top-to-bottom athletic program in the country for both men's and women's sports.

"It's the ultimate bragging rights in college sports," says Doug Flutie, a former Heisman winner who now sits on the Cup's advisory board. "If you have a very good athletic program top-to-bottom, you're going to get in the mix."

At stake: up to $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships.

"The money is huge, especially for smaller schools," Flutie says.

The Capital One Cup awards points to programs that finish the season ranked in the top 10 nationally. The scoring accounts for 19 men's sports programs and 20 women's NCAA athletic programs.

Last year, Notre Dame edged out Oregon for the Capital One Cup on the men's side, while Florida's women's programs dominated the field.

Certain sports offer more points than others -- college football can net schools up to 60 points each, for example, while smaller programs like bowling and tennis earn 20 points for a championship -- but smaller schools are fully capable of entering the competitive mix.

North Dakota State, for example, finished tied for ninth place last year on the men's side. In sports like college basketball, where small programs sometimes may impressive runs to the championship, final rankings can have a big influence on the overall picture.

Advisory board member Clark Kellogg explains that when you're looking at preseason contenders for a sport like college basketball, you're essentially looking at teams who could place highly in the Capital One Cup standings.

Kellogg also appreciates seeing athletic success rewarded with academic scholarship money.

"As an advisory board member I’m thrilled to be a part of a team that highlights both," Kellogg says.

Flutie, meanwhile, hopes his alma mater, Boston College, can improve upon last year's finishes. The men's programs finished 61st nationally, while the women's programs placed 31st.

"Hockey’s their mainstay," Flutie says. "Hockey’s going to be the mix for a national championship. Football is going to be improved this year. Overall, they have a great athletic program.

"They do it the right way top-to-bottom, but they have to get their act together [to rise in the rankings]."

Learn more about the Capital One Cup on Facebook and Twitter.

Zach Hodskins doesn't know what it's like to play basketball with two hands. Maybe that's why he's so good with just one.

Hodskins, who made headlines last year when Florida offered him a spot on its men's basketball team, made his college debut as a freshman for the Gators just days ago.

With the Gators blowing out William and Mary in its season opener, coach Billy Donovan inserted Hodskins and other reserves into the game for the final two minutes.

Hodskins didn't score, but he hustled on defense and nearly scored on a driving layup that began outside of the three-point line. The freshman walk-on received a thunderous ovation when he took the court, and the arena was on pins and needles hoping he would score:

Hodskins has a reputation as a three-point ace, which could come in handy for the Gators down the road. The fact that he was given playing time in his first-ever college game does bode well for his future at Florida.

Here's one of Hodskins' old highlight reels from his high school days:

Clint Dempsey is tired.

Can you blame him? For the past 18 months, he's played soccer almost non-stop.

When most of Major League Soccer put up their feet and enjoyed the 2014 World Cup from the couch, Dempsey was hard at work for the U.S. Men's National Team, which shook off its underdog status and advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament.

Afterwards, Dempsey resumed the MLS season -- going up against players with well-rested legs. And that burden he carried with his body wasn't limited to just the extra World Cup play: Dempsey had also been playing important World Cup qualifying matches and training with the national team in earnest for a full year before that.

Now, he's facing just a few more games before a much-deserved offseason -- his first true break in nearly two years.

But there's a lot at stake before Dempsey reaches the finish line. The Seattle Sounders have advanced to the Western Conference Championship against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the first game of which will will be played this Sunday.

Dempsey's Sounders face a tall task in that matchup. Seattle and Los Angeles enter as the top two teams in Major League Soccer over the regular season. And they're offensive juggernauts: The Galaxy scored 69 regular-season goals, while the Sounders had 65. Only one other team is within 10 goals of that production.

That could turn the Western Conference Championship into a wild west shootout. Dempsey will have to match the production of Los Angeles' Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who are firing on all cylinders right now.

Dempsey has the advantage of a long layoff between the last round and Sunday's match -- 13 days, to be exact. But given Dempsey's condition, it may not be enough. The Sounders routinely spelled him throughout the regular season post-World Cup, with Dempsey insisting that he needed time to recover.

Those brief breaks served as useful bandages, but they did little to resolve the long-term problem: Dempsey's legs have a lot of miles on them in 2014. Two weeks may provide a little spark, but he'll be far from a spring chicken.

Dempsey already lacks the foot speed to beat defenders on breakaways, so he'll have to wield creativity to produce goals against the Galaxy.

The Sounders will almost surely have to do better than their performance against FC Dallas in the previous round, where a strong defensive performance helped the team advance despite just one goal in two matches.

The good news is that Dempsey has always been a crafty creator on offense. Although Obafemi Martins leads the Sounders in both goals and assists, Dempsey created 36 more shots than Martins during the regular season.

But Dempsey only scored on less than 10 percent of those shots. Martins' scoring percentage was 22 percent.

While Dempsey might simply be more aggressive in taking shots than his teammates, such a low scoring percentage could suggest that fatigue is affecting his ability to finish.

Dempsey will hold up through the last two to four games of the MLS playoffs, but whether he can bring his peak performance is another matter.

NBA stars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony made headlines during the summer by dropping a significant amount of weight. It was a strategic decision, as those players have reached a point in their career where sleeker serves them better than bulkier. It requires a certain type of training and diet to lose the pounds while maintaining the strength to be an effective player. Our panel of fitness experts talks it over:

Spurs swingman Kawhi Leonard was named MVP of the NBA Finals last season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the San Francisco Chronicle that Barnes could blossom into that type of player for Golden State. If that happens, here's one good reason why: Barnes' dedication to offseason training.

In the latter half of LeBron James' time in Miami, Dwyane Wade's performances appeared to decline sharply. With the ball out of his hands, Wade was scoring less, and he functioned more like a participant of the Heat offense than the main engine driving the team.

Now, LeBron is gone. Suddenly, Wade is back to his old self. According to the Miami Herald, Wade knows exactly why:

“I got the ball in my hands."

It's a somewhat surprising revelation since James bolted South Beach for Cleveland. While Wade's career seemed to be in serious decline -- his scoring dropped, and he missed 28 games in last year's regular season to keep his knees and body fresh for the playoffs -- Wade now seems like his old self.

That lends credibility to the notion that squeezing three superstars onto one team can dull the full impact of their respective skills. Teammate Chris Bosh has made comments in the past that playing with James kept him from affecting the game as much as he was capable of.

This season, Wade has seemed to shave years off of his career. He's averaging almost 20 points and leading the Heat in assists. Wade is also very efficient, shooting 51 percent from the field.

After ranking 128th in the league last season in touches per game, Wade is now 25th. And he's still keeping his minutes low, averaging around 32 per game. It's worked for the Heat, who are off to a 5-2 start.

Compared that to LeBron's Cavaliers, who are 3-3 and still struggling to fit their starring pieces together.

Wade also credits a dietary change over the summer that helped him cut weight and take some of the stress off of his knees. He also adopted a new training routine that so far is paying dividends.

And while he savors the two rings he won with LeBron's Heat, Wade seems content to move on to a new chapter of his life.

"I'm just enjoying life right now,” Wade told the Herald. "I'm enjoying this team and enjoying the opportunity to play in the NBA once again for another season, and sometimes you realize how blessed you are and don’t take things for granted."

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No wonder Tom Brady had such a rough outing earlier this year on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs. As it turns out, that game was played well past his bedtime.

The game in question, on Sept. 29, started at 8:30 p.m. ET. That, according to New England receiver Julian Edelman, is Brady's bedtime. Brady went 14-for-23 for 159 yards to go along with two interceptions and one touchdown in that loss. Since then the Patriots have won five games in a row and are now all alone in first place in the AFC East (only one of those games, on Oct. 16 against the Jets, was played at night.)

In a recent column ESPN's Bill Simmons says Edelman told him that Brady is so adamant about his football longevity that he goes to bed well before people twice his age.

Brady confirmed that habit during his weekly radio interview on Boston's WEEI:

"I do go to bed very early because I'm up very early," Brady said, according to Business Insider. "I think that the decisions that I make always center around performance enhancement, if that makes sense. So whether that's what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don't drink, it's always football-centric. I want to be the best I can be every day. I want to be the best I can be every week. I want to be the best I can be for my teammates. I love the game and I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things differently than the way guys have always done it."

Perhaps this is why, at 37, Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks around. Through nine games he's on pace to throw for 4,252 yards and 39 touchdowns.

While his sleeping habits may help his productivity, unfortunately for Brady he tends to miss some important events because he's in bed. Two years ago Brady was asked by reporters whether he felt an earthquake that rocked the Northeast. He said he did, and that it happened at 7 p.m., right before he went to sleep.

"7:15 I was asleep," Brady said. "Trying to get bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."

Landon Donovan is the biggest name in American soccer. In his final playoff run with the Los Angeles Galaxy, he's dominating the opponents to the degree that some wonder if it's really time for him to hang up his cleats.

The attention is deserved, but it overshadows another person just as important to the Galaxy's success this year: Fellow forward Robbie Keane.

On the Galaxy, Donovan and Keane are something of a dynamic duo. Their most recent performance spurred the Galaxy to a 5-0 win over Real Salt Lake to advance in the MLS playoffs. Donovan notched a hat trick in the game, which by the end felt like a celebration of the American star.

But if Donovan's role is as the Galaxy's finisher, Keane must be credited as the creator. For all of Donovan's impressive footwork and precise shooting, Keane functions as an under-appreciated artist on the field, using his positioning and passing to create the space in which Donovan works.

So while Donovan's three-goal performance took the spotlight after the team's most recent win, Keane walked off the field three assists richer, with his own goal to boot.

During the regular season, Keane was just as instrumental, scoring 19 goals and 14 assists in 34 games -- marks that rank him third and second in the league, respectively. Donovan remains the star, but Keane is a veritable MVP candidate in his fourth MLS season.

Keane is also two years older than Donovan. At 34, the Irishman is dominating Major League Soccer with a veteran savvy that understands how to win the mental battle on the pitch.

Such examples were rampant in the Galaxy's 5-0 win. Keane's goal came on a play in which a counterattack was sprung with the forward far offside. Keane scrambled back onside, running full-speed against the flow of the game, and then took a cross in to score an easy goal.

It wasn't just Keane's speed that created the opportunity -- it was his awareness of exactly where to place himself. Keane's awareness of the defense placed him in a perfect spot in front of Salt Lake's goal, where no defender was able to contest his shot.

Later, Keane sprung Donovan for a one-touch breakaway goal with a pass that employed perfect placement and arc. It's the kind of opportunity that could only be created with world-class field vision.

This is no surprise to Irish soccer fans, who have been admiring Keane's performances since he joined Ireland's national team in 1998. In his sixteen-year international career, Keane has scored 64 goals in International play while excelling in the world's top professional soccer leagues.

While Major League Soccer fans are witnessing an older, slightly slowed Keane, his mental game remains as sharp as ever. This brilliance is most evident in the way Keane springs the Galaxy's offense loose.

Sometimes, it's teammates like Donovan that wind up in the spotlight. But he wouldn't be there without Robbie Keane.

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