Seattle Sounders v D.C. United

Drilling down on: at D.C. United 1, Columbus 0

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Man of the Match: If there was justice in the world (or at least in the world of MLS stats) D.C. United right midfielder Nick DeLeon would get an assist on Chris Pontius’ goal right after the break. It was all DeLeon, whose determined dribbling and nimble spin near goal eventually provided Pontius with the easy of close-range put-aways. DeLeon, a rookie who has been fairly quite lately, not much like the energetic sort we saw in the spring, also did his share on defense, helping to contain the dangerous Dilly Duka.

Packaged for take-away:

  • DeLeon needed a night like this one. With Andy Najar on his way back from the Olympics, he’ll need to keep bringing it to keep that starting spot.
  • Ben Olsen gave a surprise start to Long Tan, who took up a post slightly higher than Dwayne De Rosario.
  • First big opportunity went to Dilly Duka for Columbus, who worked his way into a great position but couldn’t beat Bill Hamid from close range. Duka continues to look dangerous for Columbus, and United devoted a lot of energy to containing his side.
  • De Rosario always plays close to the edge, offside-wise; So does Tan, as we see now. Final offside count for the home team: 12. For both teams combined: 18. Blek!
  • A lot of tactical fouling in midfield was going on for Columbus; that’s the referee’s job to enforce, of course. It took a while for Allen Chapman to get hold of it, but both wide men for Columbus (Justin Meram and Dilly Duka) had yellow cards inside the first 28 minutes. Central midfielder Chris Birchall got one in the 35th, and it was quite well deserved for a nasty swipe from behind on a dashing Chris Pontius.
  • With such a primary defensive tactic eliminated by the bookings, United began getting just a little more of the game and inching closer to scoring opportunities.
  • Meanwhile, both of the Crew’s central midfielder starters Saturday are defensive sorts. So neither Milovan Mirosevic nor Birchall were able to establish a reliable connection with Eddie Gaven, who played behind striker Jairo Arrieta.
  • Outside backs getting forward? Yeah, not much in this one. Not effectively, at any rate.
  • A pretty scary moment came and went for DCU fans in the first half when a Carlos Mendes tackle sent De Rosario crashing to the turf and clutching his shoulder. He was soon back to full “De Ro.”
  • With Branko Boskovic, the would-be DCU playmaker, plus De Rosario, plus the reliable possession provided centrally by Perry Kitchen, why does center back Emiliano Dudar insist on launching so many big balls past the midfield?
  • Still in need of a goal, the Crew went to … Tony Tchani for Mirosevic? Tchani is no more attack-minded than the man he replaced. It draws a circle around the lack of attacking options at the moment for Crew coach Robert Warcycha.
  • Best players for Columbus? Chad Marshall had a credible night, although he could have been closer on target with a couple of chances on attacking restarts. Birchall was strong on the defensive end of his midfield chores. And goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was steady in goal, helping his team with about three nice saves. But nothing new there.
  • United still doesn’t look comfortable (or make the best choices) while holding a late lead. It’s still a young team, of course, so maybe that’s to be expected.

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.