Stock rising: the United States men whose standing improved during two World Cup qualifiers

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Eddie Johnson:

Two weeks ago, in most minds, he was just a curiosity at national team level, someone that manager Jurgen Klinsmann should maybe think about. Now? If Klinsmann chose 23 to get on the plane bound for Brazil, the Seattle Sounders’ striker and his big “ups” would definitely have a seat. Two goals against Antigua and Barbuda were massive in getting the United States into next year’s final round.

Johnson also showed he can be serviceable in a wide role. Not great, perhaps, but adequate. That knowledge gives Klinsmann just little more tactical versatility, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Michael Bradley:

How much better did the U.S. midfield look with the unquestioned general returning to the center of the park? It was measurable, with Bradley consistently available, almost always making the right choices, always adding composure and wits to the linking effort.

Outside of Johnson, Bradley was the one man who rose above the conditions to have a big match in Antigua. Tactically, he never missed a beat Tuesday while playing in a more advanced role before the break, then sliding back one level to work alongside Danny Williams after intermission.

Meanwhile, the buzz keeps growing that as Carlos Bocanegra moves on in age, Bradley will assume the captain’s armband – so long as he can tame those occasional outbursts, like the one Friday. His anger was justified, but he simply has to keep his cool there.

Clint Dempsey:

Like Bradley, we knew he was eminently valuable, and yet he found a way to earn even more esteem. After a quiet and wandering Friday, the Texan reached in to find a big match on Tuesday, providing two goals and an assist in the money match, the win over Guatemala. In the end, Dempsey scored in four of the six semifinal round qualifiers; File that under “flat out getting it done.”

Graham Zusi:

Watching him chase on defense, move wisely off the ball and busily work the passing angles, it’s hard to imagine that Sporting Kansas City’s technically gifted attacker has just six international appearances. He has quickly established himself as go-to for Klinsmann, and a versatile one at that. While Zusi is likely to lose his place in the lineup when Landon Donovan returns, it’s fair to ask if he already has lapped Brek Shea in the pecking order of wide attackers.

(MORE: Stock holding steady)

Stock down, still to come …

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.