What is a worthy attendance for U.S.-Canada in January?

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I saw some worry wafting last week out of Houston, where tickets for the Jan. 29 U.S.-Canada contest at BBVA Compass Stadium, kicking off the U.S. national team’s big year, are not exactly checking the box for “hot item.”

Glenn Davis, the veteran broadcaster/ blogger/ reporter out of Houston, said early last week that about 8,000 tickets had been sold. So the alarm bells went off and the usual discussion points over soccer and ticket sales – prices, school night, relative roster strength, perceived mistakes in marketing the game, etc. – were dragged out and given the once-over.

This is always an area vulnerable to local soccer community worry, especially as competition for World Cup qualifiers and other premium international soccer events gets heavier. I get that.

But let’s sprinkle some critical context into the discussion. In a nutshell, it’s this:

These U.S. national team matches in January are rarely big sellers.

The domestic soccer market is fairly sophisticated, which means potential buyers understand that bigger and better dates are ahead.  In 2013, that means World Cup qualifiers (Aren’t those always a hoot!), Gold Cup matches and a likely friendly against three-time World Cup champion Germany. Thus, a friendly in January featuring Jurgen Klinsmann’s “B” team is unlikely to be a fantastic draw no matter where you put it.

Similar early-year U.S. matches over the last 10 years have averaged about 13,000 and change. My guess: next week’s contest in Houston will top that, although perhaps not by a large margin. And that’s fine.

(For that average I just mentioned, I excluded early-year friendlies in 2007 and 2008 against Mexico. Those, I believe we can all agree, are a whole different jar of salsa. One of those contests, by the way, was in Houston, where it attracted 70,000-plus.)

If the U.S.-Canada contest at BBVA approaches the number of tickets sold for a United States contest two years ago in January against Chile (18,580), U.S. Soccer and the Houston community can fly the flag of success on this one. Celebrate, I say! ‘Ritas and Tex-Mex for all!

By the way, I love Canada and Canadians and Steve Nash and a whole bunch of other Canuck-related this and that. But Canada as opposition does lack a little fizz. Bless Dwayne De Rosario’s heart, but our northern neighbors are already out of World Cup consideration, having failed to escape the semifinal round.

Last time these teams hooked up in a January friendlies, in San Diego in 2006 and in Fort Lauderdale back in 2003, neither match reached 7,000 in attendance. Houston already has that beat.

Premier League AT HALF: Newcastle, Liverpool, Brighton lead

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Relegation scraps are on the menu this Saturday as a trio of bonafide six-pointers dot the docket

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

The lone top-end contender in action, Liverpool, has already opened up a lead at Anfield.

Bournemouth 0-2 Newcastle United

Ex-Cherries man Matt Ritchie has been lively for his new club, and assisted Dwight Gayle‘s effort to put Newcastle up, and Gayle doubled the advantage at the break when he tapped Ayoze Perez’s pass home.

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham United

The Irons have offered little in the final third aside from a Marko Arnautovic miss, and Emre Can nodded a back post corner kick besides Adrian to open the scoring at Anfield.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Swansea City

Glenn Murray‘s penalty kick went right down Main Street to boost the Gulls hopes of a home win.

West Brom 0-0 Huddersfield Town

Not much going in this relegation scrap.

Burnley 0-0 Southampton

Cagey as expected, with the Clarets aiming to control dangerous but finish-challenged Saints.

Watch Live: Five Premier League games at 10am ET

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Liverpool host West Ham, Brighton and Swansea clash in a massive game at the bottom, while Bournemouth welcome Newcastle to the South Coast, Burnley host Southampton and West Brom play Huddersfield Town.

The big team news from United’s game is that Paul Pogba has been dropped to the bench and so have several other first team regulars following their defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in midweek.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham United – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City: Foxes fight back

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  • Butland own goal rescues point for Leicester
  • Shaqiri’s third goal in three games have Stoke lead
  • Potters remain in bottom three

Leicester City fought back to draw 1-1 with Stoke City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, with an own goal from Jack Butland in the second half canceling out Xherdan Shaqiri‘s opener.

Stoke took the lead just before half time with a beauty from Shaqiri but after Butland misjudged a cross to knock the ball into his own net, Leicester came alive and hit the post twice late on.

With the draw Leicester momentarily move up to seventh place on 36 points, while Stoke remain in 19th place on 26 points and are without an away win since October.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A cagey start to proceedings in the sun saw Riyad Mahrez and Badou Ndiaye both go close from distance as Leicester had plenty of corner kicks but couldn’t get behind a solid Stoke defense.

Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy launched counter attacks when they could but the Algerian was off target on a few occasions as Claude Puel‘s men toiled without much reward in the afternoon sun.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Stoke then delivered a hammer blow just before half time as Shaqiri picked up a pass from Joe Allen, drove towards the Leicester defense and curled home his third goal in as many games to give the Potters a half time lead.

A perfect opening 45 minutes for Lambert’s side as Shaqiri had his seventh goal of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Leicester battled back into the game but Stoke almost went 2-0 up as Kasper Schmeichel‘s loose pass found Shaqiri and his long-range effort skipped just wide of an empty net.

The Foxes were then gifted a way back into the game as Albrighton’s powerful cross from the right was towards Vardy and although the English striker didn’t touch the ball, he did enough to put off Butland as the ball hit him and went into his own net to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Energized by the equalizer Leicester battered the Stoke goal as Butland saved superbly from Mahrez, then Vardy drilled an effort across goal which found Harry Maguire who hit the post with a shot.

Late on Charlie Adam‘s backward header let Mahrez race clear but a combination of Butland and Kurt Zouma kept him out and from the resulting corner Matty James hit the post with a header.

VIDEO: Thirsty goalkeeper concedes bizarre goal

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Rule number one for a goalkeeper: always pay attention to the action if you’re going to take a swig from your water bottle in the net.

Duisburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken didn’t pay attention and he will see this clip played over and over again as he conceded a bizarre goal in the German second tier against Ingolstadt.

Take a look at the video below to see the unbelievable scenes as the commentary team sum it up best with  their stunned reaction.