Canada v United States

Opportunities lost: too few sharp edges for U.S. national team

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HOUSTON – What last night’s draw missed for the U.S. national team was a few more sharp edges, a few less rounded corners.

During last night’s post-game news conference following the 0-0 draw in Houston, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said something interesting. During player meetings held the night before, individuals were told exactly where they stood in the bigger depth pool picture.

Here’s what I am wondering:

For a player told there are still guys ahead of them, but that they aren’t too far away after a positive January camp – Klinsmann and his staff, keeps saying that it was good and productive camp with pleasingly few disappointments – what exactly did that player think he was hearing?

Because there are very different reactions. One reaction says: “I am so close. I’ve had this great January camp! For three weeks now I worked my Red, White and Blue butt off and made a little move up the ladder! I’m not about to lose ground now on some Tuesday night in Houston, in some meaningless friendly against a bunch of young Canadians who aren’t going anywhere near Brazil. So … safety first tonight! My order of the day: Don’t lose hard-earned ground!”

That’s how I believe a few of Klinsmann men wrongly assessed and attacked the situation. Hence, a lot of safe passes, a failure to create and innovate, a disinclination toward risk and in the end … a 0-0 draw at home.

How they should have heard things, and how they should have attacked the opportunity:

“I am so close … I am going out tonight and I will make that helicopter flying German put me on next week’s roster for Honduras! Or on the Gold Cup roster this summer. This is no time for caution. I have run a good race, and now I am going to fly across the finish line! I will go out there and be the kind of player who wins games … not the kind of player looking not to lose them.”

I speak more of the attackers here. The central defenders and goalkeeper Sean Johnson? There generally just wasn’t enough to go on for a broader assessment, although Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler did little wrong.

(MORE: Initial take-aways from the 0-0 draw)

Besler, in fact, showed a little something. From minutes 30-45 he tried, at least, to go over the Canadian defensive bunching, and attempted to exploit the passing lanes. I asked Besler if that was on instruction from the bench? No, he told me … he just communicated with Kyle Beckerman, who encouraged the debuting U.S. man and promised to drop into covering position if Besler wanted to be more dynamic with his distribution.

That tells us something about Besler. He was one who went searching for solutions.

Benny Feilhaber pushed the pace of an otherwise languid attack. He has enough technical ability to turn and create, even within the constricted space.

Josh Gatt (pictured above) keeps seeing his standing move in the right direction. He was a definitely a sharp edge.

Justin Morrow did OK, exploiting a fairly fortunate matchup, one that allowed him to use his pace and physical attributes.

Besler and Gonzalez did nothing to hurt themselves.

But that’s really about it. They were the closest U.S. men to being the sharp edge that matches like this demand. And these matches, at home against opposition looking to slow the game, muck it up, make it difficult and eek out a draw, they are out there.

Said Klinsmann: “You just hope that after those three weeks of work, you get that moment to shine. and we wished for the strikers to score a goal and midfielders to do the final pass. … It was missing kind of the last little piece to it. Creating the chances, playing the killer ball into the box, finishing things off and unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight against a very defensive Canada.”

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.