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Stock falling: Which U.S. men needed to be better …

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This is where we typically post a “Stock Up, Stock Down” piece, assessing which players’ personal standing rose, and whose fell during an important U.S. international match.

Clearly, an opener in final round World Cup qualifying deserves ear-marking as “important.”

Trouble is, as the United States picked a terrible time to deliver a real clunker, it’s hard to see any stock rising from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in San Pedro Sula.

A few might have held serve. Clint Dempsey, scorer of the lone U.S. goal, comes to mind. Otherwise …

Let’s look at who needed more out there at Estadio Olimpico.

Omar Gonzalez: In his first World Cup qualifying start, Gonzalez’s defending was usually good enough, that killer case of ball watching on Honduras’ game winner (we talked more about it in the previous post) as the obvious exception.

The bigger problem was in his passing from the back. Looking somewhat nervous initially, the LA Galaxy man completed just four of 10 passes before halftime, and that’s simply not good enough.

Meanwhile, for all his physical ability, Gonzalez’s game just lacks that little bit of maturity. He’s got to find it fast, or he will lose Klinsmann’s trust.

(MORE: Further discussion of the Gonzalez/Carlos Bocanegra choice)

Danny Williams: If the young German-American is going to be Klinsmann’s holding midfield go-to, he’s got to raise that game a notch. Williams simply was not assertive enough, unwilling to scramble some eggs in there, to apply a little more selective midfield pressure and, generally, make that area a real SOB for the home team.

The heat surely had something to do with timid tackling and an outing that lacked the intensity and the bite commensurate of the moment. (It’s final round World Cup qualifying!) He has to find a way to impact the game, if not through clear distribution, then through knocking a couple of guys on their Honduran backsides.

Perhaps it was sheer fatigue, but Maurice Edu came in to replace Williams early in the second half; we seldom see changes in the holding midfield spot when things are going well.

Michael Bradley: The Roma man actually did OK. The problem here was in his effectiveness compared to Roger Espinoza, the engine room of Honduras’ busy midfield. Espinoza delivered the kind of commanding, driving, leave-it-all-out-there performance we usually see from Bradley, probably the most important figure in a U.S. shirt now.

Bottom line: We’ve seen better from Bradley, and will again.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match – by default – Michael Bradley)

Eddie Johnson: Stationed on the left wing last fall against Antigua and Barbuda, and then again at home against Guatemala, Johnson was adequate as a left-sided attacker, one who worked inside frequently. But I warned back then that it wasn’t a solid plan against tougher competition ahead in the final round of regional qualifying. Sure enough …

He just isn’t strong enough in possession to play that close to his own goal. And he certainly isn’t a creative influence in there. Sacha Kljestan’s introduction for Johnson in the 65th minute was surely about improving the non-existent U.S. midfield possession.

That was a bad choice by Klinsmann and a tough ask for Johnson, so we should probably limit his personal demerits.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States from Wednesday’s match)

Sacha Kljestan and Graham Zusi: Both players came in as second half subs. We think. Let me check …

Yes! The box score says so.

If this is to be their role, as second-half game-changers, they’ll need something a little more zippy than what we saw Wednesday.

In fairness, the heat and humidity had zapped so much life from what was a pretty messy, shapeless match all along. And with such humble U.S. passing out of the back, combined with the fact that neither U.S. outside back dared get forward (they probably wouldn’t have had the legs or lungs to get back) there were limited chances for either man. Still, it’s on them to find a way.

Tim Howard: As mentioned in the previous post, if he comes flying off the line for a through ball, he has to get it. That’s it.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

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Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

[ RELATED: Messi wins his first La Liga Player of the Month award ]

Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.