Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez

Last stand in Denver? United States meets Costa Rica, with so much on the line in World Cup qualifying

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DENVER – Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver seems an unlikely place for a U.S. Soccer last stand – and yet here we are.

Technically, this does not qualify as “do-or-die” in ongoing World Cup qualifying; Jurgen Klinsmann’s team could fall tonight and then again Tuesday down in Mexico, and still have seven matches in this final round to gather up 15 or 16 points probably required for safe arrival into a seventh consecutive World Cup.

But this sure feels like a last stand considering injuries and absences to important figures, bubbling locker room issues and a final round schedule set-up that had this one tagged “critical” long ago. It has the weight of an Alamo-type stand, and the team would certainly drag a battered psychological state out of Colorado with anything less than victory here against Costa Rica.

(MORE: US team news, notes and quotes from Thursday’s final prep)

It’s no big stretch to say that Friday, in a very cold Denver suburb, the United States will either regain its footing in a march toward Brazil 2014 or see the effort possibly be mortally wounded.

So, yes, a sold out DSG Sporting Goods Parks in Denver (fairly light in U.S. national team history) is the site for the most pressure packed World Cup qualifier in at least 10 years. Kickoff tonight is set for 8 p.m. locally (10 p.m. ET) on ESPN.

“We’ve always come through when there’s pressure on,” veteran midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. “It’s always been that way when I’ve been there, it won’t be any different come tomorrow. We embrace the pressure. We know we are at home, we know we need three points. It’s a very important match, even though it’s very early in the tournament. Everyone knows that. In qualifying you need to win your home matches, for sure. Tomorrow will be no different.”

The team chemistry isn’t right; we can still debate the level of tumult, but it’s safe to say there are issues that need sorting. A provocative Sporting News story put some things on the table, and at a nervous time when the United States faced a near must-win match anyway.

Lose tonight and the very real possibility exists of being 0-3 in final round CONCACAF qualifying; the Americans began this round with a loss in Honduras – where the young back line could not quite pass the test – and do battle down in Mexico next week at Azteca Stadium, where they have never won in World Cup qualifying. Never.

(MORE: Digging into the “Why?” over Klinsmann and his critics)

The sear of concern is particularly intense along a U.S. back line, where three starters are injured. Plus, former captain and stabilizing arm Carlos Bocanegra is not part of this camp, the latest in a series of Klinsmann’s controversial roster or lineup choices.

Tim Howard’s injury absence isn’t making anyone feel better about things, although backup Brad Guzan is having a wonderful season at Aston Villa and sure looks up for the job. As for Guzan playing behind a young and untested defense? He calls that a “Saturday.”

The mood of the camp seems typically relaxed, and even Klinsmann seems underwhelmed by all the ongoing talk of his performance. His response is more or less a shrug and smile and to say something about this being part of his job.

(MORE: Klinsmann responds to criticism and player unrest)

Besides, veteran players like Michael Bradley have come to his defense. So has Herculez Gomez. And from the center of it all, Bocanegra even had positive things to say about it all.

The U.S. attack, at least, is mostly intact, Landon Donovan and his ongoing sabbatical as the one obvious exception. Clint Dempsey has overcome a recent injury with Tottenham and looks set to start. He leads the team with six goals in 2014 qualifying, and has been named captain for this one.

Past the injuries and whispering malcontents in their midst, there is reason to like the U.S. chances here. The weather is to their liking; with more players who earn their living in Europe, they are presumably better equipped to deal with temperatures in the 30s and potential precipitation.

The United States’ dominance in home qualifiers cannot be understated. They have not lost one of these since 2001; the unbeaten streak has reached 22 matches (a 20-0-2 record).

(MORE: Most pressure on a World Cup qualifier in a decade)

The United States is 5-0-2 against Costa Rica in World Cup qualifiers at home. This Ticos version launched the final round with 2-2 draw at home against Panama, so there’s pressure in the Costa Rican camp, too. Plus, leading scorer Alvaro Saborio may have an injury concern, depending on which report you believe.

Either way, the Ticos have other attacking options.

(Look for more later today at ProSoccerTalk, including a lineup prediction)

Bournemouth 2-2 Watford: Cherries battle back to draw

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Benik Afobe of AFC Bournemouth scores his sides second goal during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Watford at Vitality Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • King, Afobe equalize
  • Kabasele, Deeney put Hornets ahead
  • 4 draw in 4 PL meetings

Bournemouth and Watford once again played out an entertaining draw in the Premier League.

In their four meetings in the PL, all four have now ended in draws. Watford twice took the lead through Christian Kabasele and Troy Deeney but goals from Josh King and Beink Afobe pegged the Hornets back twice.

With the point Watford move on to 24 points, while Bournemouth has 26 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jack Wilshere dinked a lovely ball to Ryan Fraser who headed towards goal but Heurelho Gomes saved well as the home side started well.

Wilshere then struck a strong shot on goal which Gomes had to save as it was one way traffic.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Just as Bournemouth looked to be running away with things, Watford won a corner after a bad back pass from Fraser.

From that set piece Miguel Britos popped up at the back post and his header back across goal was nodded in by Kabasele. 1-0 to Watford as the Belgian international Kabasele had his second goal in the Premier League.

Tom Cleverley went close for Watford before the break but his low shot flashed wide as the Hornets led the Cherries.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Within three minutes of the second half Bournemouth were level as Adam Smith whipped in a great cross and King finished. 1-1. Game on.

Watford almost went ahead as Jose Holebas’ super strike was tipped wide by Artur Boruc. Gomes then denied Fraser with a wonderful stop to his left as the Bournemouth winger cut inside and curled an effort towards the top corner.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Somewhat against the run of play Watford then went 2-1 up as Deeney headed home from close range as a corner caused mayhem in the box. Could the Hornets hold on this time? Nope.

Substitute Afobe then got free in the left side of the box and he sent a shot across goal and into the far corner which went under Gomes and in. 2-2 and that’s how another entertaining clash between these teams finished.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  General view inside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The weekend’s marquee match sees Tottenham Hotspur going for a season sweep of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Gabriel Jesus could make his Manchester City debut, beginning the day among Pep Guardiola‘s substitutes.

On the other side, Eric Dier moves into the middle with Toby Alderweireld in the absence of Jan Vertonghen. Kevin Wimmer slots in as well.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta (C), Otamendi, Kolarov. Clichy, Yaya, Silva, De Bruyne, Sane. Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Kompany, Fernando, Nolito, Delph, Stones, G. Jesus.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (C), Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Davies, Carter-Vickers, Winks, Sissoko, Son.

West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Sunderland: Black Cats meet 20th

West Bromwich Albion's Darren Fletcher, left, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game against Sunderland, during their English Premier League soccer match at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, England, Saturday Jan. 21, 2017. (Nigel French/PA via AP)
Nigel French/PA via AP
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  • Fletcher, Brunt scores
  • WBA stays 8th
  • Sunderland goes bottom

Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt struck in quick first half succession as West Bromwich Albion handed Sunderland a 2-0 defeat at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

West Brom is up to 32 points, comfortably midtable and aiming for some breaks atop the table and good Cup fortune to get into the European mix.

Sunderland is now three points back of 17th place, held by Swansea City. The Black Cats do have better goal differential than Swans, but sit 20th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chances for a minor upset didn’t look good early, though Sunderland dodged a bullet with Billy Jones‘ takedown of Salomon Rondon was judged not to merit a West Brom penalty kick.

Fletcher hit his target in the 30th minute to make partial amends, at least karmically, as West Brom went ahead when he chested Gareth McAuley‘s header into position for a volleyed finish.

Brunt was next, and his goal was just as fine to view. It started with intrepid Matty Phillips, whose cross was palmed back to Nacer Chadli. The ex-Spurs man hit the cross bar, but Brunt volleyed that home.

Jake Livermore nearly scored on debut for the Baggies, who rarely looked to be in trouble.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Stoke City 1-1 Man United: Rooney sets record with late goal

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  • Mata scores own goal
  • United have 25 shots
  • Rooney breaks record 

A historic moment arrived as Manchester United scored a stoppage time equalizer to draw 1-1 against Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney scored that equalizer in stunning fashion to set the new record as United’s all-time leading goalscorer ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

[ VIDEO: Rooney reacts to breaking the record ]

Rooney now has 250 goals in his United career and although Jose Mourinho’s side slipped up in their quest to move closer to the top four they have extended their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.

An own goal from Juan Mata after Erik Pieters‘ cross looked like it would be the difference as United had over 65 percent possession and plenty of shots on target but couldn’t break down a stubborn Stoke outfit.

However Rooney’s moment arrived in stoppage time and the rest, as they say, is history.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on there was a scare for Stoke as a high ball into the box saw Lee Grant catch the ball but collide with Ryan Shawcross and the loose ball was eventually cleared.

Stoke took the lead in the 19th minute as Marko Arnautovic played in Pieters and his cross deflected off Juan Mata and in at the near post. 1-0 to the Potters via Mata’s own goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Ibrahimovic then set up Mata unselfishly but the Spaniard’s shot went over from five yards out as as Bruno Martins Indi did enough to put him off. United looked increasingly dangerous as the first half wore on as Zlatan set up Mata again but the chance came and went with Martins Indi blocking his shot.

Grant then saved a volley from Marouane Fellaini and another from Zlatan but the Potters led at the break despite United having 12 attempts.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In the second half Mata went close and United continued to push hard and Marcus Rashford came off the bench to try and get Mourinho’s men back in it.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

On the break Stoke looked dangerous and Xherdan Shaqiri twice went close as the Swiss winger saw his volley saved by David De Gea and then a shot blocked by Chris Smalling.

Paul Pogba had a shot blocked and then Rashford curled an effort a yard wide of the goal when free in the box as United couldn’t find a way through.

On as a sub, Rooney then had a glorious chance to set the new goalscoring record but he sent a header over the bar. Jesse Lingard then had a shot from distance which deflected off Ryan Shawcross and hit the crossbar.

Yet Rooney was not to be denied as he curled him a sumptuous free kick to set the record and grab a point for his side.