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)

Report: Agent in China, Rooney could leave Man Utd this month

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Premier League trophy at the start of the Premier League trophy winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Manchester, England  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?

The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.

From the BBC:

There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.

And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.

Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?

So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.

Real Madrid adds intrigue to La Liga race with rare loss (video)

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez, left, react after failing to score against Valencia during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
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The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.

Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.

The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.

Zaza’s goal was a stunner:

Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.

But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 22 16 4 2 57 20 37 10-2-0 6-2-2 52
 Barcelona 23 15 6 2 63 19 44 7-3-1 8-3-1 51
 Sevilla 23 15 4 4 46 28 18 9-1-1 6-3-3 49
 Atlético Madrid 23 13 6 4 43 19 24 8-2-1 5-4-3 45
 Real Sociedad 23 13 2 8 36 32 4 7-2-3 6-0-5 41
 Villarreal 23 10 9 4 30 15 15 7-3-2 3-6-2 39

WATCH: Giovinco nets rain-soaked preseason beauty

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC is presented with the MLS Audi Golden Boot Award as leading scorer for the 2015 season prior to an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
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We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.

Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Yeah, he’s still good.

Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.

Leicester after one leg vs. Sevilla: “We knew they are better than us”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri catches the ball during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti
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Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.

Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]

Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.

And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.

“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.

“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.

“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”

Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.