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)

Bundesliga wrap: Top three win as Lewandowski bags trio

Munich's Robert Lewandowski, right, celebrates with Douglas Costa after scoring during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)
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The top teams keep winning as the Bundesliga closes in on its final third of the season, as the top three sides all scooped up multi-goal wins on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bayern Munich 8-0 Hamburg

One to forget for USMNT man Bobby Wood, as Bayern again spun the collective heads of Hamburg. Robert Lewandowski scored a hat trick and Kingsley Coman added a brace as the leaders battered 16th place Hamburg.

Lewandowski’s 19 goals are good for a tie atop the leaderboard, as he joins Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (More on him after this wild Tweet).

Freiburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Aubameyang struck twice stay atop the Bundesliga leaderboard with 19 goals, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos also scored for third-place BVB. USMNT winger Christian Pulisic made an 8-minute cameo when he came on for Marco Reus late in the match.

RB Leipzig 3-1 Koln

Emil Forsberg scored in the first five minutes and an own goal gave the new boys a 2-0 halftime lead. Timo Werner than restored the two-goal cushion after Yuya Osako had scored Koln’s only goal.

Elsewhere

Wolfsburg 1-2 Werder Bremen — RECAP
Bayer Leverkusen 0-2 Mainz
Darmstadt 1-2 Augsburg
Hertha Berlin 2-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Ingolstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday
Schalke vs. Hoffenheim — 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 22 16 5 1 54 13 41 8-3-0 8-2-1 53
 RB Leipzig 22 15 3 4 41 22 19 9-1-1 6-2-3 48
 Borussia Dortmund 22 11 7 4 46 23 23 7-3-0 4-4-4 40
 1899 Hoffenheim 21 9 10 2 38 21 17 6-5-0 3-5-2 37
 Hertha BSC Berlin 22 11 4 7 30 24 6 9-1-1 2-3-6 37
 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 10 5 7 25 22 3 6-3-1 4-2-6 35
 1. FC Köln 22 8 9 5 31 22 9 5-5-0 3-4-5 33
 Bayer Leverkusen 22 9 3 10 34 32 2 5-2-5 4-1-5 30
 SC Freiburg 22 9 3 10 28 39 -11 7-0-4 2-3-6 30
 FSV Mainz 05 22 8 4 10 31 37 -6 5-3-3 3-1-7 28
 FC Augsburg 22 7 6 9 21 28 -7 3-3-5 4-3-4 27
 FC Schalke 04 21 7 5 9 25 22 3 6-1-4 1-4-5 26
 Mönchengladbach 21 7 5 9 23 29 -6 5-3-3 2-2-6 26
 VfL Wolfsburg 22 6 4 12 20 33 -13 3-2-7 3-2-5 22
 Werder Bremen 22 6 4 12 28 43 -15 3-1-7 3-3-5 22
 Hamburger SV 22 5 5 12 21 45 -24 3-3-4 2-2-8 20
 FC Ingolstadt 04 21 5 3 13 19 32 -13 2-2-6 3-1-7 18
 Darmstadt 22 3 3 16 15 43 -28 3-3-6 0-0-10 12

PL Saturday roundup: Chelsea create 11-point gap, Everton extend unbeaten run

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Diego Costa of Chelsea (C) celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his challenges team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on February 25, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Chelsea continued its path towards the Premier League crown on Saturday, while the league’s bottom sides are fighting for their lives to remain afloat next season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Chelsea 3-1 Swansea CityRECAP

Swansea put up a heck of a fight after coming to life recently under manager Paul Clement, but Diego Costa and co. were too much in the end to keep the Blues at bay. Costa’s 16th goal of the season put the finishing touches on the encounter at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea an 11-point cushion at the summit of the PL. Goals from Cesc Fabregas and Pedro preceded Costa, while Fernando Llorente had put the Swans on level terms with the Blues just prior to halftime. Clement’s group remains out of the relegation zone in 15th place, but the club is a mere three points above the drop zone.

Everton 2-0 Sunderland — RECAP

Ronald Koeman‘s group have picked up form as of late, and Saturday’s win makes nine consecutive matches unbeaten for the Toffees. Romelu Lukaku and Idrissa Gueye booked their names on the scoresheet to create more woes for Sunderland, who remain in last place on 19 points.

West Brom 2-1 Bournemouth — RECAP

Joshua King put the visitors in front but West Brom’s resilience has moved the Baggies to within 10 points of the top four. Craig Dawson gave the Baggies an equalizer on the stroke of halftime, before Gareth McAuley provided the winner for the eighth-place side. The loss for Bournemouth won’t give the Cherries much comfort as they sit just five points above 18th place with 12 matches left to play.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough RECAP

The bleeding has stopped. At least temporarily for the Eagles. Crystal Palace has moved out of the bottom three courtesy of their victory at Selhurst Park, but Sam Allardyce‘s side still has much work left to do if they want to considered out of the clear. Patrick Van Aanholt netted in the first half to give Palace its first win in its last five matches across all competitions, while the Boro remain narrowly above Allardyce’s group in the table based on superior goal differential.

Hull City 1-1 Burnley — RECAP

Michael Keane was at the center of the action on Saturday but the Burnley defender made amends to give his side a share of the points at the KC Stadium. Keane was called for a hand ball inside his own area, which allowed Tom Huddlestone to put Hull out front. Meanwhile, the defender made things right for the visitors minutes later after finishing off a Robbie Brady corner kick.

Watford 1-1 West Ham United — RECAP

Andre Ayew helped ensure the Hammers would come away with a point at Vicarage Road after Michail Antonio struck both posts on the same attempt. The hosts got out to the lead after Troy Deeney converted from the penalty spot but the West Ham was calm and collected to move into ninth place. Watford sits just two points behind the Hammers in the table on 31 points.

Southampton vs. Arsenal — Postponed

Watford 1-1 West Ham United: Deeney, Ayew trade goals

Watford's Troy Deeney, second left, scores his side's first goal of the game against West Ham United during the English Premier League soccer match at Vicarage Road, Watford, England, Saturday Feb. 25, 2017. (Scott Heavey/PA via AP)
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  • Zarate gives away quick PK
  • Deeney converts
  • Ayew equalizes

Andre Ayew tapped in after Michail Antonio struck two posts with one shot, as West Ham scored a well-deserved equalizer in drawing Watford 1-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Troy Deeney converted a penalty for Watford, who lost ex-West Ham man Mauro Zarate to a serious-looking knee injury in the first half.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford earned a penalty within two minutes, as Troy Deeney played Mauro Zarate into the box and Cheikhou Kouyate took down the Argentine. Deeney beat Darren Randolph and it was quickly 1-0 to the hosts.

The Hornets continued to dominate the proceedings before West Ham saw a terrific chance in the 18th minute, with Robert Snodgrass‘ shot deflected out.

The Hammers had the better of play for a spell before a long delay when Zarate suffered a serious knee injury that stretched the first half into 10 minutes of stoppage time.

West Ham came close to answering several times in the second half, but was either a shade off or denied by Heurelho Gomes. The ex-Spurs backstop flew to deny Jose Fonte’s 62nd minute header.

And Michail Antonio nodded Aaron Cresswell‘s inviting cross wide of the near post in the 69th minute.

Antonio was the catalyst for the equalizer, curling a shot off both posts that went right to substitute Ayew. He finished. 1-1.

A second yellow card came Antonio’s way in the 86th minute, as the Irons would have to finish the away match down a man.

Isaac Success nearly won it for Watford on the doorstep just before the final whistle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Allardyce on Palace’s “great victory” over Boro

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Sam Allardyce manager of Crystal Palace signals during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park on February 25, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
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Big Sam got a big win, and he knows it.

Two days after tearing into his players for not adapting to his system, the Crystal Palace boss was glowing with praise after the Eagles knocked off visiting Middlesbrough in a relegation six-pointer on Saturday.

[ MORE: Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough ]

The win lifts Palace out of the drop zone, a point ahead of Leicester City who plays Monday. Allardyce is shaping his own Premier League table and he’ll try to lift a sort of Bottom Seven trophy after the season

From the BBC:

“It’s a great victory. I think the two-week break helped us refocus and that showed – today they made a lot of very good decisions.

“The three points are important as it puts us in amongst the pack, out of the bottom three and a bit closer to Bournemouth.

“I see the bottom seven as the Premier League table we need to try and win. If we can achieve more then that would be great but we need to make next week’s game against West Brom a game to win.”

Crystal Palace have too much talent to be in this spot, and Allardyce’s acumen as a “never relegated” manager has not been questioned much despite the Eagles falling into a worse spot than they were when Alan Pardew was fired. Is this finally their move out of trouble, or just a clean sheet against a Boro team that can’t score?