Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

U.S. fights through storm, downs Costa Rica for first points of qualifying’s final round

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It would have been a typical Jurgen Klinsmann era home game if it wasn’t for the weather, but with the game played in the middle of a storm that would make an Eskimo cower, there was nothing typical about the States’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Each pause of play saw a snow shovel-wielding battalion attacking the field’s lines, giving officials and players a few moments of clarity before the weather again won out. Ten minutes into the second half, Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar stopped the match to consider whether the game should go.

But after two hours of wondering whether the match would be suspended, Aguilar’s whistle finally blew on the U.S.’s first win of CONCACAF’s final round. Ending a week of controversy that saw head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods’ openly questioned, the United States sit second in the qualifying table and are one of only two teams to have won Hex matches through two rounds.

Were it not for the inflexible nature of soccer’s international calendar, the match would have been rescheduled, but once the game started, there was no reason to stop. For all the complaints of visibility issues from television commentators and the assembled press, field-level shots showed inches of accumulated snow were the real problem. At halftime, Klinsmann said his team’s technical style would have to be abandoned, with the ability to win second balls his chief concern.

(MORE: Images from the Colorado snow globe.)

By that point the U.S. had their lead, with Clint Dempsey converting a 16th minute rebound after his deft turn had started the U.S.’s goal scoring movement. Celebrating his first full game as captain, Dempsey took a short pass from the right flank, turned toward the penalty area and found Jozy Altidore. A Michael Bradley run collapsed the Costa Rican defense, giving Altidore room to get his shot on goal. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s dive to block the shot left him out of position when the blocked shot fell to the middle of the box, where Dempsey waited to guide it home.

“Clint’s always got that sniff,” Altidore said of the goal. “[H]e’s always following plays up.”

It was Dempsey’s seventh goal of the qualifying cycle, one that puts him within two of Eric Wynalda for second on the team’s all-time goal scoring list. Up against a five-man Costa Rican defense set up to play for a point, Dempsey, Altidore, and Herculez Gomez led an attack that would have produced more goals under different conditions.

source: APAround the goal and the weather, the U.S.’s performance mirrored their September win over Jamaica. Back in September the U.S. leveraged their possession and control to get make Herculez Gomez’s goal hold up, downing the Reggae Boyz 1-0 having previously lost in Kingston. In Columbus, the goal came early in the second half, but after scoring near the quarter-hour mark in Commerce City, the U.S. was able to rack up 57 percent of Friday’s possession.

Costa Rica struggled to win the ball, let alone build toward the States’ goal. At night’s end, they had put fuve shots on Brad Guzan, who never gave fans a reason to miss the injured Tim Howard. His saves were four more than the U.S. asked from Navas, but chasing the match for 74 minutes, the Ticos needed to do more.

“The key was getting the goal early,” Dempsey said after that match, “that made it difficult [for Costa Rica] in these conditions.”

But the result was more about the U.S.’s successes than Costa Rican failures. Dempsey and Altidore had strong nights. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones controlled the middle. DeMarcus Beasley proved an inspired selection at left back. For all the controversy that surrounded him throughout the week, Jurgen Klinsmann got his team right on Friday.

Ultimately, Klinsmann’s approach won out. Using the same formula that’s bled out home qualifiers against Jamaica and Guatemala, the U.S. protected a patchwork and uneasy defense by dominating the ball.

In the process, they got their first points of CONCACAF’s final round. They started to defuse the drama surrounding the team, and they won momentum ahead of Tuesday’s huge match in Mexico.

And all they to do was fight through a little snow.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.