Colorado Rapids v New York Red Bulls

Colorado Rapids: the MLS team we aren’t talking enough about

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Back in the day, we would call this a “MacGyver” bit.

“MacGyver” was a TV series that became a cultural icon in the 1980s and early 90s, based on a spy guy’s preternatural problem solving and improvisation with materials at hand. You know, the guy who could disable an armored personnel carrier using nothing more than his girlfriend’s super cute capri pants, an extension cord and a half-eaten box of Twinkies.

Well, Colorado Rapids manager Oscar Pareja and his Rapids are pulling a serious “MacGyver.”

In MLS circles, we are all talking a lot about Seattle rising. And about Portland rising. And about “Jack Mac” in Philadelphia. And about the streak busters at Sporting KC. All rightly so, by the way.

But isn’t there some room to talk about the Rapids, a team that is (quite anonymously) 4-1-1 since March?

The only loss in that time has been to Seattle, which was getting it together at the time and is now playing as well as any team in MLS.

Here’s where the MacGyver comes in: The Rapids are getting it done despite horrible injury luck, through improvisation and sheer will. They are slowly gaining collective health but remain measurably depleted. Martin Rivero just made his first start of 2013, for instance, and his ability to keep possession in midfield means so much.

Pablo Mastroeni got on the field for 10 minutes over the weekend, but he is far from ready to make a steady impact.

Edson Buddle is back after missing six matches, and scoring now. He had the opener in Colorado’s most recent flourish of success, Saturday’s 2-0 win at Columbus. That was the Burgundy’s first win in Columbus since 2004. Heck, the 44-year-old Pareja was still a key midfield man for FC Dallas back then.

He’s a man with lots of answers right now. Because Jaime Castrillon has yet to play, and he was a key midfield building block around DSG Park in 2013. So was goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who now remains sidelined long-term. And Hendry Thomas, who was making the DSG Park midfield so uncomfortable for opposition in Mastroeni’s absence, is on the injury shelf now.

So, what’s the story here? Guys like Dillon Powers have stepped in forcefully; he must be a Rookie of the Year leading candidate with two goals, an assist and lots of defensive grit out of Colorado’s midfield.

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Speaking of rookies (who may deserve some ROY consideration), how about goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who has four shutouts in his last six matches? Don’t forget, Irwin had exactly zero minutes of MLS soccer (or even big-time college soccer, no offense to you good folks of Elon University) before Pickens broke his arm back in March.

Left back Chris Klute (pictured  left), 23, has been a wonderful surprise, brimming with potential and having delivered some big nights this year, although certainly still lacking some consistency.

The versatile Nathan Sturgis is showing what everyone always thought he could be when healthy.

Mostly, though, this is about a stubborn mentality that prevented Pareja or any of his men from ever feeling sorry themselves through the most ridiculous stretch of that injury woe. The second-year manager never talked about those injuries, even though it was obvious how much his team suffered for them.

And it’s about adjusting. Pareja came to Colorado with visions of flowing, possession soccer, probably a lot like the good stuff we’re seeing flourish in Portland. But they can’t do that at the moment around DSG Park, so they wisely got stingy and more protective in the back and became adept at winning the 1-0 tight ones.

The Rapids, by the way, are .500 for the first time in more than a year.

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.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]