Honduras v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Stock Rising: United States men whose values are rising out of Salt Lake

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After nine points in three qualifiers, there’s no shortage of praise to hand out to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Whereas three or four standouts usually force their way onto our Stock Rising report, a larger flock of MNT’ers deserve some acknowledgement after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras, three points that leave the U.S. on 13 after six Hex rounds.

We spare no expense handing our this week’s plaudits, the positives from the U.S.’s current run proving much larger than the Stock Falling report we’ll have later tonight.

Jozy Altidore – I don’t know what’s more impressive: (a) Altidore’s calm, reassured finished on yesterday’s 71st minute winner; (b) the celebration that portrayed more relief than jubilance; or, (c) the fact that throughout the night Altidore always seemed to be in the right place, whether it was the first half’s targeting from wide or the second half’s attempts to tick and tack through the Honduran block. In the last eight months, we’ve gone from asking ‘where’s Jozy’ to always expecting him to be where his teammates are looking.

Just over a week ago, after the U.S. had dispatched Panama, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked why Altidore’s finally broken through. In Klinsmann’s mind, though, he hadn’t. Altidore’s being doing the same things in June that he done since he winter recall, the U.S. boss explained. Now, those things are leading to goals, but that doesn’t mean Altidore wasn’t contributing before.

It’s tempting to look at four goals in as many games as a turning point, but Altidore’s breakthrough probably came before this goal-scoring rush. His rising stock is build on a foundation  laid throughout 2013.

source: APGraham Zusi (right) – The control the U.S. maintained against Panama meant Zusi was rarely missed, especially while Omar Gonzalez made sure any access the Canaleros had through Brad Evans was quickly closed off. On Tuesday, however, we were reminded about the little things the Sporting Kansas City star is doing to cement his role on the U.S.’s right. In the second half, we got a glimpse of some potential versatility, with Klinsmann shifting him in from the right, using him as a focal point in front of the line as the U.S. touched their way past the Honduran defense. Moving on from his 13th cap, it’s tempting to consider what other parts of Zusi’s game will we see assert themselves in the international game.

Geoff Cameron – There was little argument for Cameron keeping his place in the starting XI over the returning Jermaine Jones, but after 90 minutes in Sandy that gave us a better means of comparison, Cameron’s starting to make his case. Coming off a stellar performance against Panama, the Stoke City man provided some needed quality off the bench, hinting his game in Seattle wasn’t a fluke. We’re still a long way from being able to say Cameron deserves the nod over the more-accomplished Jones, but this is how competition starts. One man starts asserting himself. The other has to respond.

Matt Besler – While the center back to his right has been prone to mistakes, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year has been Mr. Reliable, providing a couple of new moments of reassured protection in Utah. It wasn’t so long ago (like, a matter of weeks) that Besler wasn’t a sure bet to start next to Omar Gonzalez. Now, he seems like an obligatory choice.

source: Getty ImagesFabian Johnson (right) – Two matches in a row, Johnson’s provided the game-winning assist to Jozy Altidore, each time getting deep along the left before playing across for his team’s best finisher. All of a sudden, the Hoffenheim wide man leads The Hex in assists. Be it in midfield or in defense, Johnson’s providing a quality fans have been begging for since Klinsmann took over: width. While some moments in defense hinted he may not be a better choice at left back than DaMarcus Beasley, Johnson continues to make the U.S. better for his presence.

Brad Davis – The main arguments against Brad Davis’s inclusion are his lack of speed and athleticism, yet while drawing a foul in a dangerous spot late in the match, the Houston talisman showed more promise than many have seen before. The arguments against his potential at international level remain, but with that flash of danger, Davis may be providing a new counterpoint.

Eddie Johnson – When E.J. was brought in at the end of the last round, everybody expected him to provide Klinsmann an alternative to Altidore. But Johnson’s yet to be meaningfully used as a true No. 9. Instead, he’s played on the left. He’s played on the right. He’s provided a needed injection of athleticism, strength, and even experience. And his presence at the back post gives the team a persistent threat. Players like Johnson and Cameron may not have starting spots, but they’re proving valuable parts of Klinsmann’s restructured team.

Jurgen Klinsmann – It’s not only that the U.S. is on 13 points through six rounds. It’s how they’ve done it. To this point, the story’s unfolding just like Klinsmann predicted. And now, the furor ahead of the Costa Rica match seems ridiculous now.

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 ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.