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Houston Dynamo: brace for impact

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The Houston Dynamo official website released a baffling article Thursday night in a valiant yet floundering attempt to calm the nerves of anxious fans.

With just three points from their last six matches, including a whopping zero wins, the article claims winless slumps are “to be expected in parity-driven MLS.”

While yes, the top division of American soccer is different than most in its quest for competitive balance, to justify winless streaks in the dog days of the season as “expected” is diluting the value of each match the Dynamo play.

The article begins by pointing to the MLS form guide, claiming it looks like a smattering of pizza toppings thanks to the mixture of color-coded results.  While the “anything can happen” point is understood, here’s another form guide that displays the same varying array of colors. Know what that’s from? That’s the results list from the last season of the Barclays Premier League, which is about the farthest from parity a league can get.

If there’s one thing for sure in the world of any top-level sport, it’s this: results may vary.  But to dismiss a poor streak of results as “expected” is suggesting that the Dynamo’s recent scorelines are a random generation of binary code based on a statistical formula, and that because of the law of averages it should return to normal any day now.

Sorry, that’s incorrect.  The Dynamo have found themselves in the midst of a slump for other on-the-pitch reasons. They’ve got two goals during their six-game winless streak thanks to abysmal finishing.  Injuries and suspensions are abound. Dominic Kinnear has hardly been able to maintain a relatively stable starting eleven.

The article points to both 2012 and 2011 as blueprints for late runs after winless streaks.  While both those seasons did see an uptick in form later on, there are still some ominous signs why this year may be different.

In 2012, the game that put the lid on their 5-match winless streak was a 4-0 win against D.C. United, leading the squad to make a run for the playoffs.  Unfortunately for Houston, this season’s 4-0 win over D.C. United on May 8 was the precursor to their slide – they haven’t won since.

The article cites 2011, where a 7-match winless streak was turned around and became four wins and a draw in the last 5 matches of the season, pushing the club all the way up to second place.

The problem with that is the 2011 Eastern Conference was a mess.  The point totals in the East were all out of whack thanks to each team beating up on the next.  It was easy to jump all the way up to second place with a bit of a run towards the end.  In fact, the final two wins of the season jumped Houston from fifth all the way up to second.

Unfortunately, this year isn’t going to be the same.

Houston already sits in fifth place, 9 back of Montreal.  It’s true, they’re only 2 measly points back of second place (somehow), marking what could be a jump identical to 2011’s late-season surge.

What’s not the same is the upcoming schedule.

Here’s Houston’s next nine matches: @ New York, vs. Philadelphia, @ New England, vs. Chicago, vs. Columbus, @ Salt Lake, vs. Seattle, @ Montreal, @ Chicago. Ouch.

Mixed in that melting pot of fixtures are two dates with the surging Fighting Mike Magees, a visit to the Juan Agudelo redemption show, a shot at Jack McInerney, and a trip to the best team in the East who have dropped 2 points at home all year.

Oh, I almost forgot, a flight to New York who have lost 3 straight and yet still sit in second place, and a visit from the often explosive Seattle Sounders.

Houston have to play every single team in front of them in the Eastern Conference in that stretch.  The only teams Houston play behind them in the standings are either red hot or Columbus. Talk about gut check time.

Finally, don’t forget about the Gold Cup, which will snatch up co-leading scorer Will Bruin and defender Corey Ashe who has the second-most minutes played of any outfield player with Houston this season.  Those two could be gone potentially the entirety of July.  Omar Cummings better be 100% or Houston will be very thin up front.

It’s a very fun race in the Eastern Conference, but with clubs like Chicago and New England finding their stride, it seems Houston may be the odd team out.

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 ]