DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Johnson

Late Brek Shea goal lifts United States to Gold Cup win over Costa Rica

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Landon Donovan and Brek Shea combined for a late goal as the United States finished group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Tuesday at Rentschler Field in Hartford.

Shea, the Stoke City winger who had such a tough time in the United States’ weekend win over Cuba, supplied Tuesday’s only goal about six minutes after his second-half entrance. His calm finish in the 83rd minute, his first in a U.S. shirt, may go a long way to getting the big left winger back on track. But it was Donovan’s aggressive choice to play a perfect, early ball from a wide position for a breaking Shea on the left that made the play.

With previous group stage wins over Belize and Cuba, the United States finishes first in Group C and will now meet El Salvador in Sunday’s tournament quarterfinals in Baltimore.

The United States was the only team it the 12-team regional tournament to finish group play undefeated.

Although neither team used its top personnel Tuesday, United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann did sprinkle a few starters into the lineup, emphasizing his desire to win and finish atop the group even though both teams at the University of Connecticut Huskies’ football stadium had already secured passage into the tournament’s elimination round.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States on Tuesday)

Donovan, the team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, and recent scoring star Chris Wondolowski were both in Tuesday’s starting 11. Costa Rica’s scoring star, Alvaro Saborio, was left on the bench but did come into the hot, muggy night late.

It was easily the best test of the three U.S. group stage contests. Ten minutes in, the United States’ defense had already been put under greater pressure than Belize and Cuba had mustered combined in the first two group matches.

Scoring opportunities were scarce for both sides. Over the first 45 minutes, Costa Rica directed two half chances toward young U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson, filling in for Gold Cup starter Nick Rimando. The United States had perhaps one chance before the break, a little back heel flick from Wondolowski that didn’t bother Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.

Pemberton created the game’s most controversial instance in the 56th minute when he charged out of goal to intercept a through ball and then, while still well outside the penalty area, used his hands to knock down a shot. In an moment that typically calls for an immediate red cad, referee Courtney Campbell opted only for a caution.

Jose Torre’s ensuing free kick nearly sneaked under the crossbar, but Pemberton saved the left-footed effort nicely. Most of the night, however, the United States struggled to find opportunities against the Ticos’ five-man back line. Donovan’s savvy pass was the key to the breakthrough, putting Shea in alone against Pemberton.

“I know Brek felt bad about his performance the other night,” Donovan told Fox Soccer Channel minutes after Tuesday’s final whistle. “Full credit to Jurgen for letting him play again. Full credit to Brek for being ready. He made the play that made the difference. … As the tournament goes on, we’re going to need more guys to step up.”

At the other end, Sean Johnson’s big save on a Costa Rican header turned out to be quite important, serving to initiate the counter attack that provide Tuesday’s only goal.

The win extended the United States’ record in the group phase to 28-1-2 all-time. The team improved to 9-2-2 overall in 2013 and to 8-1-1 in games on U.S. soil this year.

U.S. LINEUP: Sean Johnson; Michael Parkhurst, Michael Orozco, Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley; Alejandro Bedoya (Joe Corona, 80th), Mix Diskerud, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres (Brek Shea, 77th); Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski (Herculez Gomez, 77th).

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).

Week 26: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Top-four battle royal

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Whoever says, “No one could have ever predicted Leicester City would be top of the league on Valentine’s Day,” is wrong.

One group of Premier League savants knew: the PL schedule makers, which is why this Sunday shall henceforth be known as “Super Duper Mega Uber Sunday,” as it’s 3rd versus 1st, and 4th versus 2nd.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Top-four battle royal, part 1

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Will Arsenal “Arsenal it up?” Will Leicester finally fall apart and blow the PL title, as they were supposed to have done weeks months ago? The battle of narratives in so strong in this one. Are Leicester really title favorites? Upon further review, they are. No PL team has won more points away from home this season than Leicester (28). Is another giant-slaying on the cards for the Foxes? At this point, who would be crazy enough to doubt them?

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

Top-four battle royal, part 2

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 11:15 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The last time Tottenham were ahead of Man City this late in the season will have to have been the final day of the 2009-10 season, when Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League just ahead of City. Heading into Sunday, a single point is all that separates the sides. When they met earlier this season, Spurs hammered City, to the tune of 4-1. The importance of three points speaks for itself, as either side could surge into a commanding place in the title race with a victory on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Man United’s top-four hopes hanging by a thread

Sunderland vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 6:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

As the PL’s top-four teams have kept winning in recent weeks, so too have Man United, to an extent. With that, the Red Devils are no closer to Champions League qualification today than they were three weeks ago before their mini-run of 11 points from six games. Only Aston Villa (10), who are rock bottom of the league, have won fewer points at home this season than Sunderland (12). United are currently six points back of 4th, so with at least two of the four sides ahead of them guaranteed to drop points on Sunday, it’s a big, big weekend for United to take of their own business and apply a little pressure.

[ MORE: The latest on those Mourinho-to-United rumors ]

The Fallen On Hard Times But Someone Has To Win (Maybe) Derby

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Premier League Extra Time)

When 2016 began, Crystal Palace were 5th in the PL. Unfortunately for them, the clock also struck midnight on what had been a hugely successful season to that point — five losses and one draw since, and they’re now 12th in the league table. The story is eerily similar for Watford, who were 7th after a Boxing Day draw with Chelsea — five losses, a draw and a win later, they’re 10th. A single point is all that separates Saturday’s combatants desperately hoping to regain their early-season form.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Is Roberto Martinez’s employment under review? It might be

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Everton will be a fascinating club to watch as the 2015-16 season winds down. There’s essentially no chance of them finishing in the top-four or -five (12 and 6 points back, respectively), and they look essentially the same side that massively disappointed en route to an 11th-place finish last season — they’re atrocious and hugely naive defensively, which has been a characteristic of Roberto Martinez-managed teams since, well, the beginning of his managerial career. $100 million is a lot of money to spend over four transfer windows without any discernible progress.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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