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Premier League Preview: Everton

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Everton enter the 2013-14 season after an impressive 6th place finish in last year’s Barclays Premier League. Just one place shy of 5th placed Tottenham, Everton fell just short of its dreams of qualifying for Europe for the first time since 2008-09. But with only seven losses during the 2012-13 season and playing a more thoughtful style of football, Everton was a team that no one could afford to take lightly.

Now, the club that operates under the notorious shoe-string budget of owner and chairman Bill Kenwright must look to take the next step in its storied history. With David Moyes’ 11 year tenure at Goodison Park over, the blue side of Liverpool will now put its faith in the tactics of former Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez.

Transfers In: D Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan); GK Joel Robles (Wigan); F Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan); F Arouna Kone (Wigan)

Transfers Out: GK Jan Mucha (Krylya Sovetov Samara); D Phil Neville (retired); M Thomas Hitzelsperger (free agent); D Jake Bidwell (Brentford); M Magaye Gueye (Brest, loan); F Conor McAleny (Brentford, loan)

source: Getty ImagesKey PlayerKevin Mirallas (pictured). In only his second year at Goodison Park, Mirallas already finds himself the key component to Everton’s success. The primary reason is one of circumstance.

With continued speculation surrounding the possible transfer of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to Manchester United, Mirallas is the offensive weapon that remains a sure thing. The Belgian international, who led the Greek Super League in scoring with 20 goals in 2011-12, is more than capable of off-setting the 11 goals that Fellaini scored in last year’s Premier League. Outside of Baines, Mirallas also happens to be the squad’s most creative player – a dribbler whose silky touch and devastating cuts have been known to leave defenders on the floor.

Mirallas’ role becomes even more enhanced under Roberto Martinez. Under Moyes, Mirallas primarily operated on the right wing but under the new boss it appears the 25 year old will be featured in a central attacking role. Whether deployed as a striker to score goals or in the supporting role to create them, Mirallas will be the difference-maker in the Toffee attack. If he can avoid the nagging injuries that plagued him last winter, Mirallas has the potential to break out in a big way. A 20 goal season is not outside the realm of possibility.

Manager: Roberto Martinez arrives on Merseyside looking to instill a brand of attacking football on a club that has spent the last 11 years learning how to defend under David Moyes. At former club Wigan, Martinez favored a 3-4-3 approach that led to an attractive offense but a leaky defense. This preseason the Spanish manager has dabbled in that formation, as well as a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2 and Moyes’ favored 4-4-1-1.

Whatever formation he settles on, Martinez will be expected to defend as well as attack, or else feel the wrath of the Goodison faithful. Coming into a new club is never easy for a manager, but from all indications Martinez has taken to it well with players raving over his training sessions. The goal for Martinez is simple – keep Everton out of a relegation battle. Achieve that feat and his job should be secure going into year two.

Outlook: With Moyes out and Martinez in, the expectations at Everton will be reduced this season. Few are expecting the club to finish ahead of Liverpool for the third straight year and even fewer will expect a challenge for Europe. But the Toffees have the talent and heart to surprise anyone. A Top 10 finish should be the goal but don’t be shocked if come May we find Everton in the Top 8 for the eighth year in a row.

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Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

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

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.