Matt Besler & Omar Gonzalez

Five U.S. stars who’ve emerged during World Cup qualification


After yet another “Dos a Cero” win against Mexico in Columbus on Tuesday night, the U.S. national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The USA’s qualification has been all but secured for quite some time now, but you never know until that fat lady starts flexing her vocal chords… Last night she sang loud and proud in Ohio.

So, now that the U.S. is officially heading to Brazil for the big dance next summer, let’s take a closer look at the qualifying campaign that got them over the line. One thing that popped straight into my mind is that plenty of USMNT players, who are now starters, weren’t even in the picture when WC qualifying began in 2011.

(MORE: Dos a Cero again! … United States qualifies for 2014 World Cup after 2-0 win over Mexico)

Let’s find out who which players have propelled themselves into the spotlight during the USA’s domineering display in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. There’s still two games left in October… but I think it’s safe to say that these guys have made a good impression.

And remember, these are five names who previously were out of the picture. But if we were looking for revival artists, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Clarence Goodson have all shone.

source: Getty ImagesMatt Besler

On January 29, 2013 Besler made his U.S. debut in a dour -0 draw with Canada in Toronto. And ever since then, the Sporting Kansas City defender has looked as solid as a rock as the starting left center back. Having dueled against Besler as a youngster at Notre Dame, I’ve always rated his ability to read the game and step in where necessary to stop plays developing. But the most impressive aspect of his play since being called up to the U.S. squad is that his physical presence and pace hasn’t been lacking. In the crucial 0-0 draw at the Azteca in March, Besler was incredible in keeping Javier Hernandez off the score-sheet and stepped in to help the USA bring home Gold Cup success during the knockout stages. He’s an old head on young shoulders and the partnership he has with Gonzalez has seen them both flourish as defenders of international caliber. One question mark surrounds his experience heading into the World Cup, after Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell tricked the referee into giving Besler a yellow card to leave him suspended for the Mexico clash. But Besler will pick that experience up over the coming years where he will surely be a regular for the USMNT.

source: APOmar Gonzalez

Klinsmann’s overhaul of the central defensive position continued with another young defender from MLS stepping in to excel; step forward Omar. The 24-year-old LA Galaxy center back has formed a formidable partnership with Besler at the heart of the USA’s defense. Gonzalez’ stock has risen considerably since being drafted out of Maryland and recently he was handed a Designated Player contract by LA to keep him in the league. The towering Mexican-American defender has flourished with the increased amount of pressure on his shoulders and has hardly put a foot wrong since starting alongside Besler against Canada back in January. That “Why not?” interview about possibly representing Mexico at national team level seems a long time ago as Gonzalez has solidified himself as one of the essential parts of the U.S. roster heading to Brazil.

source: Getty ImagesGeoff Cameron

In Major League Soccer circles we all knew exactly what Cameron was capable of after being solid and dependable for the Houston Dynamo. Yet his move to Premier League Stoke City last August really caught Klinsmann’s attention after not appearing for the U.S. once in 2011. Able to play in a variety of positions, Cameron is to the USMNT what Owen Hargreaves was to England; Mr. Versatile. However he’s really made the right back slot his own during this qualifying cycle and a calamitous fall from grace aside, Cameron will be play plenty of minutes in Brazil. Some pundits aren’t big on Cameron stepping into midfield as a backup holding midfielder, and he has been shaky in recent games playing in that role. The loss to Costa Rica last Friday saw Cameron have a poor game and give possession away cheaply but his role for the U.S. going forward will surely be at right back instead of in midfield. He has a fantastic engine and epitomizes the team spirit Klinsmann has engineered over the last 12 months.

source: Getty ImagesGraham Zusi

Okay, some of his sparkle may have vanished in recent qualifiers… but it’s still been a breakout few years for Graham Zusi. The 27-year-old Floridian ousted Landon Donovan out of Klinsmann’s plans for most of 2013, and that takes some doing. But apart from that Zusi has matured and adapted to the pace of playing at international level and proved to be a valuable asset for the USA. As I mentioned, the Sporting KC winger lost his starting spot to the more experienced internationals in the 2-0 win over Mexico but he’s still a regular in the squad and has gone from a U.S. maybe to important squad member in the space of six months. Zusi made his full national team debut in 2012 and has definitely used this World Cup campaign to springboard himself into the World Cup picture. Training stints in Europe over the offseason put his MLS future in doubt but the Maryland product has since signed a new deal with SKC. A bright future lies ahead for Zusi as his battle with Donovan for a starting spot intensifies.

source: ReutersFabian Johnson

We all knew the Hoffenheim man was available and impressing in Germany but he was hardly a regular in the U.S. setup before this qualifying campaign began. One of the much talked about German-Americans Klinsmann helped bring into the squad, Johnson has been the biggest success story out of the likes of Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, Danny Williams and others. 25-year-old Johnson made his debut against Guatemala on 12 June 2012 and has been around ever since switching his allegiances from Germany in 2011. Now he’s a starter and richly deserves the chance to play in the World Cup in Brazil after switching . Johnson has operated in a variety of positions during the Hex, twice filling in a right back against Mexico to varying degrees of success but mostly starring down the left-hand side as a defender or pacey winger. Not afraid to take on a full back or whip in an inviting cross, Johnson’s link up play with the U.S. forwards has been key throughout qualifying success. A shoe-in for the left hand side when the USA lineup in Brazil next year.

Aguero injury update; Pellegrini pleased as City go top

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Relax Manchester City fans, Sergio Aguero is okay. At least, that’s how it seems right now.

Aguero, 27, started up top in City’s 3-1 win over Southampton on Saturday as the Citizens momentarily went top of the Premier League ahead of the late game between Leicester City and Manchester United.

[ VIDEO: Vardy sets PL record ]

Even though Aguero didn’t get on the scoresheet, his movement caused Saints plenty of problems and despite Shane Long halving the deficit following Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph‘s first half goals, City rallied and won 3-1 thanks to a late Aleksandar Kolarov strike.

All that aside, Aguero limped off injured in the second half and with a League Cup quarterfinal and big games in the PL and UEFA Champions League coming up, fears over the Argentine’s fitness once again surfaced.

Speaking to the media after the game Pellegrini revealed that Aguero should be fine.

“Kun [Aguero] came off as a precaution. I spoke with him before the game and we said he would play 65 minutes,” Pellegrini said. “He has a kick in his heel, but nothing important. I was very pleased with the team’s reaction. It was important to get three points against a team who were unbeaten away. We were a little nervous until the third goal, but I’m happy with the performance and the result.”

Aguero missed six weeks of action from October to November after a hamstring injury when playing for Argentina and whenever he’s been out of the team, especially over the past 12 months, City have missed him desperately. In that regard it is understandable that Pellegrini took no chances when Aguero went done with a slight injury against Southampton.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

Pellegrini also lamented referee Roger East for a few peculiar decisions, as both his side and Saints could’ve had penalty kicks in either half for handball incidents in the box. With City facing Hull City in the League Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday, Pellegrini’s players must now recover as he hinted at the importance of making the final four of the competition he won during his first season in charge.

Social media reacts to Jamie Vardy’s Premier League history-making goal

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The Internet exploded at around 12:50 p.m. ET on Saturday after Jamie Vardy — yes, Jamie Vardy — broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record for most consecutive games with a goal.

[ WATCH: The goal | The game — Leicester City vs. Manchester United ]

Yes, an Englishman is back atop the charts. An Englishman who was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town before heading to Leicester.

He’s perhaps the reminder, as Rio Ferdinand Tweeted below, that the most unlikely of scenarios is still not impossible.

Well done @vardy7! You're number one now and you deserved it. #11inarow.

A photo posted by Ruud van Nistelrooy (@rvnistelrooy) on

VIDEO: Vardy sets Premier League record, scores in 11-straight games

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He did it. He actually did it.

Jamie Vardy made Premier League history on Saturday, scoring for the 11th consecutive game to become the first player in history to achieve that magnificent feat.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

Tied with Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy heading into Leicester’s clash against United on Saturday, it took Vardy just 24 minutes to set the new record as Christian Fuchs played a delicate ball in-behind United’s defense and Vardy did the rest.

[ MORE: Can Vardy, Leicester achieve unthinkable? ]

Watch the video below to see the King Power Stadium erupt as a truly memorable moment arrived.

Now, the next record for Vardy to break is from the 1931-32 English top-flight season, before the PL was formed. Sheffield United’s Jimmy Dunne scored in 12-straight games way back then.

Anyway, congratulations Mr. Vardy for making PL history.

WATCH: Insane finish as Everton, Bournemouth trade stoppage time goals

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This was an all-timer.

Bournemouth came back from a 2-0 halftime deficit only to watch Ross Barkley hand Everton a one-goal lead with a score in the final minute of stoppage time.

[ MATCH RECAP: Bournemouth 3-3 Everton ]

But after fans were cleared from the field, Junior Stanislas provided the dramatic answer for Bournemouth to force a 3-3 draw at Dean Court.