Tampa Bay Rowdies v New York Cosmos

Marcos Senna talks New York Cosmos, NASL growth, Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi and more ahead of NASL Soccer Bowl

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In their first season back as a pro soccer club, the New York Cosmos are on the verge of winning the NASL title.

Not bad.

But there’s one problem, the Atlanta Silverbacks stand in their way. The NASL Soccer Bowl takes place in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday evening (7:30pm ET, watch live on NASL website) as the entire season comes down to the one-off game between the spring and fall champions as Atlanata has home field advantage.

Both teams have gone quite some time since lifting the title as the last team to win the crown from the city of Atlanta was the Chiefs back in 1968, while the Cosmos have six  NASL titles to their name and last prevailed in 1982.

Whoever takes this crown, it’s sure to be a nerve-wracking night for the players, management and fans of both the Silverbacks and the newly re-formed Cosmos.

One player who won’t be feeling too nervous is European Championsip winning midfielder Marcos Senna, who represented Spain at international level for many years and was a pivotal part of Villarreal’s rise through the leagues to become a giant in Spanish soccer and shine in the Champions League.

The 37-year-old is calmness personified on the pitch and he’s even scored five goals and added two assists this season. Not bad for 13 games as a veteran holding midfielder in the fall NASL seasons as he was named to the league’s Best XI earlier on Friday.

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During his days with Villarreal, Senna drove his team onto success in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and won many admirers.

Following his first season in the USA, Senna spoke to ProSoccerTalk ahead of the final. In 2013 he’s taken the second tier of U.S. soccer by storm to help lead the New York Cosmos one game away from lifting the NASL crown. He’s delighted to be part of the burgeoning club and to help the younger players develop.

“Obviously being here as a team leader, for me it’s very pleasant,” Senna said. “All the experience that I have playing professional soccer, I try to pass it on to the younger guys who always try to do their best in everything. I am looking forward to finishing this year and playing next year too”

Senna also laughed at his goalscoring exploits.

“In all of my years as a soccer player I’m not usually a goalscorer!” Senna said. “But I’m very happy to help the team out and contribute in any way I can.”

It seems as though his help has rubbed off on plenty of the other Cosmos players, something 23-year-old Venezuelan attacker Diomar Diaz agrees with. He believes the experience Senna has brought to the team has been crucial in helping New York to reach the final and at the same time help the younger players develop.

“Obviously playing with Senna, it is an honor,” Diaz said. “He has some much experience and shares that with the youngsters, such as myself. He speaks with us about how to be on the field, how to manage the games and he talks to us a lot. It’s just an honor being part of this team and playing for the Cosmos with Senna.”

The Brazilian born midfielder, who became a household name across Europe for his terrific displays in the holding role during Villarreal’s rise, spoke of his affection for NASL and is already aiming for next seasons title.

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Senna has become an instant hero for the Cosmos as their resurgence continues.

“I like playing in this league,” Senna said. “It’s very good and a competitive league and I’m just looking forward for next season and to finishing top.”

If the Cosmos win the NASL title in just their first season back in the league and after starting from scratch it would be some achievement. But would it also send out a message to the rest of the world that they’re back? Senna’s not so sure.

“We’re not really trying to send a message, the team is already well known,” Senna said. “Even though I would be really happy if we won the title, it’s not really sending a message out to the world that the Cosmos are back.”

And of course, I couldn’t let the former La Liga star go without asking him about the same question that crops up all over the globe. Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Having played against both during his days with Villarreal and knowing just how good they are up close and personal, the former Spanish international has nothing but respect for both Ronaldo and Messi.

“I don’t like to compare players,” Senna said. “Obviously they play very different styles of soccer Messi and Ronaldo. And of course they both play for different teams, but if I was a fan of either team I would choose Messi or Ronaldo. It’s been a privilege playing against them. It was certainly very difficult and very hard to play against them.”

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 ]