U.S. national team in high spirits as sensational 2013 draws to a close


GLASGOW — Laughing and joking around on a cold, blustery November morning on the outskirts of Glasgow, all is well with the U.S. national team.

And why shouldn’t it be?

They’re coming off the back of one of their best ever international seasons under Jurgen Klinsmann’s tutelage, losing just three times during 21 games so far in 2013, going on a record-breaking 12-game winning streak, qualifying at a canter for the 2014 World Cup,  currently ranked 13th in the world and have arguably the strongest player pool the USMNT has ever had. Life is good for fans of the U.S.

Friendlies against Scotland on Friday (watch live on ESPN, 3pm ET) and Austria next Tuesday (2:45pm ET, live on NBCSN) close out an incredibly successful year. Being up close and personal with the squad, you can tell the players are enjoying themselves as they train in Scotland. A large group playing a possession game erupt into giggles and whoops of delight on numerous occasions early on in Tuesday’s morning session. Life is good for the national side.

“This team has always been about the collective group,” AS Roma midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We’ve always had a team that no matter who is available on a given day, no matter who is there, they’re going to step on the field and be committed to putting a performance in that really reflects the group and makes everyone proud.”

(MORE: Exclusive – U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

That large squad Bradley speaks of has been evident over the past six months as Klinsmann’s project has cranked up a notch. A Gold Cup win over the summer with mostly MLS players and young European and Liga MX hopefuls showed just how deep the USMNT are.

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Tim Howard and Michael Bradley both agree this USMNT is thriving thanks to great spirit and togetherness.

One of those player who used clutch performances in the USA’s Gold Cup success to propel himself into the forefront of Klinsmann’s plans was Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson. Speaking after training on Tuesday, the 29-year-old forward believes a strong feeling of togetherness is helping all USMNT players to get better.

“There are a lot of familiar faces, a lot of the guys who’ve been in the qualifying rounds, friendlies, Gold Cup, so we’re all used to playing with each other,” Johnson said. “The more we can have familiar faces, the better understanding and camaraderie we have as a national team on the field and getting better. This is a good test for us, two good games and every player here is eager to do themselves justice as far as putting themselves in a good position to end 2013, as well as put themselves in a good position to be selected for the World Cup.”

That team spirit is something Bradley, a stalwart for the U.S. in central midfield and perhaps the first name on Klinsmann’s team sheet, also alluded to.

“It’s a special group to be a part of,” Bradley said. “In the way with the team spirit and the way we get on with each other. When you look at the calendar, there’s not a lot of games left between now and the World Cup. We’re looking to use every chance that we get to move ourselves up the ladder.”

With big things expected at Brazil 2014 after breezing through qualifying and beating the likes of Germany, Bosnia and Italy in friendlies over the last few years, I asked U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard if this was the best USMNT team he’s ever played on. The Everton star paused and gave a glowing appraisal of the current roster.

“This is the most diverse,” Howard said. “I’ve played on some good U.S. teams, particularly when I was younger. This team has a lot of diversity in both age and background, I just think the best thing about this team so far is the balance. We’ve got the best balance, we’ve got depth in a lot of positions, we’ve got people who play in lots of different countries, we’ve got some olds and youngs. The balance is very good, the chemistry is very good.”

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.

Top 5 Premier League storylines — Manchester clubs look to get back on track

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The Premier League title race is shaping up to be the closest race ever, which leaves little room for error for the top clubs. Going into Matchday 10 the top five teams are separated by just one point and any misstep could result in a quick drop from the top of the table.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Trouble in Manchester?

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)
Manchester United vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Pep Guardiola has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Manchester City only has two points from its last three Premier League matches and seems to still be adjusting to the style of their new manager. This past weekend, it was an error from John Stones that gave Southampton a goal and the eventual point. City came roaring out of the gates with six straight wins to start the Premier League season., but now that the team is facing its first rough patch under Guardiola, a positive response will be essential for the Citizens to keep pace in the title race. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Man City is still at the top of the Premier League table.

Over at Old Trafford, Manchester United is facing even more hardship with their new manager. Jose Mourinho and United were embarrassed in their trip to Stamford Bridge as the team was beaten from the starting whistle by Chelsea. Similar to Manchester City, United started the Premier League season in good form winning its first three matches. However, the Red Devils have won just one of its last six Premier League matches and is five points off the pace of the top five. Man United seem to lack an identity as Mourinho struggles to find the right mix of players and high-priced signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba have made little impact in the team’s recent matches.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Have Conte, Chelsea figured it out?

Southampton vs. Chelsea — Sunday, 12:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Chelsea have won its last three Premier League matches, including a dominating performance against Manchester United last weekend. Antonio Conte has recently made a change to his preferred system of three center backs and the move has worked as Chelsea has three straight clean sheets. The offense has also flourished for the Blues with seven goals in their last two matches. Chelsea is just one point from the top the table and has looked as good as any team in the Premier League throughout the last month. A trip to Saint Mary’s Stadium on Sunday is another good test for Chelsea and Conte.

Bradley looks to keep Swansea afloat

Stoke City vs. Swansea — Monday, 4:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Bob Bradley earned his first point as Swansea City manager with a 0-0 draw against Watford last weekend. While it was a good result for a Swansea team that had lost four straight, Bradley will need to start winning matches soon to get the Swans out of the relegation zone. Swansea has just one win this season and is currently two points from safety. The biggest issue for Bradley to solve is on defense where Swansea have earned just two clean sheets this season, including last week’s result against Watford. Swansea’s defense faces a tough task on Monday against a Stoke City side that appears to have found its goal scoring form.

Sunderland’s dreadful start likely to continue

Sunderland vs. Arsenal — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Sunderland is off to one of the worst starts the Premier League has ever seen. There’s no way around that statement. The Black Cats have just two points this season and are in danger of creating too deep a hole to dig themselves out of. It doesn’t get any easier for David Moyes and his players as Arsenal pay a visit to the Stadium of Light this weekend. If Sunderland cannot get a result against Arsenal, the team will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City side for the worst start through 10 matches in Premier League history.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Christian Benteke takes on Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Christian Benteke welcomes his old teammates to Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace faces Liverpool. Benteke was a big summer signing for the Reds prior to the start of last season, but the Belgian striker never seemed comfortable at Anfield. Benteke scored nine goals in 29 matches for Liverpool, his lowest total in his four Premier League seasons, and moved to Crystal Palace in the summer. In his first seven games for Palace, Benteke has three goals and has played all but six minutes for the team in the Premier League. Benteke will undoubtedly want to score against his old side and a goal would be welcomed by Palace which has dropped their last two matches.

VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 10

Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur FC and Jamie Vardy, Leicester City FC
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Week 10 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

With plenty of intriguing clashes to look out for, let’s take a quick look at all of the major storylines across the league.

Tottenham vs. Leicester City, Southampton vs. Chelsea and Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool seem to be the frontrunners for the games of the weekend.

Click play on the videos below to see the previews, while you can stream every single game live by clicking on the link above.

Is it Saturday yet?

Tottenham vs. Leicester City

Manchester United vs. Burnley

Southampton vs. Chelsea

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

West Brom vs. Manchester City

Sunderland vs. Arsenal

Everton vs. West Ham

Watford vs. Hull City

Stoke City vs. Swansea City

Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth