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

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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.”

Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle United: Blues cruise past hapless Magpies

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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  • Costa opens scoring in fifth minute
  • His 8th goal in 10 appearances
  • Magpies back into drop zone on goal diff.
  • Townsend strikes late to break shutout

Diego Costa and Pedro scored before the match was nine minutes old, and Willian put an exclamation point on a wild first half in the 17th minute as Chelsea battered Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Pedro added another in the second half before Baba Rahman tallied to make it 5-0, and that’s how it finished at the Bridge. Chelsea now has 33 points, and is within two points of 10th and nine back of fifth place Manchester United.

Newcastle is back in 18th, lower than Norwich City on goal differential. Andros Townsend scored late for the Magpies.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It took barely more than four minutes for Chelsea to take the lead, as Costa burst past Steven Taylor to slide Willian’s pass past Rob Elliot. 1-0.

Pedro doubled the advantage when he took advantage of 20-year-old Rolando Aarons, who was forced to play right back despite starting as a right wing under Alan Pardew. It was an awful pass regardless of his normal position, and Pedro picked it off and went the distance.

Andros Townsend cut in from the left to provide a counter threat, but his low shot was gobbled up by Thibaut Courtois.

Still, 3-0 came first. Costa worked a long ball and then watched Fabricio Coloccini back off. Willian tore through an unmarking back line to push home an easy goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Magpies found some life in the second half, as Chelsea had to cope with an injury to John Terry that moved Branislav Ivanovic inside and put Baba Rahman into the game.

Aleksandar Mitrovic absorbed a tricky cleat to his achilles, staying in the game to hit a low shot wide of goal.

But Pedro added another goal moments later on a counterattack (of sorts) and it was 4-0 in the 59th minute.

Townsend broke the shutout when he belted a left footed shot home late for his first ever Newcastle goal.

Suarez: I’d only play for Liverpool in the Premier League

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Luis Suarez has upset fans of every Premier League team by saying he’d never join their club.

[ MORE: Van Gaal downbeat after defeat ]

On Valentine’s Day weekend his heart belongs to one PL club: Liverpool.

Speaking to former Liverpool teammate Jamie Carragher on behalf of the Daily Mail, Suarez insisted he is loving life at reigning Spanish and European champions Barcelona.

But if the 29-year-old striker ever left the Nou Camp and came back to the PL he wouldn’t play for Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea. Oh no.

“I’d prefer to stay here [Barcelona] for many more years. I know it doesn’t always turn out that way. But if I had to return to the Premier League, I would only go to Liverpool,: Suarez said. “I wouldn’t go to another team. It wouldn’t be a move for money. I’d also love to play again for Ajax, as they allowed me to develop as a player in Europe.”

So, in 2019 once Suarez has won the Ballon d’Or at Barcelona and won four-straight UEFA Champions League titles, could he be back at Anfield to help attend to some unfinished business with Jurgen Klopp still in charge?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just a thought, but Suarez is obviously keen to repay the loyalty both Liverpool’s fans and the club have shown him over the years during many difficult moments on and off the pitch. At away stadiums across England he was lambasted by fans of the opposition and he obviously remembers that. Suarez was the subject of a cheeky bid from Arsenal and Arsene Wenger obviously admires him but the fact of the matter is, it would be shocking to see him leave Barcelona anytime soon.

Suarez still has plenty to give for Barca in the meantime as he has 36 goals in 34 appearances for the Catalan club this season so far.

Pardew, Palace lamenting “tricky run”; Without Premier League win in 2016

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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“We are on a tricky run and need to fight out way out of this form.”

That’s how Alan Pardew is describing his club’s brutal form of early 2016. Crystal Palace has one point in its last seven matches, their streakiness matching what we expected from Pardew when he led Newcastle United through a topsy-turvy few seasons at St. James Park.

[ MATCH RECAP: Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford ]

Pardew says injuries and bad luck have hurt his side, and Yannick Bolasie‘s absence looms large in a midfield-vital Premier League. But Palace has managed just three points since Dec. 26 despite playing a manageable schedule of opponents.

Since beating Stoke at the Britannia on Dec. 19, this is Palace’s Premier League form:

Dec. 26 — 0-0 at Bournemouth
Dec. 28 — 0-0 vs. Swans
Jan. 3 — 0-3 vs. Chelsea
Jan. 12 — 0-1 at Villa
Jan. 16 — 0-4 at Man City
Jan. 23 — 1-3 vs. Spurs
Feb. 2 — 1-2 vs Bournemouth
Feb. 6 — 1-1 at Swans
Feb. 13 — 1-2 vs. Watford

Fortunately for Pardew, he has his old charges in Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich City not doing much to threaten a climb out of the drop zone. But Palace has gone from Top Four contender to bottom-half side in a month and a half.

WATCH: Chelsea’s three goals in 11 minutes have Newcastle defense in tatters

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on February 13, 2016 in London, England.
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Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian are terrorizing Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, battering the Magpies by three goals.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

And the game’s not even a half-hour old as of posting time, so we’re just going to leave these videos right here, Toon Army.