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Two goals from Jozy Altidore completes U.S.’s perfect send-off series

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After seven months without an international goal, Jozy Altidore has some momentum to take into Brazil. With goals in the 32nd and 68th minutes, the previously slumping United States international scored his first goals since World Cup qualifying in October, helping the U.S. complete a perfect send-off series with a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.

Altidore opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark with a tap-in after a pass from Fabian Johnson left him with an empty goal. In the second half, a right-footed blast from 14 yards out saw Altidore beat Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama inside his right post, giving the Sunderland striker his 23rd international goal.

A 86th minute penalty conceded by Matt Besler allowed Victor Moses to score from the spot, preventing Tim Howard from keeping a clean sheet in his 100th international appearance. Over the full 90, however, the U.S. put in the most impressive performance of its send-off series, giving the team reason to belief it’s still improving ahead of its June 16th World Cup opener against Ghana.

Tweaking his lineup from last weekend’s win over Turkey, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya into midfield at the expense of Brad Davis and Graham Zusi. Combined with a switch in Clint Dempsey’s positioning, the U.S. was prepared to commit and extra man to the battle in the midfield. Altidore’s early work also portrayed a team committed to complicating Nigeria’s life in the middle third.

The moves left the visitors controlling possession but only generating corner kicks, with the U.S. playing on the counter. In the 32nd minute, the U.S.’s approach paid off when a quick movement down the right flank allowed Bedoya to find an on-rushing Johnson at the edge of the six-yard box. With a square ball between the goalkeeper and defense, the right back found Altidore running between Nigeria’s central defenders. The pass allowed Altidore to finish into an empty net – his first goal of 2014.

Through halftime, the Nigerians continued to control the ball, but most of the Super Eagles’ possession was mostly passive. The team didn’t register a shot on Howard until a speculative chance from Ogenyi Onazi in the 41st minute. By the 44th minute, however, Nigeria had finally come into the match, nearly scoring an equalizer when Efe Ambrose was left unmarked on a corner. While the U.S. made it to intermission with its one-goal lead, Nigeria reached the locker room with some positives.

Soon after returning to the field, Nigeria resumed its control of the ball, but the pressure the team generated at the end of the first half evaporated. Unchanged in its approach, the United States continued funneling play wide before frustrating its opponents, leaving the Super Eagles’ hopes resting on occasional corner kicks and dead ball chances. Through the hour-mark, Nigeria had generated only one good chance on goal.

In the 65th minute, after the U.S. began seeing more of the ball, a strong read from Enyeama was needed to keep the Nigerians in the match. Fed toward the edge of the penalty area by Bradley, Dempsey’s cut back on a Nigerian defender gave him an open look on goal. At the moment Dempsey shed his opponent, however, Enyeama came off his line, cutting down all of the U.S. captain’s angles.

source: AP
United States goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) deflects a ball away from the goal as he collides with Nigeria’s Peter Odemwingie (8). (Photo credit: AP)

Three minutes later, the pressure the U.S. had exerted since the 60th minute paid off, giving Altidore a two-goal performance to carry into Brazil. In transition, a diagonal from Bradley left Altidore one-on-one against Ambrose. Allowed to cut back onto his right foot, Altidore beat Enyeama with a shot inside the near post, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

Frustrated, perhaps fatigued, the passive control Nigeria had experienced to wane. The U.S. was winning possession more often, proving more dangerous on the counter when they did. In the 79th minute, a pass rolled behind the defense by Altidore saw Dempsey again denied by Enyeama, who smothered a through ball just inside the penalty box.

Moments later, Howard had to sprint off his own line to scoop up a Nigeria ball. Then, in the 84th minute, a lapse in defense allowed Emmanuel Emenike to get behind Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, forcing Howard to absorb a shot to keep his clean sheet. Though the U.S. proved more dangerous in the match’s final half-hour, the same late uncertainties that emerged against Turkey were present in Jacksonville.

Ultimately, just as they did against the Turks in Harrison, N.J., the U.S. gave up a late penalty kick that halved the score. Sending his fellow Premier League player the wrong way, Victor Moses beat Howard inside his left post, making it 2-1 after Matt Besler conceded the chance from the spot.

Controlling most of the game’s final minutes, the U.S. eventually completed its first perfect send-off series, scoring six times while conceding twice in its three games before Brazil. Now, however, the games start to count. In nine days, the U.S. kicks off its 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where a Ghanaian team that’s eliminated the U.S. from the last two finals will prove a greater challenge.

Lineups

United States: Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley (Timothy Chandler 75′); Kyle Beckerman (Mix Diskerud 72′), Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (Graham Zusi 60′); Clint Dempsey (Chris Wondolowski 88′), Jozy Altidore (Omar Gonzalez 80′)

Goals: Altidore 32′, 68′

Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama; Juwon Oshaniwa, Joseph Yobo, Godfrey Oboabona, Efe Ambrose; Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi-Mikel (Gabriel Reuben 46′), Ramon Azeez (Michael Uchebo 74′), Peter Odemwingie (Michel Babatunde 46′); Shola Ameobi (Emmanuel Emenike 65′)

Goals: Moses 86′

PL Sunday preview: The day Leicester are crowned champions?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (top) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on April 24, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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The race for the 2015-16 Premier League title could be officially over by this time tomorrow. The biggest day in the history of Leicester City Football Club awaits…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Swansea City (40 points – 15th place) are ever so close to guaranteeing their status as a Premier League club for another season, and a win over Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium would do the mathematical trick for the Swans. Three points would also vault them into 13th place with two games remaining on the season, a dream-land finish to the campaign that months ago looked destined to end in a relegation scrap.

As for Liverpool, the’re 10 points back of Manchester City for fourth place and UEFA Champions League qualification, so don’t be surprised if Jurgen rests a handful of key contributors with both eyes focused on Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semifinal second leg against Villarreal (Liverpool trail 1-0 after the first leg). Winning the UEL is the Reds’ last avenue for Champions League qualification next season, and the kind of recruiting tool Klopp will so desperately need to build his own squad in the summer transfer window.

Injuries: Swansea — OUT: Leroy Fer (hamstring), Alberto Paloschi (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Divock Origi (ankle), Emre Can (ankle), Jordan Henderson (knee), Mamadou Sakho (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Philippe Coutinho (illness)

[ MORE: PL roundup — Newcastle get massive win in relegation fight ]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

The last nine months have merely been building up to this day, this game, for this team — the soon-to-be Premier League champions, Manchester United Leicester City. Are you prepared to live in a world where, for 12 full months, the tag of “defending Premier League champions” will precede any mention of the Foxes? You better be, because it’s happening, perhaps on Sunday.

Louis Van Gaal has challenged his Man United side to not be the foes against which Leicester win the title, but that’ll be easier said than done against the side with the best points tally from away games (37 points from 17 games) in the league this season, including away triumphs over Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and West Ham United already. When these sides met back in November, it was United who grabbed a second-half equalizer for a 1-1 draw, canceling out Jamie Vardy‘s opener which set a new Premier League record for consecutive games with a game (11). The math is simple: a win for Leicester, and they’re PL champions; a draw for Leicester and a draw or loss for Tottenham at Chelsea on Monday, and Leicester are champions; a loss for Leicester and a loss for Tottenham, and Leicester are champions.

Injuries: Man United — OUT: Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Luke Shaw (leg)| Leicester — OUT: Jamie Vardy (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Leonardo Ulloa (back)

[ MORE: PHOTOS — Arsenal fans hold another protest of club, Wenger ]

Southampton vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

West Ham’s thrashing of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (plus a possible result for Man United on Sunday) at least makes the race for a top-four finish interesting for Man City, inasmuch as they need to win away to Southampton in order to maintain a five point gap between themselves and fifth place (a win would see them go back above Arsenal for third, based on goal differential).

As for Southampton, a win would secure their third straight top-eight finish in the PL, with a decent shot at leapfrogging Liverpool for seventh. When Saints and City met back in November, it was the latter side who took all three points in a 3-1 home victory.

Injuries: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Charlie Austin (knee) | Man City — OUT: David Silva (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Yaya Toure (thigh), Samir Nasri (hamstring)

Bundesliga wrap: Auba the super sub for BVB; Bayern fails to clinch

Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Saturday’s results mean we’re not much closer to sorting the mess near both the European places and relegation zone in Germany.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Borussia Dortmund 5-1 Wolfsburg

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had one heck of a 21-minute cameo, scoring twice in two minutes to pour misery on the visitors, as Borussia Dortmund already had a heck of an advantage when the big scoring forward hit the pitch. Shinji Kagawa, Adrian Ramos and Marco Reus scored to stake BVB to a 3-0, and Andre Schurrle‘s 86th minute goal only served to spoil the shutout. USMNT 17-year-old Christian Pulisic was an unused sub.

Bayern Munich 1-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

The Allianz Arena faithful had seen 14 wins in 15 matches heading into Saturday’s match, only to watch over its first draw. Thomas Muller’s sixth minute goal looked like Bayern could cruise to a title-clinching win, but ‘Gladbach hung tight in an even affair that saw its final score line courtesy of Andre Hahn’s 72nd minute tally.

Darmstadt 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt

A massive comeback win has put Niko Kovac’s hosts on the verge of avoiding a relegation playoff against the 2.Bundesliga’s third-placed side. Mario Vrancic gave Darmstadt a halftime lead, but Makoto Hasebe equalized in the 56th minute before inspired substitute Stefan Aigner claimed a winner. Eintracht is level on points with 15th place Stuttgart, which places 17th place Werder Bremen on Monday, and is within a win and help of passing the visitors.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Hertha Berlin

Hertha’s dream season has hit a rough patch, and a rough first 16 minutes resulted in it dropping into fifth place. Julian Brandt and Lars Bender scored early to lift Bayer eight points clear of fourth place, while Hertha is now tied with fourth-place Gladbach on points.

Elsewhere
Augsburg 0-0 Koln
Hoffenheim 2-1 Ingolstadt — Hosts now four points clear.
Hannover 1-3 Schalke — Hosts outshoot visitors 21-10, lose.
Mainz 0-0 Hamburger
Werder Bremen vs. Stuttgart — Monday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 32 26 4 2 75 15 60 14-1-1 12-3-1 82
Borussia Dortmund 32 24 5 3 80 31 49 14-2-0 10-3-3 77
Bayer Leverkusen 32 17 6 9 52 36 16 9-3-4 8-3-5 57
Mönchengladbach 32 15 4 13 63 49 14 12-1-3 3-3-10 49
Hertha BSC Berlin 32 14 7 11 41 40 1 9-5-2 5-2-9 49
FC Schalke 04 32 14 6 12 46 47 -1 8-4-4 6-2-8 48
FSV Mainz 05 32 13 7 12 43 41 2 8-3-5 5-4-7 46
1. FC Köln 32 10 11 11 36 40 -4 5-4-7 5-7-4 41
FC Ingolstadt 04 32 10 10 12 30 37 -7 7-5-4 3-5-8 40
VfL Wolfsburg 32 10 9 13 43 48 -5 8-5-3 2-4-10 39
Hamburger SV 32 10 8 14 37 44 -7 5-4-7 5-4-7 38
FC Augsburg 32 9 10 13 40 48 -8 3-6-7 6-4-6 37
1899 Hoffenheim 32 9 10 13 38 49 -11 6-6-4 3-4-9 37
Darmstadt 32 8 11 13 36 50 -14 2-6-8 6-5-5 35
VfB Stuttgart 31 9 6 16 46 63 -17 6-1-9 3-5-7 33
Eintracht Frankfurt 32 8 9 15 33 51 -18 5-6-5 3-3-10 33
Werder Bremen 31 8 7 16 43 63 -20 3-5-7 5-2-9 31
Hannover 96 32 6 4 22 29 59 -30 3-0-13 3-4-9 22

Premier League roundup: Newcastle shakes up Bottom Three; Arsenal wins

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United reacts at full time during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Newcastle United has blown the race to escape the drop zone wide open, while Sunderland still controls its own destiny and Norwich City is angling for a lifeline.

[ MORE: Examining the relegation picture ]

Those are the lessons from a busy day in the Premier League with very little action, let alone movement, in the top half of the table.

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich CityRECAP

There were anti-Arsene Wenger protests before and after the Gunners defeated relegation-threatened Norwich on a Danny Welbeck goal, and Arsenal’s performance did little to quell the embattled manager’s critics. That said, the Gooners’ club remains in the Top Three while Norwich sits 19th place.

Newcastle United 1-0 Crystal PalaceRECAP

Andros Townsend curled home a gorgeous free kick, and Karl Darlow made a tremendous penalty stop on ex-Magpies star Yohan Cabaye as Newcastle rose out of the relegation zone for the first time since Valentine’s Day by defeating former manager Alan Pardew‘s Eagles. Palace continues its Premier League woes in 2016, and sits 7 points clear of the drop.

Stoke City 1-1 SunderlandRECAP

The Black Cats have a right to feel aggrieved after picking up just a single point from the Britannia Stadium. Sunderland did not get a penalty called when Geoff Cameron may’ve handled a cross, and then Peter Crouch picked up a headed assist by boosting himself off Younes Kaboul. But Jermain Defoe earned and converted a penalty kick that was just as suspect, and Sunderland remains a point back of Newcastle.

Watford 3-2 Aston VillaRECAP

WATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Troy Deeney of Watford celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on April 30, 2016 in Watford, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Troy Deeney grew up a Birmingham City fan, and my did he enjoy sticking the knife in the relegated enemy of his younger days. The Watford captain scored twice in stoppage time to avenge a 2-1 deficit and rise above 10-man Villa. Ciaran Clark scored early for Villa, but Almen Abdi scored a free kick for Watford, its first in PL history, to make it 1-1. Jordan Ayew put Villa ahead, but Aly Cissokho drew straight red with 16 minutes to play. That’s when Deeney went to work, and Watford went into the win column.

Everton 2-1 BournemouthRECAP

What began with an emotional tribute to the Hillsborough 96 and their families ended with a much-needed win for Roberto Martinez. Leighton Baines scored his first goal from the run of play since 2013, while Tom Cleverley also scored for the Toffees. Marc Pugh scored for Bournemouth.

West Bromwich Albion 0-3 West Ham UnitedRECAP

Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers aren’t giving up in their quest to reach the Top Four, as industrious Mark Noble grabbed two goals in leading West Ham to a big road win. Tony Pulis‘ dogged defense couldn’t hold serve against the Irons, who pull into fifth pending the result of Manchester United’s Sunday match against Leicester City.

Relegation picture: The situation for Newcastle, Sunderland, Norwich

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This is tight, tense and getting horrible for the three teams battling it out at the bottom.

We know Aston Villa has already been relegated but three teams — Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle United — are in a dogfight to avoid relegation.

Three into two doesn’t go.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just two points separates the three aforementioned teams going into the final two weeks of the season. Plus, Crystal Palace isn’t out of the picture either as they have 39 points but Alan Pardew‘s side should be fine. Just.

Newcastle United is the form team as Rafael Benitez’s side is now unbeaten in four games and grabbed a huge 1-0 win against Palace on Saturday, while Sunderland is solid under Sam Allardyce and have lost just once in eight games but have six draws in that span.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | standings

Norwich is reeling after three defeats on the spin and Alex Neil‘s side is running out of time as they lost 1-0 at Arsenal on Saturday despite a brave, battling display.

Below is a look at the relegation picture, plus the remaining fixtures for all three teams as Newcastle have just two games left, while both Sunderland and Norwich have three.

Who do you think will survive out of these three teams?


Newcastle United – 17th place, 33 points

May 7 – Aston Villa (A)
May 15 – Tottenham Hotspur (H)

Sunderland – 18th place, 32 points

May 7 – Chelsea (H)
May 11 – Everton (H)
May 15 – Watford (A)

Norwich City – 19th place, 31 points

May 7 – Manchester United (H)
May 11 – Watford (H)
May 15 – Everton (A)


Looking at the schedules above, Newcastle has a great chance of getting at least three points from their remaining two games with an away trip to Aston Villa up next, plus if Tottenham is out of the title race heading into the final game then it may be a great chance to pick up another three points at home.

Sunderland will find it tough going against Chelsea and Everton but home advantage will be key, while the final game away at Watford, a team who has nothing to play for, could be the crucial one. They hold their own destiny in their hands. Win all three and they will stay up.

As for Norwich, they won’t expect much against Manchester United next up but they will fancy their chances of picking up at least four points against Watford and Everton in their final two games. Simply put, nobody knows which of these two teams will go down and it’s likely to stay that way until the final minutes of the season.