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Ten biggest surprise players of the 2014 World Cup

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The relative successes of Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben were not shocking to followers of the world’s game, but several players turned the wattage up on their stars during the World Cup in Brazil.

Let’s take a look at ten players who surprised the world over the past month (We’re going to go with positive surprises because, golly, that’s the type of folks we strive to be):

10. Jermaine Jones, United States — This could’ve been a spot for DeAndre Yedlin, but the fact remains that the electrifying youngster did his work off the bench while Jones played his best matches as an American player. In fact, you could justifiably say that Jones’ tournament more or less cemented some doubters of the “Jurgen Knows Best” crowd.

9. Hector Herrara, Mexico (above right) — We know, El Tri fans, he’s a star. But who had him pegged to be one of the best midfielders in the entire tournament? The 24-year-old Porto man was dynamite.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

8. Juan Cuadrado, Colombia — Again, when you’re an important player for a club like Fiorentina — in a league that isn’t all about foreigners — it’s not a massive surprise. But he provided flair and toughness for the Colombia run.

7. Enner Valencia, Ecuador — A shorter tournament than he would’ve liked, but the new West Ham man now had 7 goals in 13 caps and is coming off a season in Pachuca that saw him net 18 times in 23 matches.

6. Daley Blind, Netherlands (also above right) — The 24-year-old Ajax man sends in mesmerizing crosses and knows how to get stuck in as well.

5. Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica — Even the fans in Columbus may’ve been surprised by how well the Crew defender, 26, performed at the tournament. Gonzalez was a massive part of a CRC back line that allowed just two goals in five matches: an Edinson Cavani penalty and a Sokratis Papastathopoulos goal.

4. Mathieu Valbuena, France — At a generous 5-foot-6, Valbuena was a diminutive terror for the French side. At times, he was simply a blue blur that Switzerland and Honduras could not handle. At age 29, did anyone expect the Marseille bet to shine so brightly?

3. Memphis Depay, Netherlands — The youngster prefers to be called Memphis due to his father’s lack of interest in his rearing, and the man performed like a Beale Street star. Just 20, Memphis’ best season for PSV was his 14-goal campaign this season. And his World Cup goals against Australia and Chile were his first as a Dutch international.

2. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica — His biggest honor of the last five years was being named La Liga player of the month in April, so perhaps club form keyed the 27-year-old’s performance at the tournament. There’s no denying that the 58-times capped keeper, perhaps set for Bayern Munich, was at-worst the second-best keeper at the tournament.

1. James Rodriguez, Colombia — We had James at No. 57 in our pre-tournament rankings, and that now seems absurdly-low. But remember: James only had five international goals before the World Cup, and his single-season best for club was 14 at Porto in 2012. Something tells us he’ll have a better chance to shine with Monaco or somewhere else this season.

Honorable mention: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria), Sergio Romero (Argentina), Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Serey Die (Ivory Coast), Gary Medel (Chile), DeAndre Yedlin (United States), David Ospina (Colombia), Islam Slimani (Algeria)

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

WATCH: USMNT’s Gonzalez nets first for Pachuca, earns exuberant “Gol” call

Marouane Fellaini, ,Omar Gonzalez
AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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Come for the goal, stay for the “Gol” call.

Or should we say the “Gol. Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Gol” call.

[ MORE: Angry Louis van Gaal rips journalists for “inventing” stories ]

USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez has opened his account for Pachuca with this 88th minute header, and it’s worth it if just for the auditory performance.

Gonzalez also pulls out the high-capacity weapon celebration, though he’s apparently opted to do the version closer to the “Scarface” finale (Spoiler alert).