AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Four keys for the USMNT vs. Costa Rica

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A win over Costa Rica in Friday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier moves the United States men’s national team into second place on the Hex table, a far cry from the basement positioning when Jurgen Klinsmann still led the side.

The USMNT has found its footing since Klinsmann was fired, with Bruce Arena overseeing home wins against Honduras and Panama and road draws with Mexico and Panama.

[ REPORT: Chelsea in for Rafinha ]

Now the Yanks have a chance to avenge one of the most egregious USMNT losses in recent memory, the 4-0 smashing at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica last November.

How can they do that?

Mind the left

Take away Costa Rica’s 4-0 thrashing of the USMNT and Los Ticos are averaging a goal scored per game in qualifying and just a plus-1 goal differential. The lone loss came at Mexico, when El Tri jumped out to an 8th minute lead and carried a 2-0 advantage to the break.

Mexico used a 4-3-3 to take the match to visiting CRC, which used a 5-2-2-1. That’s a bit less packed in than the 5-4-1 that buried the Yanks in November, but gives you an idea of what to expect.

The stats say Costa Rica attacked the United States’ left side through Randall Azofeifa more often than not, going after Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, and Matt Besler. It’s the same tactic Los Ticos tried against Mexico, and were shutout.

Why? Suffice it to say Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, and Hector Herrera are a trickier trio to handle than a teenager — even a sublime one — playing his first Hex road match, a left midfielder, and a decent MLS center back who had been in-and-out of the USMNT side since the 2014 World Cup.

What’s this mean for Friday? Likely a lot of pressure for DaMarcus Beasley or Jorge Villafana, with Johnson sitting at left mid and either Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, or Besler up for a very stiff and focused test.

Suck up the space, don’t sleep on the counter

One thing that’s seemingly found the U.S. at sixes and sevens more and more often than not is counter attacking play. Kevin Parsemain blew by Matt Hedges in the buildup to one of Martinique’s Gold Cup goals, and Kellyn Acosta and Co. had a nightmare versus Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela in the Mexico equalizer at Azteca.

A lot of this should be settled by center back Geoff Cameron and defensive mid Bradley, but keep an eye on who Arena pairs with each player. And keep an eye on how much room the Yanks, especially presumed right back Graham Zusi, give Bryan Ruiz and the other Costa Ricans to attempt shots from distance. We don’t expect the Americans to give up goals with the run of play, even given Marco Urena’s instinctive runs and blazing speed, unless they allow the cannons to fire…

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Work on set piece defending, Mr. Arena

Even amongst those who didn’t want to see Bruce Arena take over as USMNT coach, there was little doubt the LA Galaxy man would stop the Yanks from their sad habit of hapless set piece defending.

He hasn’t… yet.

Je-Vaughn Watson for Jamaica in the Gold Cup Final (corner kick) wasn’t against the Yanks’ top unit and Asamoah Gyan’s free kick in a June friendly was borderline unstoppable and against second-choice backstop Brad Guzan.

But it was Fabian Johnson who was lost on Jose Manuel Velazquez’s corner kick goal for Venezuela. Gabriel Gomez bested Villafana and Tim Howard in the WCQ at Panama off a long throw-in.

That’s eight total goals conceded against Arena’s USMNT, four off set pieces, and that’s not counting several errors that didn’t come back to haunt the Yanks. Sort it out, Bruce.

Don’t overthink it

The United States should win the game. It’s a fact backed by essentially every visit from Costa Rica in a meaningful match for this generation of national team players.

2017 Gold Cup — USMNT 2-0
2016 Copa America — USMNT 4-0
2013 Gold Cup — USMNT 1-0
2014 World Cup qualifying  — USMNT 1-0
2010 World Cup qualifying — 2-2 draw

That’s not to say Costa Rica isn’t a good team, and Los Ticos won Group D over Uruguay, Italy, and England to become one of the darlings of the 2014 World Cup.

But if Arena, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley prepare the side for this match the way they likely should, one game at a time against an inferior visitor, it’s a straightforward win and a foothold in Russia.

With three matches to go, the Yanks would have 11 points. Trips to Honduras (next week) and Trinidad and Tobago remain, as well as an October visit from Panama. With Mexico hosting Panama on Friday and Honduras off to T&T, the table would look like this with three to play should the U.S. handle Costa Rica:

Mexico — Low: 14 points, High: 17 points
USMNT — 11 points
Costa Rica — 11 points
Panama — Low: 7 points, High: 10 points
Honduras — Low: 5 points, High: 8 points
T&T — Low: 3 points, High: 6 points

That means the likely 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams would remain on the U.S. docket. Book your tickets to Russia.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 28 in the Premier League, with eight games on the slate due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City on Sunday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun with these Premier League games.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Watford 0-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Norwich 1-2 Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Man United – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Newcastle 2-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 1-0 Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 1-3 Wolves – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Predicting the 2020 MLS standings

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The 2020 Major League Soccer season is almost here and it is time to assess the offseason for each of the 26 teams and predict how they will stack up in the standings.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Our writers have been asked to predict where each team will finish in the table this season and with two new teams arriving in Nashville SC and Inter Miami, plus plenty of changes in terms of players and coaches across MLS, this was not an easy task. At all.

As we all know by now, Major League Soccer loves to keep it weird and plenty of teams will no doubt surprise us all. Until then, we are going with our hunch.

Below we reveal how we think both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will look at the end of the 2020 regular season.


Joe Prince-Wright

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta United
2. New York City FC
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. New York Red Bulls
7.  Inter Miami
8. Montreal Impact
9. New England Revolution
10. Columbus Crew SC
11. Chicago Fire
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Orlando City SC

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. LA Galaxy
3. Sporting Kansas City
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Minnesota United
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Portland Timbers
8. Colorado Rapids
9. FC Dallas
10. San Jose Earthquakes
11. Houston Dynamo
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Nick Mendola

Eastern Conference
1. NYCFC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. DC United
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Chicago Fire
7. Columbus Crew
8. Montreal Impact
9. FC Cincinnati
10. New England Revolution
11. Orlando City
12. Inter Miami
13. New York Red Bulls

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Portland Timbers
3. LA Galaxy
4. Sporting KC
5. Seattle Sounders
6. FC Dallas
7. San Jose Earthquakes
8. Colorado Rapids
9. Vancouver Whitecaps
10. Houston Dynamo
11. Real Salt Lake
12. Minnesota United
13. Nashville SC


Andy Edwards

Eastern Conference
1. New York City FC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. Montreal Impact
7. New England Revolution
8. Columbus Crew SC
9. Inter Miami
10. New York Red Bulls
11. Chicago Fire
12. Orlando City SC
13. FC Cincinnati

Western Conference
1. Seattle Sounders
2. LAFC
3. LA Galaxy
4. Real Salt Lake
5. FC Dallas
6. Sporting Kansas City
7. Colorado Rapids
8. Portland Timbers
9. Minnesota United
10. Houston Dynamo
11. San Jose Earthquakes
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Kyle Bonn

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta
2. Toronto
3. NYCFC
4. RBNY
5. Philadelphia
6. D.C. United
7. NE Revs
8. Inter Miami
9. Columbus
10. Orlando City
11. Montreal Impact
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Chicago Fire

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Seattle
3. Portland
4. RSL
5. LA Galaxy
6. FC Dallas
7. Minnesota
8. San Jose Quakes
9. Sporting KC
10. Houston
11. Vancouver
12. Nashville
13. Colorado

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League TV schedule is set and we have your stream links as Matchweek 28 is going to be a lot of fun. Get in there.

Remember, there are eight games this week due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule and Premier League stream links for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: Norwich v. Leicester – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Everton v. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 2

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Southampton-Aston Villa, Chelsea-Tottenham and Man United-Watford, talks Champions League and previews Matchweek 28.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He also spoke exclusively with Will Smallbone, Southampton’s latest top academy product who made his PL debut in their win against Aston Villa.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special,” Smallbone said.

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 2 in full.