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Tim Howard

Crunch Time


With less than three weeks to go before the National Team convenes in California for the start of the “super summer,” domestic leagues are heading toward their conclusions and there is still much to be decided. For many of the MNT players there is still plenty to play for, with spots in European competition up for grabs and relegation fights still ongoing. In either case, it’s the type of pressure and competition that U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to see his players face and overcome. Here are some of the things to watch for this weekend.

(For a complete list of the MNT on TV click here)

ENGLAND
Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard remain locked in tight races to see who will qualify for Champions League and Europa League next season. Only six points separate third through sixth place, but the difference in final position is huge. Third means an automatic spot in the Champions League, while fourth gets you in qualifying and fifth into the Europa League. As it stands, Spurs hold the fifth spot on 62 points and Everton sit three behind. Spurs will host Southampton (Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes), while Everton face a visit to Anfield for the Merseyside derby, hoping to win there for the first time in 14 years (Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on FOX Soccer).

At the other end of the table, Brad Guzan and Aston Villa can take another huge step toward avoiding relegation when they travel to Norwich (Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on FOX Soccer). The Villains are 4-2-1 in their last six and are coming off a confidence-boosting 6-1 thumping of Sunderland. On 37 points and tied with Newcastle and Sunderland with three games remaining, they are currently five points clear of the drop zone.

In the League Championship, the race is on for spots in the Promotion Playoffs and it’s a virtual win-and-you’re-in scenario for Stuart Holden and Blackburn. Currently in sixth place and holding the last spot, they are tied with Nottingham Forest on 67 points but ahead on goal differential (plus-8 to plus-5). A victory at home to Blackpool should get the job done for Rovers. Nottingham Forest host Leicester City, who are two points off the pace and must win to have any hope of advancing.

GERMANY
Jermaine Jones and Schalke are facing stiff competition from Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg for the Champions League qualification spot. Schalke are in the pole position on 49 points, three ahead of Frankfurt and four beyond Freiburg with three games to go. Back from an injury, Jones looks to start against Moenchengladbach this afternoon (2:30 p.m. ET on GolTV). Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams are still trying to help Hoffenheim avoid relegation. Currently in 17th place, they are three points adrift and have a huge opportunity away to Werder Bremen, who is one of two teams just above them. Williams continues to be sidelined with an ankle injury. U.S. MNT scouts Andi Herzog and Matthias Hamann will be on hand.

ITALY
Michael Bradley and Roma are locked in a tight contest for a Europa League spot, with the Romans currently holding fifth place and the last spot with four games to play. Udinese, Inter Milan and derby rivals Lazio are still knocking on the door, and Roma faces a tough tie at fourth place Fiorentina (Sunday at 2:45 p.m. ET – delay at 4 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT).

BELGIUM
Two-time defending champion Anderlecht are in second place in the Belgian league playoffs with four games remaining, one behind group leaders Zulte-Waregem. With only four points separating the top five teams, the truth is it’s anybody’s ball game at this point, and Sacha Kljestan and Co. take their next step Sunday at home against Standard Liege.

MEXICO
First place in the 2013 Liga MX Torneo Clausura comes down to the final matchday and a top of the table clash with Club America and Tigres. Jose Torres has been a regular starter for Tigres, who are even on points with their hosts but behind on goal differential, which means only a victory would put them over the top. (Saturday at 6 p.m. on Univision)

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