A month ago, Everton looked like a team without a realistic chance at contending for a top four place in the English Premier League. But with Arsenal struggling, and the Toffees riding a four-match winning streak, the improbable suddenly seems possible.
Tim Howard and Everton take on last-place Fulham on Sunday, and with Arsenal facing Manchester City this weekend, the Toffees have a very good chance of closing within three points of the Gunners for fourth place in the Premier League, and the UEFA Champions League berth that comes with it. Howard will be looking for his 13th shutout of the season against a Fulham side that has scored just four goals in five matches.
Brad Guzan will be facing a tougher test than Fulham this weekend as Aston Villa takes on a desperate but dangerous Manchester United side on Saturday. The Villans will be hoping their home-field advantage and Guzan’s goalkeeping heroics can shut down a Manchester United attack that will be without injured star Robin Van Persie.
Geoff Cameron and Stoke City are on a good run, having beaten Guzan and Villa last week to make it 10 points from the Potters’ past four matches. Stoke will meet Hull City on Sunday, and American winger Brek Shea will look for his first Premier League minutes of the year. Shea made the substitute’s bench last week, and will need to start seeing the field if he is going to keep his World Cup hopes alive.
Jozy Altidore continues to earn starts for Sunderland, and while he has yet to find a goal in 2014, Black Cats manager Gus Poyet continues to show faith in the U.S. national team striker. Altidore’s next chance to snap his scoring funk will come Monday against West Ham United in a match Sunderland needs to climb out of the relegation zone.
In Germany, John Brooks will look to hold onto the starting job he was given last week when Hertha Berlin takes on Schalke 04 on Friday. Hertha suffered a 3-1 loss on Tuesday to Bayern Munich in Brooks’ first start of 2014, and if the young defender is going to make a case for a place on Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. World Cup team, he will need to continue starting matches and playing well for Hertha.
Fabian Johnson has his place on the U.S. World Cup pretty well set, and he will have his chance to stack up against the best in Europe on Saturday when Hoffenheim faces Bayern Munich. Bayern just clinched the Bundesliga title on Tuesday, and could be in position for a letdown against Hoffenheim side that has won two in a row.
In the Netherlands, Juan Agudelo finds him self in a goal drought, and with another run at a UK work permit potentially hinging on how well he does with FC Utrecht, the young American forward needs to start scoring goals. His next chances comes on Friday when Utrecht takes on NAC Breda. Agudelo has been in and out of the Utrecht starting lineup as the club creeps closer to the relegation zone. A win against Breda would help ease some of that pressure.
Aron Johannsson will look to shake off his latest penalty kick miss when AZ faces Cambuur on Sunday. Johannsson has missed two penalties in recent matches, including in AZ’s 1-0 Dutch Cup loss to Ajax on Thursday, and will be facing a tough Cambuur defense.
In Mexico, the Club Tijuana contingent return to action on Friday night against financially-shaky Queretaro. Manager Cesar Farias will be tasked with managing his squad with one eye toward next week’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg against Cruz Azul. That could mean some starts for the likes of Herculez Gomez, Paul Arriola and Edgar Castillo, while Joe Corona and Greg Garza could be rested for the Cruz Azul clash.
DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco will look to turn in one more strong performance before next week’s U.S. national team friendly against Mexico when Puebla meets Club Leon on Sunday. Puebla is tied for the fewest points in Liga MX, but could be primed for an upset against a Leon side coming off a tiring Copa Libertadores test at midweek.