Analyzing the U.S. draw for the London Olympic tournament

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The draw for the women’s soccer tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics was conducted early Tuesday. Here’s the complete field:

Group A

  • Great Britain
  • New Zealand
  • Cameroon
  • Brazil

Group B

  • USA
  • France
  • Colombia
  • North Korea

Group C

  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • South Africa

Now for what it means:

Charting new territory: The United States plays its first two group matches against France and Colombia in Glasgow at famed Hampden Park. They will then round out the group stage in Manchester at Old Trafford.  But for the USWNT, the British Isles is still a land that is relatively unknown. The team staged a pre-World Cup training camp in Scotland last spring, but has never played a competitive match in the country. The side played its first ever match on British soil last year against England and earned a disappointing 2-1 loss. Pia Sundhage’s team will hope for a better result this time.

Familiar opponents…to a point: The U.S. faced each group opponent at various stages in the World Cup last summer, collecting wins against all three. Still, this will mark the first time the team has faced any of its group foes in the Olympics. If past results are anything to go by, the U.S. should fare well in group play for the 2012 Women’s Olympic Tournament. The USWNT has never lost to any of its Group B competitors. The combined record against all three teams stands at 17-0-2 with 51 goals scored and 10 conceded.

Also, it also wouldn’t be a proper international tournament without a USWNT/North Korea group stage duel. The two sides have been drawn together in the same group in the last four Women’s World Cups. Don’t you love it when tradition is upheld?

Can’t snooze on Les Bleues: One gets the sense the U.S.’s commanding 12-0-1 all-time record against France will hold little significance when the two face off in Group B’s opening match. France are undeniably the rising stars of international women’s soccer. Bruno Bini’s stylish side captured hearts at the World Cup last summer before falling to the U.S. in the semi-finals. France played the most progressive soccer of the tournament and were awarded with an automatic Olympic berth by virtue of their fourth-place finish. Victory in the annual Cyprus Cup last month suggests Les Bleues’ sizzling form hasn’t cooled down. The U.S. were famously downed by Norway in their first match of the 2008 Olympics and later went on to win the tournament. Will a similar scenario pan out this time?

New faces in the crowd: This is probably the thousandth bullet point on the “signs international women’s soccer is growing” list. In previous Olympic tournaments, berths for the CONMEBOL and CAF regions were generally limited to one, if any at all. The 2012 Olympics will see two berths for each federation and thus, the tournament debuts of three countries. Group B’s Colombia made their first appearance in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer and will use this as another opportunity to nurture its young squad. Nigeria has been Africa’s only representative in the women’s tournament. Up to now, at least. South Africa and Cameroon each narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification in late 2010, but will now have the chance to compete for Olympic glory.

Grand stage for a new generation: This tournament could be a swan song of sorts for several USWNT stalwarts entering the twilights of their careers. The Olympics has been a proving ground for emerging talents eager to earn their keeps. Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, and Tobin Heath were in their very early 20’s when they each got their respective first tastes of major tournament soccer at the 2008 Olympics. Each has since developed at different rates, but all remain integral parts of the senior fold. Alex Morgan, 22, and Sydney Leroux, 21, will likely lead the USWNT’s front line for the foreseeable future. 23 year-old attacker-turned-defender Kelley O’Hara has seemingly overcome the learning curve and had two very serviceable performances in the Kirin Cup Challenge earlier this month. 24 year-old Whitney Engen is in line to inherit a starting job in the backline once a vacancy arises. A slender 20-player roster will make competition for roster spots particularly fierce. For many of these players, the future is now.

The end of an era?: In early 2008 Pia Sundhage inherited a Women’s National Team program in transition and slight disarray. The USWNT had been eliminated from the 2007 Women’s World Cup in humiliating fashion complete with a 4-0 meltdown versus Brazil, that goalkeeper controversy, and the dismissal of head coach Greg Ryan. Nine months later, Sundhage galvanized the squad to its third Olympic gold medal. The thrilling extra time victory over arch rivals Brazil led to a contract extension. Sundhage’s contract reportedly runs through this summer’s Olympics.  The former Swedish international hasn’t been bashful about her ambitions to return to her native country. Another gold medal will undoubtedly cement Sundhage’s legacy as one of the most successful, effective coaches in the program’s history. Talk about going out on top.

Ranking expectations for Premier League managers in 2017-18

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With the 20 Premier League managers now set for the start of the 2017-18 season (Frank de Boer joined Crystal Palace to occupy the final vacancy in the PL) things are slotting into place ahead of preseason kicking off for most clubs next week.

The expectations for each boss are now being amped up accordingly too.

[ MORE: Full PL schedule – 2017-18

Below is a look at the expectation levels for each PL manager, with a rating out of 10 and a brief description of what is expected to be achieved by each of their teams.

Yes, we know that plenty of transfers are yet to be made but there are just 47 days until the Premier League season kicks off and we all know how demanding PL fans can be.

Enjoy the last few days of your summer break, gaffers…


Jose Mourinho (Man United) – 10/10 – Expected to win the PL and at least reach the last four of the UCL. No joke. Always the most under-pressure boss, but delivered a EFL Cup and Europa League last season. Those trophies bought him plenty of extra time, but United’s fans are an expectant bunch and if they carry on drawing games then Mourinho could be in trouble midway through the season.

Pep Guardiola (Man City) – 10/10 – After a third-place finish and a poor showing in the Champions League, Pep has to get off to a flying start. Challenging for the title and reaching the final four of the UCL is a must. Total defensive overhaul is well underway with plenty of outgoings, while adding new full backs will be key. Make no mistake about it, Pep will be under pressure if City don’t start well.

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) – 9/10 – Following an up and down second half of last season, the jury is still out on Klopp for many when it comes to putting out a balanced team. We all know his teams can score goals and attack, but balancing UCL and PL action will be a huge test, and he needs to get in new defensive talent. Expectations are always very high at Anfield and they should be with players of a higher caliber courted this summer.

Antonio Conte (Chelsea) – 9/10 – So, you would think Conte will be way down this list. Not so much. The Italian masterminded an incredible turnaround last season as the Blues won the PL 12 months after finishing 10th. With UCL action now back on the table (Chelsea’s fans expect them to conquer Europe) Conte has huge expectations to handle. Better get spending big, Antonio.

Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) – 8/10 – Perhaps a little high, especially with a potentially unsettling move to Wembley, but Spurs fans and the soccer world have come to expect plenty from Poch. The Argentine boss had a talented young group to work with but finishing in the top four should be the priority. Going past the group stage in the UCL will be the main aim next season.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) – 8/10 – Arsenal fans will still be expecting plenty from Wenger after he signed a new two-year deal following plenty of uncertainty. The Frenchman will have to handle the rigors of the Europa League, but is likely to play a young squad in that competition and prioritize the PL. Nothing other than a push for the PL title will satisfy Arsenal fans, plus the future of Ozil and Sanchez will go a long way to determining expectations on Wenger.

Ronald Koeman (Everton) – 8/10 – The Dutch legend has raised expectation levels at Goodison after guiding them back to the Europa League and flirting with the top four at times last season. In his second season in charge, Toffees fans will be dreaming of a top four finish and a good cup run. No pressure, Ronald.

Rafael Benitez (Newcastle United) – 8/10 – Newly-promoted Newcastle will have huge pressure on their shoulders as they see themselves as a top six PL club who should challenge for the FA Cup and EFL Cup. Benitez has a huge rebuild to lead this summer and there are already reports he is frustrated at losing out on top targets. Magpies faithful are passionate and success-starved.

Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace) – 7/10 – With a big name comes big expectations and the Dutch legend will find that out in the PL. After taking his first job in England, de Boer will be expected to guide the Eagles to a top 10 finish and unlock the potential of their talented youngsters. Plenty of changes needed, especially in defense, if that’s going to be the case.

Slaven Bilic (West Ham United) – 7/10 – The Hammers need to get off to a very good start if Bilic wants to keep his job, long-term, with contract negotiations on hold. The Croatian saw his second season in charge of West Ham go horribly as they battled back to a respectable PL finish after crashing out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds. Losing Payet and having multiple injuries didn’t help, but many of Bilic’s buys didn’t work out. His recruitment this summer will be huge in him keeping his job. Top 10 finish a must.

Mark Hughes (Stoke City) – 7/10 – With Stoke finishing outside the top 10 last season, Hughesy knows his forwards must start scoring or he will be in trouble of losing his job. The Potters are a stable club but were in real danger of being dragged into a relegation battle last season. Like Bilic, a strong start is needed for Hughes to keep everyone happy.

Paul Clement (Swansea City) – 6/10 – He kept the Swans up with a miraculous late run and now all eyes are on Clement to see if he can solidify the South Wales club in the PL. On the face of it, keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson is key to Clement’s plans as Swans fans hope a top 10 finish and two good cup runs will arrive. A slow start could see the Swansea board making yet another managerial change.

Marco Silva (Watford) – 6/10 – After working a minor miracle at Hull, Watford’s fans are hoping Silva can build a strong identity for their squad of misfits. The Hornets slumped badly last season under Walter Mazzarri but Silva will keep them solid in defense and dangerous on the counter. Top 10 finish would be very successful.

Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton) – 6/10 – Many will point to Pellegrino taking over from Claude Puel as a bizarre decision, but Saints’ fans were so bored with Puel’s tactics and inability to inspire his players. Pellegrino’s task is quite simple: bring back the high-pressing style and play more attack-minded players. That, plus a top 10 finish and another good cup run, will do nicely. Not that easy to pull off though for a first-time manager in England though.

Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) – 6/10 – After the title winning season in 2015-16, fans of the Foxes are understandably eager for more success. Shakespeare will be tasked with a top 10 finish and after their run to the UCL quarterfinals last season, expectations are high at the KP. More likely is another relegation battle and if that’s the case in December, Shakespeare could be under pressure.

Tony Pulis (West Brom) – 6/10 – This is a strange one to judge as Pulis overachieved massively last season, but many West Brom fans were left underwhelmed by a ridiculous poor finish to the season. Scoring goals is the main problem for the Baggies and Pulis’ fate will depend on recruiting a new striker in the summer. Surprisingly the favorite with many to be the first PL boss fired in 2017-18.

Sean Dyche (Burnley) – 5/10 – The “Ginger Mourinho” can do little wrong in the eyes of Burnley fans. He is building a strong, stable squad but having the likes of Michael Keane unsure about his future will unsettle the Clarets. Another season in midtable is what Dyche needs but a relegation battle could see Burnley’s board get nervous in midseason.

David Wagner (Huddersfield Town) – 5/10 – Tough to see the eccentric German-American manager being under pressure at all after masterminding a miraculous promotion to the PL for the first-time in the Terriers’ history. Passionate and a real connection with the fans, a relegation battle is expected and Wagner is the type of character you’d want in that situation.

Chris Hughton (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 4/10 – After leading Brighton to promotion, Hughton deserves to be given a full season to see what he can achieve. In reality that may not happen if the Seagulls are floundering by the festive period, but Hughton is an experienced boss capable of building a strong defensive core. Staying up is the main aim.

Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – 4/10 – One day they will probably build a statue of Howe in Bournemouth. And rightly so. Until then, expectations keep going up with his young squad finishing ninth last season after a fine finish. Despite that the Cherries faithful expect another relegation battle and anything other than that is a bonus. For Howe, he has a dream job with a club fully supporting his ideals.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mbappe, Keita to Liverpool; Iheanacho wanted

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Liverpool are going for it, big time.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men having UEFA Champions League action to offer (the playoff round, at the very least) next season and they’ve already snapped up Mohamed Salah for a club-record fee this summer.

The Reds are also interested in bringing Kylian Mbappe, just 18 years old, to Anfield, according to Sky Sports in the UK.

Yes, signing Mbappe would not only be a massive financial commitment but it would also be a huge surprise as the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal have long been linked with a move for the talented French teenager who led AS Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and UCL semifinals last season with 26 goals and eight assists.

The level of Liverpool’s “interest” is key here, as every club in the world would be “interested” in signing Lionel Messi, but realistically it ain’t gonna happen…

Per the report, Liverpool have lodged their interest in Mbappe with Monaco but are said to be unsure that he wants to move to the Premier League. After seeing his France teammates Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba struggle at Manchester United last season, perhaps he’s had a word of warning from some to either stay at take a huge payrise at Monaco or maybe head to Real Madrid where he can develop further behind star-studded strikers in Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karem Benzema.

Although the latter option would be incredibly enticing for an 18-year-old who is on top of the world right now, playing regularly should be his aim. Therefore, a move to Arsenal or Liverpool would make much more sense, career wise, for Mbappe. We all know it doesn’t often work out like that in the soccer world where careers are short and huge financial offers can be withdrawn after a lean spell or a serious injury. Mbappe is the most-wanted striker in world soccer as things stand and Liverpool’s chances of signing him are probably below 10 percent.


Another player Liverpool are chasing is Naby Keita from RB Leipzig.

And the Guinea international, a box-to-box midfielder, is now said to be available to buy via the Guardian, but only for $89 million.

Keita, 22, was a revelation for Leipzig as they finished second in the Bundesliga last season and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. In his first season in Germany’s top-flight he scored eight goals and added seven assists as Keita’s energy and powerful runs from midfield took the Bundesliga by storm.

With Liverpool reportedly willing to only pay $70 million for Keita, they may have to look elsewhere for a new midfield general. That said, with Leipzig now willing to do business, perhaps a compromise could be met.

Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Georingio Wijnaldum are Liverpool’s leading contenders for the two central midfield roles but with Can’s inconsistency and Henderson’s injury problems, it’s easy to see why Klopp could be wiling to rebuild his midfield around the high-energy of Keita. Think of the Guinea star as a more attack-minded N'Golo Kante and you can see why he’d slot in perfectly at Liverpool.


Kelechi Iheanacho is a wanted man.

The Manchester City striker, 20, is seemingly on his way out of the Etihad Stadium after failing to build on his impressive 2015-16 campaign last season. The Nigerian international scored 14 goals in 35 games in his debut season, but scored just eight times under Pep Guardiola last season.

West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Leicester City are also said to be keen on Iheanacho with City wanting $31.8 million for the promising striker.

Able to finish calmly and hold the ball up around the box, Iheanacho is a true poacher but has found himself behind Sergio Aguero, and now Gabriel Jesus, in the pecking order at City.

West Ham badly need a poacher to finish off chances created by Manuel Lanzini and wide-men Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell as Slaven Bilic‘s side couldn’t rely on the oft-injured Andy Carroll last season. Leicester’s goals dried up with Jamie Vardy and Islam Slimani streaky last season, while Ahmed Musa and Demarai Gray delivered just six goals between them in all competitions.

Palace have Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in the three attacking areas, but having someone to fed off Benteke’s knockdowns would certainly be prefereeable for new Palace boss Frank de Boer.

Wherever he goes you can guarantee one thing from Iheanacho: goals.

Hazard and Co. set up NASL club in San Diego

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Soccer in SoCal continues to boom.

[ MORE: Sanchez, Aguero swap deal?

The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced Monday that San Diego will have a second-tier team for the 2018 season as professional soccer returns to San Diego County.

In a statement from the NASL it was revealed that San Diego’s new expansion franchise is owned by star players Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Moussa Sow, as well as executives with experience of the San Diego market.

[ MORE: Latest Confederations Cup news

Hazard, a star for Chelsea and Belgium, revealed exactly why he believes San Diego deserves a soccer team.

“San Diego is a beautiful place and the love and passion that the people have for soccer made this an easy choice for us,” Hazard said. “My friends and I are honored to turn this dream into a reality and we can’t wait to get started and win some games.”

The quartet do not have a name, logo or colors for the team, but that is expected to be announced in the coming months. Bob Watkins will serve as the club president and Ricardo Campos, former technical director for thew New York Red Bulls, will serve in the front office alongside Katy Temple as the pieces are put in place for another new soccer team in California.

NASL will have 10 teams for the 2018 season with Orange County also joining the league — California added another team to NASL in 2017 in the San Francisco Deltas — which currently shares second-tier status with the much-larger USL who boast 30 teams.

With Orange County and San Diego arriving in NASL in 2018, LAFC to join Major League Soccer in 2018 and a consortium led by former USMNT star Landon Donovan hoping for an MLS expansion team in San Diego (based at the impressive Soccer City complex) in the years to come, soccer in SoCal is booming.

How involved Chelsea star Hazard, Crystal Palace midfielder Cabaye, Shanghai Shenhua striker Ba and Al-Ahli forward Sow get remains to be seen but they’ve obviously seen a gap in the market in San Diego.

Bakayoko to Chelsea, Matic to Man United close

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Two defensive midfielders will have new homes very soon.

[ MORE: Aguero, Alexis in swap deal? ]

Tiemoue Bakayoko, 22, is closing in on a move to Chelsea from AS Monaco as he is set to replace the outgoing Nemanja Matic who will link up with his former boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

Multiple reports, including this one from the BBC, state the deal for Bakayoko is close to completion with Chelsea and Monaco agreeing the $41.8 million fee and the French midfielder is expected to be a Chelsea player in the next 48 hours.

As for Matic’s imminent arrival at Old Trafford, the Serbian destroyer, 28, will reportedly complete his move this week with the Guardian stating the clubs have agreed a price of around $50 million and wages of $197,000 per week have also been agreed between the player and United.

United badly needed a defensive reinforcement in central midfield and Matic (who has won two Premier League titles in three seasons since rejoining Chelsea in 2014) would fit the bill. Able to start attacks and possess the ball as well as a fine reader of the game who uses his lanky frame to intercept passes and sweep up in front of the defense, Matic would surely be the perfect foil for Ander Herrera in United’s engine room and they’d allow Paul Pogba to roam free.

As for Chelsea, there’s no doubt that losing Matic is a blow but Bakayoko is rated as one of the top defensive midfielders in Europe after excelling for French champions Monaco in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League last season. He’s a more composed version of Victor Wanyama and alongside N'Golo Kante he’d provide Chelsea’s defense with a formidable shield. This is just the type of midfielder Antonio Conte loves.

Both United and Chelsea would considerably improve their central midfield areas with these additions.