Spare thoughts on the USWNT’s May training camp roster

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Pia Sundhage has named the 28 players set to take part in a training camp ahead of the USWNT’s penultimate domestic match prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics. The camp will be based in New Jersey. The list features an assortment of shoo-in’s and, indeed, a few surprises.

The names:

GOALKEEPERS (5): Nicole Barnhart, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Jill Loyden, Hope Solo
DEFENDERS (10): Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Amy LePeilbet, Gina Lewandowski, Heather Mitts, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn
MIDFIELDERS (9): Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath, Lori Lindsey, Carli Lloyd, Kristie Mewis, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez, Keelin Winters
FORWARDS (4): Lauren Cheney, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach

One of Sundhage’s trademarks is her dedication to certain players and certain formations. Lauren Cheney’s move from forward to left wing during the 2011 World Cup was a shock given Sundhage’s relative reticence to major change.

That might not be the case any longer, though. If there was ever a time to air a few trial balloons, it’s now. The team has since experimented with a diamond formation in midfield. Central forward Amy Rodriguez has been shunted out to the left wing. Outside midfielder/forward Kelley O’Hara has been shifted to outside back in lieu of defender Ali Krieger’s injury.

Speaking of Krieger, USWNT followers will be eagerly monitoring the right back’s progress through the summer. Krieger was undoubtedly one of most dominant defenders in Germany last summer. A horrific tackle in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in January resulted in a torn ACL and MCL and makes her participation in the Olympics uncertain.

Save for unforeseen injuries (à la Krieger’s and Abby Wambach’s in 2008), it’s hard to imagine Sundhage making any wholesale changes when it comes to the final roster. The team’s core has been solidified since the World Cup, and it isn’t likely to change for the sake of change. This looks to be the natural conclusion of a cycle that could set the stage for several noteworthy swan songs.

Just 18 names will be named to the Olympic roster, which might leave little room for suspense. Sundhage will have the luxury of culling a squad from a pool stocked with depth, talent, and international experience. Even if players aren’t in the frame for the upcoming friendlies or the Olympics, they will surely use this opportunity to make a lasting impression.

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Names worth remembering:

Gina Lewandowski – So I may not have been the only one who misread ‘Gina Lewandowski’ as ‘Gina DiMartino’. The 27-year-old was one of many women’s soccer players who headed to Europe in search of a soccer career after college. But unlike others, Lewandowski didn’t return to the U.S. once Women’s Professional Soccer launched in 2009. She remained with FFC Frankfurt in the German Frauen-Bundesliga and established herself as a reliable center back. The Pennsylvania native spent the summer with the WNY Flash in WPS in 2011 but returned to Germany for the start of the 2011-12 season.  The decision paid off, as WPS is no more and Frankfurt has a chance to do a Cup double this season. She could now be in contention for her first ever USWNT cap. Long time coming, maybe.

Whitney Engen – The 24-year-old center back made the most of her two years in WPS and has a 2011 WPS Defender of the Year title to show for it. Engen should be on deck to inherit a vacancy in central defense, should one arise. The position has been a concern for the USWNT as of late. The team will benefit from a consistent, steady partner for evergreen center back Christie Rampone. Engen is worthy of a shot.

Keelin Winters – Shannon Boxx is among the players who might bow out of international soccer following the Olympics. Winters could be in line to take her place at the holding midfield position. The 23-year-old found success at the youth level and was nominated for WPS Rookie of the Year in 2011. Winters recently signed with German club giants Turbine Potsdam; a move that could do wonders for her development.

Absentees worth nothing:

Current collegian Adrianna Franch made the cut over Bianca Henninger. Henninger has been a rising star in the college game and was the first goalkeeper selected in the 2012 WPS Draft. The Santa Clara Bronco won plaudits for her tremendous performances in the 2010 U-20 Women’s World Cup, but doesn’t look to be in the USWNT picture this year.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is also on the outs, despite having a highly impressive season with Turbine Potsdam in Germany.

There have been suggestions that 2010 MAAC Hermann Trophy winner Christen Press would get a long-awaited call-up to the national team. Not this time, at least.

Brittany Bock was one of the more underrated players in WPS’s brief history. The USWNT has a dearth of quality holding midfielders, but Bock can seem to get a proper look.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.