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.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.