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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.

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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Designing the perfect UEFA Champions League Round of 16

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona chips the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen at Camp Nou on May 6, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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With 16 teams settled into their spots for Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw, what would be the most tantalizing octet of matches for February’s Round of 16.

We’ll include a full list of seeded and unseeded teams at the bottom so you can pair ’em up however you like, but let’s start with our best ideas.

Remember: Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic leagues, or against the other advancing team from their group stage quartets.

[ MORE: USMNT GK off to Belgium? ]

Let’s begin with the reigning champions. Real Madrid is unseeded, and cannot draw Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. Our vote would be Juventus and a reprisal of the 2015 final in Berlin.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane would not be pleased.

Staying in Spain, seeded Barcelona only knows it will avoid Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We’re interested in attractive soccer, so how about a bombastic battle with Bayern Munich.

Manchester City is the lone Premier League team in the unseeded pool, and cannot face Arsenal, Leicester City, or Barcelona. We’re thinking Sky Blue vs. Sky Blue, and a match-up with Napoli.

Leicester City completes the Premier League trio. Given our above draw and group mates Porto, that leaves Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla, and PSG as potential rivals. We’ll chose Bayer Leverkusen as the match-up likely gives the Foxes their best chance to hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

The biggest name left is Paris Saint-Germain (with apologies to BVB). Unai Emery’s bunch would be left with Atletico Madrid as the lone option, and another tete-a-tete between the ex-Sevilla boss and Diego Simeone works for us.

Now Arsenal… who do you draw with the hopes of a quarterfinal berth in ages? The remaining options are Benfica, Sevilla, and Porto. We’ll give Benfica a trip to the Emirates, leaving Porto to face Monaco, and Sevilla on the road to Borussia Dortmund.

Our final draw:
Arsenal vs. Benfica
Monaco vs. Porto
Borussia Dortmund vs. Sevilla
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Manchester City
Leicester City vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Real Madrid


Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus
Borussia Dortmund

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto
Sevilla
Real Madrid

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Europa League preview: Saints, Man Utd hope to join Spurs in Round of 32

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale (R) and Ivan Perisic of Internazionale close down Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur will be seeded in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 32. What do Manchester United and Southampton need to do Thursday to join them?

Both the Red Devils and Saints enter the final group stage match day in their respective groups’ second place, but only United can claim a seeded place in the Round of 32.

[ UCL: Scenarios for Premier League sides ]

United can still win Group A, and would need to better Fenerbahce’s result on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s men are in Ukraine against bottom-dwelling Zorya Luhansk, while Fener are away at Feyenoord.

Manchester United will advance with a draw, and could also go through if they lose and Feyenoord doesn’t defeat Fenerbahce.

As for Saints, Claude Puel‘s men are level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva and welcome the Israel side to St. Mary’s after drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.

Southampton needs to beat Hapoel or hold them to a scoreless draw. A scoring draw would push HBS through via road goals.

Full UEL schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. EDT
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. EDT
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

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