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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.


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.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

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Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

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Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

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Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

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Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

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In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.