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U.S. WNT ready to face China at PPL Park in front of sold out crowd

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Tonight’s friendly against China presents the U.S. WNT with another opportunity to fine-tune. And the capacity crowd will make this a memorable first stop on the team’s pre-Olympic send-off tour.

The match will kick-off from PPL Park at 7 PM E.T. This is the team’s penultimate domestic match ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

In what has become a surprising but welcome trend, the match will be streamed live on USSoccer.com. U.S. Soccer also provided webcasts of the USWNT’s previous two friendlies against Sweden in Glendale, Arizona and New Zealand in Frisco, Texas – all by popular demand. Gone are the days of relying exclusively on Match Tracker and Twitter for firsthand accounts.

A few notes:

– This match-up first gave rise to the Alex Morgan phenomenon. China squared off with the U.S. in a friendly at this  same venue back on October 6, 2010. The U.S. faced a one-goal deficit as the match entered the final stretch. Morgan, making just her third international appearance, came on late and ended up scoring her debut goal with the senior team. The 21 year-old broke away from the Chinese defense and netted the equalizer. It was a sign of things to come.

– Pia Sundhage wasn’t expected to make wholesale changes to the pre-Olympics squad. Thus, today’s 18-player roster is virtually bereft of surprises. Veteran defender Heather Mitts is back in the mix and could replace an injured Ali Krieger. 23 year-old Meghan Klingenberg has the fewest caps of any player in the roster and might be an interesting option at outside back. Winger Tobin Heath misses the cut after sustaining an ankle injury last week.

– The U.S. MNT debuted U.S. Soccer’s new kits last night. The U.S. WNT will get their turn tonight. The team’s previous kits (most frequently characterized as the dreaded nurse outfits) were largely pilloried by the team’s fanbase. In this case, change is good. (Video of players donning the new kit here).

– Will Sundhage make further tweaks to the back four? There’s really only one glaring question mark about the squad, and it has everything to do with defense. Rachel Buehler has looked increasingly unsteady at center back. Natural center back Amy LePeilbet appears a bit more comfortable at outside back, but still has her share of shaky moments. Kelley O’Hara is halfway through her transition from outside attacker to fullback. Will Sundhage give KO another run at that position or will Heather Mitts get the start?

– The U.S. will try to protect a 16-game unbeaten run against China. The Steel Roses (easily the coolest nickname in women’s soccer) came close in 2010, but were undone by Alex Morgan’s late heroics. January 2011 marked the last time the two teams met and the USWNT came away with a 2-0 win.

A brand new world:

Tonight’s game is a sellout. That phrase isn’t often used in reference to USWNT matches. Sundhage’s team is living in a ‘pre-World Cup’ and ‘post-World Cup’ world. And boy, are they different. Despite the runners-up finish, the USWNT’s exploits in Germany has ushered in a new era of popularity.

Attendance figures are a solid indicator. The last time the U.S. appeared at PPL Park (you know, the Alex Morgan game), a measly 2,505 attendees were on hand. It was a humiliatingly low number and served as a harsh reminder of the team’s diminished status.

While that number was astoundingly low, it wasn’t exactly an outlier. The USWNT’s three previous friendlies before that match attracted an average crowd of 5,713 people.

How about now? The team’s three previous domestic matches ahead of tonight’s match have attracted an average of 19,243 attendees. That’s a 237% increase between then and now.

In the olden days, MLS soccer-specific stadiums proved to be unsuitable venues for the USWNT. Attendance-wise at least. In 2010 and pre-World Cup 2011, the team’s average percentage of capacity for friendlies in such stadiums was a mere 20.75%. Post-World Cup 2011 and 2012? That number has skyrocketed to 93%. Today’s capacity  crowd will see that figure increase to a mind-boggling 96.5%.

The breakdown:

March 31, 2010 vs. Mexico – Rio Tinto Stadium – 3,732 – 19% of total capacity

October 6, 2010 vs. China – PPL Park – 2,505 – 14%

May 14, 2011 vs. Japan – Columbus Crew Stadium – 5,234 – 26%

June 5, 2011 vs. Mexico – Red Bull Arena – 5,852 – 24%

September 17, 2011 vs. Canada – Livestrong Sporting Park – 16,191 – 88%

September 22, 2011 vs. Canada – Jeld-Wen Field – 18,570 – 91%

February 11, 2012 vs. New Zealand – FC Dallas Stadium – 20,677 – 100%+

May 27, 2012 vs. China – PPL Park – 18,50 – 100%*

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.