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The Big Three: A hat trick of talking points in the USWNT’s 4-1 win over China

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The USWNT’s showdown against China featured some nervy moments, but ended on a high. There were nearly as many talking points as there were spectators (i.e. many). But for the sake of brevity, here are three.

Alex Morgan is in a very, very good place right now.

The USWNT’s ‘It-girl’ padded her already impressive stats with two goals on the night. Her 35th minute goal – and credit to the typically industrious Heather O’Reilly for the assist – leveled matters at 1-1. It had something of a calming effect on the U.S.’s jittery attack. She followed that effort up in the 50th minute with a lovely solo shot that essentially capped off the victory. Both strikes were vintage Morgan: composed, clinical, completed with fine technique.

That said, her combination play with Abby Wambach looked a tad bit disjointed at times. China played with a high defensive line in the first half, which may have compromised the passing fluidity between the two. Morgan acknowledged the difficulties in her post-match comments. “[China’s defense was] smart and organized. They would bring the line up and catch you offside sometimes. They were pretty tricky and I needed to watch myself…and be aware that they were going to drop or step really quickly.”

Morgan managed to unlock China’s defense which went a long way in securing the win. She’s now scored 14 goals in 12 matches this year. That incredible goal tally will be put into context shortly.

Sundhage’s second half adjustments paid off tremendously.

The USWNT has a bizarre habit of having disconcertingly unsteady first half showings. The team more than makes up for their sluggish starts with spirited performances in the latter half. Maybe Pia Sundhage gives especially rousing halftime speeches. Either that or she makes impactful second half substitutions.

Tonight’s game followed the same script. Carli Lloyd was exchanged in favor of Lauren Cheney at the half. Cheney – a versatile, tour de force kind of player – has dabbled in nearly every position in midfield. Tonight she settled in alongside holding midfielder Shannon Boxx in what looked like an unorthodox double six formation with two deep-lying midfielders.

The tactical switch paid dividends as Cheney’s clean-up work gave the attacking players more license to bomb forward. The ball was played through the central channels more frequently and possession was maintained for longer spells. Neither of those things happened all that much in the first half.

There was another catalyst for the U.S.’s adventurous second half exploits and her name is Megan Rapinoe. Either Sundhage instructed the left midfielder to move into a more central role following Lloyd’s departure or she took it upon herself. Rapinoe sat behind Morgan and Wambach and helped dictate the team’s passes through midfield. It resulted in a more fluid style of play that stood in stark contrast to the team’s listless first half.

Kelley O’Hara is among the players eager to hop on that plane to London.

O’Hara was today named to the U.S.’s Olympic roster, and tonight’s performance proves why. The converted left back is making rapid progress in her new position.

As has been the case in previous games, O’Hara found an untold amount of confidence as the match progressed. She also showed off some of her attacking flair, proving she hasn’t learned to ignore her offensive instincts. O’Hara’s link-up play with Rapinoe down the left flank was one of the U.S.’s most dynamic creative tandems.

Sydney Leroux is also en route to the U.K. She made a cameo appearance tonight, but showed her value coming off the bench. Her quick thinking and quicker reflexes nearly resulted in the U.S.’s fifth goal of the night when she almost caught China’s goalkeeper out seconds before stoppage time expired.

The kits made their debut appearances on the USWNT. It’s been said a hundred times before, but having a gray number against a white background defeats the purpose of having numbers on shirts.

The webcast featured zero technical hiccups which was a welcome relief. Constant buffering made the stream of the USWNT/Sweden friendly last November virtually unwatchable. Indeed, beggars can’t be choosers, but it was lovely to see the production go off without a hitch.

Speaking of which, the sold out crowd made the occasion twice as nice. The atmosphere sounded quite lively up to China’s early goal before cooling off. It jolted back to life following Wambach’s 83rd minute goal. The evening ended with a crescendo of fireworks, which was also a nice touch.

Transfer rumor roundup: Welsh EURO stars to Everton, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 05:  (Forward to back) Ashley Williams, James Collins, Jonathan Williams, Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu of Wales visit the Stade de Lyon, ahead of tomorrow's UEFA Euro Champs 2016 semi-final between Portugal and Wales, on July 5, 2016 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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While much of the focus is on “will he/won’t he” when it comes to superstars like Riyad Mahrez and Paul Pogba, there are still plenty of fresh rumors going around the web this morning.

One of those involves a bit of a trend inspired by Juventus’ activity in the wake of Pogba rumors.

In the past, we’ve seen an almost dominant philosophy of investing in young players with the money gained from transfer sales.

[ MORE: Leicester lands Poland star ]

But Juventus prepared for a potential Pogba move by grabbing a fully-developed player who currently is an improvement on the Frenchman, nabbing Roma ace Miralem Pjanic.

Now Everton may be set to do the same thing. John Stones is by no means a finished product, and the Toffees may be forced into selling him to Manchester City.

Ashley Williams, at least right now, is a stronger player than Stones. The veteran Welsh defender leads both Wales and Swansea City, and would likely be a short-term step-up for Ronald Koeman‘s crew.

Wales Online says it would take $13 million to make the move happen, and with $50m coming in from Stones, that’s an easy decision (Though why would Swans sell? And Williams did support Liverpool as a kid).


Sky Sports says Paris Saint-Germain would love to see what Jese Rodriguez could do in a more demanding role. The Real Madrid man, 23, is jammed behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema at the Bernabeu.

From Sky:

“It’s a possibility, as are other opportunities in the transfer window,” Emery said during PSG’s tour of the US.

“I know Jese well, the club knows Jese well, he is a good player.”


Hal Robson-Kanu let his contract run out at Reading in the run-up to EURO 2016, when he scored what could be deemed the goal of the tournament.

That’s looking like a wise decision for the 27-year-old Welshman, who has become a target of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in moves that would take him from England’s second tier to the UEFA Champions League.

Both sides are now for their signings being quite calculated, and Robson-Kanu carries risk; He hasn’t scored more than five goals in a season since 2012-13’s Premier League campaign with Reading.

“Leicester wanted me the most”: Ranieri to land Polish prize Kapustka

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 12: Conor McLaughlin of Northern Ireland is tackled by Bartosz Kapustka of Poland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Poland and Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 12, 2016 in Nice, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Bartosz Kapustka is headed to Leicester City, barring something wildly wrong with his medical.

The price for Kapustka, 19, is said to be $10 million. He made his debut for Cracovia at age 16, and has piled up 65 appearances with eight goals and 12 assists for his club.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

A left winger who is capable of manning a central midfield spot and also the right side, Kapustka has 11 caps for Poland. He laid out his plans in this post from the Leicester Mercury:

“Yes, of all the offers tabled, Leicester wanted me the most,” Kapustka said. “Ranieri’s interest was a big factor for me.

“He was asking about me, he wanted me to join the team. This convinced me, but there were many factors.

“I’m not going there only because of the name of the club, or because they won the Premier League. I’m optimistic and think I have a real chance of playing time.”

Seems like a good signing for both now and the future for Leicester, as the teenager has already had impactful performances for his club and national team.

Pogba’s agent pumps brakes hard on imminent Manchester United move

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Paul Pogba of France wins the ball from Joao Mario of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Super agent Mino Raiola has injected a ray of light into the hopes of both Juventus and Real Madrid fans when it comes to Paul Pogba.

The terrific midfielder has been widely reported as an imminent arrival at Manchester United, but Raiola has taken to Twitter to blast journalists who’ve reported the move and medical as done.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

Pogba was photographed in Los Angeles amid claims he was undergoing a physical at United. Multiple reports have said he passed the medical and that Juventus has agreed to sell Pogba to United for a world record fee.

Raiola says different, though taken with the grain of salt that he’s set to make as much as $30 million on the deal and his job is to squeeze every possibly penny from suitors.

Ranieri says “intelligent man” Mahrez will stay at Leicester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City instructs Riyad Mahrez during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri seems to be genuine and honest in his evaluations, as we’ve seen in his dealings with Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante amongst others.

And the manager is making no bones about what he thinks is best for another Leicester City star in Riyad Mahrez.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

Ranieri says the Algerian will face far more pressure at a new club then he will face still competing in the UEFA Champions League with the Foxes.

In other words, the 25-year-old should stick around. From Sky Sports:

“I speak often with him and say stay with us, it’s much better for your future, I think he is an intelligent man and he will stay,” Ranieri told Sky Sports News HQ.

“We support him very well, this is important, when you change teams maybe you don’t find team-mates who help you at the same level.

“He improves more if he stays with us for another year, maybe next year he can think about another solution. If he goes for a lot of money, everybody will be expecting something special. He can do something special, but with us.”

We tend to agree. Whereas N’Golo Kante was prepared to use Leicester as a stepping stone — and it seems Ranieri knew it — Mahrez has been with the Foxes since 2014 and seen his stature skyrocket.

Let’s see what happens, Riyad. Cool?