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United States Women’s National Team en route to Sweden for tune-up tournament

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Practice is paramount ahead of the Olympics. The U.S. will face old foes Sweden on June 16 and Japan on June 18 at an international friendly tournament in Sweden. All the vitals herein.

Who’s on the plane

The 22 players selected for the Olympics are on board, along with three of the four alternates (goalkeeper Jill Loyden, defender/midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, and midfielder Lori Lindsey).

Striker Christen Press is currently based in Sweden. The Stanford alum plays for Gothenburg in the Swedish top-flight and is the league’s second-leading goal-scorer. She might be able to give her teammates a guided tour of the surroundings as the USWNT will play its matches in Halmstad, approximately an hour and a half away from Press’ HQ.

Why it matters

With under two months to go before the commencement of the Olympics, matches against top opponents typically offer up a lesson or two. The team has amassed an 11-1-1 record so far this year. Despite the imposing record, wobbly defending, unkempt midfield play, and chronically poor first halves are worth nitpicking over. These two matches should serve as an up-to-date progress report.

Pia Sundhage made some minor tactical modifications in the team’s last match against China. Several players are also still auditioning for starting roles. The next few weeks in Sweden could go a long way in determining the line-up set to return to the world stage this summer.

Scouting the competition

Next to France (who will be the USWNT’s first group stage opponents this summer), Sweden and Japan are likely the two most intriguing opponents imaginable for the USWNT. Dating back to July of 2011, the U.S. has lost two matches and drawn four (that includes the ill-fated World Cup final, which technically ended in a tie). Either Japan or Sweden were the opponents in five of those six matches.

Japan are becoming the USWNT’s bogey team. Both the lone draw and lone loss the USWNT suffered this year came at the hands of Japan. Reigning Ballon d’Or winner Homare Sawa battled vertigo throughout the spring, but has recently begun playing full matches for her club team. The U.S. will have another chance to get one back against the world champions and their well-regarded style of play.

Sweden have proven to be tricky opponents for the U.S. as of late. In the last five meetings between the sides, the USWNT has claimed just one victory. The U.S.’s final World Cup group match against the Swedes was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Horrific defending cost the U.S. the result, and consequently, the top spot in Group C. Of course, the subsequent quarterfinal match against Brazil worked out a lot better for the Americans.

This won’t quite be the same Sweden the U.S. has grown accustomed to, however. Ace center back Charlotte Rohlin and outside midfielder Therese Sjögran have each recently suffered serious injuries. Their presence in Thomas Dennerby’s side will be sorely missed.

The USWNT’s comfort level on foreign soil

This will be the team’s first trip to Pia Sundhage’s motherland since July 2008. The team faced the host nation that day and came away with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Carli Lloyd goal. The U.S. has a solid record on Swedish soil. The team has played seven matches in the Scandinavian nation dating back to 1995. All but one match has ended in a victory for the USWNT.

The team has led something of a jet-setting life in 2012. The USWNT’s Swedish expedition follows Olympic Qualifying in Vancouver, the annual Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal, and a three-team tournament in Japan. Save for a loss at the Algarve Cup and a draw in Japan, the team has logged many miles with its wins. We’ll see if that remains the case come mid-June.

Hull City promoted, but Steve Bruce still considering future

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Steve Bruce, manager of Hull City lifts the trophy after victory in the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Steve Bruce saw Hull City go down to the Championship, and pulled the Tigers right back up the Premier League.

Hull won promotion at the first time of asking after defeating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 on Saturday, but Bruce wants to see stability at the KC Stadium.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

The club remains up for sale after owner Assem Allam saw his request to change the team name to Hull Tigers denied by the English Football Association.

From the BBC:

“I’ll sit down with the owners. It’s not often you walk away from the Premier League – that’s where I want to manage,” Bruce told BBC Radio 5 live.

“But I have to be given certain assurances that we’re all moving in the right direction.

“I keep hearing too many stories that there’s a takeover imminent. We’ll see what develops,” added the 55-year-old.

The longtime Manchester United back has been around the managerial block a few times, and it’d be nice to see him stay at Hull for the long term. He’s led the Tigers into the Premier League on two occasions, and is — seriously — the seventh longest tenured manager in the Football League. He would enter the Premier League as the second-longest serving manager, to Arsene Wenger.

BREAKING: Olympiacos striker Pulido kidnapped in Mexico

DRENTHE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 29:  Alan Pulido of Olympiacos in action during the pre season friendly match between FC Twente and Olympiacos Piraeus held at Sportpark Veenoord on July 29, 2015 in New Amsterdam and Veenoord, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Terrifying news out of Mexico, where 25-year-old Mexican national team striker Alan Pulido has reportedly been kidnapped in his hometown.

Pulido, 25, has four goals in six caps for El Tri and moved to Olympiacos in 2015, where he scored five goals in eight matches.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

Various reports claim that Pulido and his girlfriend were taken after masked gunmen cut off the vehicle in which they were riding, and only released the girlfriend.

From the Associated Press:

The official says the 25-year-old player was kidnapped near his hometown of Ciudad Victoria on Sunday after leaving a party.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case under investigation.

Klinsmann hails Zardes’ character; USMNT forward likes his first touch

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Gyasi Zardes’ remarkable rise from Cal State Bakersfield to fixture on the United States men’s national team is one of the better stories in recent team history.

The USMNT attacker nabbed his fourth and fifth international goals in Saturday night’s blowout of Bolivia, and he’s up to 25 caps since making his debut in Jan. 2015.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

Jurgen Klinsmann deserves some credit for putting the L.A. Galaxy on the field almost religiously as Zardes works on so many facets of his game. He’s improved dramatically in positioning, runs and 1v1 battles and reportedly soaks up information like a sponge. Klinsmann loves the guy, and for good reason.

It’s also important to note that, despite his ever-present status, Zardes remains 24 and a work in progress.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Sometimes it’s perfect, and maybe the next day it’s not so good, but it’s totally fine – because every player has his strengths and weaknesses. So as long as they keep on working on those weaknesses and getting them better and better, it’s totally fine. He’s very straight in his thought process in front of the goal. He knows exactly what he wants to do.

“You have to follow your first thought. That’s crucial. If you start to have two thoughts, then you’re going to get messed up. He was very calm, putting two goals in there, and the whole game he was involved. It’s coming along.”

Zardes’ club goal production dropped last year from roughly a goal every other game to one every three, but he’s been growing as a playmaer and this season has four goals and four assists through 11 matches.

I really like Zardes — see my post calling for his USMNT call-up in 2014 — but let me say one negative thing about his bristling at first touch questions and saying, “To be honest, me personally, I think I have a good first touch”: I’m glad he feels that way and his woes may be a bit overblown, but calling his Saturday goals first touch goals is accurate but kind of hilarious.

The criticism of his first touch, which his betrayed him on major scoring chances in each of the last two USMNT matches, has nothing to do when his first touch is directed at goal. On his brace last night, the first was a good finish where he had to work it past the keeper and the second was a plant foot shot. Both, in fact, were shots.

Those count as your first touch on the ball, but when we discuss first touch it’s about taking the ball off a pass or dribble and possessing it for a purpose. Of course he was right to shoot, but it’s cool if your eyes rolled pretty hard in reading his comments.

Koeman: Manchester United “don’t deserve a medal” for treatment of Louis van Gaal

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Louis van Gaal, Manager of  Manchester United talks to Ronald Koeman, Manager of Southampton during the  Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary's Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Southampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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When it comes to the firing of Louis Van Gaal, his countryman has his back.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman doesn’t like the way Manchester United handled LVG’s fate with the team, firing him within hours of the Red Devils winning the FA Cup.

Like many, Koeman doesn’t buy that the LVG to Jose Mourinho transition happened in a week.

[ MORE: Early and (purposefully) absurd 2016-17 PL predictions ]

Given the gossip mill since Chelsea fired Mourinho in January, that’s not a hard thing to buy, and Koeman is angry that LVG was kept out of the loop. Reports claim that Van Gaal had drawn-up plans for 2016-17 with him on the day he was let go.

From Sky Sports:

“If Louis was not told about getting the sack until after the FA Cup final, then Manchester United as a club don’t deserve a medal for the way they treated him.

“If you know a little bit about the business at the highest level in football, then you know that these kind of deals are not done overnight.”

Koeman hedges his words with conditionals, but there’s little doubt what he means. Managers generally stand together when it comes to dismissals, but it’s nice to see someone stand up for LVG’s treatment (whether he deserved to be canned or not).