Talking out women’s soccer’s future, with U.S. Soccer at the head of the table

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U.S. Soccer on Wednesday held a summit to discuss the immediate future of women’s soccer. The result? Reason for cautious optimism.

The meeting comes at a topical time — six weeks after Women’s Professional Soccer’s official closure and two days prior to the USWNT’s final domestic pre-Olympic friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium. Below you’ll find something of a primer.

 

So, what is it exactly?

A women’s soccer-themed TEDtalk? A closed-door summit? A brainstorm session? A think tank? A combination thereof, really.

And its raison d’etre?

Determining the best course of action to keep make a women’s soccer league sustainable in the U.S. The demise of Women’s Professional  Soccer was probably inevitable, despite the many residual effects supplied by the USWNT’s performance at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Its reasons for folding are manifold, although, yes, this guy had a lot to with it.

Judging by USSF President Sunil Gulati’s comments in initial reports, U.S. Soccer seems quite keen to lend a helping hand to the effort – something U.S. women’s soccer fans have long been clamoring for as that sentiment was conspicuously absent throughout WPS’s struggles. The very existence of the so-called task force indicates a level of cooperation from those involved in every station within the WoSo community. That can only be a positive thing.

When was word of the task force first made public?

Gulati first floated the idea while speaking to a select group of media prior to the USWNT’s friendly match against China on May 28. That was 10 days after Women’s Professional Soccer officially closed shop after a five-month ‘hiatus’.

Who was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting?

Details are sparse, but as per Jeff Kassouf’s report, “…Officials from WPSL, USL, U.S. Youth Soccer and [former Women’s World Cup winner and Boston Breakers head coach] Tony DiCicco.” Beau Dure shared news that representatives from MLS also had seats at the table.

What came out of the first meeting?

Again, details remain sparse, but there are faint signs of encouragement. For one, news that a brand new women’s soccer league is in the works with a launch date sometime next year. Again thanks to Kassouf’s reporting, we know the new coast-to-coast venture will apparently feature 12-16 teams. The league will take a ground-up approach and not apply for Division-1 status, thereby sidestepping exorbitant fees.

Boston Breakers head coach Lisa Cole offered more insight via Twitter. Cole underlined the need to start at a semi-pro level which appears to be the safest way forward. After all, WPS and its failed predecessor the Women’s United Soccer Association were the only fully-professional, top-flight leagues in the world during their respective tenures, and looked how that turned out. Modest…expectations…

But we’ve heard that line before. What’s to say it will be different?

Lessons learned from the failures of WPS and the templates provided by other top women’s soccer leagues around the world, all of which are semi-pro in all but name.

And the new league might have something else going for it. As the USWNT’s string of near-capacity crowds indicates, the  team’s recent surge in popularity is very real. The tremendous uptick in interest (Hope Solo! Abby Wambach! Alex Morgan!) translated to bigger attendances in the final two months of the 2011 WPS season. But by then it was too late. The start-up league could benefit from interest drummed up by the USWNT’s exploits at the Summer Olympics and its inevitable post-tournament friendly tour – if national team players agree to take part, of course.

Still, everything boils down to the pesky dollars and cents part of the equation. WPS and its original driving force Tonya Antonucci made an earnest attempt to avoid the excessive spending and oversized expectations that damned the erstwhile WUSA. While the WUSA overspent itself out of existence, WPS arguably did the opposite. Both leagues ultimately shared the same gloomy fate.

By eschewing the fully-pro route altogether, the new league will look to adopt a more modest, realistic approach – for real this time.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET