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.

Bruce Arena opens up about USMNT World Cup failure

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Former US Men’s National Team manager Bruce Arena has opened up about the failure of the team to reach the 2018 World Cup, culminating in an embarrassing and humbling 2-1 defeat at Trinidad & Tobago that left the USA on the outside looking in.

During a Q&A session in Philadelphia, Arena takes some blame but also dishes out a lot more, throwing everything from team chemistry, a weak player pool, weak mentality on the field, and even the national team’s communications department for the nightmare scenario that came to fruition in Couva.

“There are a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day you find a way to get off that field with a point,” Arena said to Straus, before laying out all those excuses he referred to. First up? The team chemistry, which was laid bare after injuries to John Brooks, Jordan Morris, and Sebastian Lletget.

“It wasn’t the same team with the right chemistry. It just didn’t seem like everyone was on the same page with the right mentality and the same understanding of what everything was about,” Arena said Friday. “The chemistry of the group wasn’t right. It wasn’t the character you see out of a U.S. team. And the second part, realistically, was that we didn’t have the most talented players and when we had injuries, it hurt us.”

Arena said there were signs of life in June after a win over Trinidad followed by a quality point against Mexico. However, it all came crashing down during a brutal week in early September that ultimately doomed the United States. After a stunning 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, Arena made a whopping seven changes to the starting lineup, none of which worked as a listless USMNT had to scrap and claw for a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Honduras. While Arena said the leaders on the team like Michael Bradley and Tim Howard were there when they were needed, “there were a couple of bad eggs like you have on every team. We were well aware of it.”

The 66-year-old blamed the pre-match buildup to the Trinidad & Tobago team as part of the issue, throwing the communications department under the bus for energizing the home side. “Behind the scenes there were mistakes on our part, probably,” Arena said in what began sounding like an admission of guilt. “Our social media, our communications department, sent out everything humiliating the Trinidad federation on the training facility, which was the game field for that day. It got them all fired up and when we kicked off on that day, it was a battle.”

Arena then railed against those who questioned his tactics or player choices after the disaster, saying, “You got some answers for me the day before the game? During the game? I’m listening. Everyone the day after, you’re a bunch of phonies. I don’t want to hear about it the day after. We’re all the best coaches the day after.”

It took everything Arena had to admit he may have played a part in the failure to qualify, and even then, he did so with plenty of restraint. “I accept that responsibility,” Arena said. “That’s why I resigned so quickly. I accepted my responsibility. That’s the way it goes. I don’t feel good about it, but that’s life.”

Michael Carrick to retire after the season, join Man United coaching staff

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho announced Friday night that 36-year-old midfielder Michael Carrick will retire after this season and join the Red Devils’ coaching staff.

Carrick has made just one appearance for Manchester United this season, back on September 20th in an EFL Cup match against Burton Albion. He has been on the sidelines recovering since an irregular heartbeat was discovered after he felt “strange” in the second half of that game. However, Carrick has been training with the team since November and Mourinho confirmed he could finish out his career on the pitch.

“[He had] a few months without even training so now he is in his second week of training with the team,” Mourinho said to the media ahead of Manchester United’s match against Burnley on Saturday morning. “He is a very important player for us. I think it is a good decision for the team and a good decision for him to finish playing football and not injured or with some problem.”

Mourinho confirmed that the club has offered him a position on the team’s coaching staff, and that he expects Carrick to accept.

“We are all happy and in the end of the season I expect him to join,” Mourinho said, “unless he changes his mind, but the club would be very happy for him to do that. I would be very happy also for him to do that.”

Carrick has spent his entire career in the city of London. He began his career in the West Ham youth system, making his professional debut in 2005 and spending five years with the Hammers before moving to Tottenham in 2004. He spent two seasons at White Hart Lane before joining Manchester United in the summer of 2006, where he would go on to 460 appearances across all competitions, scoring 23 goals and assisting 36 others. He has won five Premier League titles with Manchester United, as well as a Champions League, an FA Cup, and three League Cups.

Brighton nabs club record signing Jurgen Locadia

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Brighton & Hove Albion have secured a new striker for the stretch run of the Premier League season, signing Jurgen Locadia from PSV Eindhoven for a club record fee.

Locadia cost Brighton $19.3 million, breaking their old transfer record, set just last August when they brought Jose Izqueirdo from Club Brugge, by about $500,000.

The 24-year-old Dutchman has nine goals and six assists this season in 15 Eredivisie appearances for PSV, although he’s missed their last three games reportedly with a hamstring injury. He scored four goals in one game against FC Utretcht back in late September.

“We are delighted to have signed Jurgen, and pleased to welcome him to the club,” said Brighton manager Chris Hughton in the official club release. “He is a player we have been aware of for sometime, and it’s been no secret we have wanted to add a striker of his type. He is a strong, powerful and quick center-forward, with a real eye for goal and will increase our attacking options in the second half of the season.”

Locadia made his Eredivisie debut with PSV in style back in 2012, scoring a hat-trick against VVV Venlo in a 6-0 win. He would go on to score a career-high 13 goals in his first full season in 2013/14, eventually racking up 62 goals for PSV across all competitions in 176 appearances.

A PSV youth product, Locadia has been in the national team picture, riding the bench for a pair of World Cup qualifiers in October, but has not received a cap for the Netherlands. He was in the national youth setup as well, making appearances for the U-17 and U-21 sides.

Jupp Heynckes calls Aubameyang, Dembele behavior “unacceptable”

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Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes has labeled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s and Ousmane Dembele’s behavior at rival club Borussia Dortmund “unacceptable” and suggested such players would not be signed by Bayern Munich.

“It’s unacceptable how certain players act in professional football,” Heynckes said speaking to the media ahead of Bayern’s on Sunday against Werder Bremen. “It’s just not right. These situations have always happened, but now they have reached a whole new dimension.”

Aubameyang has not yet left Borussia Dortmund, but reports all over Europe suggest he is pressing the club to leave, with Arsenal linked, as well as a move to China. The Gabonese international has been suspended by the club for missing meetings and training, and reports say he has handed in a transfer request.

Dembele left for Barcelona back in the summer, and was similarly suspended for missing training in hopes of forcing a move. The 20-year-old later admitted that he intentionally missed training with the intent of pushing the club to sell him.

“The Dembele and Aubameyang situations have to be viewed in a critical light,” Heynckes added, also hitting out at former Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who the Reds insist they did everything in their power to convince him to stay before he ultimately left for Barcelona. “I am very critical of this because players are very privileged. The Coutinho transfer was similar but solved more elegantly.”

The 72-year-old, in his fourth stint as Bayern Munich manager, said he would not sign these players if up to him, and suggested that Bayern Munich has a higher standard.

“Ethics and morals form part of our job and we have to look at the bigger picture and what’s happening in society. You have to consider how difficult it is for others to earn their monthly income. Clubs signing these players have to expect that this behavior will continue at their club. I don’t want to speak of solidarity, but it’s a team sport where you cannot afford to set your own individual targets. Clubs should think twice about signing these players. Honestly, I would reject it.”

Heynckes said that clubs shouldn’t take a hard stance with a player, instead hoping to placate them with a softer touch.

“Banishing the player to the stands is not the way,” Heynckes said. “You have to work at it, communicate and care for the player. You need a clear direction and I think we have that at Bayern Munich.”