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U.S./France Olympic preview, or how to combat Les Bleues’ charm offensive

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And so it begins. Momentum is as stake in the U.S.’s first Olympic group stage match tomorrow against an endearingly modish French side.

The U.S. stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2008 when the team dropped its first Olympic match against Norway. Does recent history promise to repeat itself on Wednesday? France likely pose the biggest threat to U.S. chances until the Knockout Round. Les Bleues nearly got the best of the U.S. in the World Cup Semifinals last summer, but failed to contain Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. It’s a match-up between perennial powerhouses vs. potential powerhouses and anything can happen.

Who gets the starting nod in midfield; Lauren Cheney or Carli Lloyd? The USWNT’s previous three friendlies have seen Pia Sundhage do the improbable as Carli Lloyd remained on the bench in favor of Lauren Cheney. While Lloyd is certainly capable of being a productive force (she scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 Gold Medal match, after all), inconsistency and wastefulness have made her a frustrating figure to USWNT devotees. Sundhage rolled the dice by giving Cheney the surprise start in the U.S.’s opening game against  North Korea at the World Cup last summer. Will it be déjà vu in Glasgow?

(MORE: Hope Solo talks about her new autobiography)

Expect France to rack up the style points. It’s been said at least a dozen times before but it bears repeating before special occasions like this. Les Bleues’ meteoric rise on the international scene can be partially attributed to the vast successes amassed by Olympique Lyonnais at club level. Lyon have been lauded for their progressive, possession-oriented style of play; a style France has worked to duplicate. Eleven players on France’s 18-player squad won the Champions League title with Lyon last May. Look for Lyon midfielders Camille Abily and Louisa Necib (she’ll be the one with the eyeliner) to provide France’s attacking thrust. Both are capable of some truly wondrous performances.

How will the U.S.’s defense fare against France’s flair? The United States defense has experienced its share of woes this calendar year. 23-year-old newly-converted defender Kelley O’Hara could be tabbed to start at outside back. France’s speedy wingers are nearly as dangerous as the side’s mercurial attacking midfielders. Lapses in concentration are likely to be punished. The U.S. defense should be prepared to face its stiffest test so far this year.

–  Will Alex Morgan continue to make strides towards history? It seems not even the allure of Alex Morgan can fill seats at Hampden Park (80% of tickets were reportedly distributed to school children in response to sluggish ticket sales). Still, Morgan will have the chance to light up the scoresheet as she’s done so many times this year. She’s merely three goals away from becoming just the fifth player in U.S. WNT history to net 20 goals in a single season. And her premiere World Cup goal came against France, y’know.

(MORE: Comparing the 2008 and 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic sides)  

Final say: Between Morgan, Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe, the U.S.’s frontline looked ferociously potent in the team’s previous three friendlies. Defensive frailties have remained present, however, so it won’t be a shock to see the team cough up a first half goal. Still, one of the U.S.’s three aforementioned attacking players will be eager to make it 2-1. France might need an additional group game before truly hitting form, but a highly competitive duel of contrasting styles will likely be on tap.

The proceedings begin at 12 PM EST on NBC Sports.

Copa America announces “clear bag policy” for security purposes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Fans go through security lines outside University of Phoenix Stadium before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The European Championship is not the only tournament with heightened security concerns this summer.

[ MORE: Klinsmann eyes Copa America semis ]

The Copa America Centenario will have a “clear bag policy” at the gates of its 10 American stadia, and is recommending that fans don’t bring any bags at all.

From a press release:

Bags that are not in compliance must be returned to the patron’s vehicle or checked at a designated bag check area located outside the stadium perimeter (if available).

The style and size of bags that will be allowed is described below:

  • Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12.”
  • One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
  • Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the stadium along with one of the clear bag options.

USMNT-Ecuador preview: Lineup will give clues to Klinsmann’s intent

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 25:  Clint Dempsey #2 of the United States slides past Segundo Castillo #14 of Ecuador in an international freindly match at the Raymond James Stadium on March 25, 2007 in Tampa, Florida. USA defeated Equador 3-1. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images
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Wednesday’s friendly could be a Copa America quarterfinal preview, as Ecuador and the United States tangle in Texas.

The Yanks’ goal of a deep tournament run could go through La Tricolor if one wins its group while the other finishes second. That would require either the U.S. topping Colombia or Ecuador finding a way over Brazil.

[ MORE: Klinsmann eyes Copa America semis ]

The two sides last met in Oct. 2014, with Mix Diskerud and Enner Valencia trading goals in New Jersey. The U.S. and Ecuador have an even 2-2-2 record all-time.

Ecuador has wins over Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay in the last year, but went winless in a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Espanyol striker Felipe Caicedo has been the side’s most dangerous attacker in recent action, scoring in four of six, while West Ham’s Enner Valencia join Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Swansea City’s Jefferson Montero as pivotal members of the attack. FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo is also on the roster.

La Tricolor has four defenders in camp with 36 or more caps, including Walter Ayovi (111). The Monterrey back will become the second most capped Ecuadorian with his next appearance for the national team.

[ MORE: Eyeing the USMNT’s friendlies ]

As for the United States, there are a number of directions Klinsmann can go to test his Best XI ahead of June’s tournament. And he’s not exactly tipping his hand, but did mention players in a Q&A with the US Soccer web site:

“We are excited about John Brooks proving now that he matured, that be became stronger. Christian Pulisic is coming through the Dortmund system in a Champions League team and breaking through, so we want him to confirm that and we give him all the help to do that. Darlington Nagbe, who became part of the National Team after waiting so many years for that opportunity. Bobby Wood, who broke out last year. DeAndre Yedlin who became a consistent starter in the Premier League, and so on and so on.”

Many eyes will be on Wood, who showed that rare quality of an American striker in form for both club and country with a strong performance against Puerto Rico. He’s the sort of player who could shake up Klinsmann’s plans in both selection and formation.

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29: Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States Men's National Team celebrates his first half goal against Guatemala with Steve Birnbaum #21 of the United States Men's National Team during the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Will Matt Besler or Steve Birnbaum get a look alongside John Brooks, as Geoff Cameron is widely considered to be the best center back in the bunch? Cameron/Brooks seems predestined given their seasons abroad.

Is Clint Dempsey seen as a difference maker for Klinsmann, especially now that Jozy Altidore is out, or will he truly have to compete for his place? The 33-year-old Texan rang up 9 goals for the U.S. last year, but has just two goals in 10 MLS matches for the struggling Sounders.

And how far advanced with Michael Bradley be? Jermaine Jones? Honestly, we’re nearly as excited for the lineup card as the match itself.

Those are answers we may get in the next two friendlies, before the real arrows start flying in the Copa America opener against Colombia on June 3. All we’ll say for Wednesday is our expectations are not a clean sheet for either side.

Joey Barton joins Rangers for club’s Premiership return

240516_joey_barton_08
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As excited as we are about the potential changes at massive Premier League clubs this offseason, there’s plenty of upheaval going on North of the border, too.

Four days after Brendan Rodgers signed onto the job of running Celtic, another PL veteran is taking his talents to The Old Firm.

[ MORE: Klinsmann eyes Copa America semis ]

Joey Barton, 33, will wear No. 8 for Rangers next season as the Scottish power rejoins rivals Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. He has manned the midfield as a part of three PL promotion campaigns since 2010 and was named in the Team of the Year for his work with Burnley this season.

The combustible midfielder says he’ll work for his place in the team, and wasn’t assured anything.

From Rangers.co.uk:

“Rangers Football Club doesn’t need me to raise its profile. It is a huge establishment and is one of the powerhouses of British football, regardless of what has happened in recent history – that’s irrelevant and when you have hundreds of years of history as this great club has, you don’t need someone on social media raising its profile.”

As if The Old Firm Derby needed any more fire!

Mourinho set to join Manchester United within 48 hours

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22:  Jose Mourinho leaves his home on May 22, 2016 in London, England. Mourinho is rumoured to be in line to replace Louis van Gaal as manager of Manchester United. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho could be formally installed as Manchester United manager within the next 36 hours, according to Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol.

[ MORE: LVG issues statement ]

Mourinho has reportedly been in talks with the club since Louis Van Gaal was fired earlier this week, though talk of his communication with the Old Trafford club has been whispered seemingly from the opened Chelsea fired him.

[ VIDEO: Most bizarre moments of LVG’s reign ]

As competitive as the Premier League has been, it’s hard to imagine Mourinho won’t take United to the next level. He has won the league within two seasons at every stop between Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

In Chelsea’s case, he’s done it twice.