megan rapinoe

Thinking through Megan Rapinoe’s overshadowed breakout

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source: AP
United States’ Megan Rapinoe, kicks the ball during the semifinal women’s soccer match between the United States and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Alex Morgan’s header. Christine Sinclair’s hat trick. Marie-Eve Nault’s hand ball. And Christina Pederson.

Oh, Christina Pederson.

Editors had plenty of options when picking headlines for Monday’s Miracle in Manchester, all of which was bad news for Megan Rapinoe. Not that she seemed to care. She was in the right spirits after a match, relegated to a footnote when, under most circumstances, she should have been the story.

Two goals in an Olympic semifinal? The group is small: Wei Haiying (China, 1996), Cristiane (Brazil, 2008), Angela Hucles (USA, 2008), and now Megan Rapinoe. And Christine Sinclair, of course.

Part of the reason that list is so short (in addition to the accomplishment being difficult): Women’s soccer at the Summer Olympics hasn’t been around long. This is only its fifth tournament. Still, if you take out all those caveats, you’re left with have an elimination match between rivals. The stakes: A spot in a major tournament final, the world champions waiting on the other end. The only bigger stakes were the ones that awaited the winner, yet both Sinclair and Rapinoe gave potentially career-defining performances.

Long after Sinclair’s retired, they’ll talk about her hat trick against the United States. If history’s fair to Rapinoe, it will note she was the reason the U.S. were in position to pull off a miracle.

source: Getty Images
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUGUST 06: Christine Sinclair of Canada reels away after scoring the second goal against USA during the Women’s Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
There had been qualms about Christine Sinclair’s showings in big matches, but nobody will be surprised to see her name among the best goal scoring performances in Olympic history. Now with 143 international goals, Monday’s match will serve as a breakout moment for a overshadowed star. Sinclair has been just as prolific as Abby Wambach while receiving a fraction of her publicity. It’s about time that changed.

Megan Rapinoe, however, does not have Sinclair’s resume. Before the World Cup, she had been a squad player for the United States, starting on the bench for most of the States’ big matches. At Germany 2011, although she tallied a goal and three assists, Rapinoe only started two of six matches. Whereas her former University of Portland teammate (two years older) has appeared 189 times for Canada, Rapinoe has “only” 57 caps. Her 15 goals rank eighth amongst this year’s U.S. Olympians.

But without much fanfare, Rapinoe’s status changed in Great Britain. Perhaps it’s her connection with the fans or a personality that makes it seem she’s always accessible, but Rapinoe had become one of the fan’s starters, even if she’s only solidified that role this summer.

Now, Rapinoe’s part of a group that’s redefined Pia Sundhage’s formerly static starting XI. Along with Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Kelley O’Hara, Rapinoe is giving U.S. fans a glimpse of Canada 2015’s core. She’s part of a group that grew up inspired by the 99ers, yet unlike the other women who’ve claimed starting roles, Rapinoe is already well into her post-college career. Sundhage’s four other changes are all 23-24 years old. Rapinoe turned 27 last month.

As important, Rapinoe is four years removed from her last days at Portland. In 2009, while the U.S.’s next stars continued to hone their skills in college, Rapinoe went to Women’s Professional Soccer – the professional league that promised to be the world’s standard for the women’s game. Selected second overall by Chicago in the league’s first draft, Rapinoe started a three-year journey that saw her go from the Red Stars, to Philadelphia, to an infamous magicJack squad that paid an eye-boggling $100,000 to get her from the Independence.

Interestingly (and for those of us who loved WPS, perhaps disappointingly), Rapinoe is the only starter whose national team status has improved with her WPS experience. Cheney and Heath were embedded in the pool based on their college credentials. O’Hara never played defense in WPS, while Morgan’s only league experience was during its chaotic third season. Amy Rodriguez, the only player picked ahead of Rapinoe in the 2009 draft, saw her national team career regress during her roller coaster WPS career.

Rapinoe, on the other hand, was restored by WPS. After breaking into the national team setup in 2006, she tore her ACL in 2007, not only missing her junior year at Portland but also moving out of the picture for the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. After one more year with the Pilots, Rapinoe left school (forgoing an extra year granted by the NCAA) and went pro. During the league’s three seasons, Rapinoe made 52 appearances and scored six goals, missing much of the 2011 campaign while in Germany.

source: Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – AUGUST 24: Professional women soccer players (from left) Megan Rapinoe, Marian Dalmy, Abby Wambach and Sarah Huffman pose for a photo before the San Francisco Giants game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on August 24, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
With WPS folding earlier this year, Rapinoe may be the only example of what a domestic league can do for the national team. Her time in Chicago was crucial to reestablishing her place in the team’s set up. Although she was already getting games with the team, Rapinoe was able to fast-forward a career that injury had tried to curtail, getting matches week-in, week-out in (what was then) the world’s most talented league.

Now, thanks to two goals in an Olympic semifinal, Rapinoe’s WPS experience could be relegated to a footnote on her career’s resume. She has the talent to play in any league in the world (and start for almost any team). Having already ventured down to Australia for a brief sojourn with Sydney FC, Rapinoe could become one of the few U.S. stars to embrace opportunities overseas, even if that’s only splitting time between Australia and whatever league sprouts up in the U.S.

With one of the more effervescent personalities in the sport, Rapinoe won’t be short of options. In the year she’s been starting for Pia Sundhage, she’s established herself as one of the world’s elite wide players. After her Olympics performances, any opportunity may literally be a phone call away.

Her Monday double may have been overshadowed, but with star power that’s likely to keep her on the map through the next World Cup, Rapinoe won’t be forgotten.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.

Alaves eyes upset of Barcelona in Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) The final of the Copa del Rey pits Barcelona’s star power against a tiny Basque Country club whose biggest weapons are its grit and gnawing hunger for a taste of glory.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Win or lose, Alaves is savoring the cup final on Saturday as the perfect finish to its first season back in Spain’s topflight in an decade.

[ MORE: Three key battles ahead of Chelsea-Arsenal FA Cup final ]

But to have a chance of winning the first major trophy in its 96-year history, Alaves’ ragtag collection of journeymen has to be squeezed of every ounce of effort by coach Mauricio Pellegrino to upset the cup-holders led by Lionel Messi.

One statistic illustrates how daunting their task will be: Messi, all by himself, has scored exactly as many goals as the entire Alaves squad this season, with 53 across all competitions.

“We will need to play a very complete match to have a chance, but we are a team that always competes to the maximum,” said Pellegrino, who is completing a noteworthy first season with the club.

The final will be the last competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium. An exhibition match the next day will be its farewell before demolition.

The final will also be the last match for departing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who could bow out with a third straight Copa del Rey.

Here are some reasons Alaves can believe in an upset for the ages:

DONE IT BEFORE

Alaves has already toppled Barcelona this season.

A shocking 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Sept. 10 was Alaves’ first win since its return to the first division following 10 years in the second and third tiers.

That surprise victory set it on its way to overachieving all campaign. It reached the Copa del Rey final by defeating the more talented Celta Vigo in the semifinals, and finished the league in a meritorious ninth place.

The bad news is that Barcelona showed no mercy back in Vitoria, where Luis Suarez scored twice in a 6-0 rout.

NO SUAREZ

But Suarez won’t be available for Barcelona on Saturday, when he serves a one-game suspension after being sent off during the semifinals against Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique could start Paco Alcacer in his place up front alongside Messi and Neymar.

OLD AND YOUNG

Alaves is not devoid of talent.

The 19-year-old right back Theo Hernandez, who is playing on loan from Atletico, is drawing rave reviews and interest from European powerhouses, including Real Madrid.

Marcos Llorente, a 22-year-old Madrid reserve player also on loan, has impressed as a defensive midfielder.

Captain Manu Garcia, at 31, is the only player who has been with the team through its rise from the third tier in 2013.

“Our coaches are telling us that by working as a team just like we have all year, we have a chance to win,” Garcia said.

OH SO CLOSE

Alaves came ever so close to winning the 2001 UEFA Cup when it defied expectations in its first European campaign by reaching the final against Liverpool.

Jordi Cruyff, son of Dutch great Johann Cruyff, scored late to level the thriller at 4-4 and force extra time, only for Alaves to succumb on an own goal by Delfi Geli.

“I want our fans to enjoy the day,” Garcia said. “I remember (the final in) Dortmund from when I was young. I have many memories of that day and that’s why I ask our fans to be proud of Alaves, and that they make the Calderon into our stadium because that is what we will need it to be.”

MLS at Week 13: Rivalries all around, TFC goes for eight games unbeaten

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Week 13 is here and we’ve got ourselves some pretty tasty matchups, after the weekend got off to a fast start on Thursday night when the Chicago Fire downed FC Dallas.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 13 ]

Meanwhile, the match of the weekend likely comes in the form of Toronto FC taking on the Columbus Crew, as Greg Vanney’s side puts their seven-match unbeaten run on the line at BMO Field.

Several other intriguing fixtures, including multiple rivalries, will take place as well, particularly in the Pacific Northwest as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers do battle.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7 p.m. EDT on Friday

It’s been seven straight matches for the Eastern Conference leaders since they last lost and Toronto FC has become the clear favorite to hoist MLS Cup through the opening two months-plus. Of course that can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen that with the Crew as of late, who started out hot before losing four out of their last six and falling to fifth in the East.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

There’s nothing like a Cascadia Cup match. Although both clubs aren’t exactly up to par at the moment, it’s still a rivalry match. That has to mean something, right?

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Whitecaps have picked up some steam lately, winning three of their last four, and unfortunately for D.C. they haven’t had any similar fortunes. Ben Olsen’s group are at the bottom of the East, and had it not been for the Rapids there would probably be more attention on how poorly they are playing.

New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Jesse Marsch’s club picked up an important tie against a red-hot Toronto last time out, but now they’ll meet a familiar rival on Saturday as they try to get back to winning ways. Meanwhile, the Revs have played significantly better as of late, scoring six goals in their two most recent outings.

Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Simply put, they only good thing the Rapids have on their side is that the match is at home, where the team has captured both of their wins this season. Sporting KC, meanwhile, continues to tear it up at the top of the West.

Minnesota United vs Orlando City — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Orlando has come back down to earth recently, so it’s time for Jason Kreis and co. to reset. Adrian Heath and the Loons continue to suffer through the growing pains of being a new side, something Kreis can relate to from his time in New York, but Minnesota has shown positive signs during the young season.

Real Salt Lake vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Union are looking really good as of late, and the winners of four straight could very well keep it up on the road against RSL, who have struggled to pick up results for much of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Cali Clasico takes shape at Avaya Stadium as both west coast sides look for bragging rights out west.

Atlanta United vs. New York City FC — 5 p.m. EDT on Sunday

It was Patrick Vieira’s side that got the best of Atlanta when the two clubs met a few weeks back, and it’s bad news for Tata Martino’s men as NYCFC has caught more steam as they continue to rack up positive results in the Eastern Conference.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo — 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday

We’ve got ourselves a Texas Derby down in Dallas, and this could be quite the interesting matchup as both sides enter Sunday on a bit of a downturn. It’s evident both clubs have exciting offensive firepower but which side will come out on top?

Emre Can’s insane bicycle kick wins 16/17 PL Goal of the Season

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It was about as good a finish as you’ll see in any season, and Emre Can was properly rewarded by the Premier League for his efforts.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

The Liverpool midfielder won PL Goal of the Season on Friday for his audacious and seemingly impossible bicycle kick against Watford.

The goal came off a routine cross from Lucas Leiva into the Hornets penalty area, but what Can did next was simply astonishing as contorted his body and acrobatically finished an overhead kick that was the talk of the PL for the rest of the season.

Can, 23, finished the 2016/17 PL season with five goals in 31 matches for Jurgen Klopp‘s side but none can compare to what he achieved at Vicarage Road.