Germany v United States

Another draw, a little more possesion for U.S. women in 2-2 draw with Germany

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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — It’s very tempting to discuss how big a role the field played in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw between the United States women’s soccer team and Germany. The slick turf at Rentschler Field directly led to Germany’s first goal in the 48th minute and it nearly re-gifted the favor to Abby Wambach 11 minutes later when a through ball skipped through to put her one-on-one with German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, but Wambach didn’t fool Angerer on the chip.

Alright, enough about the field. Even the result – a 2-2 draw, which follows Saturday’s 1-1 draw – is less important than what we saw play out between 18-yard boxes.

The United States looked far more comfortable on the ball on Tuesday and that is directly attributable to the team keeping the ball higher up the field. Germany sat in on Saturday and forced U.S. defenders to play out of the back, which is not a strength of this squad. That led to an opening 45 minutes that went just as planned on Saturday: long balls from the U.S. that the Germans gobbled up and turned the other way.

Tuesday, however, saw Megan Rapinoe and Shannon Boxx, in particular, find the ball far more often, in more advanced and dangerous positions.

(MORE:  Gulati talks future of U.S. women’s soccer)

Becky Sauerbrunn’s insertion into the starting XI at center back in place of Rachel Buehler played a role in calming down the back line, which played better than the 2-2 score suggests.

Germany forward Dzsenifer Marozsan scored her first goal in the 48th minute on rain-induced mistake by Christie Rampone and Marozsan scored her second equalizer in the 85th minute on a left-footed upper-90 strike which Solo could do nothing about.

Both U.S. goals – Wambach’s in the 44th minute and Tobin Heath’s in the 67th minute – came from well-worked combinations in which Alex Morgan earned the assist.

So what do the U.S. women take from this match?

“The takeaway for me is that when we are played in and we’re fit, we’re a better team, obviously,” Wambach said. “And that’s good news because that’s on the horizon for us.”

That reliance on fitness and physical play isn’t anything new — it’s always been a staple of the U.S. and there is no reason to think that it will change soon (and as I noted in an earlier post, why fix what isn’t broken?).

But speaking of physical play, we did see yet another element of Morgan’s game come out in these two matches against Germany.

She is blazing fast, but we knew that from the start of her emergence with the national team. Then she started scoring late game-winning and game-tying goals before quickly establishing herself as a starter following the 2011 World Cup. This year her progression has been as a playmaker – those two assists give her 18 this calendar year.

Morgan, however, has only recently added a physical element to her game. She is going to need to be as defenses around the world try to chip away at her and get under her skin. Germany did that from the opening whistle on Tuesday and Morgan was ready to push back straight from the start.

“You have to expect the physicality that the Germans bring to this game,” Morgan said. “We’ve played them and now we know that if you take too many touches on the ball, they are going to tackle you, they are going to put some pressure on you, they are going to put a body on you.”

So, as we’ve alluded to previously, the feelings over these two draws is pretty mixed given the transitional nature of this squad. Two draws against world No. 2 Germany are nothing to scoff at (17-4-6 against Germany all-time), but interim coach Jill Ellis will now hand over the keys to the U.S. to Pia Sundhage’s permanent replacement. What comes once that change happens is anyone’s guess.

As Christie Rampone said postgame, the U.S. didn’t want to lose. Though that’s not quite the mentality you would expect from the No. 1 team in the world.

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Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk