Tom Sermanni

More on the new U.S. Women’s National Team head coach

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Most fans are unfamiliar with Tom Sermanni, but given the nature of the women’s soccer world, all of U.S. Soccer’s potential hires were relative unknowns. Without a professional league on these shores, we don’t get the constant exposure that makes names for famous names on the men’s side. Who are the José Mourinho, Alex Ferguson, or even Dominic Kinnear of the women’s game? For most, the answer is “who knows?”

So don’t let Sermanni’s lack of name recognition deter you. Go onto your social networking site of choice, search around, and you’ll see a healthy amount of respect underscoring discussion of today’s appointment. Sermanni’s reported affability makes it hard for anybody to be too flummoxed by today’s decision.

Don’t underestimate the importance of personality. The U.S. women are a very unique group. That so many strong personalities are able to coexist is indicative of a potentially fragile balance (include obligatory 2007 reference here). Even if it’s not, this is a veteran team with a proven record of success. Having a personality that can promote continuity is a major plus.

Sermanni’s professional soccer life started as a midfielder in Scotland in 1973. He’d eventually have spells in England with Blackpool before ending his career in New Zealand. Soon after, his coaching career began.

Most of Sermanni’s experience has been in Oceania and Asia, initially coaching men in the North South Wales state league. In 1994, he got his first major coaching job when he began his first stint with Australia’s women’s national team. During his three-year spell with the Maltidas, Sermanni qualified Australia for their first World Cup, though the team lost all three games at China 1995 and failed to qualify for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

In 1997, Sermanni jumped back into the men’s game with Sanfrecce Hiroshima of the J-League before moving back to Australia in 1999 to manage the Canberra Cosmos of the now-defunct National Soccer League. He’d stay with the Cosmos until 2001, when he moved back into the women’s game.

That’s when Sermanni ventured to the United States to be part of the Women’s United Soccer Association, serving as an assistant coach with the San Jose CyberRays from 2001 to 2002. In 2003, Sermanni got the head coaching gig with the New York Power, leading the team to a fifth-place finish (after the team came in eighth the year before).

When WUSA folded in 2003, Sermanni briefly coached in Malaysia before starting his second spell with the Matildas in 2004. Australia had qualified for two World Cups in his absence but had yet to win a match in tournament. Now the team was about to make the jump from Oceania to the Asian confederation, where Japan, China, and Korea DPR would all provide significant challenges.

Australia was immediately competitive. Thanks in part to hosting the 2006 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, the Matildas took second place in their first Asian continental competition. Though they lost to China on penalty kicks in the final, they made their first impact on the continent with their semifinal victory over Japan. Four years later, Sermanni led the Matlidas to their first Asian title, defeating Korea DPR in 2010’s final.

Along the way, Australia started making progress in World Cups. When they showed up in 2007, Australia’s all-time record at finals was two draws, seven losses in nine games. The Maltidas only lost once in China, their 3-2 quarterfinal defeat to Brazil. Four years later, Sermanni’s team replicated the feat, making the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Sweden at Germany 2011.

That progress was about more than Sermanni’s senior level coaching. He was responsible for Australia’s entire women’s development effort, effectively serving as steward for all the talent coming into his senior team. When he returned to the head coach’s job, he sought to inject a more technical style into a team, a requirement in an Asian confederation known for that quality. The result was not only an extremely young team for Germany (average age: 21.7 years) but one that had begun shifting its approach.

It’s a the same type of shift the United States will have to undergo over the next three years. Sermanni instituted the change while Australia was stepping up in competition, yet he improved the team’s results. If the U.S. is going to start being a better possession team, Sermanni may be able to influence that change without sacrificing results.

As for how he’ll set up, there are some tendencies we see in Sermanni’s formations. He plays with four in defense, usually with two-woman midfields. For the most part, he’s played two forwards, one playing in support of the other. The numeric descriptions of the formations may change based on matchups, but those concepts – concepts we often see in the U.S. Women’s National Team – form the backbone.

His history may not be adorned with the type of major titles and lauded successes that could be linked to a job of this profile, and his name certainly doesn’t resonate, but that doesn’t matter. In a women’s coaching landscape devoid of Guardiolas and Capellos, Sermanni brings valuable experience to a team that’s going to have to change before Canada 2015. With a personality that’s unlikely to rock boats behind the scenes, he also represents a chance to maintain the team’s off-field balance.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)