Anja Mittag, Christie Rampone

America’s Captain ready for another run

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Only her face and hands were exposed to the sharp Portland evening, the winds from an unexpectedly frigid November night circling and attacking players, media, and fans assembled at the basin of Jeld-Wen Field. Long black sleeves and pant leggings were complemented by a knit cap, the women’s national team training shirt, and the half-sneakers, half-cleats players use on FieldTurf. With frozen breath clouding her face as she stood at the side of the Timbers’ home field, Christie Rampone was in a place few expected at this stage of her career: Preparing for another game.

“I thought I’d have this amazing feeling after the (2012 Summer) Olympics,” the 37-year-old Rampone said, reflecting back on what was supposed to be her final major tournament, “like ‘I’m done, this is it.'”

It’s the reaction everyone expected. Rampone was the second-oldest out-field player at the Olympics. At Canada 2015 — the U.S.’s next major competition — she would turn 40, three years older that the most senior out-field player at Germany 2011. With little competitive soccer in the national team’s near-future, Rampone was supposed to use Wembley Stadium as her swan song.

But she didn’t. When the U.S. Women’s National Team captain was finished winning her third gold medal (the States defeating Japan 2-1 in August’s final), there was no feeling of completion. Redemption against a Japanese team that had denied Rampone a third World Cup in Germany provided no closure for a career with nothing left to accomplish.

But accomplishment can be overrated. Too often onlookers look at players like Rampone (or, on the other side of U.S. Soccer, Landon Donovan) and ask why a player would continue after all the boxes are checked, even though for many, no such checklist exists. Some athletes define themselves by their resumé. Others take pride in the process.

“I love the journey,” Rampone confessed, with pride. “Winning is obviously the main goal, but for me, it’s the journey to get there. The ups and downs. The highs and lows. Just being with my teammates.

“I’m not quite ready to give that up. I don’t feel it.”

source: Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12, 2012: Rampone attends Citi’s Every Step of the Way Culmination Event at a Citibank Branch in midtown in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Citi)

Part of those ups and downs is women’s international soccer’s three-year stretch between meaningful tournaments, a span that includes the U.S.’s current Fan Celebration Tour: 10 cities, 10 states, 10 chances to cash-in on the U.S. team’s London success, and zero opportunities for competitive matches. It’s part of a mystifyingly unbalanced women’s soccer schedule that allows the sport to fade into irrelevance for three years before staging the World Cup and Olympics in a 14-month window.

It also creates the kind of slog that could deter an older player who can justify moving on – especially if that older player has won a combined five Olympics and World Cups. To have to spend two years playing meaningless friendlies around the obscurity of Algarve and Women’s Gold Cups may seem anti-climatic, particularly for somebody with two children and a husband in New Jersey.

But for as tough as it may be for Rampone to fly cross-country to play an exhibitions like the one against the lightly-regarded Irish on a frigid night in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all part of the job she loves.

“If my kids said to me, ‘Hey, Mom, you’re done traveling, I want you home,” I’d do it in a second,” Rampone explained.

“[The children] love it. They love the travel. Rylie, my oldest, she doesn’t want me to stop. She goes ‘I’ll miss it.’ Yeah, well, eventually [retirement is] going to happen. But why now?”

Rylie’s urgings should give some relief to U.S. national team fans who’ve seen the team’s dependence on Rampone grow despite the captain’s increasing years. While part of that is due to the changes at the back (Rampone was the only defensive player other than goalkeeper Hope Solo to start the 2008 and 2012 gold medal games), Rampone’s personal contributions – her maturity, as a player – are the main reasons for her prominence. Her recovery speed, still as good as any in the game, combines with her experience, intelligence and leadership to keep her in the conversation among the best defenders in the world.

It’s a remarkable place to be for somebody who started her career as an attacker, her 5’6″ height normally a deterrent to a role in central defense. As her career evolved, she was moved to fullback, often played wide in a three-women defense, and then settled into the middle under Sundhage, a position she’s made her own.

source: AP
Rampone, center, high-fives figure skater Sarah Hughes after they threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, at Yankee Stadium in New York. At left, Rampone’s daughter, Rylie, 6, wears her mother’s gold medal. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

“[I’m] just more a confident player, especially playing in the center,” she says when asked to compare herself to the 27-year-old version of Christie Rampone. At no point does she mention an area of her game where she feels she’s worse. “You’re organizing. You’re dictating [the game]. You’re seeing the game. I just feel so confident out there when I’m playing that just everything else flows.

“Still having the speed, the recovery speed, I’m there to help everybody else out … Just being able to be the one solid person back there that can help [the game] flow.”

Hers is not the type of vocal, front-of-camera leadership you see from her teammates, most notably Abby Wambach and Hope Solo. Minute-to-minute, there’s little in her words that separate her from her teammates, though her on-field actions speak to national team experience that dates back to 1997.

“I feel like I’m more the calming effect on the field,” is how Rampone explains her leadership style, “because I’m not like Raaar. It’s just more of a when I speak it means something.”

In a squad that, under Pia Sundhage, was often left players to sort out their own internal problems, Rampone’s level-headed leadership often provided crucial balance. Combined with her on-field contributions, for which U.S. Soccer has no replacement lined up, Rampone’s decision to persist becomes a particular blessing.

Should she stay with the team though the next World Cup (Canada 2015) and Olympics (Brazil 2016), Rampone could become the most-capped player in national team history. That honor currently rest with Kristine Lilly, whose 352 appearances are 79 more than Rampone’s 273. Over the last four years, U.S. soccer has played 78 games, though that includes an eight-match schedule in 2009. Up that slightly, a Rampone could pass Lilly after Brazil.

“I would love to continue to play,” Rampone said, “at least for a year or two, see where the team’s at, because I really am still enjoying it.”

That “year or two” timeframe is a curiously short one for a standout defender who seems committed to the next cycle. The next major tournament doesn’t start until June 2015. A three-to-four year commitment will be needed to get through the next Olympics, at which time Rampone will be 41.

But the numbers were less reference to her age or performance than deference to the changes happening above her within the team. Sundhage, who guided the team through the last cycle, has left the U.S., taking the head coaching position with her native Sweden. With her went all of the preferences and biases each coach develops in a job.

Now former-Australia head coach Tom Sermanni is stepping into the position, and although Rampone is familiar with him from their time together at the Women’s United Soccer Association’s New York Power, the captain’s taking nothing for granted.

source: AP
Tom Sermanni, new coach of the United States women’s soccer team, poses for a photo outside the United States Soccer Federation Headquarters after an interview on Oct. 30, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

“I’ll just talk to him, feel him out, see if I’m going to get a call in,” Rampone says, modestly. “Playing with [Sermanni] would be unbelievable. I would be sad if I couldn’t get a few games under him.”

It’s an excessively modest assessment. Rampone is clearly the best defender on the team, somebody who has had no problem maintaining her high level of fitness. She’s neither injury-prone nor visibly slowing down, something that would mark that end to her effectiveness at the international level. With uncertainty surrounding every other position along the back, her exclusion from the team’s future plans would be anywhere from unlikely to a huge, unnecessary risk.

As somebody who wants to get back into coaching when her playing days are gone (as an interim head coach, she led Sky Blue FC to Women’s Professional Soccer’s 2009 title), Rampone was deferential to her new coach’s potential plans:

“It’s just up to where he sees me and what he wants to do. I have no idea, his thoughts.”

There was no fear in her words. She wasn’t afraid of competing for a spot or being told she was too old. (“I’ve had a great career. If I’m able to keep playing … I want to do it. If not, I’ll move on.”) If anything, Rampone welcomes the competition.

“Every coach comes in with their philosophy and their thoughts. Will he want to go younger? Will he want to sick with the same or just bring everybody in and everybody fight it out, just like the good old days? Just grind it out, earn your spot, which I’m hoping. That way it just makes it more competitive here.”

Rampone’s questions will start to be answered this week when Tom Sermanni joins up with the national team  on Dec. 7 for a three-game observation period before assuming full head coaching responsibilities in January.

He’ll likely observe what U.S. Soccer fans already know – what he, likely, already knows. Despite retirement expectations and a future of two major tournaments in her 40s, Rampone remains a crucial part of the U.S.’s chances in 2015 and 2016. With player and family set to continue, Rampone may yet become the most capped player in team history, a worthy status if she’s able to add to her five major titles.

Who are the quickest players in the Premier League?

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Just how quick are the fastest players in the Premier League?


Three of the top six highest speeds ever recorded have all been registered so far in the 2017-18 season.

Via stats released by the Premier League, Leroy Sane has clocked the fastest speed recorded by a PL player since the metric was first recorded in 2013-14.

Manchester City’s German winger reached a top speed of 35.48km/hr (22mph) this season, while Patrick Van Aanholt and Moussa Sissoko have also reached speeds this season which have seen them place in the top six since records began.

Below is a look at the top speeds for the season so far and the top speeds reached in the Premier League since 2013-14 campaign.

With Man City having both Sane and Kyle Walker in the top five this season, you can see the importance Pep Guardiola puts on speed despite all of the talk about City’s free-flowing possession. Crystal Palace also have two speedsters in the top 10 this season with both Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt in the top six.

As for total sprints, Dele Alli leads the way (2,163 in 2017-18) with Christian Eriksen also in the top 10 and representatives from eight other clubs making up the top 10. Dele also has the record for the most sprints during a single season (2,621) which was recorded last season.

These stats are intriguing and for some reason I expected to see Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane way up the list in terms of the being the quickest, but they didn’t even make the top 10.

2017/18 Since 2013/14
Player Speed (km/hr) Player Speed (km/hr)
Leroy Sane 35.48 Leroy Sane 35.48
Patrick van Aanholt 35.42 Jamie Vardy 35.44
Moussa Sissoko 35.33 Kyle Walker 35.42
Antonio Rudiger 35.19 Patrick van Aanholt 35.42
Kyle Walker 35.16 Anthony Martial 35.40
Wilfried Zaha 35.14 Moussa Sissoko 35.33
Oliver Burke 35.13 Shane Long 35.31
Kiko Femenia 35.12 Carl Jenkinson 35.31
Laurent Koscielny 35.11 Modou Barrow 35.28
Jamie Vardy 35.09 Hugo Rodallega 35.27

Report: Man City, Man United join Neymar race

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Is Neymar heading to the Premier League?

Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo is reporting that both Manchester City and Manchester United have joined Real Madrid in the race to try and sign Neymar, with the report stating that Real remain the favorites to sign the striker if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain.

The Brazilian superstar, 26, only joined PSG in the summer of 2017 from Barcelona for a world-record fee of $274 million but rumblings continue that he is unhappy with life in France and wants to either move back to Spain or, as it now appears, the Premier League.

Per the report, Man City and Pep Guardiola are huge fans of Neymar and are keen to sign him in the summer of 2019 with the commercial gain for signing such a star obvious. Manchester United are also said to be very interested in bringing Neymar to PSG, if he’s available.

When you think about where Neymar would fit into any of the three aforementioned squads, it would certainly suggest that other big names would have to depart for him to arrive.

But if you’re bringing in Neymar and spending the big bucks to pry him away from PSG, he’s going to be your main man.

At Man City he would perhaps play centrally with Sergio Aguero moved on in the next 12 months or so, with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling supporting him in attack. At Manchester United he could play off Romelu Lukaku alongside Alexis Sanchez as both Manchester clubs would give him a chance to be the key man in a powerful attacking trio. The same will happen at Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo sticking around could complicate matters, while the futures of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema seem to lie elsewhere beyond this season.

Sure, it may not be the same as Neymar playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez during their treble-winning season at Barca in 2014-15 for Neymar but he would have the chance to replicate that kind of partnership at both City and United, while at Real he’d likely be the gem in a massive attacking rebuild.

The only flip side to Neymar’s obvious talents on the pitch is the circus that comes with him off it. At PSG it is believed he already has way too much power at the club and his many advisers, plus his sponsorship commitments, could create plenty of distractions.

Is that a risk worth taking? Real, City and United would think yes as Neymar delivered 28 goals in 30 games in his debut season at PSG before having his season ended through injury as he now prepares to be fully fit for the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Real still appear to be the frontrunners to sign Neymar in 2019 and they hold the ace in this deal with Ronaldo perhaps ready to move on for the final years of his career. If PSG could get Ronaldo and serious cash from Real for Neymar, they have to do that deal, right?

‘Welcome to Zlatan’: Ibrahimovic makes play for LA’s heart

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic has really always belonged in Hollywood.

The powerful 6-foot-5 Swedish forward has loomed above soccer for nearly two decades, captivating the world with his sublime physical talent and uniquely outrageous personality. He has scored hundreds of majestic goals, won dozens of trophies and scuffled with a few teammates on his journey from Malmo to Milan to Manchester.

When Ibrahimovic officially landed with the LA Galaxy on Friday, he announced his arrival in a new nation with classic, theatrical, Zlatan-esque style.

“Los Angeles, welcome to Zlatan,” read the caption on a social media video featuring Ibrahimovic and a lion.

“Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome,” said the back page of the Los Angeles Times sports section, with Ibrahimovic’s signature at the bottom of the mostly blank sheet.

Ibrahimovic has been labeled as both a beloved hero and an arrogant villain during his career of high-scoring exploits, but most everyone would agree he is the very definition of a star. The ponytailed 36-year-old could capture the attention of the world’s entertainment capital in a way that even David Beckham couldn’t manage.

“After 20 years in Europe, playing for the best clubs in the world with the best players in the world, I decided it’s time to move to a different continent,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview distributed by Major League Soccer. “Move over to the U.S., try the MLS. For me, there was no question about it. Galaxy was the team, and I chose them. They didn’t need to choose me. I chose them, and I come to do exactly what I’ve been doing the last 23 years: Winning.”

He’ll start next week, when the Galaxy formally welcome him to Los Angeles just three games into their 2018 MLS season. If he feels comfortable immediately, he could even debut in a derby against their new archrival Los Angeles FC on March 31.

The Galaxy are coming off a last-place MLS finish after winning a paltry eight league games last season, but Ibrahimovic doesn’t expect the five-time league champions’ woes to linger with him leading the line.

“I want to accomplish as much as possible,” Ibrahimovic said. “Wherever I went, I won, so I’m coming with this objective. I come to win. I want to win. I think it’s in my DNA that I’m winning trophies. It’s not luck.”

Ibrahimovic hasn’t played since Dec. 26 for Manchester United, which released him from his enormous contract for the move. Yet he returned swiftly after injuring a ligament in his right knee last April, and he said he has been “training very hard” for months.

“I need to play,” Ibrahimovic said. “I’m like a little child that you give candy for the first time, and he’s looking for candy all the time, so that is what I need. I need to play, and I want to play, so I’m hungry to play, because it has gone too long now that I haven’t felt involved in the game.”

Ibrahimovic also showed his motivation in the financial aspects of his move. He isn’t one of the Galaxy’s three designated players, instead taking a two-year deal paid with targeted allocation money – $3 million total, according to numerous reports – to fit into the Galaxy’s payroll structure.

Instead of banking a much fatter check from a European club, Zlatan appears determined to show his abilities in person to millions of new fans on a continent where soccer support has grown steadily for a generation.

Ibrahimovic’s move also should energize the Galaxy, who will mix him into coach Sigi Schmid’s intriguing collection of international talent. While French winger Romain Alessandrini and Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos might not provide the same level of service as Paul Pogba, the Galaxy starters are among the best players in MLS, and Ibrahimovic must learn how to connect with them.

Ibrahimovic also confirmed he hasn’t ruled out a return to the Swedish national team for the World Cup this summer despite retiring from the international game in 2016, saying that “the door will always be open.”

“But I think the main focus now is Galaxy,” Ibrahimovic said. “I settle in. Get to know my new teammates. Get to know the club. Get to know the city. When I feel comfortable there, you take the next step.”

Mexico has to solve 2 major questions before the World Cup

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Eighty-seven days before taking on Germany in its first match of Russia 2018, Mexico appears to have only two major lingering questions for the final 23-man roster that will try to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a tournament away from home. Is veteran defender Rafael Marquez going to be called? And if Giovani Dos Santos’ lackluster performances put his spot in jeopardy?

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said recently that he already knows who are going to join him in the quest to play in the fifth game of a World Cup, something that Mexicans achieved only as hosts in Mexico 1970 and in 1986.

Currently, 20 of the 28 players that were called to play friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia appear to have their ticket booked for Russia, leaving a handful of players fighting for three roster spots.


With over two decades playing for the national team, Marquez might not play in a fifth World Cup for two reasons, the major one off the field.

Each week, the 39-year old Marquez shows signs of his demise. His team Atlas is the worst in the league and has a defense that has allowed 22 goals in 12 matches.

In Mexico there’s a big debate on whether it’s worth calling a player whose best moments are behind him.

Marquez is worshipped in the locker room because most of his teammates grew up watching him when he won the Champions League playing for Barcelona (2005-06 and 2008-09).

Besides that, Osorio has to weigh in that Marquez was sanctioned last August by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly acting as a front person for a Mexican drug lord.

Marquez stopped playing for three months to take care of the issue and returned to action in Mexico but the Treasury has not lifted the sanctions yet and Marquez is unable to play in the United States and that’s why he was not called for the friendly matches.


A 28 year-old player as talented as Giovani Dos Santos should be a lock to be on the final roster for Mexico but that’s not the case. Dos Santos, who played in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, has not performed well for Mexico under Osorio, who loved the player and has given him opportunities to return to form, but that has not happen.

A recent injury left Dos Santos out of the squad that will play against Iceland and Croatia and that opened the doors for Rodolfo Pizarro, who has been playing great for Chivas and has a good chance of taking the spot if the L.A. Galaxy striker continues with his lackluster performance.


Taking the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup as a reference, Osorio pretty much has his roster set for the World Cup. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona will be two of the goalkeepers and Alfredo Talavera is probably the third. The defenders Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo are also favorites of the Colombian manager, as well as the midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino. On the attack, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jim�nez, Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela appear to have their spots secured leaving only three spaces.

Fighting for that chance are: Hugo Ayala, who’s been stellar for a Tigres team that has won two of the last three titles in Mexico; Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), who played in last year’s Confederations Cup and Edson Alvarez (America), who’s not playing much for his club but Osorio loves his style of play and the fact that he can also play as a midfielder.

Midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez is also on the mix after declining to play for the U.S. and Omar Govea, who plays for Royal Excel in the Belgium league, has gathered interest from Osorio.

All five players will have a chance to present their cases in the upcoming friendly matches.