Celebration cruise continues for U.S. Women with win over China

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Two things came back to the forefront in the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2-0, Saturday victory over China: the team’s level of competition and their tendency to start slow in these home “series”.

Those qualities were missing from the team’s performance last Wendnesday against Ireland, the U.S. beating Ireland 5-0 in the first of a two-game set. Last Saturday in Glendale, the U.S. followed that performance with a 2-0 victory at Phoenix Stadium.

Yesterday, it took a half for the States to warm up, but with Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath coming off the bench, the U.S. found their stride in the second half. Both registered assists on goals from Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux, the 2-0 final giving the team a comfortable win.

MORE: Assist puts Morgan in elite group

The final score was closer than expected against a team that’s failed to have a part in the last two major competitions, but playing their 30th game of the season, it’s understandable that the team’s exhibiting a lack of urgency. The Fan Celebration Tour’s in its eighth of ten matches, and although a crowd of 17,321 at Ford Field took in the show, the match still had an exhibition’s air to it.

China, though they have slid in recent years, is still a pronounced upgrade from Ireland. The Irish are ranked 34th in the world and are a step away from being competitive to qualify for major tournaments. Although the Chinese have did not qualify for the last World Cup (or this summer Olympics), that’s as much a testament to Asia’s depth as China’s quality.

Beyond the step up in competition, the match was noteworthy for two reasons. Amy Rodriguez, taking Morgan’s place in the starting lineup, got her 100th career cap, becoming the 28th player in national team history to reach the mark. She wore the armband before coming off for Heath in the 48th minute.

MORE: Rodriguez talks about her milestone night

This was also the first match of new coach Tom Sermanni’s three-match evaluation period. He’ll formerly inherit the team next month, and if there’s anything to loosely interpret from how the team used their fullbacks (starting Amy LePeilbet and Kelley O’Hara, bringing on Heather Mitts and Becky Sauerbrunn), the evaluations may start at the back.

Next up, the U.S. and China hit BBVA Compass Stadium Wednesday night for a game that’s expected to draw a crowd. With one game in Florida to follow, the U.S. is finally approaching the end of their long season.

Post-match reactions:

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

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The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.