Arsenal manager, Laura Harvey celebrates with the trophy after the FA WSL Continental Cup Final match between Arsenal Ladies FC and Birmingham City Ladies FC at Underhill Stadium on October 10, 2012 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Seattle Reign’s gone and made a pretty impressive coaching hire

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Congratulations to Seattle Reign F.C.

One of the new teams in the National Women’s Soccer League (set to begin play in Spring 2013) named their first head coach today, a decidedly creative and outside-the-box choice.

That “box” would have had owner Bill Predmore and general manager Amy Carnell troll connections to the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer, fishing through their contact books and leaning on old friends to find the best options with domestic experience. Or perhaps they could have looked to the NCAA ranks, as Portland Thorns F.C. did, and identify a promising prospect. If they could find a Cindy Parlow Cone, more power to them, but U.S. National Team legends aren’t exactly dotting the coaching landscape right now. (Exception?)

Instead, Seattle looked abroad, looked at teams that have had success in other places, and ID’d 32-year-old Laura Harvey, head coach of English superpower Arsenal for the past two-plus seasons. In that time she won a couple of Women’s Super League titles and, perhaps most impressively, got the team over a bit of a Champions League hump early last month, knocking German power Turbine Potsdam out at the Round of 16.

No doubt, Harvey had incredibly talented teams. Kelley Smith is the women’s game’s answer to Juan Roman Riquelme. Alex Scott is Ashley Cole. Kate Chapman, Steph Houghton, Rachel Yankey are all established England internationals, and impressive youngsters Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, Jennifer Beattie and Gilly Flaherty meant Harvey had better than a mere complementary cast. The team was freakin’ loaded. There’s little doubt Arsenal should go through Women’s Super League seasons undefeated (as they did in 2012), even if that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment.

It could, however, engender doubts about Harvey’s qualifications, but given the NWSL has never played a game, there are doubts about every coach’s ability to adapt to the new league. Just as we see structural issues affect management in MLS, NWSL is set to offer a series of distinct challenges. For example, Harvey probably won’t be able to lure the Smiths and Scotts back to North America. There’s no money for them.

At the same time, those early November Turbine Potsdam results are incredibly impressive. Six goals (four on the road) against a German team in Champions League speaks to some coaching quality, be it tactical, in preparation, or in motivation. And considering Arsenal had been badly eliminated from the previous Champions League by FFC Frankfurt (4-1 in the semifinals), the result showed progress, even if Turbine weren’t as strong as they’d been in past seasons.

Progress is a good thing to see in a coaching candidate. So are results. So is the ability to manage talent, but perhaps most importantly, so is competing at the highest levels. UEFA’s Women’s Champions League is the highest level in the women’s club game, and for the Reign to look to England and that competition to fill their coaching vacancy showed some serious imagination.

Great start, Seattle.

WATCH: Walcott compares Wenger speech to Pacino

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What if Tony D’Amato of American football was Antoine Dumond of the world’s game?

Theo Walcott says Arsene Wenger inspired him to make that comparison after a recent pregame speech, a fiery number that convinced the Arsenal attacker how badly his manager wanted to win the Premier League.

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Speaking to Arsenal TV for a series of questions on former and current teammates — and Wenger — Walcott shared a pretty funny tidbit:

“The manager did a speech the other day. I won’t be able to do the speech because it was that good.”

“It genuinely reminded me of the film ‘Any Given Sunday’. I actually said that to him, and I was little bit embarrassed.’ You remind me of that film, that speech,’ I didn’t know if he had seen the film.

“Just showing the passion and how hard, and how long it’s been as well. He really wants it, like all of his players.”

Here’s the thing, though: Walcott doesn’t give us the answer as to whether Wenger has seen “Any Given Sunday”. And how about you, Theo, do you see yourself in Willie Beamon or Cap Rooney?

CAS rejects Serbia’s challenge to Kosovo joining UEFA

Supporters of Kosovo's national soccer team raise Kosovo flag during their international friendly soccer match at Adem Jashari Stadium in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kosovo host Turkey for their second friendly match of the country's national football team. Turkey won the match 6-1. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Serbian soccer federation’s appeal against Kosovo joining UEFA has been rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The court ruled that Kosovo met the standard of UEFA entry rules because it is “recognized by the majority of the United Nations member states as an `independent state.”‘

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Serbia argued that Kosovo, which joined European soccer’s governing body last May despite not being a U.N. member, should be blocked.

CAS decided that because “there is no formal recognition of countries by the U.N.,” then acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood by most countries was valid for the soccer application.

European soccer federations voted 28-24 in favor of Kosovo’s entry to UEFA after Serbia led opposition to its former province.

Serbia and its allies, including Russia, have not recognized Kosovo since the Balkan republic declared independence in 2008.

UEFA’s decision led to Kosovo joining FIFA one week later, and being fast-tracked into a 2018 World Cup qualifying group.

Still, Ukraine hosted Kosovo in neutral Poland in October, because its government also does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”