Germany v United States

One more: Tobin Heath headed for Paris Saint-Germain

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If Megan Rapinoe’s blazing a new trail with her exploits in Lyon, it looks like one of her teammates will be right behind her. Attacking midfielder Tobin Heath appears to be following in her fresh footsteps, having signed a contract with emerging Division Feminine club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Her six-month deal will mirror Rapinoe’s with Lyon, with both stars set to miss the start of the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season.

Sources within the league confirmed the signing, news that originally leaked after U.S. Soccer posted a roster for the impending national team camp detailing Heath’s new affiliation. Her official team has since been corrected to reflect her place with Portland Thorns FC; however, the announcement still says the former University of North Carolina star’s time in Tom Sermanni’s first camp will be cut short by her commitments in Paris.

Sources within the NWSL have confirmed Heath’s contract will run until June. Rapinoe signed a similar deal with Lyon.

Heath was recently allocated to Thorns FC along with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair in what most considered the league’s most favorable allocation; however, with Heath set to miss the beginning of the season, head coach Cindy Parlow Cone must now find somebody capable of making the connection to Morgan and Sinclair.

Sources also confirm the league was aware of Heath’s possible move at the time of allocation, a fact that could explain why the league was willing to add the midfielder to a talented Thorns roster.

Love of the game

Though Rapinoe and Heath are not the first U.S. players to see time in France (Hope Solo spent time with Lyon in 2005), it’s no coincidence they are the two most prominent members of the current national team to take advantage of new opportunities in Europe. Ali Krieger was already there (Germany), as were borderline national teamers Ashlyn Harris (Germany) and Meghan Klingenberg (Sweden), but Rapinoe and Heath are the first from this summer’s Olympic team to make this leap.

The commonality between the two is their love of the game. Both Rapinoe and Heath have a reputation for being insatiable soccer players, and while Heath’s health (during her WPS days) and national team commitments have left her with a playing record not dissimilar to other her age, Rapinoe had spent time in Australia in addition to a brief stint with the Seattle Sounders Women.

With the NWSL season still at least two-and-a-half months away (no official schedule’s been released), it’s not shocking that two players who can’t get enough of the game will spend their winter in France. That each will cash in on France’s escalating arms race make the moves financially and competitively attractive.

source: APHeath was the one

There are a series of national team players entering crucial points in their development. If players like Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux don’t find opportunities to test themselves more consistently against top competition, they could risk a relative stagnation. At the rate at which the women’s international game is improving, it’s no longer good enough to stay home and develop through national team tours and W-League summers. It’s unclear the NWSL will solve this problem.

Teams like Germany and France see their players near-constantly playing against top competition. The Frauen-Bundesliga and Division Feminine are among the best leagues in the world, each competition placing its best talents in a quickly improving UEFA Champions League. With the margin for error for the U.S. Women’s National Team smaller than ever, it’s unclear whether its stars can afford to miss out on opportunities to play for clubs like Lyon, PSG or the various teams in Germany.

Heath is the player with the most to gain from time abroad. She’s the U.S.’s most technically gifted player, but because of injuries incurred after leaving North Carolina in 2010, she’s never played consistently at club-level. In addition, her role as a creative presence in midfield is the type that would be consistently tested against the tactics and talents of the European game. It’s more than just a striker trying to beat better defenders.

At a very important point in her development, opportunities like PSGs will only help Heath realize her potential: That of a game-defining playmaker on the international level. Other players have that potential but fall short, but with this move, Heath is giving herself the best chance to succeed.

French pursuit

Lyon has the most talented squad in women’s soccer, but getting into the U.S. market is key for them. Club president Jean-Michel Aulus admitted as much when Lyonnais announced Rapinoe’s capture, and with rumors that representatives have also reached out to Alex Morgan, it wouldn’t be a shock if Rapinoe’s capture is the tip of the iceberg for a team looking to raise an already high bar.

PSG’s Heath signing is the same. The Parisian club signed a six-figure deal last year for Colorado teenager Lindsey Horan — a declaration of the emerging club’s financial intent — but trying to track down Lyonnais’ juggernaut, high school prospects are not enough. Playing in the wake of Lyon, PSG needed more talent.

With the Heath signing, the Parisians have made another foray into the U.S. market, one which will help them secure the second place (Champions League) spot they currently hold in France.

And just as with Rapinoe, there’s always the possibility this deal leads to something more. The core of the U.S. Women’s National Team is committed to helping the NWSL launch, but there’s nothing to say players like Heath and Rapinoe won’t finish the NWSL season in August before signing up for another stint abroad. The experience and money are hard to turn down.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

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The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

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Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016