Looking at the lesser known USWNT’ers called into Tom Sermanni’s first camp

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Yesterday’s news was supposed to be about Tom Sermanni’s first callups, but when the U.S. Women’s National Team selections were announced mid-day, Tobin Heath’s move to Paris Saint-Germain swiped the headlines. Beyond that blockbuster, there are a number of subtle story lines within Sermanni selection, plots woven from the predictability that defined Pia Sundhage’s approach.

There was never any drama with the U.S.’s previous coach. Renown for her loyalty, Sundhage’s selections were so predictable that they’d be overlooked. Perhaps one or two new names would dot each team, but there’d rarely be any surprises. Even as Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux were assimilated into the team, the methodical nature of the process drained the intrigue. There was never an Eddie Johnson, where did this come from Jurgen moment. Every Sundhage callup was always (looking at the list) “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh … Yep.”

Not that a coach should try to create drama. On the contrary, many see Sundhage’s reluctance to rock the boat as a key to the team’s recent success; however, that reluctance meant a number of good players may not have gotten chances other coaches would have provided.

Sermanni’s first team features a few of those names, though those inclusions are mostly because of the size of the call-in. To bring 29 players in for a look, you have to pick a few new faces.

Let’s go ahead and count down the surprises from 10-to-1 in terms of … let’s call it “intrigue.” We start with someone who’s no surprise at all (but deserves a mention):

10. Ali Krieger, D, Washington Spirit – Krieger is not a new name (she’s one of the best right backs in the world), but this is her first camp since tearing up her knee in Olympic qualifying. A strong following of devoted fans will be happy to see the former Frankfurt star back in action. She’s an obvious pick as Sermanni’s starting right back.

9. Whitney Engen, D, Liverpool – Engen’s signing in Liverpool earned some press, and despite the creation of the new NWSL, the former North Carolina standout plans to stay in England. She was one of the victims of Sundhage’s predictability. Despite strong play at both collegiate and WPS levels, Engen rarely got a look under the previous coach.

8. Ashlyn Harris, G, Duisburg/Washington Spirit – Harris has never been capped but has the talent to be a regular in the team. Under a new regime, players like Harris may be able to win coveted spots, like the place behind Hope Solo. She’ll join the Spirit once her German commitments end, with player and agent hoping to negotiate and early departure (her contract runs through May).

7. Kristie Mewis, M, FC Kansas City – The number three pick in last Friday’s College Draft, the former Boston College star represents a possibility for a thinning midfield. Not yet 22, Mewis can also slide farther up the field to play as an outright forward.

6. Crystal Dunn, D, North Carolina – The MAC Herman Trophy winner helped the Tar Heels reclaim their national title. Still 20 years old, Dunn has played in the middle at U-levels but projects as a wide option for the senior team.

5. Julie Johnston, D, Santa Clara – Like Dunn, a collegiate star who Sermanni will get a chance to evaluate in person. Johnston is also a potential solution for the once-precarious fullback situation.

4. Jane Campbell, G, Concorde Fire South – The high school senior is the biggest surprise on the team, passing over a number overseas and NWSL names that justified this selection. This could be Sermanni just wanting a first-hand look at a prominent prospect, but Campbell could have also gone to the concurrent U-20 camp. Players like Turbine Potsdam’s Alyssa Naeher or Western New York Adrianna Franch should have gotten this spot.

3. Yael Averbuch, D, Göteberg (Sweden) – Averbuch was not only hurt by Sundhage’s loyalty to the regular squad members but left out by system that didn’t use a real defensive midfielder. One of a handful of national team hopefuls who passed on the NWSL, Averbuch’s club performances hint she’s reaching the peak of her career.

2. Keelin Winters, M, Chicago Red Stars – Winters recent success at Turbine Potsdam makes her a key part of the new Chicago team. Capable of playing a defensive midfield as well as a box-to-box role, Winters has the versatility to be a good bench option for the national team.

1. Christen Press, F, Tyresö FF (Sweden) – Perhaps the most exciting callup, Press is a former MAC Herman Trophy winner spent last season in Sweden, where she elected to stay rather than joining the NWSL. He 17 goals in last year’s Damallsvensken were second only to German star Anja Mittag’s 21. With a slew of talents in front of her at forward, it will be difficult to crack the squad for a real game. But at least now Press is getting the chance.

Here’s Sermanni’s full call-in, courtesy of U.S. Soccer:

U.S. Women’s National Team Training Camp Roster by Position

GOALKEEPERS (5): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Jane Campbell (Concorde Fire South), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (9): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool FC), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Heather Mitts (Boston Breakers), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Yael Averbuch (Göteborg FC), Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lori Lindsey (Washington Spirit), Carli Lloyd (Western NY Flash), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), Keelin Winters (Chicago Red Stars)

FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö FF), Amy Rodriguez (Seattle Reign FC), Abby Wambach (Western NY Flash)

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.