Assessing the aftermath of Christen Press’s bombshell debut

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How do you steal the show from names like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach? If you’re Christen Press, you do what you’ve always done – what you’re getting better at seemingly every game. You score goals.

The Stanford alum did that on Saturday, marking her senior national team debut with two goals in the first 32 minutes of the U.S.’s 4-1 victory over Scotland. In the process, Press vindicated everybody who called for the 2010 MAC Herman (soccer Heisman) winner to have a bigger part in the national team. Under Pia Sundhage, that never happened, but in the first game of the Tom Sermanni era, Press got the call.

That she started at right midfield underscored the problems Press has faced. She may be accomplished, and with 17 goals last year in Sweden, she may be prolific. But the United States has Alex Morgan. They have Abby Wambach. They have Sydney Leroux and they have Lauren Cheney. The line at forward is long and entrenched.

But with Megan Rapinoe a late arrival from Lyon, there was an opening at right midfield, a spot that would have usually gone to Heather O’Reilly. Yet in the first eye-opening decision of the Tom Sermanni era, the uncapped, overlooked forward from Tyreso got a start wide. The result: Two goals in the first 32 minutes and message sent. Press is ready for senior team duty.

As you’d expect from anybody playing out of position, it wasn’t a perfect night. Press failed to create opportunities when matched one-on-one with Scotland’s left back, and her first four crosses failed to connect. She clearly is not a right winger at this point in her career, but she also pretty clearly deserves to be in the team. At some point, her overall ability has to win out.

Press’s stellar performance raises two interesting and potentially sensitive issues:

First, it would be safe to assume Press didn’t become good overnight. Tom Sermanni may prove to be a miracle-worker, but for now, it’s much more reasonable to assume Press has been very good for some time and is only now getting a look. In two professional seasons since leaving Stanford (between WPS and Sweden), she has 25 goals in 40 games. Why is this the first we’ve seen of her in the red, white and blue?

We know why. Continuity was a strength of Pia Sundhage’s teams, but it was a weakness for the larger program. Even Ali Krieger, one of the best full backs in the world, had trouble breaking into the team before performance and fitness issues forced Sundhage’s hand on Heather Mitts. Without a doubt, Sundhage’s ability to maintain a delicate U.S. Women’s National Team ecosystem helped the team win gold in London, but it also meant players like Press were neglected.

What other players could help, if they were given a chance? Yael Averbuch showed a flash on Saturday. What about Kristie Mewis as a more advanced option in midfield? Is Julie Johnston ready to be a senior team regular? Maybe somebody like Becky Sauerbrunn could benefit from being looked at with new eyes.

Christen Press was the big winner on Saturday, but her immediate impact could open doors for others. It could also spur new competition for spots that were previously off limits.

Second, Press seems like a better player now than she was when she left for Europe. I say “seems” because one game is not enough to know for sure; however, it would make sense that a top player has improved between ages 23 and 24.

What also makes sense is seeing a young player improve with steady reps against top competition. The moment-to-moment technical quality we saw from Press on Saturday was striking. That’s the kind of game you develop when your talent meets the regular training, games, and expectations of higher level club soccer. You don’t get that in college, and Press didn’t quite get the in a final WPS season played in the wake of a World Cup. The only way you learn to constantly be “on” is to be around a bunch of players who can take advantage of when you’re “off.”

It’s still unclear whether the National Women’s Soccer League will meet that standard. But Press is in Sweden. So are Yael Averbuch and midfielder Meghan Klingenberg. Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe are in France, where U-20 prospect Lindsay Horan is based. Sarah Hagen is in Germany.

Will the NWSL be able to provide the same opportunities that France, Germany and Sweden give players like Press? It better hope so, because with so many U.S. internationals playing domestically, the program can’t afford a league that’s not fully developing players. If part of Press’s improvement can be attributed to the Damallsvenskan’s virtues, you can be sure the U.S.’s closest competitors are also reaping the benefits.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.