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.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.