What we learned from the U.S.’s win over Scotland

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If you’re not an international women’s soccer expert and need a quick and dirty way to assess U.S. competition, watch the midfield. No team capable of winning major titles gives the States’ midfielders time on the ball. When Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx go up against Japan, Germany, and France, they have to make quick decisions to get the ball out of their feet or they’re going to give it up.

Against Scotland, the U.S.’s central midfielders had all the time they wanted. Trap, look, pass. Maybe take an extra touch. That was the first 30 minutes of their night. Scotland was much more interested in keeping the play in front of them than breaking their lines, even if that meant the supply line to the U.S.’s dangerous wide options went unchallenged.

Carli Lloyd would venture forward, Shannon Boxx would put in some challenges, but for the most part, the U.S.’s midfield duo just knocked the ball between the flanks, tried to maintain passing lanes for the attackers, and never had to worry about their Scottish counterparts. It was too easy.

That’s what life was like during the U.S.’s 4-1 win Saturday in Jacksonville, a game that broke at a canter and never reached a gallop. The U.S. were up two by the 32nd minute, added a third through Shannon Boxx in the second, and cruised through the final half hour. Aside from some Scottish frustrations over the last half hour, a trademark late goal from Sydney Leroux was the only thing to write home about.

For head coach Tom Sermanni, it was a comfortable opening to his national team  career. If comfort was the primary goal, then mission accomplished, though as we were reminded during most of the U.S.’s just completed gold medal celebration tour, there’s very little to learn from these types of matches. If the competition is so low that the opposition can’t even periodically mimic situations you’d face against even the Australia, Italy, and Norways of the world (teams that are not going to compete for big trophies anytime soon), these are little more than public appearances.

There were, however, a few interesting tidbits (and one huge morsel) Sermanni could glean from Saturday’s friendly:

source: Getty ImagesPressheads, rejoice – Among hardcore women’s national team fans, the “Pressheads” are the fans who have pined for Stanford alum Christen Press’s national team inclusion. Ever since the attacker won the MAC Herman Trophy in 2010, Pressheads have insisted she’d be a factor, but because of Pia Sundhage’s loyalties, players like Press where left out.

In his first game, Sermanni proved so eager to get Press into the team he played the 24-year-old out of position. The outcome of the Christen Press, right midfielder experiment? Two goals in the Tyreso forward’s debut. A 18-yard blast from the top of the box opened the scoring in the 13th minute, while her header from a Tobin Heath cross just past the 30-minute mark completed her double.

Out-leaping her mark that the right post to score he second international goal, Press became the third player in national team history to record a double in her debut. Pressheads, rejoice.

She may not have been a regular under Sundhage, but under Sermanni, Press is definitely on her way. Her debut was so impressive, we’ll have more on it later tonight.

Was that Kelley O’Hara?  – We all know O’Hara, another Stanford alum, is a very good player. We just don’t know if she’ll be an elite left back. A dearth of full back options led Sundhage to convert the former attacker in 2011. For better or worst, Sermanni’s elected to persist with the experiment.

On Saturday, we saw why. Her eagerness took her out of position at times, but that’s something you can live with at left back, especially when that energy proves so dangerous going forward. The best example led to a goal, her aggressive 32nd minute run freeing up Tobin Heath to put in a perfect cross from Press’s second.

For years the U.S. has talked about full backs that can get forward, but O’Hara finally provided that on Saturday. And provided it in a way that was more than a tip of the hat, idealistic, but ultimately empty tactical ambition. With her and Heath reading each other perfectly, building down the left flank became the team’s most dangerous option.

source: Getty ImagesAli Krieger’s back – The U.S.’s other fullback did her share of attacking, too, though the big news surrounding Ali Krieger was her mere presence in the team. This time last year, Krieger’s Olympic dream was shattered by a knee injury suffered in CONCACAF qualifying. Now, she’s back. And she looks as good as ever.

Krieger had already returned to club soccer in Germany, but she wasn’t included in the team’s celebration tour. Ready to reclaime her first choice spot, Krieger’s instincts as a natural right back showed obvious benefits. Multiple times during the first half, she was able to get forward and offer Press support on the right flank, twice putting shots toward goal.

She may not be the type of all-out wide runner O’Hara teased us with tonight, but she she can definitely get forward. And she was the best right back at the 2011 World Cup. Her recall is a welcome addition.

Dead ball specialist? – For a team that wins a lot of fouls, the U.S. doesn’t have much of a dead ball threat on goal. There’s Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath, but unless they’re within a few yards of the penalty box, you know they’re going to target Abby Wambach. It’s predictable, rarely fruitful, and ultimately a waste of chances.

Enter Yael Averbuch, a 26-year-old Goteborg midfielder who has slowly been squeezed out of the team over the last three years. But new coach, new life, and Averbuch almost took advantage of it late in the game, blasting a 30-plus yard restart off the Scottish woodwork.

Welcome back, Yael Averbuch. That will give you something to talk about in the next #wsoccerchat.

Wambach was off – Most of the team looked sharp. Sure there was a wobble from Christie Rampone, and Becky Sauerbrunn’s failed clearance led to the only goal, but most of the team looked in shape, alert, moved well an looked comfortable on the ball.

Not Abby Wambach. Saturday was one of the rougher games we’ve seen in a while from the FIFA Player of the Year. She missed two sitters, had multiple brow-furrowing giveaways, and failed to match her teammates’ sharpness. She did well in the air, knocking down passes for Alex Morgan and Press. But that was about it.

Just a rare bad night.

Wait for news on Morgan – Alex Morgan locked ankles with a Scotland midfielder and had to leave just before halftime. Helped off the field by medical staff, the new Portland Thorn was unable to put any weight on her left leg. While the team could have just been practicing caution, the injury didn’t look good. She didn’t even try to put any pressure on it.

No diagnosis was announced during Saturday’s broadcast, so keep your ears open for what U.S. Soccer has to say about their striker’s prognosis.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.