Guatemala v United States - World Cup Qualifier

Seattle Sounders Eddie Johnson an “old man” at 28

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TUCSON, Ariz. – I had a few minutes to chat with Eddie Johnson yesterday at the Kino Sports Complex, where the ongoing Desert Diamond Cup approaches its second day of matches Saturday.

We had a good chat about U.S. national team matters and about his place with the Seattle Sounders. Remember, at this time last year the man’s career was seriously on the skids; we might have all reasonably concluded that Johnson’s time as a pro was kaput before that profound career resurrection in Seattle. We talked about some times back in the day; I first covered Johnson when he was 17 years old, the youngest every to score in MLS at the time.

As we chatted, Johnson kept saying things like “at my age” and “as an older player.” Meanwhile I’m thinking, “He’s 28!”

So I teased him about being an “old man” and how I was older than 28 when I first got to know him. (If I was already an old man then, and he’s an old man now … I don’t want to think about what that makes me today!)

But then I thought about it a second. Johnson (his MLS career stats are here) scored his first goal in 2001. If we started looking around for MLS men still passing and trapping who scored pre 9/11 goals, it’s going to be a mighty short list.

Johnson is entering his 13th professional season. His career has now wandered through four countries. (Five if you include last year’s failed trial in Mexico.) The guy does have a lot of wear on the tires. So many talented players cannot squeeze 12 or more years from their professional career.

So as he talks about his goals for 2013, there’s a healthy base of knowledge helping to create those targets.

Johnson stopped short of saying he would score 20 goals this year – which is a pretty shrewd way to say it. He wants 20 goals, and he truly appreciates how much faith Sigi Schmid and the Sounders have placed in him by loaning out Fredy Montero, entrusting that Johnson, a young strike partner and that stacked-and-packed Sounders midfield can provide goals in ample supply.

“I just want to do better than I did last year. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to score 20 goals,” Johnson said. “I feel like, with the players around me, the environment I’m in week-in and week-out, and most importantly staying healthy … I think 20 goals is doable. But it’s not going to be easy.”

Johnson went on to talk about an ever-improving league, about how different clubs approach matches and how that all ties into the difficulty of scoring 20 goals over a season.

All the marks of a man who has seen a lot over his long career.

England’s Mark Sampson on growth of women’s soccer, NWSL

Mark Sampson
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Head coach of England women’s national team Mark Sampson is a man who has had his life transformed over the past six months.

[ MORE: English women inspire a nation ]

Since England finished third at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada — the Three Lionesses had failed to win a single knockout game before their exploits in Canada — Sampson, 32, and his team have been at the fore of the women’s game getting increased exposure and attendances in England.

[ MORE: Klopp dazzles on Liverpool unveiling ]

With that in mind, ProSoccerTalk caught up with Sampson to discuss his appearance at the Balanced Business Forum (BBF) in London next week, which promotes gender balance in the business world.

Plus, we also spoke to him about what the reaction has been like in England since returning from the World Cup and his plans for his own team, and his own coaching pathway, for the future.

Q: Mark, what is it about the BBF which made you so interested in speaking and getting involved?

A: I have  been fortunate enough to work in women’s football for a number of years now and at a number of levels as well and be around some elite people on and off the field, whether that be on the pitch or away from the pitch in the boardroom. I am very passionate about women’s sport and women in business. It is a great opportunity to share my experiences, particularly over the course of the summer, where I worked with a group of women who were successful and achieved something very special. It is a unique opportunity to share those experiences.

You have seen up close the positive impact of women playing soccer at the elite level. How important is it to develop those qualities in young women?

Certainly within women’s football we have seen a huge leap in recent years in not only the quality of play on the field but the change in the dynamic in the game as a whole. We are seeing more people watching domestic football, more people supporting the international team, we are seeing more clubs move towards a more professional model, which is creating positions not only for women on the field but off the field. I think women’s football at the moment is seen as a leading light not only in women’s sport but promoting in high positions.

How does all of this slot into your long-term and short-term goals with the English national team?

From our point of view we are obviously keen to promote the team and the game. We still have a lot of work to do at growing the game, whether that be at grassroots level, domestic level or international level. We are not where we want to be at yet. We want to make sure we continue to grow and these kind of opportunities are great for us to share our experiences, share our journeys and make sure that we are continually promoting good practice in women’s sport. The FA are certainly very strong around supporting women’s coaches, grassroots development, women in the boardroom and these are great opportunities to share those experiences and push that message even further.

After being involved at Swansea City and other clubs in the men’s game, what it the biggest differences you’ve seen between men’s and women’s soccer over the years?

The most important thing to mention, always, is that football is football. The great thing is that the women’s game now is getting the respect from people outside of it that maybe it didn’t have in previous years. Certainly there is a long way to go to move it closer to the men’s game but there is far more acceptance now from the men’s game. As a sport and it has got its own identity and people support it. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, they are football clubs who have really got behind and jumped on the bandwagon of women’s football and have started to develop really strong models at club level, hence we are seeing better players, better programs and more bums on seats at grounds. That is probably the way for us to go, moving forward, to really connect with the men’s game and ensure women’s football is visible within their clubs.

Since the World Cup, the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) in England has seen attendances rising, is that a big plus for you?

Absolutely. We are really working hard at ground level to push attendances and grow the game and to see it transpire at club matches and international matches is just a pat on the back really, for all the hard work that is going on. There has been hard work going on for many years, many years before I started working in the women’s football and here people haven’t got the rewards they deserve for the work that has been put in but now the rewards are there for everybody to see and the challenge is to continue to grow these partnerships and move the game forward. I still think we have a long way to go but this is a huge opportunity to keeping growing this game.

Can you sum up the reaction and incredible interest levels in the England women’s national team? What has that been like since you returned home after the successful summer?

The best way to describe it is, it is a different world. Jumping straight back off the plane we’ve had far more media interest, many more spectators at grounds, the girls are getting recognized in the street and people are genuinely supporting the team and excited about where this team is going. It has been great because people have been grafting away behind-the-scenes for years with the training, matches and hard work, and now to get to the point where they are being recognized for that, it is a real special time. It has given me even more motivation to keep that going and push it even further.

Despite defeat to Japan, England's women have inspired a nation this summer.
Despite defeat to Japan in World Cup semis, England’s women have inspired a nation.

What is the next step for this team? You have a friendly tournament in China next month and then EURO 2017 which you are qualifying for right now. Surely you will be one of the favorites to win EURO 2017? 

As a nation like England whether that be in men’s or women’s football, you are always going to be one of the favorites for a major championship. That pressure is always going to be there. This team has been great at managing that pressure and seeing it as an opportunity and pushing it. There is a big challenge for us. We have got to always think about the big picture on this one. If we want to be winning these major championships, the World Cups and European Championships, then we have to consistently perform. To do that we need to play the best teams on a regular basis and win matches. A lot of time in international football people think you can turn up at a major tournament and turn it on for two months and go home with a trophy, but the reality of it is you need to be the best team, consistently, going into those tournaments and that has got to be our challenge in the next two to four years. Make sure we are winning football matches, growing our program and growing the game so that when we turn up at major championships, people look at England as a genuine contender.

Looking over at the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the USA, what do you make of the progress they have made?

Since it has come back into the fore, it has been really important. The U.S. are a leading nation of the women’s game and when the previous pro league fell by the wayside I always felt it was important for the women’s game as a whole that America were delivering a professional league. It is great to see the crowds and the quality of the football in America, in terms of how that relates to us, we are different. The culture in England is very different to America and we have got to work out how we are going to be competitive and sometimes the best way to find a competitive edge is to find something new and do something different. We are certainly going to look at what is going on in America, learn lessons of the good and the bad and make sure we find something that works well for our team and our country about growing the game. We have certainly got to give huge credit to the States and not only the work the national team and Jill is doing but domestically. The way they’ve grown the game and their fanbase, every nation is saying that we need to find a way of doing something like this.

You are obviously focused on your job with England right now, but I wanted to ask you about your own future. There are British coaches over in the NWSL, some of your players are over there too. If an opportunity arose in the NWSL or the U.S. in the future, would you consider it? 

Every coach is always going to say they are fully focused on their current job and I am certainly no different to that. In the future there will be some new challenges and I would never say no to anything, and certainly the way the women’s game is growing, and not just for me but every coach, there are going to be more opportunities to go and work at professional football clubs with some great players and some big clubs with big crowds. For any coach that has always got to be the motivation. Can you work at the highest possible level and test yourself?

Finally, in your home country of Wales right now there is euphoria around Gareth Bale and Wales on the brink of sealing qualification to the EURO 2016 championships. How big of a moment is this for soccer in Wales?

Saturday is a huge sporting day for the entire nation in general. We have a huge game against Australia in the Rugby World Cup, followed by an even bigger game for the Welsh national team away at Bosnia in our European Championship campaign. Certainly, Welsh sport at the moment is on a real high and it would be great to see the national team qualify for a major championship. I worked with Gareth Bale as a young kid and he is doing amazing things for himself and for the game in Wales. The staff behind-the-scenes there have worked so hard for so many years to really push the game and develop that team and everyone is really confident now that they will get their reward. It would be awesome for the country to be at a major championship.

PST’s writers predict the USA vs. Mexico score

United States v Mexico - International Friendly
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This is it. Don’t get scared now.

On Saturday the U.S. national team take on Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, as the bitter rivals square off to decide who will be going to the 2017 Confederations Cup.

[ FULL PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico ]

The time for talking is over. Whoever wins the one-off game in California will be heading to Russia a year before the 2018 World Cup to represent the CONCACAF region.

Click on the link above for a comprehensive preview of everything you need to know heading into Saturday’s massive game, while below all five of our writers predict the score and how the game will pan out.

[ MORE: Bedoya out for USA ]

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.

Joe Prince-Wright

USA 2-2 Mexico (USA win on penalty kicks)

For some reason, I think this is going to PKs. Expect a fast, frenetic opening and if the U.S. can keep things level at the break then I think they have a great chance. I see a dramatic evening playing out in this dramatic rivalry. U.S. win. just.

Nicholas Mendola

USA 3-2 Mexico

After the game, one in which Fabian Johnson serves the game winner to Clint Dempsey, Klinsmann runs shirtless across the field with “Benny who?” painted on his chest. On the back, he’s painted, “I’m kidding, America. Benny is a wonderful midfielder and a blessing to our shores.”

Kyle Bonn

USA 0-2 Mexico

The U.S. limped its way through the Gold Cup and still doesn’t have any idea what its best 11 is. Mexico takes this one despite turmoil at the top. (Also the team I pick usually doesn’t win, so I’m all in with the reverse jinx)

Andy Edwards

USA 1-2 Mexico

Too much possession conceded to Mexico, too much pressure on the USMNT defense… just like the Gold Cup, except against even better opposition.

Kyle Lynch

USA 1-2 Mexico

The United States takes an early lead, but Mexico fights back and wins it all in Jurgen Klinsmann’s final game as USMNT manager.