Abby Wambach scores career goal No. 154 as United States down Iceland

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What once looked unbreakable now looks inevitable, especially after Abby Wambach put home the final goal in the U.S.’s win over Iceland. Sealing her team’s 3-0 victory to open this year’s Algarve Cup, Wambach moved within four of Mia Hamm’s all-time goal scoring mark, recording the 154th goal of her career.

But Wambach’s achievement wasn’t the day’s only noteworthy milestone. In truth, it wasn’t a milestone at all, though it did overshadow Rachel Buehler’s 100th career cap. The 27-year-old central defender wore the captain’s armband in honor of the occasion and scored the team’s opening goal.

When somebody’s chasing a record as prodigious as Hamm’s, you would expect it to take center stage. When Hamm retired nine years ago, the mark looked out of reach – like Hank Aaron’s home run record or Bob Beamon’s jump in Mexico City. But Wambach’s pursuit has reminded us of our naivete. Of course, no sports record is out of reach. After all, somebody’s been done before.

There is still a strange air about this chase. Perhaps it’s because of Hamm’s transcendant stature, something few soccer stars could hope to achieve. Maybe it’s because the mark’s being threatened while the team’s half-way across the world in a competition that’s barely being televised in the States. Or perhaps it’s how the pursuit’s being packaged, with hashtag promotion and social media taking the place of more traditional dialog. That might change as Wambach moves closer to the mark.

Even these early stages of the chase’s coverage are enough to overshadow Buehler’s milestone, as well as the team’s performance.

Though it was a relatively easy victory, the States went into halftime scoreless. That quickly changed, with Buehler’s 48th minute goal putting the U.S. in front. Shannon Boxx followed in the 62nd minute before Wambach finished the scoring. Slow start or not, the final was as expected.

(MORE: Highlights of today’s USWNT-Iceland match)

The U.S. outshot Iceland 18-to-4 and only allowed one shot to reach Jill Loyden’s hands. They tested Iceland keeper Thora Helgadottir eight times.

Beyond career achievements, the more important information to glean from the tournament will center on Tom Sermanni uses his squad. Against Iceland, the U.S. head coach offered very few surprises with his starters and almost no substitutions.

Loyden got the call in goal, furthering the assumption she’s replaced Nicole Barnhart as Hope Solo’s number two. North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn get the start at right back over first choice Ali Krieger, though the rest of the defense was as expected: Buehler, Christie Rampone, and Kelley O’Hara. Boxx and Carli Lloyd started in the middle, with Lauren Cheney and Heather O’Reilly wide, while Wambach and Morgan got the call up top.

Only one substitute was used, with Christen Press coming on in the 64th minute for Carli Lloyd.

Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, regular starters, were held out, presumably related to their late arrivals in camp. Both players (along with 18-year-old Lindsey Horan) were delayed getting to Portugal, with their French clubs meeting Saturday in Paris. Rapinoe’s Lyon side beat Heath and Horan’s Paris Saint-Germain, 3-0.

The U.S.’s next match will be Friday against China, the world’s 17th ranked team. On Monday, the team gets a highly anticipated meeting with former head coach Pia Sundhage’s Sweden, and if all goes as expected, the U.S. would meet world No. 2 Germany in the tournament final.

But with two matches to go in group play (and Germany in a difficult group), expectations may be premature. But if the world’s top two get derailed en route to next Wednesday’s match, the U.S. and Germany will still meet Apr. 5 in Dusseldorf. One way or another, the U.S. will soon get the first major test of the Tom Sermanni era.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday