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.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.