Draw with Sundhage’s Sweden puts U.S. in Algarve Cup final

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It was a tale of two halves in Lagos, appropriate given who was on the opposing bench. Under Pia Sundhage, the U.S. Women’s National Team garnered a reputation for late match theatrics, and while the same level of drama wasn’t required in Monday, the U.S. were still forced to come from behind against their former coach.

Pulling back a fourth minute goal from Sweden’s Lisa Dahlkvist, Alex Morgan secured the U.S.’s spot in the Algarve Cup final, heading home a 56th minute corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. The 1-1 draw gave the U.S. first place in Group B and a spot in Wednesday’s tournament final against Germany.

That’s the good news. A more critical eye would point to the first blemishes of the U.S.’s tournament. Dahlkvist’s score was the States’ first goal allowed in three games, an ignominious start to goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s senior team career. Though the Washington Spirit keeper did well to come out and thwart Swedish star Lotta Schelin, her goal was left unattended as Dahlkvist one-timed the opener from near the center circle.

With the lead, the Swedes frustrated the Americans through halftime, their physical play perhaps leveraging knowledge Sunhage accumulated during five years on the U.S. bench. Against a Swedish side that had drew earlier in the tournament with China (a team the U.S. defeated 5-0 on Friday), it was a disappointing start for the world’s No. 1 team.

But the U.S. recovered in the second half. Morgan’s equalizer gave the States over half an hour to chase a second goal, with Rapinoe coming close to a second in the 88th minute.

Ultimately, the U.S. outshot their former coach’s team 18-5 and put six shots on goal to Sweden’s two. True, they’re the type of numbers you’d expect when an underdog takes an early lead against a favorite, but they’re also indicators that if this match were played again, the U.S. might get a better result.

That doesn’t mean the draw wasn’t discouraging. The U.S. stumbled, and they did so in way that feeds into common complaints. Whether criticism that chasing matches will eventually catch up to the U.S. is well-grounded or not, their recent history of falling behind in games and relying on comebacks leads some to ask when the U.S.’s luck will run out.

But Monday’s wasn’t a big game. It was a group stage match at a low point in the game’s four-year cycle. With the stakes so low, there’s little evidence to bolster any criticisms, and with the World Cup more than two years away, there are only so games where the U.S.’s results will lead to solid conclusions.

Wednesday’s may be one of those games, with the States facing world No. 2 Germany in the tournament final. It’s the first of two games between the rivals in less than a month, with the teams set to meet in Offenbach on April 5.

Currently the game’s best international soccer rivalry, a U.S.-Germany match for the Algarve Cup title should provide the stakes today’s match lacked. While the teams have played recently, drawing two U.S.-based friendlies in October, Wednesday match will likely feature a level of intensity last fall’s matches lacked.

If the U.S.’s problems resurface against Germany, then it’s time to talk. But against a team whose coach has an intimate knowledges of the U.S.’s strengths and weaknesses, a draw with Sundhage’s Sweden can be written off.

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.