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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.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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