UEFA Women’s Champions League: Lyon dazzles; Arsenal, Wolfsburg fail to put quarterfinals away

2 Comments

UEFA’s Women’s Champions League is down to eight teams, but after today’s first legs of the competition’s quarterfinals, one team saw their fate sealed. And predictably, it was at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais.

The two-time defending tournament champions posted a 5-0 result over Malmö on Wednesday, with goals from Elodie Thomis, Lotta Schelin (twice, pictured right), Camile Abily and Louisa Necib igiving the 2011 Swedish champions an impossible task next Thursday. Lyon hasn’t conceded in five matches this competition. On Thursday, Malmo will have to score at least five times while containing an attack that’s posted 28 goals. This tie’s over.

Given Malmö’s quality, it was a shame to see the Swedes drawn into Lyon’s section of the bracket. They were “the toughest side we could have faced,” according to Abily, mere lip service from a team capable of posting a 5-0 on anybody. After finishing joint-top in Sweden last year (Tyresö won the title), Malmö had reason to think they could be a bigger factor in this competition, had they avoided OL.

Advancing was always going to be a big ask, but if Malmo could contain Lyon in France, they may have at least had a prayer back in Sweden. Instead, the seven-time Swedish champions became sacrificial lamb.

This is a team that has talents like German veteran Anja Mittag, Danish attacker Ramona Bachmann, young Swedish star Elin Rubensson, and New Zealand international Ali Riley. Dutch attacker Manon Melis is back after a season at Linköping, while Lina Nilsson and Malin Levenstad are normally strong in defense. It’s a talented team that would compete near the top of the NWSL, but against a Lyon side that has elite players at almost every position, it wasn’t even close.

If Malmö were in another quadrant, they’d have a strong chance to make the semifinals. In the other half of the bracket, they could even be finalists, maybe. Instead, their hopes were extinguished after 90 minutes.

Americans in action: Megan Rapinoe didn’t start for Lyon, but she got a 24-minute run-out after coming on for Lara Dickenmann in the second half. The U.S. international was one of four Americans to making a Wednesday appearance and the only one that didn’t start. Kristin Edmonds went 87 minutes for Russian champions Rossiaynka, while both Yael Averbuch and Camille Levin went 90 minutes in Göteborg’s visit to France’s Juvisy.

Kerr debuts in Arsenal win

After one match, it’s unclear how much Arsenal has been hurt by Laura Harvey’s departure. In Shelley Kerr’s debut as Arsenal’s new coach, the Gunners posted an impressive 3-1 win over Italian champions Torres. Still, a late goal leaves the tie in doubt, with an injury to Arsenal’s most important player leaving a feeling that this two-goal may be vulnerable.

Arsenal took an early lead through Kelly Smith only to see their playmaker leave soon after with an apparent knee injury. Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little gave Arsenal a 3-0 lead, but when Sandy Mändly got Torres on the board in the 71st minute, the Italians were back in the tie. A 2-0 win next Wednesday in Sassari would send the Gunners crashing out.

“The girls were disappointed because it could have easily been avoided,” Kerr told the Guardian after the match. “But we’re more than capable of scoring away from home.”

To their credit, Arsenal managed to contain Italian legend Patrizia Panico. The 38-year-old had scored eight goals for Torres’s 13 goals in their first four games. Today, she was kept off the scoresheet.

Wolfsburg’s missed chance

Frauen-Bundesliga leaders Wolfsburg were heavy favorites going into their tie with Russian champions Rossiyanka, a status that was justified with early goals from Alexandra Popp and Martina Muller. When Rossiyanka defender Olesya Machina was sent off just before halftime, Wolfsburg were given a chance to put up the kind of number that would eliminate any doubts before next week’s trip to Russia.

That’s not what happened. One minute into the second half, and own goal by Josephine Henning made it 2-1, and despite playing 11-on-10 for nearly 50 minutes, Wolfsburg were unable to add to their lead. Rossiyanka not only stopped what could have been a blowout, they took a valuable road goal out of Germany.

So Rossiyanka essentially broke serve. That doesn’t mean they’re all of a sudden favorites. Wolfsburg still have the better side, and unless they get beaten in Russia, they’re through to their first semifinal.

But this was a chance to put this tie away. If, for whatever reason, Rossiyanka’s able to turn this tie around in Russia, Wolfsburg will be left to rue Wednesday’s second half.

Little between Juvisy, Göteborg

Juvisy is the litmus test for France’s Division Feminine. If they can do something in this competition, they’ll provide some justification for their domestic league and start to quell conventional wisdom that Lyon’s prowess is bolstered by a thin French circuit.

Conventional wisdom stood uncorrected on Wednesday. Despite an early goal conceded to Julie Machart on a bomb from outside the box, Göteborg — a team that finished a distant fourth in last year’s Damallsvenskan and were almost eliminated in the last round by Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring — was able to hold out. Though their late advances never broke through for what would have been a huge away goal, they take a only 1-0 loss back to Sweden.

Though Juvisy ultimately won the game, a 1-0 vicotry in the home leg of a Champions League tie is a minimally acceptable result. They would have wanted more. Now unless they get on the scoresheet in a one-goal loss, Juvisy must get a result of some kind next week in Sweden.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Costa Rica

Twitter/@ussoccer
Leave a comment

For the first time since 2013, the USMNT will have the opportunity to lay it all on the line in an attempt to hoist the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica in Gold Cup semis ]

This summer’s competition has been a unique one for manager Bruce Arena and his side, with a large host of players seeing time in the tournament as the second-term boss looks to establish his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s semifinal victory ]

Arena and Co. made its move into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night after disposing of Costa Rica behind a pair of second-half finishes from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The U.S. will now move on to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday night’s finale, but first, here’s a look at three takeaways from the Stars and Stripes’ victory on Saturday.

Dempsey continues as lead contributor in U.S. attack

Outside of Christian Pulisic, who wasn’t selected for this month’s Gold Cup, there isn’t a more consistent and threatening goalscorer than Clint Dempsey for the USMNT.

The Seattle Sounders veteran was directly involved in both goals last night, with the second — a finish of his own — putting Dempsey on level terms as U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer with Landon Donovan.

Albeit at 34 years of age and likely on the back nine of his career, Dempsey has proven time and time again just how critical his usage and production can be for the Stars and Stripes. Even if Dempsey doesn’t see as much time moving forward with the likes of Pulisic earning starting minutes, the Texas-native is more than deserving of a rotational role within the squad.

Altidore still proving his worth up front

Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for the U.S. on Saturday night, and it was his brilliant, probing run through the Costa Rica backline that freed himself up for Dempsey to pick out his long-time compatriot inside the Ticos area.

The Toronto FC striker has always been scrutinizes on the international level, despite being one of the national team’s go-to threats in the attacking third.

Although Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer each displayed well during the group stage of the competition, Altidore is the veteran of the group. He’s played at two World Cups and is currently the team’s second active leading scorer all-time, only trailing Dempsey.

Mexico may be only true threat to USMNT

Assuming Mexico is able to dispatch of Jamaica on Sunday and reach another Gold Cup final, it’s difficult to imagine a situation more perfect than a USA-Mexico conclusion. Forget the storied rivalry for a second and consider what this tournament means to both sides.

Yes, there’s a trophy on the line. However, this edition of the Gold Cup is way more important to both programs’ long-term growth, most notably next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mexico didn’t bring any of its regulars to this tournament, after many had played the month prior at the FIFA Confederations Cup, but even El Tri’s backups have held up well against their CONCACAF competition.

El Tri has allowed just one goal in four matches thus far, and Jamaica’s attack hasn’t exactly proven to be an offensive juggernaut, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if Mexico does set up a date with the U.S.

Saturday MLS roundup: Revs outlast Galaxy in wild affair and more

Twitter/@NERevolution
Leave a comment

While the U.S. Men’s National Team took center stage in their CONCACAF Gold Cup win on Saturday night, there was still a full MLS docket as well.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final ]

David Villa and NYCFC kicked off a busy day of MLS action with a vital 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, closing the gap between the two sides near the top of the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, East leaders Toronto FC earned a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.

Minnesota United’s first-year struggles continued on the afternoon after suffering a 3-0 defeat at home against the New York Red Bulls, who have now scored eight goals in their last two outings.

The day’s most exciting match came at Gillette Stadium though, as the New England Revolution narrowly defeated the LA Galaxy, 4-3, behind a pair of second-half finishes from Teal Bunbury.

Here’s a full look back at Saturday’s MLS scoreboard.

New York City FC 2-1 Chicago Fire (RECAP)
Minnesota United 0-3 New York Red Bulls
D.C. United 1-3 Houston Dynamo
Toronto FC 1-1 Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew 1-0 Philadelphia Union
Montreal Impact 1-2 FC Dallas
New England Revolution 4-3 LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake 1-1 Sporting KC

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

AP Photo/LM Otero
Leave a comment

The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.

Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
1 Comment

It took considerably longer than Bruce Arena would have hoped, but the U.S. national team edged its way past Costa Rica, courtesy of Jozy Altidore‘s 72nd-minute goal, in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup semifinal in Arlington, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

It was Arena’s injection of Clint Dempsey just six minutes earlier which would prove to be the game-changing moment. The soon-to-be all-time leading scorer in USMNT history created Altidore’s goal, the 38th tally of his international career, with a silky smooth turn and through ball that unlocked an otherwise formidable, frustrating Ticos defense. The Nacogdoches, Tex., native pulled level with Landon Donovan on the USMNT’s scoring charts 10 minutes later as he sealed the Yanks’ passage into the final.

The clock read 11 seconds when the USMNT’s first scoring chance arrived. Straight from the kickoff, they worked the ball to a streaking Jordan Morris, who in full stride unleashed a hard, right-footed strike from 10 yards out. Post.

For all the early excitement, and the massive possession advantage (61-39), it was the closest the USMNT would come to beating Patrick Pemberton, as the Yanks failed to put a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Tim Howard was called into heroic action in the 37th minute, when Bryan Ruiz dribbled through the heart of midfield and played Marco Ureña into the penalty area. The San Jose Earthquakes striker went low and far post with his effort from 12 yards out, but Howard was quick to get down and make the one-on-one save.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

The Americans’ first chance of the second half didn’t come until the 70th minute. Clint Dempsey played a simple square ball to Kellyn Acosta, whose first-time shot forced Pemberton into a tough save to push the ball high into the air.

Two minutes later, the breakthrough. Dempsey slipped Jozy Altidore through with a delicate through ball into space, and the Toronto FC man latched onto it quickly and slotted it past Pemberton despite the ‘keeper getting a hand on it.

Dempsey’s history-making moment seemed innocuous enough from the start — a free kick from all of 25 yards out, at a difficult angle. Whatever, said Dempsey, who went for goal anyway. His bouncing ball evade Pemberton at the near post and gave him 57 international goals.

The winner of Mexico versus Jamaica, the second semifinal which will take place on Sunday, awaits the USMNT in the final on Wednesday.