Picking apart the U.S. Women’s roster for upcoming Germany, Netherlands friendlies

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If there was ever a time to show a preference for the U.S.’s Europe-based soccer players, the upcoming international break would be it. Yet for the women’s national team’s early April friendlies at Germany and the Netherlands (Apr. 5 and 9), head coach Tom Sermanni has elected to call in a predictable squad. Yes, names like Tyresö’s Meghan Klingenberg and Western New York Flash’s Adrianna Franch opened some eyes, but throughout the rest of the 23-woman team, the U.S.’s squad offered few surprises:

Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Adrianna Franch (Western New York Flash), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit)

Hope Solo is recovering from a wrist surgery that will keep her out until June. Jill Loyden, who seemed to have claimed the backup’s role, is out with a broken hand. That left the veteran Barnhart, the recently capped Harris, and a void.

Sermanni has elected to call in Franch ahead of Jane Campbell, the 18-year-old he brought in to the Jacksonville camp, and Alyssa Naeher, who has only conceded 11 goals in 12 starts for Turbine Potsdam in Germany. That leaves Franch, a recent graduate of Oklahoma State who is set to embark on her first professional season, to join the senior team in Germany.

Though the third-choice keeper will likely be irrelevant, it was one of the most anticipated selections of the April roster. Sermanni elected to go with Franch, somebody he’s already seen in a previous camp. rather than take a look at Naeher.

source: Getty ImagesDefenders: Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool, England), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö, Sweden), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC, pictured, right), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

The only real surprise here is Klingenberg, who is just as likely to get time in midfield as defense. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has two career caps, with former head coach Pia Sundhage previously flirting with the idea of converting her to a fullback’s role. Just coming off shoulder surgery, the 24-year-old’s inclusion was Thursday’s biggest surprise.

The recalls of Dunn and Johnston are mild eye raisers, but at this point in the Sermanni era, each seem so close to being regular selections that it’s not worth marveling when they get called in. Dunn, in particular, looks to have secured a regular recall, with the MAC Hermann Trophy winner seeming to establish herself as Sermanni’s second choice at right back.

Midfielders: Yael Averbuch (Göteborg, Sweden), Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (PSG, France), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon, France)

Again, no real surprises here, though those wondering if Sermanni was giving players extended tryouts during the Algarve Cup could read something into the continued inclusions of Yael Averbuch and Kristie Mewis. With Carli Lloyd’s shoulder injury keeping her out for up to six more weeks, Averbuch should see regular time in the middle of the park.

Mewis, fresh out of Boston College, is more in Dunn and Johnston’s boat. It’s no surprise to see her called in, but her playing time will still be iffy.

Forwards: Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö, Sweden), Abby Wambach (Western New York Flash)

Don’t expect this foursome to change anytime soon. It is arguably the deepest and most talented position for any team in international soccer.

The foursome also seem to have found a balance. Press is playing more as a right wing/midfielder in Sermanni’s typically 4-4-2 formation. Morgan and Wambach are starting up top with Leroux playing the supersub’s part. When Wambach needs a rest, she switches with Leroux. Everybody’s getting time.

Who didn’t get called in?

Lindsey Horan, F, Paris Saint-Germain – If you expected Sermanni to lean toward recalling Europe-based players, the exclusion of Horan was a surprise. The 18-year-old PSG regular has 11 goals in 16 Feminine Division matches, but she also failed to make an impact during limited time at the Algarve Cup.

Sarah Hagen, F, Bayern Munich – The 23-year-old striker has 13 goals in 24 Frauen-Bundesliga appearances, but at 5’11”, she also projects as more of a target striker. In a squad that has Abby Wambach to target and Alex Morgan playing along the defense’s line, it’s difficult to see where she fits.

Hagen deserves a look, and the upcoming camp gave Sermanni a chance to recall her, but for a new coach who is still familiarizing himself with the player pool, the April friendlies may be too soon for Bayern’s promising forward.

Amber Brooks, D/M, Bayern Munich – Brooks’ double in her Bundesliga debut may have raised her profile ahead of Thursday’s callup, but there are still questions as to whether she possesses the quickness to fulfill a defensive midfielder’s role. That’s the position she’s most likely to compete for in the national team.

As a U-level standout and an accomplished collegiate player, Brooks is destined to get a chance. But that opportunity may not come until she returns stateside and can impress Sermanni if (when?) she joins the Portland Thorns.

Camille Levin, D, Göteborg – Having established herself as a regular in Sweden, the former Cardinal seems like another player who will eventually get a call. Yet when you look at the defensive depth in a team that’s called in nine players capable of playing at the back, Levin seems squeezed out. She may be making an impact in Sweden, but Sermanni’s is a numbers game. Which defender should be dropped to make room for Levin?

The 22-year-old seems destined to get a look, particularly with two-plus years separating Sermanni’s team from the next World Cup. On Thursday, the number just didn’t work in her favor.

Alyssa Naeher, G, Turbine Potsdam – Long jams on the depth charts of Sermanni’s field positions explain why Horan, Hagen, Brooks, and Levin were excluded, but Naeher’s snub is a little more confusing. The 24-year-old is starting for the second place team in Germany, one that’s established a good defensive record.

Is that enough to stake a place in the team? Not necessarily, but when Hope Solo is out, and Jill Loyden is out, who do you have left?

Sermanni likes Franch enough to justify her recall, but there’s a certain logic behind leaving the young keeper with her club ahead of her first pro season. With the Germany-based Naeher performing well ahead of a camp that starts in Germany, this was the time to call her in.

That she wasn’t makes you wonder what would have to happen for Alyssa Naeher to get a look with her national team.

Northern Ireland manager O’Neill banned for DUI

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EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and been banned from the road for 16 months.

O’Neill was caught by police on the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 10 and was found to be around three times the legal drink-drive limit.

O’Neill appeared on Thursday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he received the driving ban and fine of 1,300 pounds ($1,700).

O’Neill’s solicitor, James Mulgrew, told the court “this was simply a bad error of judgment.”

Northern Ireland is still in contention for its first World Cup trip since 1986. The team plays Switzerland in a two-leg playoff next month to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

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Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.

VIDEO: Man United ooze class after consoling teenage goalkeeper

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Wednesday was a big night for Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his debut in the UEFA Champions League and in doing so he became the youngest-ever goalkeeper to play in the competition, jumping ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas to set a new, hugely impressive, record.

Still, the night did not end well for the Belgian youngster.

[ MORE: United targeted Benfica’s goalkeeper ]

With Marcus Rashford‘s free kick floating into the box from out wide, he caught the ball but then stepped back over his own goal line… taking the ball with him.

Goal-line technology showed the ball had gone over and United were awarded the goal and won 1-0.

At the final whistle the teenager was stunned but Romelu Lukaku was one of the many United players who took time to console the distraught teenager.

Classy from Lukaku.

Even if Jose Mourinho did admit afterwards that United had targeted the teenager…

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.