Christen Press continues racking up goals as U.S. down Netherlands, 3-1

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Christen Press was a non-factor under Pia Sundhage, but under Tom Sermanni, she has six goals in seven games, her double in Den Haag leading the U.S. Women to an easy 3-1 victory over the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The match was never really a contest. Early intensity from the U.S. pushed the hosts onto their heels, making it nearly impossible for the Dutch to move through the middle of the field. Pressure from the likes of Press, Sydney Leroux, and Heather O’Reilly made life easier for midfielders Yael Averbuch and Julie Johnston, giving Sermanni few chances to judge the central defense pairing of Rachel Buehler and Becky Sauerbrunn. The Netherlands were only able to generate one half-chance before the match was out of reach.

For all their dominance, it look the U.S. 36 minutes to get on the board, though when they did, it was relatively simple. Leroux broke down the left side of the Netherlands defense before playing a square ball into the area for Tobin Heath. With the defense collapsing on Press, Heath had no trouble giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

Just before halftime, the U.S. doubled their lead when Dutch captain Daphne Koster failed to track Press’s run onto a Leroux touched a ball behind the Netherland’s defense. Goalkeeper Loes Geurts was left abandoned as Press was able to shoot from just inside the area, finishing another easy U.S. goal.

Fifteen minutes into the second, Press struck again – a clinical piece of finishing few in the U.S. striker pool would be able to replicate. After turning her defender with a dribble off her left foot, Press let go of a shot from just inside the right side of the area. Geurts was positioned well, but when the ball curled away from her outstretched right arm and dove toward the lower left hand corner, the Dutch keeper proved unable to defend the small far post window Press exploited for her double.

After the disappointment of giving up a 3-1 lead to Germany on Friday, Tuesday’s match turned out to be a stroll. The Dutch were outshot 19-5, with the U.S. putting nine shots on frame to their hosts’ two. Only a late defensive lapse allowed Manon Melis to ruin Ashlyn Harris’s clean sheet.

source: APBut as much as conceding late goals might be a concern, the takeaway from Tuesday’s game was another illustration of the U.S.’s enviable attacking depth. Sydney Leroux (right) terrorized a Dutch defense that came nowhere close to matching her speed and physicality. They seemed to resigned to bringing Leroux down late in the match – their last hopes of containing her. Tobin Heath looked sharp, particularly when taking defenders on one-on-one, while Heather O’Reilly again reminded Sermanni that she has a role in the debate between her, Megan Rapinoe, and others for starting spots.

And then there’s Christen Press, the former Stanford star who toiled outside the national team while staring in WPS and Sweden. It’s a story would be old and worn out if it weren’t for the paradox every goal Press adds to an already remarkable start. During the Olympic and (to a lesser extent) World Cup cycles, onlookers wondered why somebody with Press’s credentials wasn’t being called in. All the while people like myself would say “With Wambach, Morgan, Rodriguez and Leroux, where’s the room?”

Sermanni has made room. He did so by initially starting her at right midfield, but with Tuesday’s two-goal performance in a forward’s role (the second double of her international career), Press threw some gas on the fire: If we had to rank the U.S.’s forwards, where do you slot a 24-year-old whose scored six times in her first seven games?

Perhaps not that high, right now. Alex Morgan’s arguably the world’s best player. Abby Wambach has come back strong after a disappointing winter, and every time Leroux starts, she reminds us she’s the most physically gifted attacker in the squad.

But until Press slows down, we have to keep asking. And Sermanni has to keep testing: How good is Christen Press?

Matches like these are usually pretty meaningless, the competitive benefits of a down-cycle friendly negligible. But for a new coach looking to expand the narrow player pool used to compete for the last two major tournaments, matches like Tuesday’s in Den Haag are invaluable. How else can you uncover the Christen Presses of the world?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.