Three good questions with NWSL director Cheryl Bailey

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With the first weekend of the new National Women’s Soccer League in the books, ProSoccerTalk took some time to catch up with league director Cheryl Bailey. Having just returned to Chicago from matches in Kansas City and Boston, Bailey discussed her takeaways from the league’s debut, hiccups like the difficulty viewing matches, and how to balance the need for stability with the ambitions of a new league.

Here are PST’s three good questions for Cheryl Bailey:

1.) You were in Kansas City and Boston this weekend: one very new club, and one well-established club. Can you share with us what you saw at each venue? What conclusions you could draw about the new league’s first weekend?

I couldn’t have picked two better (locations). Obviously, four games going on were great for this weekend, and the two that I happened to go to both had great atmospheres. Each one had sold out their stadium. Each one had great competition ending up in ties, one a very dramatic tie. The enthusiasm of the crowds and the environment was all that we had hoped for.

(On the Kansas City crowd for the club’s first ever match …)

It really was amazing. They had sold all of their seating capacity, and they saw the enthusiasm and actually sold standing room seats. They had (people in) the corners. They had people sitting on the grass. It was a great environment.

2.) For somebody who hasn’t been through the WUSA or WPS days, they may have tuned in this weekend and saw the troubles streaming games, the lines on the fields, the turf surfaces and drew some conclusions. How do you provide those people, some with very high expectations, with some perspective? How do you convert them and keep them coming back to the product?

That’s a fair question. Bottom line is all four matches that we played, if you were at those matches, no doubt (you) are coming back. (The games) were well-contested. They were great environments. The two venues that I didn’t go to, we had somebody from the league there, and they all came back with very positive experiences from the fans, those that were watching the game.

In terms of a few of the technical difficulties, I’m surprised given that we had four-and-a-half months to pull this off that we were able to even attempt some of those opportunities, and it will take a little bit (of time). But like anything, anybody who started anything, who’s been involved with anything from the ground knows, it’s putting in that hard work. Working through, trouble-shooting the (problems) that you get. When you come through that, you bear the fruits of your labor.

People want this league to succeed. They really appreciate the talents that are out on the field, and I think they’re going to come with us down this road that we’re going to take. This not going to be without a few bumps, but it’s certainly going to be with good soccer and just great enthusiasm at the stadium.

(On dealing with frustrations born from devoted women’s soccer fans’ high expectations …)

For me, it’s the journey, not just the individual things you’re going to get along the way. With women’s sports, whenever you are going to start something new, while there were two leagues before us, those that want to be part of this journey are going to have to take a little bit of step back, just like we have as a the league.

We’re not at the biggest stadiums. We (don’t have) expectations that we’re going to achieve our final goals today. We’re building (toward) those goals.

People have to appreciate the fact that we sold out two stadiums this weekend. We had good attendance at the other two, and we had four great games. If you look at the scores of those games to look at the talent level, every week-in and week-out they’re going to play great soccer.

You just have to go with an ability to see beyond a technical difficulty or startup things that might set you back a little bit. Nobody gets anywhere without a lot of hard work, and you really reap the rewards because of that hard work – sticking with something.

It’s not going to deter me at all. It just means, alright, let’s figure out what the issues were. Let’s work on them and make them better so the next time we don’t have those same issues.

(On the quality of play ..)

The talent was unbelievable: the speed of play; the technical (ability). And we’re not just talking about national (team) allocated players. We’re talking top-to-bottom. In the two games I was at, those four teams, I was equally impressed with the great job all those players on the field did.

3.) U.S. Soccer has stepped up and is running this league, leaving some with questions about juggling sustainability, as league stewards, versus ambition – growing the league. Can you talk about the league’s philosophy on these issues, how that affects priorities, and your view on what’s the right balance?

The first thing is, you have to create a base. You have to be sure that the eight teams that you have, the places you have, what you have, you get good root. Because without that balance, you can’t grow. It’s constantly coming and going, coming and going.

I feel very much that we understand the balance here, that the eight teams we have and all the players playing on those teams, they are the core. They are the roots of what we’re really putting into the National Women’s Soccer League.

At the same time, we have to have vision. We have to have the ability to see there are other people out there that want to be a part of this league, whether we’re adding teams or (growing) these teams. We have to balance that, no doubt.

Our first obvious objective, we needed to launch the league. And that created more time spent on just getting everything in place. Getting to where we were this past weekend, to have the teams that were on the field, great games that were played.

Now we need to continue to balance that. There are some things to work through, as you indicated earlier, but also look to the future. We’re going to get this launched and we’re going to get a little bit under our belts. But we will, in fact in the next couple of months, take a look at where opportunities may lie as well.

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.