China v United States

The Abby-comes-home era begins without Wambach, but will it sell?

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The walkway to the main gate of Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. is called Wambach Way, a reminder of just how endeared Abby Wambach is in Rochester. And that was dedicated before Wambach was even part of a team that would be playing there, never mind before a league even officially existed.

She’s an A-list celebrity in the region. Her arrival at the stadium in the past has typically filled the building, which seats about 15,000 fans, depending on capacity for the day.

That’s just a small sampling of how big the U.S. women’s national team forward is in the greater Rochester area, where she grew up.

Most recently, Wambach and her U.S. teammates kicked off their celebration tour of a third-straight Olympic gold medal in Rochester in front of 13,208 fans on Sept. 1, 2012. That came a little over a year after the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) played its first game back  from the 2011 Women’s World Cup at that same Sahlen’s Stadium.

On that day, 15,404 fans packed into additional seating and others had to be turned away at the gate. The whole city shut down. Thousands of fans and swarms of media — a paparazzi sort of scene if women’s soccer has ever seen one — packed into a local mall for a runners-up welcome  back rally primarily for Wambach, along with Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger, who were also in town.

It was, and still is, The Abby Effect in Rochester. But now, that’s an every day thing. And now Rochester’s claim as Soccer Town USA is put to the test. How fleeting is the region’s affection for its city’s biggest star?

[MORE: NWSL Game of the Week — Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers]

Unlike 2011, when Wambach played for (she didn’t actually play in the homecoming match due to a sore Achilles) the road team, the infamously rogue magicJack squad, Rochester’s First Lady is on the home team. Sure, she’s on the home team when the United States plays there, but that occurs sparingly.

Now Rochester has 11 Flash games (plus potential playoffs) to show up and support Wambach and the rest of this Flash squad, which has won three straight championships in three different leagues.

We already know that Wambach will miss the home opener as a “precautionary” measure after she sustained a head injury in last week’s 1-1 draw with the Washington Spirit.

But even before that was known, the sales for the home opener — the first chance of the year to see the Flash and Wambach — didn’t sound up to expectations. Per Wambach’s tweet:

That is the sort of attendance the Flash averaged in 2011 before the post-World Cup boom. That’s the kind of number that makes the very open Sahlen’s Stadium feel empty.

As of Friday morning, the Flash would not comment on how many tickets had been sold for the home opener.

So the question remains: Will Wambach still sell when she is in Western New York all the time? The answer is not an implication on Wambach, but the market’s elasticity. Relative to women’s soccer, this should be a slam dunk for attendance and marketing. Whether or not it is remains to be seen. And those expectations need to be realistic, too.

The Flash won’t sell out every game. They may not sell out at all this year. But the hope in Western New York is that Wambach can turn those crowds that may have previously hovered around 2,000 fans into double that. Even that would be a major victory for Rochester and the National Women’s Soccer League.

The test begins Saturday, but really kicks into gear on Wednesday, when the Flash host Sky Blue FC on a weeknight, four days after the home opener. Then, of course, every home game after that.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.

WATCH: Amazing bicycle kick goal at beach soccer championship

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Anyone who’s competed in a beach soccer match can attest to the tricky nature of getting traction on sand.

That’s what makes this feat from Makenson Cadet so impressive (and fun).

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

Turks and Caicos was trailing Costa Rica 8-1 in their CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship game, and Cadet gave the visitors something to brag about by popping the ball up for a juggle and bicycle kick goal.

Cadet is only 17, and apparently has some game on the grass as well. He was on trial with Nottingham Forest in 2015.

Europa League: Spurs look to overturn 1-0; La Liga resurgent?

GENT, BELGIUM - FEBRUARY 16:  Kenny Saief of KAA Gent and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between KAA Gent and Tottenham Hotspur at Ghelamco Arena on February 16, 2017 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Who will join Manchester United, Schalke, and Krasnodar in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16?

Four-goal leads give Roma and Rostov a very good shot at advancing, while Anderlecht, AZ Alkmaar and Besiktas will also like their chances of moving forward.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

But plenty remains up for grabs, including Tottenham Hotspur’s chance of moving to the Round of 16. Spurs trail Gent 1-0 after their road leg, and now have to get a shutout or two-goal win at Wembley.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino says his side can’t push too hard, too soon, if it wants to move onto the next:

“We need to be patient. It’s important to know that tomorrow is a game that we need to win, that is in our mind. We need to turn the result (around) and it’s true that we need to have very good balance – that is key. It’s important for us to keep the balance between attacking and defence because it’s only 1-0 from the first leg and now we have time to turn it (around). We need to be clever, play well, be aggressive and improve our performance from the game in Belgium.”

Spanish sides are in danger of elimination on Thursday. While Athletic Bilbao won its first leg versus APOEL Nicosia, it allowed two road goals. Villarreal trails Roma 4-0, and Celta Vigo is down 1-0 against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. EDT
Apoel Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (AB leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladback trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. EDT
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)