Looking at the United States’ roster ahead of their Canada rematch

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We took a day to think about it, but even upon reflection, it’s difficult to find the twist, hidden gem, or angle on the 21-woman squad Tom Sermanni named for the U.S. Women’s June 2 trip to Toronto. Set to meet their Canadian rivals for the first time since last summer’s 4-3 semifinal win at the 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. will take will the usual cast of gold-collecting characters, save a couple of prominent injuries and one star who’ll be allowed to complete her French sojourn.

Let’s take a few minutes to break it down. Later in the day, we’ll double back with some long-winded analysis:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC)

No Hope Solo, much to the diehards’ chagrin. She’ll train with the team ahead of the game at BMO but is still a few weeks away from coming back from wrist surgery. She might see some action against South Korea, games scheduled for June 15 and 20.

There’s also no future-Boston Breaker Alyssa Naeher, who’s set to come to the NWSL after two successful seasons starting for Frauen Bundesliga powers Turbine Potsdam. Instead, Tom Sermanni has called in Jill Loyden, whose broken hand has kept her for putting in a minute’s time with Sky Blue.

DEFENDERS (8): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

“I am Jack’s completely lack of surprise,” though with good reason. With the exception of Amy LePeilbet, recovering from knee injury, everybody’s healthy. This is the octet you’d expect to be called up. If you’re expecting someone new, you’ve got to ask either (a) who gets dropped, or (b) why should they call in nine defenders for one game? Especially when the game day quad will be 18, not 21.

Unfortunately, this 21 lacks a natural left back, even though converted attacker Kelley O’Hara has been very good on the national team-level in 2013. The concern is deeper on the depth chart, where the apparent second choice is attacking midfielder Kristie Mewis. Some of the central defenders are also options, as is Dunn, but it seems strange (and perhaps, inconsequential) that a team with the U.S.’s depth of talent still doesn’t have one natural left back on the roster.

But the bigger story here is at left-center back. Rachel Buehler’s the incumbent, yet Whitney Engen’s coming strong. Sermanni hasn’t settled into a clear starting pair, and two years out from the World Cup, there’ll be no need to do so before June 2.

MIDFIELDERS (6): Amber Brooks (Bayern Munich), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Carli Lloyd (Western NY Flash), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers)

Amber Brooks – so touted for her play at U-levels; so successful as a midfielder and defender at North Carolina; so valuable to Bayern Munich’s strong Bundesliga finish – gets her first honest-to-goodness callup. She trained with the team in March ahead of games against Germany and the Netherlands. Now, she’s fully in, apparently taking the spot of Göteborg’s Yael Averbuch (or, depending on how you look at it, the injured Shannon Boxx).

Carli Lloyd’s made one appearance for Western New York since recovering from a shoulder injury, but she gets invited to the reunion. Megan Rapinoe, however, does not. She’s being allowed to stay with Lyon as the French powers compete in the finals of both Champions League and the French Cup.

Keep an eye on Lauren Cheney, one of the NWSL’s best players this season. She’s excelled as a number ten in Kansas City, but the U.S.’s current setup doesn’t have a role for that kind of player. She’s likely to start in central midfield, albeit in the box-to-box role where, while competent, she hasn’t made the impact she has with the Blues.

FORWARDS (4): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö), Abby Wambach (Western NY Flash)

This foursome in written in ink on every piece of scrap paper within Tom Sermanni’s reach. Bored in a bar? It’s on the napkins. Doodling at the counter while waiting for his car? Both little custom post-it notes sitting by the pencil bin have “Morgan-Wambach-Leroux-Press” printed across the top. If those four are healthy, they’re coming in, making life difficult on the Sarah Hagens and Lindsey Horans of the world.

Morgan and Wambach are expected to start, especially with #chasingmia still a #realthing. Wambach sits on 155 career goals, three short of the legendary Mia Hamm’s all-time record. Though she hasn’t started every game since this became a chase, Wambach hasn’t always been in form. Now, after recovering from her early-season concussion with Western New York, she is. She should get the call at BMO on June 2.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.