Becky Sauerbrunn (C) congrtulates goal-s

Sauerbrunn, Quon, and why its still too early to see NWSL’s influence on Sermanni’s choices


It’s too early to tell who will be the NWSL’s Becky Sauerbrunn – somebody who used the ill-fated Women’s Professional Soccer as a springboard into the U.S. women’s national team. The then-Washington Freedom defender had seen some limited time with Pia Sundhage’s team before WPS began, but she wasn’t a real factor. By the time the league started in 2009, she’d been seen and judged; seemingly a long shot to forge a role with the national team.

In that new league, the Virginia grad was a stand-out, her cerebral leadership combining with a two-plus-year iron woman streak to force her way into the squad. With it, her recall became a symbol of hope of an array of professionals who, shut out by an increasingly stagnant national team roster, could see Sauerbrunn’s ascension as vindicating their persistence. Thanks to WPS seasons that put Sauerbrunn’s intelligence, consistency, and dependability on display, the now-FC Kansas City captain embedded herself at the international level. Now, after 42 caps, Sauerbrunn’s an obligatory call-up.

We’re now a month and a half into WPS2; or, WUSA3, depending on how you want to look at it. Tom Sermanni has been at NWSL games just about every weekend, and with every team streaming their home games online, the U.S’s new boss has seen all the potential candidates. After six weeks, there’s a pretty big body of evidence to suggest who is in form, so if somebody had emerged as an early Sauerbrunn, they would have called up, right?

The June 2 against Canada is a friendly. It’s on foreign soil, where there’s no significant need to sell tickets. It’s against a rival, but one that the U.S. faces with some regularity. With the World Cup two years out, there’s no pressing need to see how the Alex Morgans and Abby Wambachs of the world will do against the Canadians, even if it’s always good for the team to get time together. In a low-leverage situation where the information you gather about players is more important than the final result, doesn’t it make sense to call in a few more borderline players?

[MORE: Breaking down the 21 called into to face Canada.]

Perhaps. Perhaps Sermanni doesn’t agree that a month and a half of games is enough to justify any shakeups. And perhaps there haven’t been any players who’ve made a sufficient case, because when yesterday’s roster was announced, there were no huge surprises. No new Sauerbrunns had won a spot. Even the inclusion of an uncapped Amber Brooks caused little discussion, given her form at Bayern Munich and Shannon Boxx’s continued recovery from surgery. With a team as tight as the U.S. women’s national team, it might not be worth shaking things up, even if that means some of the same motives that kept players like Christen Press from breaking in appear to be in play.

That may also be why Yael Averbuch and Megan Rapinoe were the only surprise omissions, with U.S. Soccer making the point to explain Rapinoe, at a busy point on the calendar with Olympique Lyonnais, will join the team for June’s matches against South Korea. Megan Klingenberg was also a potential call in, but having only three national team caps, the omission of the former Tar Heel wasn’t a huge surprise. Alyssa Naeher could have gotten a look, with her season in Potsdam done, but her absence surprised no one.

The roster’s curiosities aren’t so much the omissions as two of the inclusions. Carli Lloyd, who spent the first part of the season recovering from a broken shoulder, has only made one brief substitute’s appearance for Western New York. Jillian Loyden, who broke her hand before Sky Blue FC’s season started, was recalled despite having yet to play a minute in the NWSL. Rather than look at Becky Edwards or McCall Zerboni in midfield, or give young Adrianna Franch another camp’s training in goal, Sermanni’s elected to stay the course.

It’s too early in Sermanni’s tenure (and NWSL’s existence) to start drawing conclusions, but it’s worth considering what it would take for somebody to be dropped from the national team. Lloyd and Loyden have barely played ahead of a friendly on foreign soil, yet they’re still in. Kelley O’Hara has inexplicably struggled for Sky Blue, and while it’s probably far too early to be dropping her from the national team, no natural left backs were called up. As the league moves forward, we’ll have to see if fitness or form influence national team recalls, because after Wednesday’s selection, the only thing we know will keep you from an invite are finals in UEFA Champions League and the French Cup. If that’s the standard, it’s going to by 2011-12 all over again.

If you’re looking for a drawback to the lack of turnover in a highly successful team, look to the Canada. Look to the squad they named on Wednesday. Illinois-born left back Rachel Quon, in her first season with the Chicago Red Stars, has been recalled by John Herdman, the Stanford alum having a connection to Canada through her father. The CSA still has you get her cleared, and who knows if the call-up will stick, but this could turn into a minor irritant for the U.S. No, Quon was never likely to be a major contributor for the national team, but if she evolves into a regular for Herdman, she’ll join Lauren Sesselman, Karina LeBlanc, and Chelsea Stewart as U.S.-born players who’ve elected to play for Canada (all with varying levels of connection to the States). Those aren’t Sydney Leroux-level players (somebody who made the opposite switch), but for a U.S. team looking at an improving rival, it should still be a concern.

There are two things that make Quon’s move particularly interesting. First, she’s been playing well, and when rumors circulated last week that the U.S. may have a surprise call-up, Quon’s name was one you could have inferred. Ultimately, however, it’s unclear she’s that much better of a long-term prospect than somebody like Sky Blue’s Kendall Johnson. Camille Levin, starting for Göteborg in Sweden, could also be an option. Quon may have a U-level pedigree, Stanford training, and be in form, but ultimately, the difference between her and Johnson could prove irrelevant.

The second curiosity may become more important. Left back is arguably the States’ weakest position, which only highlights the loss of a potential contributor. Kelley O’Hara’s first on that depth chart and played very well this winter, but while being shuttled between left back and left-wing for Sky Blue, O’Hara has struggled. If she carries that form into national team duty, Sermanni has problem. (Keep in mind, we’re still two years out from the World Cup.) Kristie Mewis, a natural attacking midfielder, is number two on the depth chart, through Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Sauerbrunn, and even Megan Rapinoe are capable of playing left back.

It is troublesome that, in light of potentially losing Quon, there are no natural left backs on the roster, the team’s first choice is in a slump, and none of the alternatives are playing the position for their clubs. But perhaps more troublesome is a sacred cow syndrome that kept Press out of the team for so long and perhaps contributed to Quon’s Canada call-up. Having played at U-levels for the United States, it’s reasonable to assume the 22-year-old would have remained loyal to the U.S. given reason to do so. But with as little roster turnover as we see from the States’, it’s difficult to blame her for pursuing an international career.

In his fifth month on the job, it’s far too soon to say whether Sermanni will protect the sacred cows. While none of the last cycle’s core have been dropped, Sermanni has found time for players like Press, Dunn, Mewis, Ashlyn Harris and Julie Johnston – all encouraging signs. Those inclusions may be a function of injuries and absences or a concerted effort by a new coach, yet when you see Lloyd and Loyden as obligatory callups while a player like Quon is turning to Canada, it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind: Is there too much deference to the old guard? And when will another Becky Sauerbrunn rise from the domestic league?

Right now, it’s far too early to answer those questions. Just file it away.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.

Europa League roundup: Spurs, Liverpool advance to KO stage

FC Girondins de Bordeaux
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A roundup of Thursday’s UEFA Europa League group stage action:

Qarabag 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham traveled 2,500 miles to Baku, where they knocked off the reigning Azerbaijani champions to remain top of Group J with one game left to play. Harry Kane scored the game’s only goal (10th of the season – all competitions), a close-range finish from Christian Eriksen‘s corner kick in the 78th minute. As things stand, Spurs need just a point in their group stage finale, a home date with Monaco, to finish top of the group and grab a seeded place in the draw for the round of 32.

Liverpool 2-1 Bordeaux

Liverpool went top of Group B with a 2-1 victory over last-place Bordeaux at Anfield, meaning a win in their final group game, away to Swiss side Sion in two weeks’ time, will clinch a seeded place in the draw for the knockout stage. Liverpool went down a goal just after the half-hour mark, but James Milner and Christian Benteke brought the Reds back with a goal each either side of halftime.

FC Krasnodar 1-0 Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund missed their chance to finish top of Group C when they lost 1-0 away to Russian side Krasnodar. Pavel Mamaev put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot in the 2nd minute, and they held on for 88 minutes to move level on points (10) with the German giants. With one game left to play, Krasnodar have the inside track on the top spot through the fourth tiebreaker, away goals scored between the two teams.

Elsewhere in Europa League action

Augsburg 2-3 Athletic Bilbao
Villarreal 1-0 Rapid Wien
Basel 2-2 Fiorentina
Lazio 3-1 Dnipro
Club Brugge 0-1 Napoli
Rosenborg 1-1 Saint-Etienne
Monaco 0-2 Anderlecht
Marseille 2-1 Groningen
Schalke 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Lokomotiv Moscow 2-4 Porto
Braga 2-1 Liberec
Molde 0-2 Fenerbahce
Celtic 1-2 Ajax
Besiktas 2-0 Skenderbeu
Rubin Kazan 2-0 Sion
Dinamo Minsk 1-0 Viktoria Plzen
AZ Alkmaar 1-2 Partizan Belgrade
Belenenses 0-0 Lech Poznan
Sparta Prague 1-0 Astoris Tripolis
Legia Warsaw 1-0 Midtjylland
PAOK Thessaloniki 0-0 FK Qabala