Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe

The development of a rivalry: U.S. women face Canada in ‘The Rematch’


‘Rivalry’ is a funny word. It instantly sparks an emotional reaction; it’s polarizing. A rivalry exists between two parties that not only don’t get along, but have a history of encounters.

To get technical, a rivalry is a “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”

By nature, rivalries can’t be fabricated or contrived – they have to occur naturally and they have to be developed over time.

In sport, the most organic foundation for a rivalry is geography. Across the world intra-city derbies and other closely stationed teams play in these sort of matches every year, some more devout and dangerous than others.

Stateside, the still-growing sport of soccer has rivalries in their infancy with the making of something great. We see it in the Pacific Northwest, where Portland-vs.-Seattle-anything produces a host of fanfare in the stands and distaste on the field. It exists elsewhere, too, like when some of Major League Soccer’s Northeast teams play (most notably still New York and D.C. United).

So it’s only natural that two bordering nations should be nemeses, which is where the United States and Canada find themselves in women’s soccer.

Canada, the bronze medalists at the 2012 London Olympics, plays the role of little sister. They stand in the shadows of their neighbors to the south and they absolutely hate that. Canada strives to be on an equal level with the U.S., which isn’t an achievement far from reality for the Canada team ranked No. 7 in the world.

For its part, the United States is the typical big sister – wins a lot, gets all the attention, and kind of gets a chuckle out of all the commotion little sister causes trying to steal the spotlight.

On Sunday in Toronto, these two teams play for the first time since the United States won that epic 2012 Olympic semifinal at Old Trafford, a 4-3 victory stolen in extra time on Alex Morgan’s header.

Sunday is, as Canada’s marketing arm tells us, literally “The Rematch.”

A win won’t make up for the gut-wrenching loss in Manchester last year; it won’t make bronze turn into gold or silver and it won’t exact enough revenge to heal a country of fans still recovering from a loss they’ll be telling their grandchildren about.

But Sunday is another step in building the rivalry, particularly if Canada wins.

One of the most important caveats of a rivalry is that it cannot be one-sided. Dominant teams and lopsided records don’t make for the tense drama required in a matchup of two old foes. This is where the USA-Canada matchup loses its case as a well-established meeting of enemies.

The United States owns a commanding 44-3-5 record all-time vs. Canada. The Americans haven’t lost to Canada in over 12 years, and even that came in an Algarve Cup game in which the U.S. brought a young, inexperienced team to Portugal as to not disrupt the first preseason of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

A game like Sunday’s, particularly in a friendly, is just another game the U.S. expects to win, just as they would against any team in the world. A match against Canada doesn’t contain much bite or emotion than one against Sweden or Germany, two teams that still sit in the elite tier for which Canada strives.

Don’t be fooled, this is a rivalry, but the roots of it don’t run as deep as the hype may suggest. Not for the Americans, anyway.

The Canadians openly admit that Sunday’s matchup is more important to them.

“I think this one will mean more to us more than anything because of the fans,” Canada midfielder Diana Matheson said.  “We want to give back to the fans that were so behind us at the Olympics.”

No reminder is needed regarding what happened at Old Trafford. A Christine Sinclair hat trick was negated by Megan Rapinoe’s brilliance, Abby Wambach clock-counting to the referee and Morgan’s 123rd minute header, the latest goal in FIFA history and the comeback that outdid the comeback kids themselves.

It’s that drama that built the anticipation to this rematch for so many months. It’s that wild, controversial ending at the Olympics that caused this match to sellout the 20,000-plus seat BMO Field in less than an hour. And it’s that sort of drama that should make for a great rivalry moving forward (with the next major tournament being the 2015 World Cup…in Canada, don’t forget).

But for all the angst – for the 52 meetings and all the buzz – this rivalry still seems contrived, for lack of a better word. Rest assured, Canada carries that chip on its shoulder as overshadowed and underdog, and likely reads words such as these in somewhat agreement, but with motivation to change the trend of American dominance.

The U.S. has sat on its perch as the No. 1 team in the world for over five consecutive years.  The Americans are the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists. But they are not invincible, and to repeat a line whispered and then shouted across the globe over the past three years, the rest of the world is catching up. That world includes Canada, right in their backyard, taking on the ambitious, fighting nature of its coach John Herdman to climb the ranks to challenge the best teams in the world.

Canadians have put in some of the most impressive performances in the opening seven weeks of the National Women’s Soccer League. Matheson, with the Washington Spirit, and Sophie Schmidt, with Sky Blue FC, are two off the best midfielders in a league that gives 16 Canadians a professional team on which they can develop on this continent.

In a down year for women’s soccer in North America (Euro 2013 is the big event), this matchup is more about the marketing and the growth of women’s soccer – both in interest and for two of the world’s best teams to get better – than it is about winning the game on Sunday.

Just don’t tell Canada that Sunday’s result doesn’t matter.

“In the last eight or nine games we have given a lot of opportunities to new players,” Herdman said. “But now this is a time to face in the world No. 1.”

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.