United States deny Canada’s redemption, win 3-0 in Toronto

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The much-hyped rematch of last summer’s Olympic semifinal played out with few of Manchester’s fireworks, with a late brace from Alex Morgan lifting the United States to a 3-0 victory over Canada in Toronto.

Played in front of a near-sell out crowd at BMO Field, the match was the second of a men’s-women’s set celebrating the 100th anniversary of U.S. Soccer. After the U.S. men defeating Germany earlier in Washington, D.C., the States’ women’s team completed the program’s centennial sweep, downing a rival that hasn’t beaten the U.S. since 2001.

It was a match that’d been widely been billed as a chance for Canadian revenge – a rematch of last summer’s meeting in Manchester, England, where the U.S. controversially defeated Canada in the Olympics’ semifinal. Various officiating issues before a 123rd minute winner from Morgan created a sense of anticipation ahead of Sunday’s match in Toronto, the nations’ first game since their classic at Old Trafford.

Sunday’s start failed to match the hype, but when the U.S. finally broke through in the 70th minute, the onslaught started. Morgan started the scoring by finishing from left of goal from 12 yards out. Two minutes later, Morgan doubled the U.S.’s lead, with Sydney Leroux closing the U.S.’s account in the 93rd minute.

The first half was defined by the teams’ combative play through midfield, conflict resulting in a lack of scoring chances for each side. Speculative forays toward opposing penalty areas were cut out before becoming chances, with Canada’s midfield able to strangle the U.S.’s talented attack.

Despite that slight advantage, the hosts finished the half without a shot, let alone a chance that tested Nicole Barnhart. The U.S.’s numbers looked better – three shots, two of which tested Erin McLeod – but without creating a clear chance on goal, the visitors were rightly taken into halftime scoreless. They didn’t register their first shot until minute 28.

If anything, it was Canada that came closer to the first goal, with Christine Sinclair blowing past left back Crystal Dunn  in the 42nd minute to get onto a ball through the right channel. Sinclair was momentarily alone approaching the byline before Barnhart charged out, smothered any chance Sinclair had to play back across goal, leaving the Canadians with what became an ineffectual corner.

The second half saw the U.S.’s chances improve. In the 53rd minute, a defense-splitting pass from Tobin Heath nearly put Morgan in on goal, with a lunging tackle from 17-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan all that prevented the U.S. forward from getting a shot off on McLeod. Two minutes later, Abby Wambach redirected a corner kick toward goal, but a block from Buchanan again prevented the U.S. from opening the scoring.

In the 70th minute, the U.S. finally broke through. A quick transition out of midfield saw Wambach play a ball from the left to Morgan, approaching the left side of the Canadian area. After dribbling around a twisted Emily Zurrer, Morgan slid a left-footed finish inside the far post, giving the U.S. 1-0 lead.

Two minutes later, a nearly identical finish doubled the States’ lead. After Heath forced a turnover, the U.S. midfielder quickly found Morgan behind the defense on the left. Another left-footed finish into the far side netting gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead before Canada had even registered a shot.

In stoppage time, former Canadian youth star Leroux completed the scoring, slotting home the States’ third goal. The Boston Breakers’ attacker celebrated amid booing fans, raising the U.S.’s centennial crest before holding a finger to her lips, shushing the derisive crowd.

The celebration was a point of controversy post-match, eliciting a label of “classless” from the commentating team on Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet. Leroux, a target of derision from Canadian fans since declaring for the U.S. in 2011, was booed after being brought on in the 74th minute. Scattered boos also accompanied her subsequent touches, with the relationship between Leroux and her country of birth becoming even more complicated after a controversial 20 minutes.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

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.”