Tom Sermanni names United States team for upcoming South Korea friendlies

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Don’t expect a repeat of last week’s long-winded thought experiment. As for the issues discussed then — lack of turnover, depth at left back — we’ll hit those as we go through the 23-woman roster Tom Sermanni has selected for June 15th and 20th’s matches against South Korea.

In short, there’s reason to think both of those concerns may turn out to be little more than the bored musing that fly around at a downpoint in a team’s cycle. Sermanni’s been on the job six months, and we’re still well away from the 2015 World Cup. Each selection is going to include curiosities as the staff tried to evaluate the player pool. Some curiosities will be positive (hey look – it’s Morgan Brian). Others will require some thought (um, Jill Loyden hasn’t played in a while).

We’re still two years out. Right now, it’s a lot of bluster about very little movement.

Not that there’s anything wrong with bluster. Here are our thoughts on the team:

Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign)

No surprises here. Expect Solo, omitted from the team that faced Canada, to regain her starting spot. She was untested in her NWSL return (the only decent chance Portland generated two weeks ago coming off a penalty kick). With Barnhart assumed to be Solo’s current backup, might as well call in Jill Loyden, whose recovery from a broken hand has kept her from playing for Sky Blue FC.

Well, kind of. Loyden’s been on Jim Gabarra’s recent game day rosters but has been unable to reclaim SBFC’s starting position from NWSL May Player of the Month Brittany Cameron. That status prompts the question: If Loyden hasn’t played all season and is coming off injury, why is she even being called in?

With a third keeper, you can afford to bring somebody in to evaluate. But that’s bad news for Washington’s Ashlyn Harris, who misses out on the squad. Harris had dealt with some fitness issues before the Toronto camp, but according to both U.S. Soccer and the Washington Spirit, she’s fine. Fitness wasn’t a factor.

The selections are also bad news for Boston’s Alyssa Naeher, who continues to have trouble drawing more attention from her national team. Her move stateside from Turbine Potsdam may re-ignite her cas.

Defenders: Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

Meghan Klingenberg gets recalled, confirming her she’s still in the picture after being left off the team for Toronto. She’s the only surprise of an eight-woman group whose revelations will be in the XI (not 23). If Whitney Engen keeps getting starts along side Christie Rampone, we’ll know Sermanni wants the Liverpool defender to start consolidating her partnership with Christie Rampone. And if Crystal Dunn sees more time at left back, we’ll know she, not Kristie Mewis, is Kelley O’Hara’s likely backup.

Midfielders: Yael Averbuch (Göteborg), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Western NY Flash), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)

Welcome back, Yael Averbuch, who missed out on the team for the Canada game. But also give a welcome to Morgan Brian, the 20-year-old U-level standout the latest to get a some time with the senior  team.

A creative midfielder coming off her second year at the University of Virginia, Brian was part of the team that represented the U.S. at last year’s U-20 World Cup in Japan. Despite her talent, she’s a bit of a surprise call up, but if Sermanni uses his 22nd and 23rd spots as more than handshakes and backslaps to veteran troopers, the program will be better for it.

Amber Brooks and Julie Johnston miss out on this team, but the big news for most will be the return of Megan Rapinoe, which will spur another starting XI debate. Who is the first choice right midfielder? Rapinoe, at one point, had pushed Heather O’Reilly to the bench, but in terms of put wide play, O’Reilly continues to be one of the best in the world.

It’s another question that doesn’t need to be decided for two years. Not that we’ll refrain from dissecting it.

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

Carved in stone. And why not?

Doubling back to last week’s thought experiment, let’s think about what we’ve learned (or, had confirmed) between the Canada match and this selection:

  • On lack of new blood, when players like Brooks and Brian are being called in (in addition to Press, Dunn, Johnston, Averbuch, and Klingenberg’s roles in the setup), it’s hard to criticize the lack of turnover. And in that sense, it’s hard to see the Rachel Quon issue (players jumping from the U.S. pool to other nations) as a function of a closed system. The critique needs to be refined as …
  • What does an “in” player have to do to be dropped? Last time, this came up with Carli Lloyd, but Lloyd looked good in Canada, so it’s difficult to get too worked up about her getting the benefit of the doubt. This time, Jill Loyden got the call over Harris, but if Barnhart ends up suiting up against South Korea, Loyden’s inclusion can be seen as evaluating somebody who will compete for the No. 2 job (not merely a place in the squad).
  • The other issue discussed last week: Whether we’ll see another Becky Sauerbrunn – a player who can used the new domestic league to establish national team bonafided. Tom Sermanni has said it’s too early in the NWSL season to be making any judgments, though for players like Becky Edwards (Portland), Keelin Winters (Seattle), Jen Buczkowski (Kansas City), or Leigh Ann Robinson (Kansas City), the new league can be seen as augmenting previous established cases. When will we see a breakthough?

Ultimately, it’s bcoming more and more difficult to recycle to old complaints onto Tom Sermanni’s selections. Soon the debates will be more traditional ones – pure player versus player evaluations.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.