Tom Sermanni

Tom Sermanni names United States team for upcoming South Korea friendlies

Leave a comment

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.

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

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.