Spotlight remains on Wambach as US welcomes South Korea

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There aren’t many firsts anymore for Abby Wambach.

She’s the second all-time leading international goal-scorer in women’s soccer, three tallies away from tying U.S. legend and former club and country teammate Mia Hamm. Three goals from ending all the hype and getting back to the bigger picture: the team.

”I’m sure I’m going to be glad to be done with it,” the current FIFA World Player of the Year told media after Friday’s training session.  ”You know, I’m excited for people to not talk about it as much.”

Always speaking about the team before her individual goals, Wambach will have to do something she has never done before in order to quickly end the #ChasingMia campaign: score against South Korea, an opponent she’s never faced.

[MORE: Big week for Wambach proves she’s ready for stretch run to 2015]

The two teams last played three matches over eight days in November of 2008 as part of the United States’ Olympic gold medal celebration tour, an Olympics Wambach missed after breaking her leg on the eve of the team’s flight to Beijing.

Wambach currently has 155 goals. Tying Hamm at 158 conceivably could be done over a two-game span against a good-not-great Korea Republic team, ranked No. 16 in the world.

If she wants to end the chase and the hype (the media will continue talking about this even when the mark is reached), she’ll need to do it in this mini-series on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. (7 p.m. ET) and Thursday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra). These are the last two games for the United States until after the end of the National Women’s Soccer League season; the championship game is August 31.

A familiar bunch for the United States

U.S. coach Tom Sermanni called in a predictable bunch of players for the pair of friendlies, but the roster includes a pair of exciting returnees.

Hope Solo is back on the official training camp roster after undergoing left wrist surgery in early March. Solo already made her return in NWSL, playing in the last two losses for a winless Seattle Reign FC team on an eight-game skid. She also trained with the United States before the team’s 3-0 win over Canada, but was not on the roster for the game, making this training camp Solo’s formal return.

[MORE: Sermanni names 23-player roster for South Korea matches]

Also back (more notably on U.S. soil than anything else) is midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who missed the Canada game to stay in France as Lyon wrapped up its season. Lyon won the French Cup last weekend, though it failed to claim the bigger prize of the Champions League after being upset by Wolfsburg. Rapinoe will play with the U.S. before continuing west to Seattle, where she could make her debut by month’s end.

The main new face is that of University of Virginia midfielder Morgan Brian getting some time in camp with the senior team. Brian was part of the U.S. U-20 team that won the 2012 World Cup, upsetting Germany 1-0 in the final. Brian, a crafty, technical sort of midfielder that would catch the eye of Sermanni, enters her junior year at Virginia this fall.

Getting to know the visitors

With the 2015 World Cup expanded to 24 teams, five will qualify from Asia, giving Korea Republic a very likely chance of making their first appearance since 2003 (especially with their northern neighbors ineligible for the tournament due to a doping scandal).

The visitors have never beaten the United States (0-5-1 all-time).

Keep an eye on forward Ji So-Yun. The 22-year-old was the star of the 2010 U-20 World Cup and currently plays for INAC Kobe Leonessa, the two-time defending champion of Japan. She has a Marta-esk dribbling ability in which the ball sticks to her foot.

Maybe you remember her from that 2010 tournament (you should), when she scored eight goals in six games. Check out the highlights of those goals below, along with a goal she scored for INAC Kobe in 2011 which displays just how good of a dribbler she is:

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.”