Spotlight remains on Wambach as US welcomes South Korea

1 Comment

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:

Europa League: Arsenal, Marseille host semifinal 1st legs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s Champions League dreams could be in for a rude awakening against tournament-tested Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League vs. La Liga match-up is one of two Europa League semifinal first legs set to be served up Sunday, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg meeting in the other.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

There’s something romantic about Arsene Wenger closing out his time at Arsenal against French opposition in Lyon, but Atleti and Salzburg won’t step aside for poetics.

Both matches kickoff ay 3:05 p.m. ET

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid

It’s a bit stunning that this tie has no history considering both club’s statures in their leagues and Europe, but that’s what we’ll se when Arsenal welcomes Atleti for the first leg.

Arsenal boasts two of the top 10 performers in the UEL this season — it would be three had the Gunners not sold Theo Walcott — and are paced by Aaron Ramsey, who has four goals and an assist. Mesut Ozil, who’s ready to return to the pitch, has the reverse with a goal and four helpers.

The Gunners have outscored UEL opposition 29-10 this season.

It’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann has been Atleti’s best attacker since the Madrid side dropped out of the UCL to run rampant through the UEL knockout rounds. Atleti beat Copenhagen 5-1, Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1, and Sporting Lisbon 2-1 for an aggregate score line of 15-3.

Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg

Don’t expect this to be a simple case of Ligue 1 bossing inferior opposition: This pair met in the group stage, with the Austrian side winning at home and drawing 0-0 in France.

Salzburg has shown its mettle in various ways during the UEL. After allowing just one goal in an unbeaten group stage, they’ve won 4-3 over Real Sociedad, 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund, and 6-5 versus Lazio. That’s no easy road, and Marseille represents another big challenge.

Marseille is bidding to make its first European final since 2004, and has been led by Dimitri Payet‘s three goals and four assists, and Lucas Ocampos’ four goals and one assist. Marseille has knocked off RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao, and Braga after the group stage.

Names you’ll need to know from Salzburg: defenders Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda have been spectacular, and Munas Dabbur and Valon Berisha have each scored five times in the tournament.

Mourinho on longtime nemesis Wenger: ‘We can be friends in future’

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have had a poor relationship, but the former thinks he’s soon to get along with the latter.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Manchester United boss Mourinho, 55, heaped praise on the departing Arsenal manager ahead of the two sides’ Sunday meeting at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), saying the Frenchman has earned much respect.

Branding Wenger “iconic,” Mourinho says his fiery rivalry with Wenger stemmed from Arsenal’s stature in the Premier League when the Portuguese took over Chelsea.

“If he respects me even 50 percent of what I respect him we can even be friends in the future,” Mourinho told Sky Sports News. “I have lots of respect for him. But the reality is that he was at Arsenal, he was the champion and I came to the country in 2004 and wanted to steal his title. That’s football.”

Mourinho said he’s tried to show his respect for Wenger, 68, over the past few seasons. It may become a passable relationship, but we find it hard to believe the pair will be dining together on a regular basis as the sun sets on their managerial careers (Mou has a while to go, we think).

Real’s Modric on Bayern feeling unlucky: “That’s their problem”

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich produced far more chances than visiting Real Madrid in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg in Germany, but lost 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Franck Ribery butchered an open shot at goal, Robert Lewandowski beat Keylor Navas but didn’t score late, and Thomas Mueller missed getting contact on a shot inside the six.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

It was that kind of day, and Mueller is baffled that his team did not finish more than Joshua Kimmich’s opener.

“Everybody is wondering why this game is 1-2 for Madrid,” Mueller reportedly said. “We still cannot believe it.”

The quote comes from BeIN Sport’s Tancredi Palmeri, who has a stinging rebuke from Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric.

Real wasn’t great on Wednesday, but also limited their big mistakes to one: Marcelo’s lapse of judgment which helped Kimmich to open the scoring for Bayern Munich.

The hosts had a huge giveaway from Rafinha on the match-winner, and backup backstop Sven Ulreich didn’t have a phenomenal day on either goal. Throw in Arjen Robben’s injury requiring an 8th minute substitution, and Bayern did not have much good fortune on the day.

This one, though, doesn’t seem over, even with the tie moving to the Bernabeu.

McKennie, Adams, Miazga in top tier of US Soccer player pool

Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Midfielders Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams have played their way onto the top tier of the U.S. player pool along with defender Matt Miazga, according to interim coach Dave Sarachan, who says the trio would receive strong consideration for a World Cup roster if the Americans were headed to Russia in June.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

With the U.S. rebuilding following its failure to qualify for the tournament, Sarachan will continue to rely on youth for upcoming exhibitions against Bolivia, Ireland and France.

Veterans such as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley could have a role either in friendlies this autumn or when competitive matches resume in the summer of 2019.

“I do think those guys, some of them, will factor in, in terms of the Gold Cup, in terms of the next round of qualifying,” Sarachan said Wednesday. “I think it would be important to bring some of those veterans guys back.”

Dempsey, who turned 35 last month, is tied with Landon Donovan for the U.S. record of 57 international goals.

“The older guys, they’re valuable in the succession of everything, to mentor, to show these young guys what it really takes and what it is to be a part of the national team,” Sarachan said. “But as far as that goes, you know, sometimes a tie is all right, right? Share the spoils.”

Christian Pulisic, the Americans’ 19-year-old star midfielder, will be on the roster for the May 28 match against Bolivia in the Philadelphia suburbs. Pulisic, who is from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has not played for the national team since the 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October that eliminated the U.S. from World Cup contention.

While U.S. training starts May 21, Pulisic will report late so he can remain with Borussia Dortmund for a postseason exhibition at LAFC on May 22.

“He was pretty gutted after that game,” Sarachan said of the loss in Trinidad. “There’s a lot of demands of a guy like Christian. He’s being pulled in a lot of different directions. There’s still some speculation – this didn’t come from him directly – but I know that there’s some speculation that maybe he’ll move from Dortmund. So I know there’s a lot going on. And I’m trying to be helpful in the process to allow him a little wiggle room in terms of the national team now.”

Josh Sargent, the 18-year-old forward who joined Werder Bremen this year, also will be on the roster. The U.S. plays at Ireland on June 2 and at France on June 9, and Sarachan said many Europe-based players may skip the Bolivia match.

Sarachan was the top assistant to Bruce Arena, who quit after the U.S. failed to qualify. Sarachan would like to be considered for the job going forward, but new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro plans to first hire a general manager for the men’s national team, a new position.

“I would only be guessing at this point if it’s someone in place before or after the World Cup,” Sarachan said of the GM.

The 63-year-old Sarachan coached Cornell from 1988-97 and the Chicago Fire from 2002-07. He does not consider himself to be an interim coach.

“I don’t like that term personally. I hate using the word interim,” he said. “I’m the men’s national soccer coach until they tell me I’m not. I’m not naive to think that I’m a slam-dunk candidate or not. I try not to even think through that other than at some point I have to figure out my next move if it’s not going to be this.”

Since World Cup elimination, the U.S. has played a road draw at Portugal and home ties against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Paraguay. Sarachan has given national team debuts to nine players, including Adams, McKennie, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, forward Andrija Novakovich and midfielder Tim Weah – son of former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberia President George Weah.

“I feel since November, when you could arguably say it was rock bottom in terms of U.S. soccer and the perception of it, I’d like to think that there’s a little more hope, a little more hope with the program, the direction we’re going, with the exciting young talent that’s emerging,” he said. “And that makes me feel proud, because I think the work kind of speaks for itself at this point, meaning young guys are getting great minutes.”