U.S.’s South Korea friendlies come at expense of NWSL: Is it worth it?

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Laura Harvey confessed: It was something she’d have to get used to. Last Sunday, in the wake of a demoralizing home loss to FC Kansas City, the Seattle Reign coach was looking forward to the Sunday’s rivalry match without Hope Solo and Kaylyn Kyle, two important parts of her back five. True, Portland was going to be without the likes of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, called in to U.S. and Canadian camps despite matches scheduled outside of FIFA breaks, but while Harvey was at Arsenal LFC, she didn’t have players taken from her out of window. This was something new; something frustrating.

That’s life in a federation-sponsored league. The U.S. and Canada (with help from Mexico) are shouldering much of burden for the NWSL, the three federations paying the salaries of players placed in the new eight-team league. What recourse did the Reign have? There’s no appetite to bite the hand.

For Canada, you can see the logic of the call-ups. John Herdman’s team travel to Germany for a Wednesday game that’s an important part of his team’s development. Ahead of hosting the 2015 World Cup, Canada’s looking at consistent matches against high-level competition to make their capable team into a more consistent one. How does Canada become a team that can regularly give performances like last year’s Olympic semifinal? By repeatedly putting the team in a position to step up.

The U.S. is in a different place. Their June 15th and 20th friendlies seem more a function of pre-NWSL habit than any kind of development need, something easily argued against when noting new coach Tom Sermanni has only been on the job six months. But while you can just as easily argue that players need time in camps to be evaluated properly, you could also argue that staying with their clubs while getting direction from both national team and club staff would help players settle into routines, habits that will better promote development.

Perhaps the North American club game isn’t there, yet. The type of improvement we’ve seen from Christen Press since she’s been in Sweden? Or the glimpses of six month’s further polish evident in Tobin Heath? Perhaps the NWSL can’t provide that, yet. Maybe these camps are still very much needed, even if the scheduling of South Korea — a decent if ultimately unthreatening opponent — hints these games may be part of an old, pre-league playbook: Schedule friendlies, sell tickets, and otherwise occupy this low point of the cycle.

But as the NWSL pushes on with a five-game week, three of which take place tonight, it’s hard to see how these mid-season benefit either U.S. Soccer or the NWSL in the long run. If the argument for throwing money behind the NWSL espouses the developmental value of a strong domestic league, then let the league be strong. Unless you have an opponent like Germany and a need like Canada’s, take the long view. Make the little sacrifices needed to embolden the NWSL so that in the this type of discussion eventually becomes irrelevant.

In their two games against South Korea, U.S. Soccer may raise money that will help pay their players’ salaries, this supporting the NWSL. But the domestic league was always going to be about little sacrifices: by owners; by players; and by the federations. Not calling in the national team players for mid-season matches against South Korea? That would have been just another small sacrifice toward the NWSL’s health.

(Author’s note: The original post made two references to the U.S.’s friendlies being out-of-window in regards to the international calendar. Those references were incorrect and have been removed.)

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.