US women ‘focused’ as Wambach aims for history

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MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Thursday’s United States women’s national team match falls smack in the middle of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season. It’s a friendly. It’s against the same team, Korea Republic, that the United States just handily defeated 4-1 on Saturday.

But its relevance is critical, particularly to Abby Wambach – and for more reasons than the obvious.

“People might say that these games are irrelevant and that they don’t matter, but it’s about putting ourselves in a position to learn more about each other every single match,” Wambach said after Tuesday’s training session, which lasted almost 2 ½ hot, humid hours.

“And if you do that consistently and if you commit yourself to learning about each other and how we are going to play this specific game, you give yourself a better chance of winning a World Cup, and for me that’s all I care about. That’s my focus and every single game does matter, no matter who we are playing, or how many times in a row we are playing them.”

Wambach is team-first — always. But the individual brilliance can’t be ignored. She is, of course, two goals away from tying Mia Hamm’s all-time international goal scoring record of 158. Wambach drew one closer on Saturday with a goal from the penalty spot in the final of 45-plus minutes. She’s likely to start on Thursday at Red Bull Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra), in no small part to help get on with the talk about her chase of the record.

“Of course I would love for it to be over and done with at some point. You never know what could happen – I’m an older player,” Wambach said, acknowledging, as always, that she has to earn time in the lineup first.

“I’ll be glad when it’s over so we can all stop talking about it and move on to 2015.”

U.S. coach Tom Sermanni agrees that it would be good to end the hype and hone in on putting together a “focused” 90-minute team effort.

“It would be nice to kind of get it out of the way, because it’s one of those constant things that’s now been talked about for six months – a long time,” Sermanni said. “So it would be good to get it out of the way, get it off the table and focus on going forward.”

If Wambach doesn’t tie or break the record – something very possible against a Korea Republic team that proved shaky in the back on Saturday – she’ll have to wait until September. The national team will take a break until the National Women’s Soccer League season ends on August 31.

She’ll certainly get her chances, though. Sermanni says that “if she feels up to 90 minutes,” then she’ll play.

For club and country

Sermanni will likely make several changes to the starting lineup that played against the same opponent six nights earlier. Part of that comes with managing a team based primarily on NWSL players. Sermanni is well aware of the full weekend ahead of league play, including the Portland Thorns FC-Sky Blue FC matchup. Both teams are tied for first with identical 8-2-1 records.

While Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said he has had dialogue with Sermanni to get an idea of how Thursday may play out, Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone says she hasn’t contacted the U.S. skipper, “and that’s by design.”

Combine Sermanni’s awareness of Saturday’s match just down the Garden State Parkway (which Thorns forward Alex Morgan could be available for) with his noting how Sydney Leroux has been “on fire” in training and Leroux could line up next to Wambach to start Thursday’s match.

Hope Solo is likely to start in net, but won’t play the full 90 minutes.

Thursday will also mark the first time Megan Rapinoe has played on U.S. soil professionally or internationally since Feb. 13, when she scored in a 3-1 win over Scotland.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.