Abby Wambach, Christen Press USWNT

Beyond the goals chase: Five players to watch for USWNT tonight

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All the talk heading into Thursday’s United States women’s national team’s game vs. South Korea is about Abby Wambach, and that’s exactly what she doesn’t want.

Wambach’s chase for the international goal scoring record is well-documented. Her 156 goals for the United States are two short of the mark held by Mia Hamm, arguably the best ever and a former teammate of Wambach with both the U.S. and the Washington Freedom.

But Wambach isn’t all that fond of the attention on the record. She wants to win a World Cup, something she’s twice been denied, the latest agonizingly so in 2011.

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

[MORE: Wambach aims for history on Thursday]

So let’s pause for a moment and take a look at some of the other stories that could emerge from Thursday’s game (live on NBC Sports Network and streamed online on Live Extra).

Thursday’s match is the last for the United States until September. It’s the last chance for some to make an impression, and for others just to get back into the mix.

Here are five players to keep an eye on tonight:

Hope Solo: Still not at 100 percent, Solo is still likely to start tonight. It would be her first start since Feb. 13 vs. Scotland after having left wrist surgery in early March. She came on at halftime for the U.S. on Saturday and made an immediate save but then had very little to do, which is similar to how her first two games back with Seattle Reign FC have gone. Solo has not been greatly tested to date and she probably won’t be on Thursday either. All said, that’s probably a good way to gradually get back into the mix for the world’s top goalkeeper, who admits she still has a lot of progress to make.

Megan Rapinoe: Thursday is Rapinoe’s homecoming of sorts, having played all spring in France with Lyon and missed out on the first half of the National Women’s Soccer League season, as well as Saturday’s game and the June 2 win over Canada in Toronto. How has Rapinoe’s game changed since spending six months in France? And how will that fit with the United States? We’ll find out Thursday night.

Sydney Leroux: She was been “on fire,” according to U.S. coach Tom Sermanni and she finished just about every ball that came her way in an intense Tuesday training session. Leroux was effective on Saturday from a wider right position, which is how she created the 3rd minute goal for Kristie Mewis. Of note: that ability on the wing is what Boston Breakers coach Lisa Cole has tried to instill in Leroux, something the 23-year-old has reluctantly accepted.

Christen Press: How Press fits into this U.S. team is a question not only for Thursday, but moving forward toward the 2015 World Cup. Sermmanni has an abundance of forwards at his disposal and that includes Press, but she also has the ability to play as an attacking midfielder or in a wide role. Press scored twice as a wide player in her U.S. debut on Feb. 9. She leads the Swedish Damallsvenskan with 12 goals this season.

Morgan Brian: Fresh off a U-20 World Cup victory, the 20-year-0ld out of the University of Virginia has impressed in camp and earned her first cap in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Korea Republic, entering the game in the 77th minute. Brian has been sharp in training and that hasn’t gone unnoticed on Wambach:

“I’m very impressed with Morgan Brian,” Wambach said. “She’s come into her first camp and she’s not only come in and done sub-average, she’s actually doing really well. She’s been great. Being a young player, it’s one of those things – sometimes you just have to grind through the training sessions; you don’t know what to expect, or your legs are heavy, or you’re tired – you’re not as up to speed as the rest of us. That’s normal. But it’s those players that don’t skip a beat that you kind of, ‘wow, Morgan Brian, she’s actually doing really well.’ Confident, comfortable on the ball. And for me, that just says our youth programs are really working.”

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.