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.”

Pardew laments firing, credits Palace turnaround to new players

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Alan Pardew knows why Crystal Palace was failing when he got fired, knows he could’ve fixed it, and seems pretty bummed he’s not there any more.

Pardew emerged to make the comments after Sam Allardyce helmed another upset win for Palace, a 2-1 win over Liverpool which joins defeats of Arsenal and Chelsea.

The win moves Palace 12th, and the Eagles have a legitimate shot at a top-half finish despite their poor start to the season. But Pardew wants fans to know it was about a personnel mistake, and that Palace dropped into the relegation zone after he was fired.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

The Northeast Chronicle says Pardew aimed to bring former Newcastle left backs Davide Santon and Paul Dummett to Palace, but couldn’t get the moves over the line. Then Pape Souare was hurt in a car accident and Palace was in trouble.

Over to you, Pards (From the Chronicle’s Lee Ryder):

“We were kicking ourselves not to have any left-footed cover. We were playing right-footed players there and things were exploiting that situation. We became one dimensional.

“I was really disappointed I didn’t get to the window because Sam Allardyce followed me and the results didn’t really improve until the new players got bedded in and they made a big difference.”

Allardyce brought in Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland and Jeff Schlupp from Leicester to shore up the left side.

The story is made more amusing by the fact that Allardyce has not hesitated to make Palace’s return to form almost exclusively about his influence, while Pardew bleeds the very same blood.

Who’s on first?

Atletico Madrid at CAS to fight FIFA transfer ban

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Atletico Madrid officials are at sport’s highest court to appeal against a FIFA transfer ban that will prevent the club from signing youth players from overseas during the coming offseason.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is hearing the appeal Monday, but says a verdict is not expected immediately.

Atletico and FIFA previously agreed to seek a CAS verdict by June, before the summer trading period opens.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s advisor speaks on future ]

FIFA imposed a one-year ban on registering new players as punishment for Atletico breaking rules introduced to prevent child trafficking and luring youngsters from their home country.

Atletico denies wrongdoing, though it agreed not to sign players in January while its appeal went ahead.

Spain’s soccer federation has been criticized for its role in player registrations, with Barcelona and Real Madrid also having served FIFA transfer bans.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea won 2-0 on Oct. 30
  • Saints won fixture 3-1 last season
  • Chelsea 13W-2L at home this season
  • Blues lead all-time 40W-28D-28L

Chelsea aims to stack some wins following a momentum-restoring weekend win when Southampton visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have lost two of four inside the Premier League — home to Crystal Palace and at Manchester United — but beat Spurs 4-2 in a thrilling FA Cup semifinal this weekend, extending their season to a May 27 final against Arsenal.

Saints are coming off their first loss in four outings, a 3-0 home beatdown at the hands of Manchester City. Now to the road, where Southampton has the eighth-best record in the Premier League. And Saints boast Manolo Gabbiadini, who Chelsea boss Antonio Conte says has one of the world’s best left foots.

What they’re saying

Chelsea’s David Luiz on Antonio Conte“He’s a fantastic person before a fantastic manager, so we talk a lot, every day, because we have a great relationship,’ he explained. We try to give our best for our club and he tries to help me with his intelligence for football to improve my football so I am very happy to work with him. He did an amazing job in this game.”

Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on facing Chelsea“Of course, you say every game is important, but somehow, when you play against number one, it gets a little bit more important. I saw the game they lost against Manchester United, and now they are a little bit under pressure, and we also want to continue getting good results. Chelsea away is, of course, maybe the toughest game this year, but I think that we have the possibility to get the result.”

Prediction

Rested Southampton provides a real test, but one which Chelsea finds a way to pass thanks to a relatively rested Costa and Hazard. This is Costa’s day, with a brace in a 2-1 win.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.