Legacies of Wambach, Hamm, Morgan intertwine — just as they’d like them to

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HARRISON, N.J. — The mark of many great goal scorers is the ability to be selfish in front of net.

Three of the best United States forwards ever must have missed that memo.

On Thursday at Red Bull Arena, Abby Wambach smashed Mia Hamm’s international goal scoring record. Wambach entered the game needing two goals to tie the record of 158 goals; she had those within 19 minutes. By halftime she was alone at the top and two clear with 160 goals.

Wambach now owns the greatest individual record in all of soccer – men’s or women’s. She said she would celebrate her record with family and friends on Thursday night, but the significance of Hamm’s name — one synonymous with women’s soccer to this day — bumping down to second on the charts isn’t lost on Wambach.

“If I were to end my career right now, I would have done it before breaking (the record),” Wambach said. “That’s how much respect I have for Mia – how much she’s done for me personally, how much she’s doing even for Alex Morgan, still. This is a personal thing. Mia wants players to break her records. I now want Alex to break mine and I just told Alex, ‘you better do it in much less time than I did.’”

Such is the relationship of three of the most prolific scorers in the history of soccer. Wambach and Hamm are atop the charts, while Morgan’s 44 goals in 68 caps (and at 24 years old) has her on a blistering pace to join the fray. But their ambitions always lie in seeing their apprentice succeed them. Hamm did it for Wambach, guiding the 5-foot-11-inch forward through her early professional years with the U.S. and the Washington Freedom and shaping Wambach’s raw talent into a more determined, more focused player.

[MORE: Wambach breaks Hamm’s mark with four-goal night]

“I’m just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun,” Hamm said humbly in a statement issued through U.S. Soccer.

That’s it. No grievances. No ego. That’s Hamm’s nature. It’s Wambach’s too, and now she plays role model to Morgan. Their goals are to create each others goals.

Just as Hamm and Wambach became a dynamic duo in the three-plus years they played together in the early 2000’s, Wambach and Morgan have become inseparable on the field. Morgan’s assist on Wambach’s fourth goal Thursday was her 14th on a Wambach goal (Hamm also assisted 14).

[MORE: Wambach praises teammates in reaching milestone]

But the connection goes well beyond pinging crosses to each other. Find Abby Wambach in warm-ups and you’ll find Alex Morgan. Passing together. Stretching together. Even sitting next to each other on the bench after being taken out of the match (a 5-0 rout) early in the second half.

Postgame on Thursday, Morgan was beaming as if she just scored goal No. 160.

“I’ve looked up to Abby for so many years,” Morgan said. “She’s a great leader for this team, and to be able to be a part of this memory looking forward and breaking this record, Abby completely deserves it and I’m really happy for her.”

The relationship is triangular. Hamm helped Morgan train in the offseason to sharpen her skills through the dormant winter. Wambach said she was likely to speak with Hamm following Thursday night’s interviews.

Three greats at what can be the most selfish position in soccer, as unselfish as they come when it comes to each other. That they emerged for the United States in succession without any lapse in between is an unprecedented gift from the soccer gods. Greatness followed greatness, and Morgan is well ready to take the torch and sprint away with it.

“Alex is going to score tons of goals in the next few years,” Wambach said. “I think we have such a different kind of strength. When I’m having a great game, she’s probably going to be on the assisting end of things. But I want to be putting her in the positions to score goals, because my legs can’t move like hers. She can score goals in such random positions, like the Canada game.

“She’s going to be a threat for us. She’s going to be scoring the lion share of goals for our team over the next couple years, so if my role becomes assister, great. If I’m the set piece threat, fine. Whatever my role is to help this team win a World Cup title, that’s all I care about.”

That elusive World Cup – the only thing Hamm, and now Wambach, ever really cared about. Hamm won two.

Wambach gave Hamm the retirement gift of an Olympic gold medal. The best thank you Morgan could ever give Wambach is a World Cup trophy in 2015.

 

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.