China v United States

How U.S. women’s national teamers have done, past the mid-point of the NWSL season

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Just over halfway through the NWSL season, here’s how prominent U.S. national team members have fared during the first year of the new women’s domestic league.

… WITH FLYING COLORS

Lauren Cheney Holiday, FC Kansas City – Perhaps surprisingly, Holiday has been the league’s best player, sliding into a playmaker’s role in which she’s rarely been used in before. The product leaves her second in the league in both goals and assists. The former Lauren Cheney missed last week’s games while getting married to Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday, hence the name change.

Bottom line: 11 games, eight goals, five assists, and the league’s leading MVP candidacy

Sydney Leroux, Boston Breakers – A strong week has Leroux up to a league leading 10 goals, and while some midseason questions gave the impression Leroux’s professional debut was becoming a rocky one, her response has led the Breakers back into playoff contention. Talent-wise, she is the full package, and since summer arrived, she’s been converting those talents into goals.

Bottom line: 11 games, 10 goals, one assist

Heather O’Reilly, Boston Breakers – As performances start to wane with the busy summer schedule, O’Reilly’s renowned intensity remains undeterred. Playing two games in four days last week, O’Reilly’s energy was vital to Boston’s four-point week. While much of her effort is being still applied down the flanks, O’Reilly’s also bolstered Boston’s efforts through the middle, making her one of the more valuable players in the league.

Bottom line: 12 games, three goals, five assists

Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC – The U.S. captain has been the league’s best defender, and while her team has leaked goals at times, it’s to be expected given the youth that surrounds her. There’s no way Sky Blue’s at the top of the league without her.

Bottom line: 13 starts, only three fouls committed

Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Has been the leader of one of the league’s best defensive pairings, her ability on and off the ball making her Rampone’s only rival for league’s best defender.

Bottom line: 12 games, one assist, only one foul committed

source: Getty ImagesAbby Wambach, Western New York Flash – You may have heard more about when Wambach wasn’t playing than what she’s done on the field, but between the lines, Wambach has been one of the league’s best players, and certainly its best forward.

Bottom line: 11 starts, seven goals, four assists

IF ONLY THEY WERE HERE MORE

Carli Lloyd, Western New York Flash – Has been one of the league’s best attacking midfielders, but a shoulder injury’s seen her limited to eight games. One of those featured a hat trick, though.

Bottom line: Eight games, seven starts, four goals

Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – Has been solid since returning in the middle of June, though her real effects have been on the team’s confidence and lineup. Seattle’s playing like a team that knows it has the talent to match its ambitions, and with Rapinoe at one wing spot (and some other moves), the Reign now have an XI capable of challenging anybody’s.

Bottom line: Four games, three starts, one goal

Hope Solo, Seattle Reign FC – Gave her team an immediate boost when she returned in late May from wrist surgery, then had a memorable mistake that cost her team a game against FC Kansas City. Since she’s ranged from great to good, more than you’d get out of most goalkeepers.

Bottom line: Six games, 39 saves, 1.00 GAA, no shutouts

GETTING THE JOB DONE

Nicole Barnhart, FC Kansas City – Until this last week, Barnhart’s solid but unspectacular performance still made her one of the league’s best keepers. Lately, however, the unspectacular tag has been dropped as Barnhart’s made some crucial plays for the Blues.

Bottom line: 13 games, 46 saves, 0.85 GAA, seven shutouts

Rachel Buehler, Portland Thorns FC – Part of the joint-best defense in the league, and while she’s still prone to the occasional error, her leadership has been valuable next to rookie center back Kathryn Williamson.

Bottom line: 12 starts, playing every minute she’s been available

Ali Krieger, Washington Spirit – Had a strong start to the season and is one of the few fullbacks in the league that’s providing a consistent, credible threat going forward. Like her teammates, has shown some signs of disillusionment as her club’s struggled.

Bottom line: 12 starts, one goal

source:  Alex Morgan, Portland Thorns FC – At times, she’s struggled, making her broader success look like the product of the U.S. national team’s approach. But as the year’s gone on, her game’s started to round out. Unfortunately, it has yet to yield the kind of numbers that will draw fan attention. Like Krieger, her fortunes (or, misfortunes) are starting to reflect her team’s.

Bottom line: 12 starts, five goals, three assists, league leading 51 shots and 29 shots on goal

MIXED BAGS

Ashlyn Harris, Washington Spirit – The popular goalkeeper has been betrayed by an inexperienced and ineffective defense, but she hasn’t done herself any favors while trying to organize them. Mix in a couple of soft goals, a few great saves, and you have Harris’s uneven season.

Bottom line: 11 starts, 50 saves, 1.73 GAA, no shutouts

Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – Has struggled as much as any allocated player. Has played left wing and struggled, showing her present and future are probably at left back. Too bad her team has a rookie (Kendall Johnson) that’s performing well in that position.

Bottom line: 12 games, 10 starts, three assists

Others: Heather Mitts was allocated to Boston but retired before the season started; Amy Rodriguez announced her pregnancy before the season started and will not play this year; Amy LePeilbet’s knee inury has kept her out all season; Jill Loyden’s has returned from a broken hand but has failed to make an appearance for Sky Blue; Tobin Heath joins the Portland Thorns this week after playing in Paris until June; Shannon Boxx made two appearances for Chicago before undergoing surgery; Lori Lindsay (Washington) and Keelin Winters (Seattle) are both U.S. allocations but have failed to figure in recent national team camps.

Andy King: If Leicester can win PL, Wales can win EURO 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Andy King is still riding high from Leicester City’s Premier League title, and that confidence is carrying over into EURO 2016.

The Foxes midfielder and Welsh international sees no reason why Wales can’t win the tournament, despite having 80-1 odds to do so.

[ MORE: England’s EURO squad ]

Of course, Leicester began the Premier League season as 5,000-1 underdogs to lift the trophy.

We’ve got to win six or seven games compared to 38.

80-1 against 5000-1. You know which one you would rather back. We are a talented group and I believe we have the best player in the tournament.

Gareth [Bale] is probably the best player in the tournament in many people’s opinion, so why can’t we go there and do something? We are confident we can do that.

If Wales were to win the EURO this summer, the story truly would rival that of Leicester. The Dragons have never played in a European Championship before, and the nation’s only other appearance at a major tournament came back at the 1958 World Cup.

[ MORE: Payet, Milner make top-five of UEFA’s “player barometer” ]

You may not agree that Gareth Bale is the best player in the tournament, but he is surely near the top of the list. Bale’s play will likely determine how far Wales can go, drawn into Group B alongside England, Slovakia, and Russia.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.