Tobin Heath

Morgan faces Wambach, Heath makes her NWSL debut as Thorns, Flash draw

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PORTLAND, Ore. — When the NWSL schedule came out, it was one of the most anticipated games of the season: Portland-based Abby Wambach visiting JELD-WEN Field with her home town Western New York Flash to face the one team with Major League Soccer backing – Portland Thorns FC. With Portland’s typical standout crowd, the Wambach versus Alex Morgan matchup was sure to be one of the most interesting of the season.

And in front of a 13,201-person audience that was given reason to erupt when Canadian international Karina LeBlanc saved a late Wambach penalty kick, Portland and Western  New York played one of the most entertaining matches of the year, the 34-shot affair ending in a 1-1 draw.

Those who showed up to see Wambach’s first NWSL visit to Portland were rewarded in the 37th minute when the U.S. international reached her right leg around rookie defender Kathryn Williamson to put home a ball from winger Samantha Kerr. One minute later, Thorns midfielder Meleana Shim fired home from 19 yards, the last goal of a game that once promised to be a shootout.

But for all the Abby versus Alex anticipation the matchup once garnered, Sunday’s kickoff had become anticipated for an entirely different reason. After spending the first months of the season in France playing for Paris Saint-Germain, U.S. international Tobin Heath made her much-anticipated Portland debut, starting in midfield for Cindy Parlow Cone’s side.

“She helped us so much today,” Cone explained, her team showing some of the attacking spark fans expected at the beginning of the season. “[Heath’s] a world class player … She’s one of the most tactical players and also one of the most technical, creative players playing the game today.”

The impact was obvious, if ultimately inconsequential. Heath’s skill on the ball helped Portland play a possession game they’ve struggled to implement all season, while her ability to play anywhere across the width of the pitch allowed the Thorns to utilize wide areas that have been neglected throughout much of the season. Even in her physical presence, something for which she’s not especially known, Heath made an impact, her pure soccer instincts helping her win balls for the Thorns.

“Tobin has great mobility,” Cone said after the game, asked about Heath’s various positioning within Portland’s midfield. In the team’s 4-4-2 formation, she started on the left, switched to the right, and played the second half in the middle.

“She has such a great fitness base,” Cone said, “wherever she’s moving, we have other players who will fill in other positions.”

That great fitness Cone alluded to also played into the move centrally, according to Heath. As the central, attacking midfielder, Heath’s need to track back decreased, allowing her to see out a match despite some apparently rubbery legs.

“I think that was kind of the plan: to go 45 (minutes), see how I was feeling, switch me to attacking mid so I didn’t have to do as much up-and-down running,” Heath said after her NWSL debut. “I was a little surprised. My fitness base is pretty good, but taking a few weeks off and coming back , I was pretty happy, especially with the heat. Overall, I was happy to be able to go 90 [minutes].”

The game’s style also represented a transition for Heath, who spent the last six months in France’s Division Feminine. Whereas European soccer is characterized by a more tactical style, Saturday’s Portland-Western New York match embodied the characteristics regularly associated with the North American game.

“Obviously it’s very physical, athletic, fast pace, transitional type game,” Heath said, asked how the NWSL’s level of play compares to France’s. “I think you saw that today, especially with the heat. It gets pretty stretched out.”

That type of game helped leverage Heath’s strengths as well as revitalize Portland’s attack. Despite the presence of Morgan and Canadian icon Christine Sinclair, Portland’s only scored 19 goals in 15 games. Only two teams in the eight-team league have been less productive, yet with Heath in the team, Portland was able to generate 20 shots, including 10 on goal.

“[Cone] gives me a lot of freedom,” Heath said, describing her role. “I think she knows I’m a player that needs a little room to be creative and make something happen. But the midfielders that are around me are very good with the ball. I think it’s just a matter of getting that confidence and belief in one another in the midfield to play, because we really can play.”

That was evident on Sunday. Ultimately, Portland dropped points at home, but compared to the stretch that’d seen them shutout in three straight games, the performance against Western New York  was progress, portending well for Heath’s contributions throughout the rest of the season.

Wenger ready for Black Friday? “I love a bargain!”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
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Following a bit of banter in midweek about Arsene Wenger‘s frugality in the transfer market, ahead of Arsenal’s clash at Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) their manager was asked about the Black Friday sales.

Turns out, Wenger loves a bargain.

[ VIDEO: Leicester, United clash ]

The Frenchman, 66, has helped Arsenal finance the move to the Emirates Stadium and still keep the club among the top four in Premier League for 19-straight seasons but has often been criticized for not splashing more cash in the transfer market in recent seasons with the Gunners reportedly having a healthy transfer budget.

Asked about Black Friday, here’s what he had to say.

“I love a bargain. Who doesn’t love a bargain?” Wenger laughed. “I don’t meet many people who don’t like a bargain.”

[ MORE: 10 PL players on World Best XI shortlist

More specifically surrounding transfers, Wenger has been linked with moves for Lars Bender and Alexandre Pato on Thanksgiving as the Gunners start to look a little light in midfield with injuries mounting up. A reporter asked Wenger if people should go out and by two TV’s on Black Friday, even if they didn’t need one, because they were cheap. Translation: “Arsene, will you buy anyone in January?”

“If they need two TVs then yes… but if they don’t need a TV then why should they buy two? That is where you come back to bargains. What is a bargain for us? It is to buy players of top quality. Only top quality strengthens our squad,” Wenger said. “I can tell you I bought Patrick Vieira for $3.7 million. It was a top bargain but first of all it was a top bargain because it was a top quality player. We spent nearly $60 million for [Mesut] Ozil in that deal. I still consider that a bargain because the player is top quality, so that has to be the priority, the quality of the player.”

With Arsenal’s only true holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, out injured for at least three months, Wenger confirmed that he will do business in January if a player of the required quality comes along.

So, Wenger’s a bargain hunter. Who’d have thought it…

Drogba wants to return to Chelsea… as manager

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Didier Drogba, Chelsea manager.” How does that sound, Blues fans?

[ MORE: Bender, Pato to Arsenal? ]

Current Montreal Impact forward Drogba still has another year to run on his contract in Major League Soccer but he’s already thinking about going into management after hanging up his boots for the final time.

Speaking to BBC Africa the 37-year-old Ivory Coast legend revealed he will return to Chelsea in some capacity once he’s finished playing, and doesn’t see why he can’t manage the Blues.

“I want to give back to the club which has given so much to me. I have agreed that with the club directors,” Drogba said.”Why not manager? Why not sporting director, trainer at the academy or maybe an advising role for strikers?”

So, there you have it. Drogba is hunting down Mourinho…

Not quite, but it’s classy to see that Chelsea will bring back the man who score the goals to help them win four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League crown, four FA Cups, three League Cups and was one of the stars during the most successful spell in club history. Bravo.

[ MORE: 10 PL players make FIFPro World Best XI shortlist ]

As for Mourinho and the current woes Chelsea’s boss is facing following a nightmare start to the 2015-16 campaign, Drogba believes he has the support of the players and the owner and can turn things around.

“If the club has kept him that means owner Roman Abramovich thinks that he is the right man,” Drogba said. “I think the players trust him and he is giving his best to change the situation.”

And if he doesn’t, well, you have Drogba’s cell number, right Mr. Abramovich?

LIVE – Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool look to clinch last 32 spot

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Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool can clinch a spot in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, with the Premier League dup doing their best to boost England’s UEFA coefficient.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Tottenham are in Azerbaijan as they sit top of Group J and a win against Qarabag (kick off, 1 p.m. ET) would secure qualification to the Europa League knockout stages for the fourth-straight season. Three points could also seal top spot if Monaco lose to Anderlecht, Mauricio Pochettino is set to rotate his squad with teenage American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers traveling with the first team.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp (fresh from practicing his scouse accent) will send his team out against Bordeaux hoping to clinch a spot in the last 32. With a win Liverpool would qualify and set up a winner-takes-top-spot clash with FC Sion in Switzerland on Dec. 10.

Other big games taking place in the penultimate round of Europa League group games include Celtic hosting Ajax knowing only a win will keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stage, Slovan Liberec and Marseille clash with serious Group F implications and plenty of groups hang in the balance with all four teams still capable of qualifying.

Click on the link above to keep up to date with all the scores from around the Europa League on Thursday.

10 Premier League players on FIFPro World XI shortlist

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10 Premier League stars have been selected among the best 55 players in the world.

[ VIDEO: Foxes to stay top? United for title?

Manchester City lead the way in PL nominations with four. City’s David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were shortlisted, while Chelsea has three players shortlisted with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Eden Hazard making it. Manchester United’s David De Gea and Wayne Rooney were also nominated and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez completes the 10 PL players included in the list.

Real Madrid have the most nominations with 12 players, while Bayern Munich is next with 11 and Barcelona have nine players selected. Major League Soccer has one rep with New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo included.

The shortlist was revealed after almost 25,000 professional players across the world voted. The final XI for 2015 will be announced at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Jan. 11, 2016.

Via FIFPro, below is a full list of the 55 players on the shortlist.


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus)
Iker Casillas (Spain, FC Porto)
David De Gea (Spain, Manchester United)
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, Real Madrid CF)
Manuel Neuer (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)


David Alaba (Austria, FC Bayern Munich)
Jordi Alba (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Daniel Alves (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Jerome Boateng (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Daniel Carvajal (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy, Juventus)
David Luiz (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
Diego Godin (Uruguay, Atlético Madrid)
Mats Hummels (Germany, Borussia Dortmund)
Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia, Chelsea)
Vincent Kompany (Belgium, Manchester City)
Philipp Lahm (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Marcelo (Brazil, Real Madrid CF)
Javier Mascherano (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Pepe (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Gerard Pique (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Thiago Silva (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
John Terry (England, Chelsea)
Raphael Varane (France, Real Madrid CF)


Thiago Alcantara (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Xabi Alonso (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Sergio Busquets (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Eden Hazard (Belgium, Chelsea FC)
Andres Iniesta (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Toni Kroos (Germany, Real Madrid CF)
Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid CF)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy, New York City FC)
Paul Pogba (France, Juventus)
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia, FC Barcelona)
James Rodriguez (Colombia, Real Madrid CF)
David Silva (Spain, Manchester City)
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast, Manchester City FC)
Marco Verratti (Italy, Paris Saint-Germain)
Arturo Vidal (Chile, FC Bayern Munich)


Sergio Aguero (Argentina, Manchester City FC)
Gareth Bale (Wales, Real Madrid CF)
Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid CF)
Douglas Costa (Brazil, FC Bayern Munich)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain FC)
Robert Lewandowski (Poland, FC Bayern Munich)
Lionel Messi (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Thomas Muller (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Neymar Jr. (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Arjen Robben (The Netherlands, FC Bayern Munich)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United FC)
Alexis Sanchez (Chile, Arsenal)
Luis Suarez (Uruguay, FC Barcelona)
Carlos Tevez (Argentina, Boca Juniors)