Holiday, Tymrak leading FC Kansas City’s stylish surge

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Tucked away in the outskirts of Kansas City, the best team in the National Women’s Soccer League is led by a pair of names unfamiliar to the casual soccer fan.

One, Lauren Holiday, is better known as Lauren Cheney – the name under which she claimed two Olympic gold medals prior to her 25th birthday – before marrying NBA all-star Jrue Holiday earlier this month.

The other, Erika Tymrak, is a second round college draft pick who has burst onto the scene in her first few months as a professional.

Together the pair accounts for the most goals (16) of any two players from the same team, and they have Kansas City in first place after Wednesday night’s 3-0 thrashing of the Boston Breakers. Tymrak leads all rookies with six goals, and Holiday co-leads the league in goals (10) while leading the NWSL with eight assists.

“With Tymrak and (Holiday), it’s a different game,” FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “They are looking for each other – even in practices they are looking for each other. They try to think ahead. They enjoy it. They love the style; they believe in the style and they are the ones encouraging everyone else to maintain the style.”

Andonovski has cheekily dubbed Kansas City’s style of play as ‘Triple A’: Attractive, attacking and aggressive.

Kansas City has executed all three of those to perfection in its ascension to the top of the table, heading into Sunday’s road match against Sky Blue FC – previous league leaders since May 16 – on an eight-game unbeaten streak that has included as much possession-oriented play as it has highlight reel goals.

Holiday’s successes are not surprising. The likely leading candidate for inaugural MVP went from a 20-year-old who was a last-minute addition to the 2008 Olympic gold medal team to one of the best players at the 2011 World Cup. She’s a shoe-in midfielder for every United States women’s national team training camp.

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Erika Tymrak could be on the verge of a U.S. women’s national team callup. (Photo courtesy FC Kansas City/John Rieger)

Tymrak, on the other hand, entered the league as the No. 11-overall college draft pick following a good but not necessarily headline-grabbing college career at Florida. Her impact in Kansas City has been immediate.

“The special thing about this league is that I think it is definitely for players like an Erika Tymrak,” Holiday said. “Sometimes in college they get overlooked, and in a league like this they are able to really shine.

The connection between Holiday, 25, and the 21-year-old Tymrak isn’t forced; it’s natural and it comes with ease. Their styles mesh and they “have the same mindset,” Tymrak says.

Just look to the first goal in Wednesday’s win over Boston: Tymrak was fouled near midfield and before she was even fully back on both feet, Jen Buczkowski tapped the ball to Holiday in order to play quickly – attacking and aggressive, remember – and Holiday found Tymrak, who dribbled, played a give-and-go with Holiday and then played a through ball to Merrit Mathias, whose cross deflected off a Boston defender and into the net (watch the play from the start here).

The entire sequence was like a walk-though – a dance, even, as Tymrak draws from some of the skills she picked up as a child in ballet, figure skating and gymnastics.

“I’m still a student of the game,” Tymrak said. “I’m learning new things every practice from my coaches and the players around me, who obviously have a lot more experience than me.”

Holiday, who serves as chief role model to Tymrak, says her understudy “has some of the best feet that I have seen a U.S. player have.” The rookie’s technical ability is the kind that is still an anomaly on the U.S. national team, outside the likes of Holiday, Megan Rapinoe or Tobin Heath. That has more than a few people paying attention to Tymrak.

“I know coach Sermanni has been following her lately and has interest in her,” Andonovski said. “If she keeps playing the way that she is playing, I think it is almost a no-brainer.”

And for FC Kansas City, the play of the dynamic duo, along with a rock of a defensive unit that includes defensive midfielders Jen Buczkowski and Desiree Scott (who Holiday calls “their saviors”) have the Blues on track for a playoff run and arguably in the role of favorites, an unpredictable position for a franchise that nine months ago emerged from the unknown and whose coach is leading his first women’s professional team.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.