Healthy foot or not, Tobin Heath comes through for Thorns in NWSL Championship

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Tobin Heath didn’t train all week after having her right foot stomped on in last week’s semifinal.

Still, she insisted she’d be ready to play in Saturday’s National Women’s Soccer League Championship game.

And when game time came at Sahlen’s Stadium, she stepped right into the starting lineup for the Thorns. Forty minutes later she hit a knuckling free kick from 34 yards out for the game-winner in Portland Thorns FC’s 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash.

“I knew I’d have limited opportunities and as soon as I saw the free kick in that spot, I knew I wanted it. I was pretty confident when I stepped up,” Heath said.

Limited opportunity describes her season with the Thorns, to an extent. It didn’t start until July 14 after her return from French club Paris Saint-Germain, where she’ll return to immediately on Sunday.

Her presence helped calm and solidify a Thorns midfield that largely struggled through the first half of the season, even leading Alex Morgan to say in June that at times she “felt alone up top.”

But Heath was a catalyst in bringing together a disjointed Thorns side for the stretch-run of a season that varied greatly from the script many wrote for a flagship franchise expected to runaway with the title. Instead they finished third on a tiebreaker, going on the road to Kansas City and Rochester, N.Y. to win the title.

“When some type of adversity happens, our team comes together, even when more,” Heath said. “That’s just kind of been the end of our season, how it’s been. It’s given us hope and belief and I think you saw all that until the very end.”

Heath never revealed the diagnosis of her right foot injury, but said after Saturday’s game that the foot was “not even close to 80 percent.”

Saturday’s brutally physical – which saw five players carded, including Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson seeing two yellow cards in eight minutes for an ejection – wasn’t exactly conducive to Heath’s technical style. She may not have been the best Thorns player on the field, but one stellar moment was enough.

And her teammates had no doubt in her, either. Could anyone have imagined Heath’s hurt right foot hitting a free kick like that?

“I would have believed (it),” said Tina Ellertson – who joined the Thorns on roster freeze day on July 31. “She has an awesome right foot. She’s an amazing player.”

On Saturday, Heath’s free kick – along with Christine Sinclair’s stoppage time goal to ice the game – lifted Portland, who got contributions from lesser known names like Mana Shim and Danielle Foxhoven throughout earlier stretches of the season.

“Different people stepping up at different moments every time. I’m just so proud of them coming together as a team and playing with such an amount of heart,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said.

Pique says Neymar “does not know what to do”

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Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has spoken out about the Neymar saga, stating that he and his fellow teammates are trying to lend their comrade a hand as he looks to sort out his future between Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking ahead of the El Clasico preseason match in Miami, Pique told reporters, “Neymar and I we are very close and I want him to stay and I know the situation. Right now he doesn’t know what to do and we are trying to help him, the ones [on the team] that are more close to him to take the right decision.”

[ MORE: Miazga loaned back to Vitesse ]

Pique was the source of intrigue a five days ago when he posted a Tweet with picture of himself and Neymar and the caption “He stays.” The defender was forced to clarify later saying that his post was only a hopeful prediction of the future rather than a bit of breaking news.

“It depends on what he wants,” Pique said at the pre-match press conference. “He can be in all the clubs in all the world. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or City. All the clubs will want him. It’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money? Do you want to win titles?”

Then, Pique used his knowledge of American sports to make a comparison, perhaps indirectly referencing Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. “It’s happening here and it’s happening in the NBA as well. There are some players that are not earning all the money that they deserve to win titles. So sometimes you have to take decisions in life and it’s all about priorities.”

Meanwhile, club captain Iniesta was also asked about Neymar, and he said he just wants a decision soon. “We [as players] just want peace which will benefit everyone – the players, the club and everything surrounding it.”

Former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol also spoke out about Neymar’s situation, telling Spanish publication Marca that he thinks Neymar should make his decision soon to erase the uncertainty.

Cheers! Czech soccer club shapes dugouts like beer cans

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PRAGUE (AP) Czech club Viktoria Plzen has come up with innovative beer-can shaped dugouts that truly represent the city.

The club from Plzen, or Pilsen in English, is known as the Czech capital of beer which gave the world the golden “pilsner” lager in 1842.

This week, it unveiled the new dugouts at its Doosan Arena that look exactly like beer cans.

Plzen manager general Adolf Sadek said it was a joint idea from the club and the nearby Gambrinus brewery.

“Such dugouts are unique and I daresay no other club has them,” Sadek said.

Added Gambrinus brewer Zdenek Polak, “Beer and football belong to each other.”

Players welcomed the novelty, particularly with leather heated seats.

The dugouts will first be tested in Viktoria’s season opener against Dukla Prague on Saturday.

Report: USMNT’s Paul Arriola attracting MLS, European interest

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Several U.S. Men’s National Team players made strong impressions on Bruce Arena and Co. at this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup — which resulted in a Stars and Stripes title.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push to top in latest MLS Power Rankings ]

One of those players is Club Tijuana attacker Paul Arriola, whose performance for the USMNT and in Mexico have drawn him significant interest from MLS, Portugal and the Netherlands, according to Goal USA.

The report from Goal states that a “half dozen” sides in MLS have shown interest in Arriola, including Real Salt Lake.

Arriola, 22, has played for Xolos in Liga MX since 2013 after finishing up his academy career with the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy would hold the rights to Arriola if he were to join MLS due to a Homegrown claim, despite the forward only spending one season with the club’s academy from 2012 to 2013.

Chanot, Wallace among missing for NYCFC’s clash at Toronto

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Patrick Vieira’s men have been flying high as of late, but New York City FC’s difficult schedule continues over the weekend north of the border.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push towards top of PST MLS Power Rankings ]

NYCFC will take on Toronto FC on Sunday afternoon at BMO Field, but the third-place side in the Eastern Conference will have to do so without six first-team players.

[ MORE: MLS Week 22 preview — Sigi makes LA debut against Sounders ]

A number of injuries will keep out regulars like center back Maxime Chanot, winger Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita, while Miguel Camargo, Khiry Shelton and 16-year-old midfielder/defender James Sands are also sidelined ahead of the Toronto clash.

Wallace and Camargo each sustained injuries during the CONCACAF Gold Cup while on duty with Costa Rica and Panama, respectively.

The two sides settled for a 2-2 draw when they last met on July 19 at Yankee Stadium, but an NYCFC victory could mean a strong push for Vieira and Co. towards the top of the East.

As the table stands, NYCFC currently sits just three points Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference through 21 matches, while the Chicago Fire are lumped in between the two clubs on 38 points.

Meanwhile, TFC will continue to deal with a couple injuries of its own as Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou remain out with abdominal and calf ailments, respectively.