Realities of CONCACAF, tyranny of goals on display Tuesday for U.S. women

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Sydney Leroux stole the show Tuesday, but if there was ever a ho-hum four-goal performance, this was it. That’s not to say Leroux, trying ardently to make her case to start for the U.S. Women’s National Team, doesn’t deserve credit. She certainly does, though with a header into an open goal, a tap in of Lauren Holiday’s work, a left-footed jab Mexico’s Cecilia Santiago should have stopped, and a nice set piece header, Leroux’s performance was more opportunism than dominance. The tyranny of goals (how they overshadowed the details) ruled the headlines after the U.S.’s 7-0 win on Tuesday, though in that way, Leroux’s night was a metaphor for her entire team’s performance.

The U.S. weren’t at their best. Who would have expected them to be, with most of the team having just completed their teams’ NWSL seasons? In a friendly scheduled three days after the North American women’s league’s final game, the team looked capable, controlling, but far from their best. Some nice second half spells of possession were the exception in a game defined by the pure disparity in talent.

Despite getting zero minutes from Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Ali Krieger (with only Morgan even in camp), the U.S. were still light years ahead of their competition. And that’s the case almost anytime they play in CONCACAF. Though it wasn’t so long ago the U.S. were actually losing to Mexico (as they did in qualifying for the 2011 World Cup), most competition in this part of the world proves a step down from a spirited intrasquad scrimmage. It’s too bad “USA 1 vs. USA 2” wouldn’t sell as many tickets as “USA vs. Mexico,” because it would be a better test.

The final score line looked good, and the team hit the 90th minute at their typical CONCACAF canter, but ultimately, we learned almost nothing from the match. That Sydney Leroux can pour in goals against regional competition is a well-established fact. Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, and Christie Rampone still perform at their same elite levels. We knew this. The performance from Mexico was so meek, we didn’t get a chance to learn anything about Erika Tymrak’s international-readiness, the “Kristie Mewis Left Back Project,” Leigh Ann Robinson, Crystal Dunn, or Becky Sauerbrunn’s viability in defense, or Hope Solo’s current quality. And because of the way the U.S. played, we didn’t get to judge Lauren Holiday’s ability to translate her Kansas City creativity to the international stage. Mexico just didn’t offer enough resistance.

That, unfortunately, is life in CONCACAF. There’s nothing the U.S. can do to change it, besides be more willing to meet stronger teams on their own turf (which, to their credit, they’ve done multiple times this year). For now, the toughest competition Tom Sermanni will find is within his own player pool, one so talented that the second-best XI in CONCACAF may also be under U.S. Soccer’s umbrella.

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FC Kansas City’s Erika Tymrak was one of six Blues in the U.S. team during Tuesday’s second half. The current NWSL Rookie of the Year was joined by Lauren Holiday, Kristie Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Nicole Barnhart.

That’s why it’s been so important that Sermanni’s expanded the player pool, brought in players like Erika Tymrak (left) or Christen Press, and recalled players like Yael Averbuch. It’s something that Pia Sundhage did at the beginning of her tenure, though she ultimately settled on a squad that, while good, lost its edge internally. By the time Sermanni was appointed, you didn’t have to go far to find a player who was looking for a new challenge, if not the outright chance to shake up what’d become a very stoic pecking order.

At almost every position in the team, there’s competition right now. Even Christie Rampone, the team’s 38-year-old captain (coming off a strong season in the NWSL) isn’t guaranteed her place. The team has four elite strikers, three world-class wide players, four defenders fighting for spots in the middle, and new, developing options at fullback. Beyond the assumption a healthy Hope Solo’s unlikely to lose her spot, central midfield is the only place where there seems to be little competition, though even there Sermanni’s brought in names to challenge Lloyd and Holiday. Nobody expects Averbuch or Morgan Brian to win spots, but Sermanni’s clearly trying to lengthen the depth chart.

That competition’s not something we’re going to see in a friendly like Tuesday’s. All many observers will see is the lopsided score, the four-goal game, and assume everything is business-as-usual. But it’s not. In truth, the team looked like they’d just come off a long season, and that’s okay. And although there wasn’t much competition on the pitch, the emerging, internal competition will help this team meet its new challenges.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions.

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.