European commitments see United States name 25-woman squad for friendlies against Australia, New Zealand

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Oct. 20 isn’t a reserved date on FIFA’s women’s calendar, and with an increasing number of U.S. players taking advantage of opportunities in Europe, that poses a problem for U.S. Soccer. Four of the current squad (named this afternoon) are playing for Swedish power Tyresö. Two more are in France. Another promising attacker is playing for Bayern Munich. It’s hard to get the band together when their clubs aren’t obligated to release them.

That may be why 25 women were named to Tom Sermanni’s squad for upcoming friendlies against Australia (Oct. 20) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, Oct. 30), though only 18 women will dress for each match. For the Australia game, the squad will be without Tyresö’s players (Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Christen Press), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon). Erika Tymrak, with Bayern Munich after earning the NWSL’s Rookie of the Year award, was not named to the squad.

Sermanni’s team will undergo a second shift after the Australia match. College stars Crystal Dunn (North Carolina) and Morgan Brian (Virginia), who will miss their team’s Oct. 20 ACC matchup to be in Texas, will return to their schools after the Australia match. Likewise NWSL fullbacks Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City) and Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC) will leave the team before the New Zealand games.

For Cox, the callup is her first since returning to the field late in the NWSL season, the 27-year-old sidelined for most of the season as she welcomed her first child. With 82 caps to her credit, the 2008 gold medalist was once a national team mainstay, though he last appearance with the U.S. was in May 2012. Now she’ll compete against Dunn and converted midfielder Kristie Mewis for a place on the depth chart.

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Stephanie Cox, pictured here with the LA Sol, returned to action late in the NWSL season after delivering her first child. Though 27-year-old defender has 82 caps with the U.S. national team, she’s been called in for the first time since May 2012. (Source: JMR Photography, via Wiki Commons.)

They’re part of the 10-defender crew named to the U.S. squad, one that’s emblematic of the strange tension between old world scheduling and the new realities of the women’s soccer world. Whereas the U.S. has previously been able to ignore FIFA dates because few (if any) players were playing in Europe, financial opportunities in France, Sweden, England and Germany makes it more likely out-of-window games will create conflicts. In one sense, the U.S. surely has enough depth to give players 22 through 25 a shot in otherwise meaningless matches, but on the other hand, the margin for borderline players like Tymrak, Paris Saint-Germain’s Lindsey Horan, and Bayern’s Amber Brooks diminishes with decreased opportunities. There’ll be deprived of opportunities granted domestic-based players.

With two games scheduled in the October FIFA window, it’s hardly a major concern. It’s unlikely the borderline Europeans were omitted because they wouldn’t be released for the Oct. 20 friendly. After all, the Tyresö and French contingents were still named to the squad despite being unavailable for Australia.

Still, the scheduling is an example of a unique, unprecedented predicament for U.S. Soccer. Their women’s players are becoming subjected to the same pressures as their men’s. National team priorities must be balanced with their professional ambition. While that doesn’t preclude scheduling games outside a FIFA window, it remains to be seen how the practice persists.

Heath, Rapinoe, Press, and Krieger — all key players for Sermanni are already out for Australia. A few more key players go to Europe, and these out-of-window camps will no longer be worth it.

Here’s the full squad:

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster
GOALKEEPERS (4): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Adrianna Franch (WNY Flash), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (10): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Tyresö), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö), Ali Krieger (Tyresö), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Yael Averbuch (Göteborg), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon)
FORWARDS (4): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

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.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.