Tom Sermanni

Australia offers another test for USWNT’s developing defense

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Tom Sermanni has a strong grasp on what his lineup looks like across about two-thirds of the field, but the back four for the United States women’s national team is still a work in progress.

Sunday’s game against Australia (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC) – the team he last managed – is the first of four matches in three weeks for the U.S. head coach to continue to get an idea of what his defensive unit might look like as the stretch-run to the 2015 World Cup approaches.

“It’s probably the area of the team that is most unknown,” Sermanni said. “I think from midfield up, it’s a fairly established group in a sense.

“But defensively, when you are looking at probably a more set, cohesive starting group, that is probably still kind of up in the air. At the moment, I don’t think we’ve got a ‘this is our best back four,’ ‘this is our most settled back four.’”

Despite personnel uncertainty in the back – and to be clear, there’s none in goal, where Hope Solo is still one of the world’s best – the United States has only given up eight goals in 12 games this year. They are 10-0-2 in 2013 and riding a 35-game unbeaten streak and 73-game home unbeaten streak.

[MORE: US women bringing full-strength roster for Sunday’s friendly]

The most set of the defensive line is captain Christie Rampone, who is still the team’s best defender at 38 years old, but whose status for the 2015 World Cup remains to be seen. She is typically paired with Rachel Buehler, though Becky Sauerbrunn’s emergence in the National Women’s Soccer League as the leader of FC Kansas City’s impressively cohesive defense has boosted her stock considerably.

And soon to be 26-year-old Whitney Engen continues her long wait for more minutes. She’s been the U.S. center back of the future for a few years, but still only has nine appearances for her country. Confidence should be high for Engen, though, who just anchored Liverpool to its first-ever first division league title in England and immediately joined Swedish club Tyresö for their UEFA Champions League campaign (a successful one thus far, beating PSG in the Round of 32).

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Crystal Dunn, 21, has emerged as one of the United States’ best options at fullback. (AP Photo)

But the recurring question for the past few years has been on the outside. Ali Krieger was arguably the best right back in the 2011 World Cup (Japan’s Yukari Kinga the other), but left back has been a revolving door. Amy LePeilbet admirably filled in there in 2011 and then at right back during the 2012 Olympics (for an injured Krieger) despite being more comfortable centrally. LePeilbet had surgery early this year on her left ACL and Sermanni expects her to join the team for its December training camp, along with forward Amy Rodriguez, who missed the entire calendar year due to pregnancy, giving birth to her son in August.

Kelley O’Hara has been the first-choice left back since early 2012 after converting from forward, but she hasn’t played since early July and underwent right ankle surgery in August that will keep her out until early 2014.

So who does Sermanni turn to at left back, with Krieger looking healthy and ready to own the right back role once more? Crystal Dunn, the 21-year-old North Carolina Tar Heel who won the 2012 MAC Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s best player, is the most likely answer.

Dunn plays in an attacking role for UNC, leading the No. 4 ranked team with 11 goals and 25 pts. But Dunn plays as a fullback for the United States. She has played there in all seven career senior team appearances, all during this “very impressive” year, as Sermanni calls it.

“I don’t have any concerns about her playing the different positions and then coming in and playing the fullback for us, because she is such a focused player,” he said. “As a young player, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who has got a focus like she has, so I don’t have any concerns with her coming in and switching from an attacking midfield player to a fullback.”

Dunn is only in camp for Sunday’s game against Australia and will miss the Oct. 27 and Oct. 30 matches against New Zealand. It seems unlikely she would be called in for the No. 10 game against Brazil on NBC, since that is the same day as the ACC Championship.

Also in camp just for Sunday are defenders Leigh Ann Robinson and Stephanie Cox. Robinson earned her first cap last month against Mexico and Cox is back in the fold having last played for the U.S. in May 2012. Cox had her first child on April 7 and played in four games late in the season for Seattle Reign FC.

Manchester United players respond to Louis van Gaal leaving

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Manchester United’s players have been reacting to the news that Louis Van Gaal is no longer their manager.

On Monday United released a statement confirming the Dutchman, 64, was no longer in charge at Old Trafford with his three-year deal cut short after a fourth-place finish in the Premier League last season and a fifth-place finish this season.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United

Despite winning the FA Cup last weekend at Wembley, it wasn’t enough for LVG to keep his job after his players failed to finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Jose Mourinho is reportedly in talks with United about succeeding Van Gaal and is expected to be appointed by the end of this week.

Dutch utility man Daley Blind was signed by Van Gaal two years ago for $19 million from Ajax and his father, Danny, was LVG’s assistant with the Dutch national team and is the current head coach of the Oranje.

[ PHOTOS: Ronaldo injured in training for Real ]

Speaking to the media as the Netherlands are in Portugal preparing to face the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Austria in upcoming friendlies, Blind shared his thoughts on how Van Gaal was treated.

“I always worked well with him and would have been keen that the co-operation lasted longer,” Blind said. “A manager who has achieved so much already deserved more respect. Even though there was so much being written about him losing his job over the last months, he always looked to protect and shelter us.

“It is not easy for a coach if you are repeatedly being fired in the newspapers. Still, we as a squad kept believing in the manager and showed that with our FA Cup win. That we did together for the supporters, the manager and for ourselves. It was in the end a good finish to the season.”

Blind’s words are perhaps not a surprise as the Dutch international was often seen out having dinner in Manchester with Van Gaal’s family, plus his own father Danny who is a long-term LVG man.

Memphis Depay, 22, was another Dutch player LVG brought in but after arriving from PSV Eindhoven for $37.5 million last summer he scored just two goals in the Premier League and wasn’t even on the bench for the FA Cup final win against Crystal Palace last Saturday. Despite all of that, he still wants to stay at United next season.

“I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. I am happy to be there and the management know I’m happy to be there,” Memphis said. “A love-hate relationship? I’m not sure about that. But him leaving is part of life in football and you learn from that and it makes you stronger.”

The rest of United’s squad are yet to speak on the matter or share any message on social media about the outgoing Dutch manager.

Perhaps that’s the most telling indication of how LVG was really thought of by the vast majority of the United dressing room as reports of severe unrest have surfaced multiple times throughout his eventful two years in charge at Old Trafford.

Let’s see who says what in the coming days as the dust begins to settle.

Cristiano Ronaldo hands Real Madrid injury scare

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid is helped after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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With the UEFA Champions League final in Milan this Saturday, the last thing Real Madrid want is to have Cristiano Ronaldo go down injured.

That’s exactly what happened in training on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Follow UCL final ] 

The pictures below show Ronaldo, 31, receiving treatment on the floor and grimacing as he was helped to his feet after a clash with goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. It was an open media day ahead of the UCL final, a repeat of the 2014 between Real and Atletico Madrid, hence why pictures of the incident have been published.

Zinedine Zidane must have been sweating as the Portuguese national team captain missed the first leg of Real’s UCL semifinal against Manchester City in late April and they badly missed his cutting edge and power in attack.

Speaking about the knock, Ronaldo had this to say: “It was a minor scare, a knock, but in a few days I will be well.”

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]

Ronaldo had suffered from a reoccurring thigh injury this season, missing three games in April and he also came off at half time of Real’s final La Liga game as well as failing to complete the last three training sessions.

With the UCL final against crosstown rivals Atletico in just four days, most Real fans feared the worst when they heard the news. However, Spanish publication Marca has since reported that Ronaldo’s injury was assessed by the medical team at Real and it doesn’t appear to be too serious but any setback like this certainly isn’t ideal.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner is Real’s leading goalscorer this season with 51 goals in all competitions and is also the leading scorer in UCL history with 93 goals, plus has 16 goals in 11 UCL games this season.

Flick through the images below to see more on Ronaldo’s injury scare.


 

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid is helped after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho set for talks with Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho is closing in on taking over at Manchester United.

Multiple reports claim Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, will meet with United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and other representatives in London on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal left the Red Devils.

[ MORE: LVG issues statement ]

It is believed that a deal may be struck on Tuesday but confirmation of Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford will not come until later this week, perhaps within the next 48 hours.

Late on Monday it was confirmed that Van Gaal was fired by United after two seasons in charge which saw them finish in fourth-place and fifth-place in the Premier League. Just two days after securing the FA Cup at Wembley — United’s first trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 — LVG was gone.

Van Gaal’s Dutch coaching staff also departed but mystery over the future of United legend Ryan Giggs remains. Giggs, 42, was LVG’s assistant but now seems set to be overlooked for the second time in the last three years when it comes to being handed the job permanently. Will he stay on and accept a lesser role on United’s coaching staff if Mourinho rolls up?

All the focus is now on the future and that next step and Mourinho arriving seems inevitable, as well the most logical and best available option.

Is it a risk? Of course it is.

[ VIDEO: Most bizarre moments of LVG’s reign ]

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea last December, just seven months after delivering a third PL title for the Blues. Their title defense was woeful and Mourinho left them one point above the relegation zone as his off-field antics — the Eva Carneiro situation, cryptic post-game press conferences and public condemnation of his star players — saw Chelsea rapidly unravel at the seams.

However, he is a born winner and has delivered trophies wherever he has managed.

He’s won two UEFA Champions League titles, three PL trophies, two Serie A’s, a La Liga crown and two Portuguese titles. He is a trophy machine and everything points to him delivering short-term success at United.

For the long-term, he may not align fully with their philosophy and ideology of promoting youth and being a proponent of sportsmanship and fair play, yet Mourinho is a winner and he gets the job done whatever way he can. Right now, that’s exactly what United need.

This is not the perfect fit but it is a necessary one as one of the most powerful and wealthy clubs on the planet looks to get back to winning where it matters most: on the pitch.

Pardew says Crystal Palace need a “big name” signing this summer

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Alan Pardew manager of Crystal Palace gives a thumbs up during The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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After losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Sunday, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew is already looking ahead to next season.

The Eagles’ boss was happy with his team’s performance against United, but admitted that the club needs to bring in some more talent over the summer transfer window.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

Speaking about his summer plans, Pardew said he wants to bring a “big name” to Selhurst Park to help Palace continue their plan of growth.

We have shown that we have got talent in the group. We need to refine it a little bit, and we are going to try to do that in the transfer market. But we were a force to be reckoned with against Manchester United. We have given a real good, honest account of ourselves.

I think we have got to get players who are better than this. There is no point in getting players who are not potentially better than the ones we have got. Well, then they have got to be good players. So will there be a big name in there? There’s going to need to be.

After a hot start to the 2015-16 Premier League season, many believed Pardew had a Palace side that was able to compete in the top half of the table for a spot in Europe. However, after sitting fifth on Boxing Day, Palace won just two of their final 21 matches and slid all the way down to 15th on the table.

[ MORE: The best moments of LVG’s memorable yet bizzare tenure at Man United ]

Palace has far too much talent to be languishing near the relegation zone, but Pardew is right that work must be done over the summer. If the club’s new American ownership is willing to spend, a quality striker will be Pardew’s first target.

Last summer’s striker signing Connor Wickham finished the season tied for the team lead with five goals, level with Yohan Cabaye and Scott Dann. When considering that four of Cabaye’s five goals came from the penalty spot and that Dann is a center-back, the Eagles’ lack of attacking depth is quite clear.