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.

Fan protests spur Fiorentina owners to put club up for sale

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) The owners of two-time Serie A champion Fiorentina have announced they are putting the club up for sale due to fan protests.

A club statement says the ownership is accepting “serious offers only from those who really mean well for the Viola shirt.”

Shoe and leather entrepreneurs Diego and Andrea Della Valle have controlled Fiorentina since 2002, having restarted the club after the previous ownership ended in bankruptcy.

The Della Valles guided the club up from the fourth division back to the top flight but were never fully embraced by the squad’s fans.

After four straight years of finishing in the top five of Serie A, an eighth-place result last month was difficult to accept by the supporters.

Former Fiorentina captain Stefano Pioli was recently appointed to coach the club.

De Boer an exciting hire for “club that can grow further and further”

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Frank De Boer said all the right things in his first interview as Crystal Palace boss, and Eagles fans should puff out their chests at the club’s most impressive hire in a long time.

On the heels of blustery Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, and to a much lesser extent Tony Pulis, De Boer is no shrinking violet.

Yet the Dutchman has set the standards high for his London debut. There’s no talk of “just surviving” or whimpering at the might of the league’s top clubs. De Boer’s ready to do well.

[ MORE: Ranking expectations for PL bosses ]

Appointed Monday, De Boer will take charge of his third club following stints at Ajax and Inter Milan. He won four titles in five season at the Dutch club, but spent just 85 days in that tumultuous seat.

From CPFC.co.uk:

“It’s a club that can grow further and further because English clubs in the Premier League can spend a lot of money, and we can do something well with that. There is the prospect to be a solid Premier League club and this is the most important thing for me right now, not struggle for relegation. If we can do more that would be nice, but we want to be a stable club.”

Palace chairman Steve Parish has taken a solid step in the hiring of De Boer, who becomes just the second Palace boss from outside the British Isles. He’ll have an array of attacking options, but will probably need to look past his current batch of defenders to find players who fit his style.

That said, he’s said he’ll look at his current group first. He’ll love Patrick Van Aanholt and perhaps Jeff Schlupp, but De Boer needs some help at the back. Still, like Mauricio Pellegrino at Saints, this seems like another hire that was worth the wait for a PL fan base.

Still, Palace views itself as a club that can excite, and Allardyce was not the man to set Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up to succeed. In fact, the Eagles have probably been blessed by Allardyce’s retirement, and Parish did not drop the ball when given the opportunity.

Chicharito injury update ahead of Confed Cup semifinals

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KAZAN, Russia (AP) Mexico star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez trained separately from his teammates on Monday because of muscle fatigue, the latest concern for a Mexican team that has been struck by injuries at the Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Confed Cup news

Defender Diego Reyes also didn’t practice with the team in its final training session before traveling to Sochi for Thursday’s semifinal against Germany.

Mexico had already lost defender Carlos Salcedo because of a shoulder injury, while defender Hector Moreno has been a concern with a muscle ailment.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is already certain to be without midfielder Andres Guardado because of a yellow card suspension.

Chicharito warmed up with the rest of the group in Monday’s practice session in Kazan but left the field after the players met for a few minutes with coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

When one of Osorio’s assistants asked Chicharito about his condition, the player said he was “fine, not a problem.”

The Bayer Leverkusen forward ran a few laps around the field accompanied by the team’s physical trainer, then underwent a few stretching exercises on the sidelines. He watched the rest of the training session from the bench.

The team said Chicharito’s absence was a precaution.

“He said that he was leaving because he was still a bit tired after the match,” midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos said. “He’s played a lot of matches, a lot of minutes, a lot of practices. He just needs to rest a bit, nothing important.”

Chicharito played the entire game when Mexico came from behind to defeat host Russia 2-1 on Saturday to guarantee its spot in the semifinals of the eight-nation World Cup warm-up event.

He was rested in the 2-1 win over New Zealand, when Osorio rotated his squad because of a concern over injuries. Salcedo sustained his shoulder injury during that game and was forced to be removed from the squad. Reyes was hurt in the game against Russia and remains doubtful for the semifinal. He stayed at the team’s hotel on Monday, undergoing rehab for his muscle injury.

Chicharito scored his only goal of the tournament in the 2-2 opening draw against Portugal last week.

Guardado was shown his second yellow against Russia.

“He is a crucial player for us, very important for the team, one of our captains,” Dos Santos said about Guardado. “But we have other players who can make up for his absence.”

Mexico is trying to win the Confederations Cup for the second time. It won the World Cup warm-up event in 1999.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

VIDEO: Fans of Mexican teams brawl in “friendly game”

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This was clearly not a friendly game.

And that was just in the stands.

A game to benefit the United Soccer Talents Foundation was abandoned at half time as fans took to the pitch and brawled in Santa Ana, California.

The “friendly” game was played between former members of rival clubs Club America and Pumas at Eddie West Field as fans of the Mexico City clubs converged.

At half time those fans fought in the stands and then ran onto the pitch to exchange punches as the widespread brawl lasted for 30 minutes, with local law enforcement then arriving to control the situation.

According to NBC LA, five people have been arrested on suspicion of assault and assault with a deadly weapon.

Click play on the video above to see the ugly scenes play out.