Tom Sermanni

Australia offers another test for USWNT’s developing defense


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).

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.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 06:  Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace battles with Emre Can of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on March 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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  • Palace 5W-1D-3L in last 9 vs. Reds
  • Reds lead all-time 18W-7D-9L
  • Liverpool two-straight wins at Selhurst Park

Liverpool’s title aims meet a struggling foe in Crystal Palace in a Saturday match at Selhurst Park (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

The Reds are level on points with Arsenal and Manchester City but behind on a pair of goals in differential. Jurgen Klopp‘s side had to contend with Spurs at midweek in the EFL Cup, but the Reds used a few youth players to stay fresh for the weekend.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

Palace has a lone point in three matches, and has dropped to 11th place in the table. That’s four points clear of the drop zone, and Alan Pardew‘s teams have fallen victim to long losing streaks in the past. He’ll want to stop the rot straightaway.

And, for whatever reason, Palace has been able to find points against Liverpool. The Eagles have won five of nine against the Reds, and Christian Benteke will be fired up to face the manager who didn’t have much of a need for the big Belgian striker.

What they’re saying

Yohan Cabaye on playing for CPFC boss Alan Pardew:He wants us to be really focused and determined through the week because if not he knows that otherwise come the weekend it will be very difficult to be fit and play at 100 percent. He tries to keep us really focused on the details because now, in modern football, details are really important.”

Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum on young players contributing vs. Spurs“You see a lot of young players when they come into the first team and play a big game, they are nervous and you don’t see their quality immediately. I don’t know if they were nervous but it didn’t seem like it. They just played their game and played how they train.”


Palace has several dangerous components in Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, and Andros Townsend. If they are delivering plays to what will be an extremely motivated Christian Benteke, check out how Liverpool’s back line handles the big man. Look for Palace to be in this one all 90 long, and the Eagles just may nick a point at home. 2-2.

Barcelona asks court to act against Spanish league president

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  FC Barcelona celebrates after Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scored his team's third goal from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona is asking a sports tribunal to consider sanctioning the Spanish federation and the president of the Spanish league after they condemned a goal celebration and accused players of provoking rival fans.

The club said Thursday it has formally requested the Administrative Court of Sport open disciplinary proceedings against Javier Tebas and members of the federation’s competition committee after their “unacceptable public declarations and assessments” about Barcelona players.

[ MORE: Spanish FF chastises Barcelona ]

The competition committee fined Valencia 1,500 euros ($1,600) on Wednesday after water bottles were thrown at Barcelona players celebrating a late winner in a Spanish league match on Saturday in Valencia.

It also condemned the attitude of the players by saying they shouldn’t have turned to the stands to celebrate and that they exaggerated after some of them were hit by one of the bottles. It said their actions exposed them to ridicule.

Barcelona said the committee “is not there to make assessments but rather to take disciplinary action, or not, in order to make an example of incidents that occur” on the pitch.

“Making statements regarding the actions of the players adds even more tension to a situation that must be deescalated,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

Bartomeu also had harsh words for Tebas, who told Spanish media that he didn’t like the attitude of some Barcelona players, hinting that they provoked the fans during their celebration.

“The declarations made by Tebas are irresponsible and unbecoming of a sports executive,” Bartomeu said.

Barcelona’s next game is Saturday against last-place Granada at the Camp Nou.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Burnley

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  Chris Smalling of Manchester United scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on February 11, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Burnley hasn’t won at OT since 1962
  • Man Utd leads all-time 58W-20D-44L
  • Clarets sit 14th, United 7th

Manchester United seeks its first Premier League win in four tries when it hosts pesky Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

Burnley has picked up their fair share of draws at Old Trafford in their long history, but wins have not been found at Manchester United in more than half a century.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Clarets are coming off a win over Everton, and Sean Dyche‘s crew waited until the 90th minute to score the winner through Canadian international Scott Arfield.

United will be buoyed after beating rivals Manchester City in a midweek EFL Cup clash that moved the Red Devils into the final eight of the tournament.

What they’re saying

United’s Ander Herrera on playing at Old Trafford: “I feel it like them. I know I am not English and I am not from Manchester, but I really love this club and I have enjoyed my time here. I don’t want to be just one more player. I want to show that I am very happy here and I want to be here for as long as possible.”

Burnley keeper Tom Heaton on returning to OT“It’s a special game back. I still hold a lot of affection for the football club. I spent 13 years there and almost grew up there. I’m still pleased I made that decision to earn those stripes and get back to the Premier League and be involved in the international set-up. It’s always a nice feeling going back there but, as ever, there will be a job to do and that will be the focus.”


Burnley will be rested and ready to grind out a result, but United knows it needs to start stacking wins to stay in the mix for a European place. The Red Devils will open Burnley up early en route to a scrappy 3-1 win.

MLS conference semifinals schedule set for Sunday

Toronto FC's Justin Morrow (left) celebrates his goal with teammates Sebatian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio (right) and Jozy Altidore (back) against the Chicago Fire during second half MLS soccer action in Toronto, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Major League Soccer’s “play-in” round of the playoffs is over, with the chalk going 3-for-4.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Impact’s 4-2 win over DC United was the only upset of the first round, with Seattle, Los Angeles, and Toronto all handling their business at home.

Now we know who plays Sunday, and what order they’ll take the pitches of MLS.

all times ET

Montreal vs. New York Red Bulls — 3 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids — 5 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. New York City FC — 7 p.m.
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas — 9:30 p.m.

November 6

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal — TBD
Colorado Rapids vs. LA Galaxy — TBD
New York City FC vs. Toronto FC — TBD
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders — TBD