Scotland v United States

United States to be surprisingly strong for Sunday’s Australia friendly

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The roster announcement for the upcoming friendlies was a weird one. The U.S. have games scheduled against Australia (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, 30), but for Sunday’s match against the Matildas, European players weren’t set to take part. With the match scheduled outside of a FIFA window, clubs weren’t compelled to release players like Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain) and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), compelling the U.S. to name 25 players for games where only 18 will dress. The team named a squad that can straddle the international window.

The U.S., however, are set to benefit from Tyresö’s misfortune, the Swedish club having lost their chance to take first place in the Damallsvenskan. That means the suddenly huge American enclave playing just outside Stockholm will join the team ahead of Sunday’s game in San Antonio. Reportedly flying straight from their team’s Champions League match in Paris, Whitey Engen, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, and Christen Press will be available for selection on Sunday, Tyresö having given them permission to miss the weekend’s season finale at Linköping.

That means Press won’t have a chance to build a campaign that win claim Sweden’s scoring title. With 23 goals in 20 games, the Stanford alum is seven ahead of Linköping’s Pernille Mosegaard-Harder, having scored 40 times (in 41 games) since moving to Sweden two years ago. Although she had scored eight goals as a rookie in Women’s Professional Soccer’s final season (2011), few saw this kind of dominance in Press’s game during her first professional debut. Her move abroad shows the type of benefits players can see when challenging themselves in Europe’s best leagues.

Despite that success, Press is still fighting for regular time with the U.S., her relatively recent inclusion with the national team creating a game of catch up. Current FIFA Player of the Year Abby Wambach remains the well-established focal point, and Alex Morgan’s the strike force’s other attacking star, leaving Sydney Leroux (despite 21 goals in 39 appearances) is in the same boat as Press – fighting for time in the world’s deepest strike force.

source: Getty Images
Christen Press, seen here embracing U.S. national team teammate Carli Lloyd, had 23 goals this season for Tyresö in Sweden. Her club has given her permission to join the U.S. this Sunday in San Antonio. (Photo: Getty Images.)

It’s those type of positional battles that make these friendlies worthwhile, and from the spectator’s point of view, they provide some needed drama during what could be lopsided matches. While Australia and New Zealand each have some world-class talents, they’re also seen on a lower level than the U.S. If teams like Germany and Japan can compete with the States while the likes of France and Sweden could beat them on a given day, Australia exists on a level close to England or Italy, where a victory would be a notable upset. New Zealand is even farther below that.

So the main competition on Sunday will be internal, with the Australians providing a type of control. And at almost every level of the field, the Matildas’ standard will be used to gain new information about the U.S.’s obscure depth chart.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is number one. Nicole Barnhart is number two. As opposed to other places on the field, there are no questions about that order, even if there questions about Solo’s lingering health issues (recent shoulder, wrist problems). At some point, presumably, that intrigue will dissipate. Perhaps the break between the NWSL campaign and these friendlies will have given her time to fully recover.

Defense: Kelley O’Hara’s still out at left back as she recovers from ankle surgery, which means Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis are likely to split time (though a few other fullbacks candidates have been called in). Which one has an edge? Don’t expect Sermanni to tell, even if Dunn looks a little ahead of the still-converting midfielder.

In the middle, 38-year-old Christie Rampone is assumed to be a starter, but Sermanni’s done enough rotating to obscure his preferences. Conventional wisdom has Rachel Buehler, Whitney Engen, and Becky Sauerbrunn competing for one spot.

Midfield: If there’s depth in central midfield, it’s still coming through. Göteburg’s Yael Averbuch’s been recalled once more. Morgan Brian’s missing Virginia’s game with North Carolina to come along. Neither fully established in the team, let alone challengers to Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, though one may start Sunday in Texas. With Heath and Rapinoe only joining the team for the New Zealand matches, Holiday is a candidate to start wide (though not the only one).

In those wide roles, Heather O’Reilly seems to be competing with Rapinoe and Heath for two spots, one of which she seemed to lose at the end of Pia Sundhage’s tenure. But having been awarded her fair share of starts since Sermanni took over, O’Reilly’s place on the depth chart is unclear. Has she possibly reclaimed a place in the U.S.’s first XI?

Who knows. Tom Sermanni may not even know, or care. The games that really matter are still long off with qualifying for Canada 2015 still over a year away. It may not even be worth coming up with potentially irrelevant conclusions.

At some point, Sermanni will need to test what he has, but that point’s not going to come this months. Against Australia and New Zealand, expect him to keep us in the dark.

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.