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

4 Comments

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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Leave a comment

Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”