Abby Wambach, USWNT

US women host Brazil looking to stay unbeaten in 2013

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Abby Wambach and the United States women’s national team never settle. Not for second, not for losses and certainly not for ties.

There’s only one goal, always, and that’s to be No. 1. They have held that ranking by FIFA since March 2008, winning Olympic gold medals that year and last year, but falling to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final. Good enough hasn’t been enough by their standards ever, and with the last World Cup triumph coming in 1999, eyes have long been set firmly on 2015 in Canada.

So results like the 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Oct. 30 don’t sit well with the Americans, even if it was a seemingly meaningless friendly. After a lackluster match from the U.S., New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson buried the equalizer in the 87th minute, a result the Americans treated as a loss.

“Ties and losses never sit well with any of us, especially for me, having missed a penalty early on in the game,” Wambach said.

Sunday presents the chance for the United States to end 2013 on a high note against archrival Brazil, and despite the disappointment surrounding the last result, there’s more history at stake at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online here).

Only once has the U.S. ended a year in which it played double-digit games undefeated, finishing 2006 with an 18-0-4 record (four other times they ended a year undefeated with less than 10 games played). This year’s 12-0-3 record includes a win and a draw vs. European champion Germany and a 1-1 draw against Sweden. There’s also a 76-game home unbeaten streak and 38-game overall unbeaten streak on the line.

But all of those are just numbers; Sunday is about progressing, and each team will bring a crop of young players to the match.

Marta won’t be playing for Brazil due to UEFA Champions League commitments with her Swedish club, Tyresö, which will also keep Americans Christen Press, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg and Ashlyn Harris out of the U.S.-Brazil match. Aside from regulars Cristiane and Rosana, this Brazil team features primarily players with less than 10 caps, a very different squad from that historic 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, won by the U.S. on penalties after Wambach’s 122nd minute header tied the game.

“I never overlook Brazil,” Wambach said Friday. “You never really know quite what you are going to get. Sometimes they will send a young team. Sometimes they’ll send all their stars. They train less together than our team, so it’s always a question mark, what system they are going to be playing, what personnel they are going to have – sort of their mystery makes them so good.”

The U.S. has some unknowns at the international level, too. Erika Tymrak and Amber Brooks – both 22 years old and both at Bayern Municg – as well as PSG striker Lindsey Horan, 19, have all joined camp from their European clubs with two total caps between the three of them. Horan, still eligible for the 2014 U-20 World Cup, is unlikely to see much time with the senior team this World Cup cycle with four world-class forwards in front of her on the depth chart, but Tymrak’s NWSL Rookie of the Year season in 2013 put her on the map and has given her the opportunity to prove herself internationally.

Brooks remains an X-factor. She is the only one of the three young players without a senior team appearance, but she’s a versatile talent who can play a position that coach Tom Sermanni still needs to figure out: defensive midfield. Carli Lloyd has been playing in that holding role, but she’s more dangerous getting forward into the attack (in case two consecutive Olympic gold medal-winning goals weren’t enough evidence for that). Shannon Boxx, who owned the role over the past decade, is 36 and currently pregnant.

Sermanni’s most pressing questions right now rest in the back, as noted throughout the last few weeks, and Sunday is another chance to test that. The Scotsman has tried a few different back lines over the last three games, all in October (right to left):

Vs. Australia (10/20): Crystal Dunn–Whitney Engen (Rachel Buehler, 57’)–Becky Sauerbrunn–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/27): Ali Krieger–Rachel Buehler–Becky Sauerbrunn (Christie Rampone, 73’)–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/30): Ali Krieger–Becky Sauerbrunn–Christie Rampone (Rachel Buehler, 46’)–Kristie Mewis

Could Stephanie Cox finally see some time after being in camp last month? She gave birth in the spring and last played for the U.S. against Brazil on April 3, 2012. FC Kansas City defender Leigh Ann Robinson was also in U.S. camp in October after earning her first cap in September, but she did not play in the last three matches.

Whoever lines up in front of (likely) Hope Solo, they know they’ll need to keep an eye on Cristiane, who has 64 goals in 85 appearances for Brazil. But also keep an eye on 22-year-old Debinha, who scored twice in a 4-0 win over Mexico at the Valais Cup in Switzerland in September and was the most dangerous player on Brazil’s young roster. Gabi Zanotti will also make plays from a withdrawn position in the No. 10 role for Brazil.

After fan protests Liverpool’s American owners apologize, halt ticket price hike

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Following thousands of Liverpool fans walking out in protest in the 77th minute of their 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Anfield last weekend, owners Fenway Sports Group have halted plans to increase ticket prices for next season.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Owner John W. Henry, Chairman Tom Werner and President Mike Gordon have issued a detailed and apologetic open letter to fans of Liverpool, in which they “apologize for the distress caused by our ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 season” and also confirm prices will be frozen for the next two campaigns.

Henry and FSG stated they felt “troubled by the perception we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense.”

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

They pointed to the fact that FSG has put up the $170 million needed to build the new Main Stand at Anfield which will be completed for the 2016-17 season, while they also admit they got parts of the ticket pricing wrong.

Admitting to their mistake has left a warm feeling with most Liverpool fans as their numerous protests over the fact that some tickets would cost £77 ($111) next season were heard loud and clear by the owners.

Here is a link to the letter from FSG in full, while below is a detailed outline of the new pricing policy put in place by the owners under the heading “Message Received.”

It certainly has been.


After an intense period of consultation with LFC management we have decided to make major revisions to our ticketing structure for 2016-17:

  • Removal of game categorisation – regardless of the opposition fans will pay the same price for matchday tickets.
  • The pricing of tickets will be readjusted to result in zero revenue growth from GA ticketing on a like-for-like basis.
  • Though individual ticket prices may move marginally from this season, we are freezing our 2016-17 GA ticket revenue at the 2015-16 level exclusive of newly-added seats in the new Main Stand.
  • The price of our highest general admission ticket will be frozen at the 2015-16 level – £59.
  • The price of our highest season ticket will be frozen at the 2015-16 level – £869. The lowest price reducing a further £25 from the 2015-16 level to £685, as well as all other tiers being frozen or reduced.
  • £9 GA seats will be offered for each and every Premier League match, an allocation of more than 10,000 tickets across the season.

We would hasten to add that the other initiatives announced last week in the 2016-17 plan will remain:

  • 17-21 young adult concession – 20,000 tickets across the Premier League season available at a 50 per cent reduction for young people.

  • 1,000 tickets to Premier League matches across the season will be given away free of charge to Liverpool schoolchildren based on merit, as recommended by their teachers.

Spanish playmaker Bojan signs new long-term contract at Stoke City

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Bojan Krkic will be a Potter for plenty of years to come.

On Thursday Stoke City announced that Bojan, 25, has signed a contract extension keeping him at the Britannia Stadium for another four-and-a-half years.

[ MORE: New-look Stoke to progress

Since arriving from Spanish giants Barcelona at the start of the 2014-15 season the playmaker has been a revelation in the Premier League.

Despite suffering a serious knee injury midway through his debut season in England, Bojan has battled back this campaign and has scored five times in 23 outings for the Potters.

Speaking to the club website, Bojan revealed his delight in signing the contract extension that will see him stay with Stoke until the summer of 2020.

“I am very happy and motivated. Stoke City gave me the opportunity to play in the most competitive league in the world, the Premier League, and I have only words of gratitude for their trust and for the way they have treated me since the first day I arrived to England,” Bojan said. “Mark Hughes convinced me to come to Stoke, he has helped me and showed his trust in me from the beginning, he followed closely the recovery process from my injury and there is no doubt I have signed an extension of my contract thanks to him.”

With Mark Hughes’ side battling for a top six finish, being knocked out agonizingly on penalty kicks by Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal and still in the FA Cup, it’s been another stellar season for Stoke as their progress continues.

Bojan’s presence has been central to attracting top names to join him at Stoke, with the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Mark Arnautovic all part of a new-look attack which in-turn has provided a much more attractive team to watch on the pitch.

Amid interest from plenty of other teams around the Premier League and Europe, Stoke have kept hold of their main creative hub and fans will be delighted to see the Barca academy product progress with the Potters over an extended period of time.

VIDEO: USWNT’s Press scores stunning goal after amazing spin move

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What a first touch.

The U.S. women’s national team beat Costa Rica 5-0 in the opening game of their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying campaign on Wednesday and USWNT forward Christen Press scored the pick of the bunch after she teed herself up with a superb first touch.

[ MORE: NBC to stream every Olympic qualifier

Click play on the video above to watch the World Cup winner control the ball with a deft outside-of-the-foot touch before spinning and striking home in a mesmerizing movement.

Majestic.

Press and the USWNT face Mexico on Saturday in their second Group A game (Watch live, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

On the up, off the pitch: Manchester United’s revenue continues to rise

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Manchester United have announced that revenue levels for the three months leading up to December 31 rose by 26.6 percent.

The Red Devils released the figures on Thursday which show revenue of $192.4 million, with commercial revenue up a massive 42.5 percent but matchday revenue was down 1.6 percent.

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The overall profit for the quarter was $26.7 million and over that period club debt fell by 6 percent but still stands at an eye-watering $463.6 million. That said, in a recent review of the finances of the top clubs on the planet Deloitte believes United will top the rich-list next season.

Despite Louis Van Gaal‘s future being questioned, United being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage in December and being six points off the top four with just 13 games of the current Premier League season to go, the strength of their results off the pitch continue to show just how successful a business they’ve become.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told investors that: “Our solid results off the pitch help contribute to what remains our number one priority – success on the pitch.”

Woodward has also vowed to continue United’s “strong commitment to investing in our squad, youth academy.”

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Van Gaal, 64, will need a strong finish to the season on the pitch to help United to success and in turn improve those financial figures for next season. Failure to finish in the PL’s top four and qualify for the UCL will substantially impact United’s financial results next season, and the pressure remains on him and his players to claw back the deficit.

With speculation mounting that Jose Mourinho could be appointed as United’s new boss there also seems to be a surplus of cash which Rob Harris from the Associated Press speculates could be used for a new manager…