US women host Brazil looking to stay unbeaten in 2013


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.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”