UEFA Women’s Champions League: Big picture thoughts on Lyon’s unexpected exit (Part 1 of 2)

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Olympique Lyon had been to four straight UEFA Women’s Champions League finals. If it wasn’t for a complete, well executed sit-deep-and-wait plan this spring from Wolfsburg, it would have been three titles in-a-row. So until this week, they were the monarchs of Europe, the best team in women’s club soccer, and probably the best club team we’ve ever seen in a section of the sport that’s just starting to mature.

Then they lost. In the Round of 16, the competition’s overwhelming favorite (to at least make their fifth straight final) couldn’t protect the 1-0 lead they’d earned Nov. 9 in Germany. Lyon were victimized by the team they beat to claim their first title (2010-11), with Turbine Potsdam using goals from Stefanie Draws and Maren Mjelde bringing the Germans back from two goals down to overthrow the crown. When Mjelde’s 73rd minute penalty conversion gave Potsdam the away goals tiebreaker, Lyon was left to ruminate with their 2012-13 final misgiving, Wolfsburg having also won via a converted penalty.

Despite Potsdam’s obvious quality, their upset has left the tournament in a slightly uncertain state. Obviously, the show will go on, and for those that have rued Lyon’s Euro-fueled rise, this day was long in coming. Yet there’s little doubt OL were the competition’s highest profile team. Losing them this soon is like Barcelona going out just after group stage. Or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls being upset before the finals. Or Roger Federer in his prime being upset in round one at Wimbledon. Of course it could happen. That doesn’t mean we’re prepared for it.

But the wreckage of Lyon running aground isn’t so bleak. Challenging people to look beyond the easy story, this crash may have a silver lining. There may be some secret magic on this island that will give us some insight on who we are. We could learn to walk on our own, find love again, and leave all the trappings of our other lives behind.

Then again, we could all end up at a church, incredulous and despondent at how things turned out.

In a follow up post, we’ll sift thought the pros and cons of Lyon’s early exit, but it’s worth noting: These are the kind of existential problems that come from a tournament’s maturing. Four years ago, nobody would have cared if a dominant team bowed out of Women’s Champions League. Now, a small ripple actually makes it to shore. People may not know much about women’s soccer, but some of them know Lyon’s the standard. That knowledge alone is a type of progress.

Now the task for Champions League is to create another heroine – a second, replacement headline that will keep those that came for dominance invested in chaos. Is that focal point Turbine? The holders’ Wolfburg? Or a United States’ national team-heavy squad, Tyresö? Or maybe the chaos can be contained, discussed, appreciated and sold. Maybe it’s time for Women’s Champions League to be the show, not Lyon.

source: AP
Malmo’s Manon Melis, left, and Wolfsburg’s Verena Faisst fight for the ball during the teams’ UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 16 matchup.

There’s no need to settle on one answer. Whether it be about rulers or serfs, Women’s Champions League doesn’t have to be a single-story competition anymore. If the potential of Lyon’s exit is realized, casual fans may come to think beyond the two-time champions when considering the world’s best club competition.

Here are the Round of 16’s other results:

  • Tyresö (Sweden) 4-o Fortuna Hjørring (Denmark) [6-1, agg.] – U.S. international Whitney Engen scored as Sweden’s runners up make their first final eight.
  • Torres (Italy) 2-0 Rossiyanka (Russia) [2-1, agg.] – 38-year-old Patrizia Panico scored in the 63rd minute, with a late goal line clearance in stoppage time sending Italy’s champions through.
  • Neulengbach (Austria) 3-0 Konak Belediyespor (Turkey) [6-0, agg.] – The Turkish club’s first appearance in Champions League ends one round later than many though, even if they were never in a tie that serves as another argument for improved seedings, draw procedures.
  • Wolfsburg (Germany) 3-1 Malmö (Sweden) [5-2, agg.] – The second of the round’s highlight matches send the holders through thanks to goals from Lena Goessling, Luisa Wensing, and Martina Müller.
  • Zürich (Switzerland) 1-3 Barcelona (Spain) [1-6, agg.] – A surprisingly easy tie for the Spanish champions, who make their first quarterfinal. 18-year-old Serbian Jelena Cankovic standout, given her first start of the competition, scored her second goal.
  • Glasgow City (Scotland) 2-3 Arsenal (England) [2-6, agg.] – Even though Suzanne Lappin scored two minutes into the second leg, this matchup was never close, though their second leg trouble (outshot by Glasgow) does raise questions as to whether Arsenal is really more than a dark horse in this competition.
  • Birmingham City (England) 5-2 Zorky (Russia) [7-2, agg.] – The debuting Russians were out of their league against a team also taking their first turn in Champions League, with a brace from Kirsty Linnett help Brum to their easy win.

You read that title right. There are two big posts on UEFA Women’s Champions League. The pro/con debate on Lyon’s exits is here.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

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Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.

CONCACAF chief Montagliani seeks World Cup entry for all co-hosts

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A joint-bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is looking more and more possible, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani believes that if that does happen then all co-hosts should be granted a spot in the tournament.

[ MORE: Making sense of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras ]

With FIFA president Gianni Infantino looking to finalize World Cup expansion plans from 32 to 48 teams over the coming weeks, it seems as though Montagliani’s hopes could become a reality for CONCACAF and other regions planning on creating multi-nation bids.

“I don’t think we should be dictating how a confederation allocates their slots from a hosting standpoint. That’s up to them,” Montagliani said.

FIFA will conduct its next meeting on Thursday when Infantino and all six confederation presidents meet in Zurich, Switzerland to decide on World Cup expansion, which Infantino has been adamant about since taking the reigns of soccer’s governing body.

2026 could play an important role for the United States, as it is seen as a critical piece in a joint-bid with Mexico and Canada to host the World Cup.

Additionally, Montagliani has hopes of making a combined Copa America with North and South America a permanent fixture after recently holding discussions with South America’s FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Friday night’s massive USMNT victory ]

However, one area that would be left uncertain is the future of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is currently held every two years.

“If that is the case and we get that done, then we have to have a serious look — is it really tenable to have a Gold Cup?” said Montagliani, whose FIFA stakeholders panel faces tough talks on adding and subtracting dates when clubs must release players on international dates.

“Do we really need it [the Gold Cup]?” he suggested. “Is it just clogging the calendar for the players?”

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.