U.S. Women start their Algarve Cup defense on Wednesday

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The U.S. Women’s National Team’s annual foray into the Algarve Cup starts on Wednesday when the world’s No. 1-ranked team taking on 2011 World Cup winners Japan. Also grouped with Sweden and Denmark, the U.S. is guaranteed to get three strong games during their trip to Portugal, with a potential meeting with Germany in the championship match making this the most competitive point on the team’s 2014 calendar. While the team’s return to a series of domestic, mostly non-competitive friendlies will occupy the summer, providing tepid preparation for October’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico, March’s chance to claim a 10th Algarve Cup will define where they rank against the rest of the world.

If the U.S. can beat Japan (ranked third) and Germany (second) while avoiding a slip in its reunion match with former coach Pia Sundhage and Sweden (or against Denmark), the team can cruise through the rest of the year assuming it remains the best in the world. Fall to Japan or Germany, and 2014 becomes about seeing the World Cup from a challenger’s role, knowing that the last time the team faced another of Canada 2015’s favorites they came up short.

To this point, Tom Sermanni (the person who replaced Sundhage in Jan. 2013) hasn’t had any such setbacks. Last year, the U.S. beat Germany 2-0 in the Algarve Cup final, affirming their place at the top of the world’s soccer hierarchy. This year, they’re favored to do the same, but an inability to snare first place will cast the run  to next year’s World Cup in an entirely different perspective.

Format: 12 teams are divided into three, four-team groups to play a round-robin format over the tournament’s first week. The competition’s final round will see winners of Groups A and B (compromised of the tournament’s top eight team) face off in the final, with runners up going into the third place match. Third place finishers compete for fifth, while the groups’ last place teams will face teams from Group C.

The competition: The reigning Olympic champions face fellow London finalists Japan in Wednesday’s opening match, with games against Sweden and Denmark following on Friday and Monday.  Next Thursday, the U.S. will face their final round opponent, with pre-tournament expectations casting European champions Germany against the Americans in the first place match.

source: Getty ImagesWhich players are there: FIFA Player of the Year finalist Abby Wambach is, as are Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, captain Christie Rampone, and this little known goalkeeper: Hope Solo (she’s supposed to be very good). NWSL stalwarts Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke, and Heather O’Reilly are in the team, as is Christen Press, whose three goals in 2014 lead the team.

Morgan Brian, Sarah Killion, and Samantha Mewis make up the college contingent, while Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, and Sarah Hagen are all European-based stars (with the first three bound for the NWSL later this year).

Also in the squad: Alyssa Naeher, Jill Loyden, Stephanie Cox, Kristie Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, and Amy Rodriguez.

Which players are missing: Lauren Holiday, the NWSL Most Valuable Player in 2013, was excused from the tournament for personal reasons, while Alex Morgan continues to recover from an ankle injury that has kept her out thus far in 2014

Outlook: Any doubt the 2011 World Cup cast on the U.S.’s status as the world’s best team is a distant memory. Ahead of Wednesday’s kickoff against Japan, Sermanni’s group is riding a 42-match unbeaten streak. But that last loss came to Japan in this tournament two years ago. If the U.S. needs a reminder of how fragile their hegemony can be, that 1-0 defeat in Mar. 5, 2012 could serve as motivation.

Even if the U.S. lost to Japan (or Germany), it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Algarve Cup is a very particular kind of beast, forcing teams to play four games in eight days. Even though pride is on the line (and any loss will inject doubt), this isn’t the World Cup. This isn’t the Olympics. How the team builds towards those events is more important than where it end up Mar. 12.

Ander Herrera piles the pressure on Manchester City

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Ah, just five games into the Premier League season and the mind games have already started.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Manchester United’s midfield terrier Ander Herrera has been speaking about the pressure facing crosstown rivals Manchester City who are the Premier League favorites.

Herrera, United’s Player of the Season in 2016-17 as they won the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League, believes that spending over $240 million means Pep Guardiola‘s side are “obligated” to deliver trophies this season.

“Man City have spent the biggest amount in the Premier League so they are the principle contenders for the title,” Herrera said. “We will try to be there as well, we have quality as well, and we will fight for every title. But I think because of the money they have spent they are the favorites. We will try to be there but they have spent the biggest money in the league.

“There is always pressure when you spend a lot but there is also pressure on us because we are the biggest club in England. We won three titles last season and City didn’t win anything. They are under pressure. They are obligated to win titles. We won three last season so they have more obligation than us. But you know when you play for Man United wining is an expectation and an obligation but I like that obligation to be honest.”

Does he have a point?

Last season City’s failure to win a trophy was put down to the “process” under Pep as they lost in the FA Cup semifinals, were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 and finished a distant third in the Premier League.

This season no silverware and a finish below second place in the table would constitute a massive disappointment for Guardiola’s side and pressure would perhaps start to build on the Spanish coach.

With City and United the only two teams in the Premier League who remain unbeaten (they have identical records with points, goals scored, goals against and points) the growing notion that the PL trophy will be in Manchester next May seems spot on.

Between now and then every single way United or City can gain an advantage over their rivals, that will take it.

Herrera has started the mind games ridiculously early and perhaps that shows just how scared United are of City as Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva rip teams apart and the deadly strike-partnership of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus deliver the goals.

Mark this date in your calendar: Manchester United vs. Manchester City on Dec. 9.

FIFA hopes for big increase in TV viewers at Women’s World Cup

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PARIS (AP) FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants the next edition of the Women’s World Cup to draw a billion TV viewers across the world.

Infantino, who attended the official launch of the tournament that will be organized in France in 2019, said on Tuesday that the previous edition in Canada in 2015 was watched by 750 million viewers.

Speaking alongside French federation president Noel Le Graet and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, Infantino said “our goal is to reach one billion in France in 2019.”

The tournament, which will run from June 7 to July 7, will gather 24 teams in six groups.

France will kick off the event at Parc des Princes in Paris, with the semifinals and finals in Lyon.

“It will be magnificent,” Infantino said. “France is a great football nation for both men and women.”

Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer out until 2018

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Bayern Munich have been handed a big blow as goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer has been ruled out until early 2018 after surgery on his broken left foot.

Neuer, 31, will not return before January and the German international star will leave a huge void as Carlo Ancelotti’s side aim to push for a four-straight Bundesliga title and challenge for the UEFA Champions League.

The German national team will be hoping Neuer does not face any complications in his recovery with Joachim Loew’s men the favorites for the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia.

In his absence former Germany U-21 goalkeeper Sven Ulreich will step up as the new No.1 at the Allianz Arena with the German goalkeeper patiently waiting for his chance in Bavaria since arriving from Stuttgart in 2015.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said that Neuer’s operation “went perfectly” and the German giants are looking forward to his return.

The Bundesliga powerhouse have won three of their opening four league games to start the season but there has been some criticism for Ancelotti and his players, especially following the 2-0 shock defeat at Hoffenheim.

Losing one of the best goalkeepers on the planet is sure to test Bayern’s defensive unit and they have a tough job on their hands to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds as the top seed as they battle with Paris Saint-Germain to win Group B ahead of Anderlecht and Celtic.

Pulisic nominated for 2017 Golden Boy

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U.S. national team teenager Christian Pulisic has been nominated for the prestigious Golden Boy award.

The award, run by Italian outlet Tuttosport, goes to the top player in European soccer under the age of 21 over the past 12 months.

[ MORE: JPW speaks to USMNT’s Pulisic ]

Pulisic, who turned 19 yesterday, has been a star for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga over the past 12 months and has nine goals and 14 assists in 61 appearances for the German side. He also has seven goals in 18 appearances for the USMNT.

Marcus Rashford, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are expected to challenge for the trophy but the Pennsylvania native being among the final nominees for the award proves how highly regarded he is on the global stage.

[ MORE: Breaking down Pulisic at 19 ]

Seven players from the Premier League have also been included in the shortlist of nominees with Rashford from Manchester United, Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City, Joe Gomez and Dominic Solanke from Liverpool, Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Everton, Reece Oxford from West Ham (on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach) and Kyle Walker-Peters from Tottenham all getting recognition.

The 25 nominees for the 2017 Golden Boy award are in full below.


Aaron Martin, Espanyol
Jean-Kevin Augustin, RB Leipzig
Rodrigo Bentacur, Juventus
Steven Bergwijn, PSV Eindhoven
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton
Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina
Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona
Amadou Diawara, Napoli
Kasper Dolberg, Ajax
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Milan
Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City
Joe Gomez, Liverpool
Benjamin Henrichs, Bayer Leverkusen
Borja Mayoral, Real Madrid
Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Emre Mor, Celta Vigo
Reece Oxford, Borussia Monchengladbach
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Allan Saint-Maximim, Nice
Dominic Solanke, Liverpool
Theo Hernandez, Real Madrid
Youri Tielemans, Monaco
Enes Unal, Villarreal
Kyle Walker-Peters, Tottenham