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Ellis or Gustavsson? U.S. captain says perfect world would see both on national team staff

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U.S. Soccer is inching closer to naming a Women’s National team successor, with the job apparently coming down to two people. Jill Ellis, the former UCLA head coach who, as U.S. development director, has served in an interim capacity after the departures of Pia Sundhage and Tom Sermanni, was considered the early favorite to slide into the role, but particularly after ESPN commentator Judy Foudy’s comments during the U.S.’s recent match with Canada, former Sundhage assistant Tony Gustavsson’s name as emerged as a co-favorite. Gustavsson is currently the head coach of UEFA Champions League finalist Tyresö.

Team captain Christie Rampone recently spoke to Soccerwire.com about the choice:

“In a perfect world we’d have both of them, but that’s up to U.S. Soccer and their names are floating around. But I don’t know who the top choices are,…”

“I think [Ellis has] done a great job of stepping in difficult situations with first Pia [Sundhage] leaving and taking over the victory tour and obviously now with Tom [Sermanni],” she siad (sic).

Ellis, who withdrew her name from consideration for the job before Sermanni’s hiring, told SoccerWire that her personal circumstances have changed such that she is now interested in the position. Though the new Swedish season has started, Gustavsson could be available after his team faces defending champion Wolfsburg in May 22’s UEFA Champions League final.

Beyond their technical qualifications, both coaches could be seen as continuity candidates. Where “culture” was a concern under Sermanni, both Ellis and Gustavsson are familiar enough with the team’s successes under Sundhage to return the team to its previous environment.

Whether that’s a good thing seems beside the point. Under Sundhage, continuity and attitude (as well as pure athleticism) made up for the team’s technical and tactical shortcomings, but the current Sweden boss was unique. It may be a mistake to assume a replacement familiar with her methods can inspire the same performances. At some point, the U.S. will need to bring in a coach that can add another dimension to the squad.

Early returns on Ellis’s ability to do so have been mixed. The team performed below its standards last week in Canada, while the call ups of Portland Thorns Allie Long and Nikki Marshall (who’ve been decent at the club level) hint U-level familiarity with national team staff is more important than recent club-level performance. A coach more willing to consider growth outside national team camps may get more out of the player pool.

Particularly as college goal-scoring midfielder Morgan Brian is being shoehorned into a defensive midfield role, the choice of Sermanni’s successor represents a litmus test for U.S. Soccer’s vision. If that vision is to revert to last cycle’s success, you can hardly blame the federation. Who doesn’t like winning gold medals? At some point, however, the U.S. has to evolve.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.