Three things learned: Slow start for US midfield, Sauerbrunn shines, Australia impresses

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The United States opened its 2015 Women’s World Cup campaign on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Australia in Winnipeg, sending the U.S. atop Group D.

Group D is already living up to the hype as the tournament’s best quartet. Here’s what we learned from USA-Australia.

U.S. midfield struggles, but gets by: Australia dominated much of the first 20 minutes of the match. The Matildas had an extra player in the midfield with the U.S. lining up in a 4-4-2. Carli Lloyd noted that with Australia’s extra player in the middle of the park, the directive was to play slightly more direct and try to find the flanks.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

But the U.S. largely struggled on the flanks, where Australia drew its chances from in the opening 20 minutes. U.S. coach Jill Ellis cited nerves as the reason for the shaky start.

“We lacked a little bit of movement, especially in the first half,” said Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice.

Around the 40-minute mark the United States settled into the match and they looked better in the second half. Ellis said the message at halftime was to get the wide players more involved in the match.

Luckily for the U.S., Rapinoe came up big again. She seems to live for the big moments, as learned by her role in Abby Wambach’s famous 2011 World Cup quarterfinal goal against Brazil.

“Megan thrives in these big games, big moments,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis. “She’s got ice running through her veins a lot of passion running inside of her.”

Becky Sauerbrunn quietly comes up big again: One of the game’s big moments that will be lost in Megan Rapinoe’s goals and Hope Solo’s saves is U.S. center back Becky Sauerbrunn chasing down Sam Kerr – one of the fastest players on the field – in the 51st minute. Kerr was in behind the U.S. defense and looked like she would go 1-v-1 with Solo in a 1-1 match.

[KASSOUF: Solo saves the day for U.S. against Australia]

But Sauerbrunn, who turned 30 years old on Saturday, chased down the 21-year-old and blocked her goal-bound shot for a corner kick. That could have been a 2-1 lead for Australia. Christen Press scored the game-winner for the U.S. 10 minutes later.

“Becky’s just grown and grown,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said after the game. “I think she is one of the best center backs in the world, probably a little bit underrated by our opponents in terms of what she gives us and what she can do. Without Christie (Rampone) being there, she’s now settled into a leadership role. But her individual defending, here ability to read attacks and snuff things out and chase things down – she’s tough. And she’s good with the ball in front of her and she’s good tracking down the ball from behind. She’s really become a mainstay. I’m just really pleased with her growth.”

One of the several key elements to a deep run from the U.S. in this tournament could be the continued stellar play of Sauerbrunn. She doesn’t wear the armband, but she shoulders much of the on-field leadership in the back.

Australia still very much in the mix: There’s no denying from any parties – Australia, the U.S. or neutrals – that the Matildas controlled the start of the match. Had it not been for world-class saves by Hope Solo in the 5th and 13th minutes, the U.S. would have went down early and conceded an equalizer within a minute of Megan Rapinoe’s first goal.

[KASSOUF: Even on an off day, U.S. shows why it will contend]

Australia coach Alen Stajcic was encouraged by his team’s play.

“I said we’d come out and attack and not sit back, not let America dictate the game and I thought we did that,” Stajcic said. “The effort of the players and the spirit and the execution was there.

“I certainly thought we were well in the contest and for the first 15, 20 minutes I thought we were the way more dangerous team.”

Australia will face Nigeria on Friday in a matchup of two fast, athletic teams that like to attack. Nigeria gave Sweden fits in the first match of the night.

“You’ve got two very similar teams, haven’t you? You’ve got two teams that like to attack, two teams that like to go at each other.”

Expect Friday’s Nigeria-Australia match to be wide-open.

MLS Snapshot: Minnesota edges Timbers; D.C. tops Atlanta… again

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The game in 100 words (or less): Abu Danladi scored the game-winner on Wednesday night but the rookie striker had about as interesting a six-minute run of play as anyone you’ll see this season. The Minnesota forward notched second goal of the year after the hour mark before being sent off minutes later for a nasty encounter with Sebastian Blanco, who was also dismissed. It was a back-and-forth affair all night, with both sides having their chance to land a punch or two but Adrian Heath’s team moves off the bottom of the Western Conference with their win.

Three four five moments that mattered

7′ — Okugo own goal hands Minnesota lead — Good things happen when you get crosses into dangerous areas, and this was a prime example.

37′ — Valeri buries from the PK spot — It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Diego Valeri doesn’t convert this honestly…

47′ — Ramirez continues to be a goalscoring machine — Yeah, that’s right. Nine goals on the year now for Christian Ramirez. Looks like this guy is going to be just fine in MLS.

50′ — Another own goal… — Francisco Calvo is the unfortunate recipient of this own goal, but again, dangerous crosses pay off.

Man of the match: 

Goalscorers: Amobi Okugo (OG – 7′), Diego Valeri (PK – 37′), Christian Ramirez (47′), Francisco Calvo (OG- 50′), Abu Danladi (64′)


The game in 100 words (or less): For all the things that have gone wrong for D.C. United this season, Ben Olson’s side has actually played well against Atlanta United. That continued again on Wednesday night as D.C. picked up its fifth win of the season behind goals from Luciano Acosta and Patrick Nyarko. Atlanta went ahead inside the opening 20 minutes when Yamil Asad set up Julian Gressel, who tapped home for the visitors. From there, Atlanta had a tough time of it capitalizing on their chances.

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Visitors leave D.C. in the dust for the opener — They make this look so easy… By the way, that’s nine assists on the season for Yamil Asad, who leads the league in that category.

23′ — Acosta equalizes for D.C. — Really sloppy play out of the back from the visitors, and Luciano Acosta made Atlanta pay with his fourth goal of the season.

60′ — Slow to react, Nyarko makes Atlanta pay — That’s some volley from Patrick Nyarko, but where’s the defending from Tyrone Mears? 2-1 D.C.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Patrick Nyarko

Goalscorers: Julian Gressel (17′), Luciano Acosta (23′), Patrick Nyarko (60′)

Juventus confirms Dani Alves will be released, opens path to Man City

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Pep Guardiola could be one step closer to reuniting with one of his former pupils at Barcelona, and the Manchester City manager has Juventus to thank for that.

[ MORE: Bayern says clubs “risk FIFA punishment” for pursuing Lewandowski ]

The reigning Serie A champions confirmed on Wednesday that the club will release outside back Dani Alves, clearing the veteran defender’s path to join Man City this summer or another club.

“We’re not talking about a breakdown in the relationship, it’s motivation that is fundamental for players,” said Juventus chief executive Beppe Marotta.

“Alves has realised he has a desire to try a new experience, so we’re trying to reach a mutual termination of his contract and we wish him good luck.

“There’s certainly sadness because of what’s been said, but I can confirm there’s been no breakdown in our relationship.”

Alves signed a two-year contract with Juve last summer after previously playing for Barcelona since 2008, however, the winners of six consecutive Italian titles are willing to let the Brazilian walk away without acquiring a transfer fee.

Man City appears to be the preferred destination for Alves, who turned 34 in May.

PL champions Chelsea have also been linked to Alves’ services, but it’s more likely that the right back will reconnect with Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Bayern says clubs “risk FIFA punishment” for approaching Lewandowski

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Two Premier League giants are reportedly in the market for Robert Lewandowski, however, his current club isn’t having any of it.

[ MORE: Mexico tops New Zealand behind comeback second-half effort ]

Bayern Munich has threatened repercussions from FIFA after Chelsea and Manchester United reportedly made contact with Lewandowski’s camp recently over a possible move to England.

[ MORE: Ronaldo goal lifts Portugal past Russia ]

The 28-year-old goalscorer is said to be displeasured with the Bundesliga champions after having a falling out with manager Carlo Ancelotti towards the end of the 2016/17 season.

Despite the alleged uncertainty between player and manager though, Bayern has no intentions of allowing their prized striker to leave.

Below is the statement released by Bayern to Sky Deutschland on Wednesday amid the speculation.

“Robert Lewandowski is under contract at Bayern and only recently renewed his deal until 2021. Bayern Munich waste no thought on a Lewandowski move.

“There are no talks with other clubs, and there won’t be any. If other clubs negotiate with players who are under long-term contracts, they risk FIFA punishment. The agent also confirmed to us that he has not held any contract talks.”

While Bayern would clearly be losing a key asset if Lewandowski were to exit this summer, Chelsea and United are two clubs certainly in the market for a striker.

The reigning PL champions are expected to cut ties with Diego Costa in the lead up to the 2017/18 campaign after the Spaniard showed a text message exchange with manager Antonio Conte displaying the Italian’s disinterest in bringing back the striker.

Meanwhile, United released Zlatan Ibrahimovic after this past season following a devastating ACL injury that he suffered in April.

Raiola: Ibrahimovic attracting interest from MLS, Serie A

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Despite coming off an ACL injury, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is showing no signs of ending his long and successful career.

[ MORE: NYCFC makes 16-year-old Sands first Homegrown signing ]

And according to his agent, Mino Raiola, the Swedish striker has offers from both MLS and Serie A sides.

The LA Galaxy have been strongly linked to Ibrahimovic, who was recently let go of by Manchester United after just one season in England.

The logistics of signing a player of Ibra’s caliber are still uncertain though as the Galaxy currently have three Designated Players under contract, and bringing in the star forward would surely require significant wages.

“Many clubs are interested in Ibrahimovic; from MLS in the USA, but also in Italy would be possible,” Raiola said. “Napoli? Everything is possible, but I think Napoli will not be his next club.”

One club that Raiola did rule out for Ibra’s services though is third-place side from a season ago in Italy; Napoli.

The 35-year-old Ibrahimovic missed the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season for United after suffering the knee injury during the club’s UEFA Europa League win over Anderlecht.

Prior to his injury last season, Ibrahimovic notched 28 goals across all competitions for Jose Mourinho’s side, proving just how potent a striker he still is after 18 professional seasons.