Author: Richard Farley

Will United surge towards the top four with 14 games to go?

Louis van Gaal names Wayne Rooney as Manchester United’s new captain


Darren Fletcher’s longevity at Manchester United made him a frontrunner, while Robin van Persie’s connection to new manager Louis van Gaal cast him as a logical choice, too. Yet given his stature at the club, Wayne Rooney always had a prominent place in the discussion about the team’s next captain.

Today, the long-time Red Devil attacker was given the captain’s armband, with the team’s new boss selecting the 28-year-old Rooney to succeed the departed Nemanja Vidic.

“It is a huge honour for me – and for my family – to be named captain of this great club, Rooney said, via the club’s website. “It is a role I will perform with great pride.”

Vidic, name the club captain in the wake of Gary Neville, left for Inter Milan this spring after declining to sign a new deal with the club. While Rooney had expressed his hope of being named captain, Fletcher is the club’s longest tenured player, while van Persie was given the captaincy of his national team when van Gaal assumed the Netherlands’ national team job.

Praising the approach Rooney’s brought to the preseason, van Gaal decided on the England international, calling him an inspiration to the younger players in the squad. From the team’s web site:

“Wayne has shown a great attitude towards everything he does. I have been very impressed by his professionalism and his attitude to training and to my philosophy. He is a great inspiration to the younger members of the team and I believe he will put his heart and soul into his captaincy role.

Rooney, who joined United from Everton in 2004, will make his debut as permanent captain this weekend against Swansea City. His words:

“Team spirit has always been very high in our dressing room and I am very grateful to the manager for the faith he has shown in me. I look forward to leading the team out on Saturday at our first match of the new season.”

Van Gaal also named Fletcher the club’s vice-captain, with the Scotland international calling the appointment “a very proud moment for me and my family.”

Nineteen U.S. women called in for ill-timed friendly

Alex Morgan 3

NWSL fans aren’t happy about this one, but two years into the life of the domestic league, it’s a reminder: The women’s game still has priorities, and at the top of that list is the United States Women’s National Team. That’s why, three days before the league begins it playoffs next weekend, a number of players will be in Cary, N.C., playing a friendly for the U.S. against Switzerland.

The squad (which you can skip to by clicking here) features regulars like Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and captain Christie Rampone, but for stars like Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, and potentially Alex Morgan (right), the call up means a particularly busy week. After playing late Sunday in Oregon, the Portland and Seattle stars will fly cross-country, play mid-week, then fly back West, where their teams may be preparing for next weekend’s NWSL playoffs. (Seattle has clinched a spot, Portland currently sits fourth).

With four NWSL matches this weekend, other call ups will face similar dilemmas, albeit with shorter travel times. With the league potentially needing to reschedule a game between Sky Blue and Houston (cancelled earlier this year amid lightning concerns), the Switzerland game is an unnecessary friendly wedged into a jammed league calendar.

It’s a conflict that overshadows our usual talk of surprises and snubs, and with only 19 women named to next week’s team, there some prominent names missing from the squad. The bigger conflict next week is about priorities. But with U.S. Soccer backing the nascent women’s league, many fans are asking for some perspective. Is it really worth squeezing in another meaningless friendly when it makes the NWSL look like little more than a staging ground between national team commitments.

Many of the 19 women called up for next Wednesday’s friendly will have to deal with that tension. The last day of the NWSL’s regular season is on Aug. 17, with four of the league’s nine teams in playoff games that following weekend. In between, those players with postseason roles will fly to North Carolina, take in two days of training under Jill Ellis, play on Wednesday, then return to their clubs for one or two days before a match that could end their 2014 season.

Take the likes of Morgan, Solo, and the rest of the players who’ll take part in Sunday’s NWSL game at Providence Park. Not only are their schedules strained, but they’ll likely have to make two cross-country flights in five days to meet their national team commitments. The group, which also includes Leroux, Allie Long, and Megan Rapinoe, will leave Portland after the game, fly to North Carolina, and presumably make the return trip on Thursday. In between, they’ll train and potentially face Switzerland, giving them little time to recover.

For hardcore NWSL fans, it’s a flap in the face – U.S. Soccer seemingly confessing that the league’s integrity is secondary to the national team’s concerns. And in this case, those concerns can’t be that urgent. Though the U.S. has World Cup qualifying coming up this fall, the Switzerland game isn’t necessary for that preparation. An event like this seems to be about keeping the steady, tour-like presence the national team has, one that allows the team to maintain the type of club-like camaraderie.

In time, those values maybe offset by the needs of a growing league. For now, U.S. Soccer is willing to schedule a friendly between the NWSL’s regular season and playoffs. For a two-year-old league, it’s an unfortunate reminder of how far it has to go.

Here’s the squad:

Goalkeepers: Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
Defenders: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Virginia), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
Forwards: Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo give Real Madrid victory in UEFA Super Cup

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It’s a minor trophy, but it’s still the first of the season, one that saw Real Madrid pick up where it left off. After claiming the club’s 10th European title in May, Carlo Ancelotti’s team collected it’s first honor of the 2014-15 campaign, getting two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-0 win over Europa League champions Sevilla in Cardiff City, Wales.

Ronaldo, showing no effects from the tendinosis problem that plagued him this summer, broke through after a half hour of Madrid control, running onto a Gareth Bale cross to volley home from just inside the six-yard box. Four minutes into the second half, the Portuguese star had his second – a left-footed finish blasted through Beto’s hands after Karim Benzema fed him into the left of the penalty area.

Despite that two-goal lead, Real Madrid maintained their control, finishing the match with 59 percent possession and a 19-12 edge in shots (7-3, n target). With new signings James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos starting in the middle, Carlo Ancelotti’s team showed an ability to be as patient as it is persuasive, with the marauding play of Ronaldo and Bale giving way over the final half hour to a more measured perspective.

Come stoppage time, Sevilla finally started to make progress, earning back-to-back corner kicks in the match’s 91st minute. By that time, the drama had long played out, with he Merengues’ intensity waning as the game approached its final whistle. With the 2-0 win, Real Madrid claimed its third Super Cup.

Holding Sevilla to those two shots on target, the Merengues provided a bleak view on the coming Spanish season. Though we’re used to the circuit being top-heavy, we’re not accustomed to a world where the league’s third-placed team adds players like Rodríguez and Kroos. Though some may doubt whether Sevilla presented an adequate point of reference, the Rojiblancos did finish fifth in last year’s Liga. Last year’s Europa League showed the talent that comes with that placing.

As the upper echelon of Europe’s clubs continues to accumulate talent, traditions like today’s may become unfortunate anachronisms. Though the Champions League winners has lost five of the last 11 Super Cups, this year’s match provided a glimpse of a growing divide. In years after a Champions League team drops into Europa because of a tough group, the Super Cup could provide drama, but today, it only provided ceremony.

At least for one year, the divide was too large to give us a competitive game. Real Madrid has won its latest honor.

Valeri, Wallace goals help Portland cruise past Chivas USA

Portland Timbers against the Seattle Sounders
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Even on a day that included the revenge at RSL, Saturday’s game in Portland may have been the day’s least competitive. Scoring within 10 minutes and holding Chivas USA to only one shot on target, the Timbers cruised at Providence Park, with two notable goals helping the team claim the 2-0 victory that pulled them even with Colorado for fifth in the Western Conference.

For Diego Valeri, the notable part of his 10th minute goal was less the finish than the mere fact that he scored. Again. While his diving shot from just beyond the arc is destined for this week’s highlight reels, Valeri’s four goals in four (now seven for the season) is the real discussion point. Just as he did last year, when a number of timely performances late in the season pushed the Timbers to first in their conference, Valeri’s stepping up when his team’s in need, this goal-scoring streak pushing Portland to the edge of the West’s playoff picture.

Portland’s second goal struck a more emotional note. Ending last year’s breakout, seven-goal season, Rodney Wallace suffered a tibial fracture in 2013’s final game. After six months of rehab, the Costa Rican returned in late May, having missed out on his compete for a spot at the World Cup.

In Sunday’s 39th minute, Wallace twisted onto ball flicked up by Fanendo Adi, burying his first MLS goal since returning to the field. In the process, the left winger also killed off the match. Against a Chivas team that never got out of its blocks, Portland had more than enough.

Given last Saturday’s showing in Los Angeles, we shouldn’t read too much into Portland’s result, but compared to the relatively close game the team played in Montréal two weeks ago, Saturday showed progress. Confident and cunning from the opening whistle, the Timbers prevented the match from becoming a game – the type of affair Erick Torres got used to stealing in July.

Instead, the Timbers executed like a team that can legitimately challenge for the postseason. Though they’re not in the top five quite yet, they have the talent to control their destiny. Portland may yet avoid being this year’s San Jose.

RSL gets revenge, helps Rimando to record 113th shutout

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The win can’t make up for last year’s loss, but for Real Salt Lake, exacting a measure of revenge on D.C. United for was as easy as one …

… two …

… three:

That outburst that left RSL, upset in by D.C. in last year’s U.S. Open Cup final, up three after 24 minutes. Come full-time, United had two shots on target, the 3-0 result the team’s worst since opening day against the Crew.

Though many faces have changed for D.C. since its win last fall in Sandy, Utah, tonight’s performance may still have some emotional value for RSL. At least, the team played as if it had something to prove. With a double from Chris Schuler and two assists from Javier Morales, the team can move on from last year’s disappointment, secure in the knowledge they outclassed one of the two best in the Eastern Conference.

Along the way, they helped one of MLS’s best secure his place in the league’s record books. Nick Rimando, who tied Kevin Hartman’s all-time shutouts record last week at Colorado, eased to a record 113th clean sheet at Rio Tinto, his two saves all that were needed for the 35-year-old to make his own claim to greatness.

Though he’s never won a Goalkeeper of the Year honor, Rimando’s longevity and consistency have earned him a place in the league’s “best ever goalkeeper” discussion. If reaction to his last two shutouts is any indication, Rimando may now be at the head of that list.

With the RSL veteran re-writing history, more people have been convinced of the jewel they have in the Rocky Mountains. While Major League Soccer has been bless with a number of standout keepers, the years Rimando has left will only strengthen his case to being the best league’s put on the field.