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Rapinoe, Morgan, Ertz lift US past South Korea, 3-1

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Alex Morgan scored in a fourth straight game, Julie Ertz scored for the fourth time in five games, and the United States women beat South Korea 3-1 on Thursday night.

Megan Rapinoe added her 34th international goal and her 42nd assist.

Having assisted on Ertz’s diving header in the first half, Rapinoe scored on a penalty kick she drew in the 49th minute when pounced on a loose ball about 12 yards in front of the goal and was tripped by Ji Sohyun.

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Han Chaerin scored her first international goal in her South Korea debut to make it 2-1 just before the end of the first half.

U.S. forward Mallory Pugh had to leave the game late in the first half with a right hamstring injury. There was no immediate word on the severity of her injury after she was helped off the field by trainers.

Meanwhile, Carli Lloyd returned from a nine-week absence because of ankle injury, entering the game as a substitute in the 77th minute.

Midfielder Andi Sullivan started for the U.S. about 11 months after having reconstructive knee surgery. Her third minute shot narrowly missed the far post from about 18 yards. She was substituted out, as planned, at halftime.

South Korea began the game in a defensive posture and the U.S. maintained a decisive edge in possession, forcing Kang Gaae to make several sprawling saves before breaking though on Ertz goal in the 24th minute

Ertz dove in front of two defenders to redirect Rapinoe’s hard, low corner kick between the legs of Kang as the goal keeper tried to respond at the near post.

Morgan scored in the 40th minute, using her right foot to settle Kelley O’Hara’s bouncing pass from the end line, then pivoting and whipping her left foot through the ball from point-blank range. The goal was the 28-year-old Morgan’s 78th for the national squad.

Han scored against the run of play with a hard shot from about 25 yards that sailed beyond U.S. goal keeper Alyssa Naher’s reach before dipping under the cross bar.

Lloyd’s introduction drew an enthusiastic response from nearly 10,000 spectators in the Superdome. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year missed a pair of U.S. exhibition wins over New Zealand last month because of an Aug. 13 ankle sprain in a National Women’s Soccer League match.

Forward Tobin Heath, who has an ankle injury, and defender Taylor Smith, who has an injured shoulder, were not in the lineup and are not expected to play in a second friendly scheduled between South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina.

Both women were hurt in the NWSL championship match.

Heath, Smith sidelined with injuries for USWNT

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CHICAGO (AP) Forward Tobin Heath and defender Taylor Smith are sidelined with injuries that will keep them out of the U.S. women’s national team training camp in Louisiana ahead of two upcoming matches against South Korea.

Heath is nursing an ankle injury and Smith her shoulder. Both women were hurt in the NWSL championship match last Saturday, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Monday.

The Americans play Thursday at New Orleans and Sunday in Cary, North Carolina.

Neither player will be replaced on the roster and coach Jill Ellis will have 18 players dressed for each game.

Gulati call says to expect more of the same from U.S. Soccer

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It was Tuesday night all over again in Friday’s media conference call with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

Much like the entitled and almost disinterested Americans seemingly expected to beat Trinidad and Tobago with minimal effort and/or urgency, Gulati brushed off any criticism of U.S. Soccer in the wake of the USMNT’s first missed World Cup in four decades.

[ ICYMI: Running diary of Gulati’s conference call ]

The way the call began, with a prepared statement from Gulati claiming “full responsibility” for the abject failure to qualify, quickly turned into the president consistently stating that his body of work makes him the right man for the job moving forward. While he wouldn’t commit to running for the presidency in February — because who could possibly be that audacious two days from an international debacle — he admitted to seeking endorsements and knowing the nomination process well. He even said something about “if the voting delegates” wanted him.

So, yeah, he’s running.

[ MORE: What’s next for U.S. Soccer? ]

That’s not the end of the world, though it also isn’t the start of anything better.

Gulati is a whip smart man who’s done a lot of good for the United States. He’s also seen the level of the men’s and women’s program drop considerably (the women’s drop more short-term and due more to the progressive nature of other nations). The men have now missed a World Cup, two Olympics, and the Confederations Cup. The women bowed out of the Olympics before the medal stand, at the quarterfinals, despite having the richest wealth of talent in the world.

Men in Blazers said it well, too:

Here’s the thing: the United States can still qualify for World Cups on a fairly religious basis without a change at the helm. After all, it’s been doing so for years and arguably outperforming its skill set, and the field is about to expand which will likely make Panama’s stunning work in this tournament closer to commonplace (or at least less impressive). And one of Gulati’s more recent hires, Jurgen Klinsmann, led the team from the Group of Death while an iconic goalkeeper nearly got them to the quarterfinals.

But if the United States wants to move forward on the men’s side, it needs a stronger and visible division between a business side which can include a super intelligent economics professor who can drive the money side and the way the technical development and international performance on the pitch is directed. That’s not to say you have to have a killer playing career to choose a coach (or type an Internet column, I hope). Too often skill with your feet is a pre-qualifier, but cutting ties with Klinsmann to go back to the familiar, ‘Merica-approved well should’ve signaled a problem in vision and/or confidence. And, as supporters and media, we need to move past our silly divisions. Not every failure or success is a reason to toot some horn about promotion/relegation, MLS being just behind Ligue 1, the women being better than the men, or some other obstacle to unity in the goals of putting the best teams forward.

It’s funny that it took this for higher-ups to fall back on concepts like “pay to play” and inner city soccer, as if those concepts didn’t help pad the accounts of so many people currently in charge of soccer here. In a way, it seems an attempt to overshadow the concrete examples we saw from the United States men’s national team over both rounds of qualifying.

Remember, these players lost to Guatemala in the fourth round and technically were in danger of missing the Hex. They lost to Mexico for a Confederations Cup berth, then the first two games of the Hex. Players were said to be tired of Klinsmann and not performing for him. Unfortunately for that excuse, a change in coaches didn’t help. It was very much endemic, and Arena either didn’t see the need to push the buttons, instead shelving the complacency onto Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron, or his words went unheeded. This team showed a willingness to throttle teams when fired up and motivated. Somehow, simply drawing in Trinidad and Tobago to make a World Cup didn’t qualify (Pun. In. Tended).

[ MORE: 3 things from USMNT loss | Player ratings ]

A few days after the elimination, one of my gut feelings remains as it has for some time: The entitlement of U.S. Soccer is unacceptable, the arrogance embarrassing. Qualifying for a World Cup had become a birthright. Unbridled power, as we heard today, bristling at any question with even the slightest hint of displeasure with “the way things are done.” A few scholarships given from a youth club to a family doesn’t mean you rest your crossed arms and shrug when the Americans lose multiple home qualifiers to players who would nearly kill to qualify for a World Cup.

As long as the Bruce Arenas and Sunil Gulatis of this world are content with the process and, you could say, content in their positions, nothing big is going to change. Maybe there will more World Cup groups like 2002, when a lone win over a down Portugal and a knockout round date with Mexico will bring it to the precipice of the semis.

Should that happen, will we crown that group forever and lean on their accolades? It feels like U.S. Soccer supporters, coaches, and players don’t want a part of that. But there’s a certain group who sees it as safe and able to be lauded magnificent.

It screams complacency with what’s “worked” so far. In Gulati’s case, it doesn’t scream, it says it plainly, “I’ve done a lot of good. And I’m going to keep doing good. Are we really questioning this? Soccer used to be a laughingstock, and now people care.”

There’s a bit of “one newspaper town” to U.S. Soccer. It’s coming from mostly the same group, and the naysayers can be so brash that it emboldens the buttoned up and proper. To be honest, there are lessons U.S. Soccer needs to take from the actual U.S. president election in 2016. At some point, people reject “the same” for anything that feels like it might be different. Different isn’t always good. In fact, sometimes it’s terrible. And if you’re unwilling to question the powerful for fear of exclusion? Stare down that mirror, kid.

That’s why Gulati could’ve done well by relinquishing any say in the on-field process, puff his chest at the exceptional growth of U.S. Soccer away from the playing field and admit there are better men to make the final say than him. Say he’ll oversee FIFA matters, and land the 2026 World Cup for North America. May even nod to the plebes with a wink about improving MLS and pro/rel.

He’d have to believe that, though, and that goes back to Tuesday. The players on the field, perhaps sated by their coach, thought it was just going to happen for them. When it didn’t, we heard from the coach that he was disappointed but wouldn’t change a thing. Essentially we heard the same from the president today.

Not encouraging and, honestly, a waste of time.

It would be hyperbole to say that this conference was just as infuriating as the performance on Tuesday, but there are scary, top-down similarities between the, “Can you believe CONCACAF?!?” coach quips and today’s call.

USWNT’s Alex Morgan apologizes for Disney incident

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U.S. women’s national team star Alex Morgan has apologized after being kicked out of Disney World in Orlando over the weekend.

The 28-year-old Orlando City Pride player, a forward in the NWSL and for the reigning World Cup champions, was kicked out by security along with two players from Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer with reports stating the players had been drinking heavily.

Morgan and the two MLS players, Donald Toia and Giles Barnes, were ejected from the Epcot theme park, along with Toia’s wife, after Barnes allegedly cut in front of someone at the pavilion’s pub in the United Kingdom section of Epcot.

Morgan had posted a photo on her Instagram with the caption: “Annual around the world in 8 hours. No big.”

The MLS team in Orlando have some extra time off due to the current international break with Dom Dwyer, Seb Hines and Dillon Powers also on the day out at Disney.

However, Morgan and the Orlando Pride play this Saturday against the Portland Thorns in the NSWL semifinals.

According to a deputy who witnessed the groups behavior, Morgan was “highly impaired” and she is also said to have shouted that she “knew the Orlando SWAT team” as she was being escorted away by police.

“As we passed, I observed several people being escorted to the front,” a deputy wrote in his report. “They were all being very loud and belligerent toward staff around guests. I observed a white female, who was later identified as Alexandria Morgan yelling, screaming and taken (sic) video and possibly pictures. She appeared to be highly impaired.”

Orlando City released a statement on Tuesday saying they were aware of the incident, while an Orange County Sheriff’s Office report says they were “verbally aggressive with park security and other guests.”

Below is Morgan’s apology after the incident.

USWNT makes $16,000 donation to help launch NWSL union

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The U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is donating $16,000 to help get the union for players in the National Women’s Soccer League off the ground.

The NWSL Players Association represents more than 160 players who are not paid by the U.S. and Canadian soccer federations. Those federations pay the salaries of 33 national team players who are allocated across the five-year-old women’s professional league.

The $16,000 donation represents the proceeds from T-shirts sold as part of the U.S. national team’s 2016 #equalpayforequalplay campaign while the players sought a new labor agreement with U.S. Soccer. A deal between the two sides was struck in April.

A month later, non-allocated NWSL players overwhelmingly approved a new constitution and bylaws for a players’ association. The group seeks to represent the interests of non-allocated players with the league’s 10 teams and the league office.

The donation will help launch the union, said Yael Averbuch, a midfielder for FC Kansas City who was recently elected president.

She said while players have collectively worked to build a strong relationship with the league, “it’s really important that it (the union) is formalized and we’re able to speak on behalf of all these players, who before didn’t have anywhere to turn when something is going wrong or anyone to stand up for them.”

Becca Roux, interim executive director of the USWNTPA, says the national team players wanted to empower their NWSL teammates.

“We have shared goals to grow the NWSL and the women’s soccer more broadly, so we are committed to working together as players and as players associations to do that, but we’re also committed to working with (managing director) Amanda Duffy and the NWSL, and owners across the league, to build on the growth and success of the past five years over the next five years and beyond,” Roux said.

Averbuch said the NWSL union will look for ways to improve the financial situation for its players. The minimum salary for non-allocated players in the league is $15,000 and many have second jobs, such as running soccer clinics, to make ends meet. Some live with host families.

“We believe that if we’re able to work together with the league to continue to promote our product and find creative ways to that, and enhance the work environment of the non-allocated players in other ways, like offering education opportunities and empowering those players to build their own brands and start businesses on their side, that the financial-type things and other improvements will come,” she said.

That may include helping players continue their education or earn coaching certification, she said.

The U.S. women’s national team’s collective bargaining agreement finalized earlier this year includes provisions for national team player pay in the NWSL. Following their victory in the 2015 World Cup, the players waged a campaign that drew attention to the pay gap compared to the men’s national team.

The national team players have also supported other female athletes who are seeking better pay and working conditions. That includes the U.S. women’s hockey team, which won significant raises from USA Hockey in April after threatening to boycott the women’s world championships on home soil.

Along with announcing the donation, both unions on Thursday also launched the #NWSLhighfive to celebrate the league’s fifth year. The league’s regular season ends this weekend with four of the league’s 10 teams headed to the playoffs – the Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars, Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage.