U.S. WNT ready to face China at PPL Park in front of sold out crowd

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Tonight’s friendly against China presents the U.S. WNT with another opportunity to fine-tune. And the capacity crowd will make this a memorable first stop on the team’s pre-Olympic send-off tour.

The match will kick-off from PPL Park at 7 PM E.T. This is the team’s penultimate domestic match ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

In what has become a surprising but welcome trend, the match will be streamed live on USSoccer.com. U.S. Soccer also provided webcasts of the USWNT’s previous two friendlies against Sweden in Glendale, Arizona and New Zealand in Frisco, Texas – all by popular demand. Gone are the days of relying exclusively on Match Tracker and Twitter for firsthand accounts.

A few notes:

– This match-up first gave rise to the Alex Morgan phenomenon. China squared off with the U.S. in a friendly at this  same venue back on October 6, 2010. The U.S. faced a one-goal deficit as the match entered the final stretch. Morgan, making just her third international appearance, came on late and ended up scoring her debut goal with the senior team. The 21 year-old broke away from the Chinese defense and netted the equalizer. It was a sign of things to come.

– Pia Sundhage wasn’t expected to make wholesale changes to the pre-Olympics squad. Thus, today’s 18-player roster is virtually bereft of surprises. Veteran defender Heather Mitts is back in the mix and could replace an injured Ali Krieger. 23 year-old Meghan Klingenberg has the fewest caps of any player in the roster and might be an interesting option at outside back. Winger Tobin Heath misses the cut after sustaining an ankle injury last week.

– The U.S. MNT debuted U.S. Soccer’s new kits last night. The U.S. WNT will get their turn tonight. The team’s previous kits (most frequently characterized as the dreaded nurse outfits) were largely pilloried by the team’s fanbase. In this case, change is good. (Video of players donning the new kit here).

– Will Sundhage make further tweaks to the back four? There’s really only one glaring question mark about the squad, and it has everything to do with defense. Rachel Buehler has looked increasingly unsteady at center back. Natural center back Amy LePeilbet appears a bit more comfortable at outside back, but still has her share of shaky moments. Kelley O’Hara is halfway through her transition from outside attacker to fullback. Will Sundhage give KO another run at that position or will Heather Mitts get the start?

– The U.S. will try to protect a 16-game unbeaten run against China. The Steel Roses (easily the coolest nickname in women’s soccer) came close in 2010, but were undone by Alex Morgan’s late heroics. January 2011 marked the last time the two teams met and the USWNT came away with a 2-0 win.

A brand new world:

Tonight’s game is a sellout. That phrase isn’t often used in reference to USWNT matches. Sundhage’s team is living in a ‘pre-World Cup’ and ‘post-World Cup’ world. And boy, are they different. Despite the runners-up finish, the USWNT’s exploits in Germany has ushered in a new era of popularity.

Attendance figures are a solid indicator. The last time the U.S. appeared at PPL Park (you know, the Alex Morgan game), a measly 2,505 attendees were on hand. It was a humiliatingly low number and served as a harsh reminder of the team’s diminished status.

While that number was astoundingly low, it wasn’t exactly an outlier. The USWNT’s three previous friendlies before that match attracted an average crowd of 5,713 people.

How about now? The team’s three previous domestic matches ahead of tonight’s match have attracted an average of 19,243 attendees. That’s a 237% increase between then and now.

In the olden days, MLS soccer-specific stadiums proved to be unsuitable venues for the USWNT. Attendance-wise at least. In 2010 and pre-World Cup 2011, the team’s average percentage of capacity for friendlies in such stadiums was a mere 20.75%. Post-World Cup 2011 and 2012? That number has skyrocketed to 93%. Today’s capacity  crowd will see that figure increase to a mind-boggling 96.5%.

The breakdown:

March 31, 2010 vs. Mexico – Rio Tinto Stadium – 3,732 – 19% of total capacity

October 6, 2010 vs. China – PPL Park – 2,505 – 14%

May 14, 2011 vs. Japan – Columbus Crew Stadium – 5,234 – 26%

June 5, 2011 vs. Mexico – Red Bull Arena – 5,852 – 24%

September 17, 2011 vs. Canada – Livestrong Sporting Park – 16,191 – 88%

September 22, 2011 vs. Canada – Jeld-Wen Field – 18,570 – 91%

February 11, 2012 vs. New Zealand – FC Dallas Stadium – 20,677 – 100%+

May 27, 2012 vs. China – PPL Park – 18,50 – 100%*

Peru’s World Cup foes lobby to overturn Guerrero’s ban

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Following last week’s decision handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Peru captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero has been banned from the 2018 World Cup — at the age of 34, almost certainly his last opportunity to star on the world’s biggest stage.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

However, in the days since that decision, a number of Guerrero’s fellow professionals and World Cup stars — France and Denmark captains Hugo Lloris and Simon Kjaer, and Australia’s Mile Jedinak — have written to FIFA, on behalf of FIFPro, the world player union, in hopes of rendering Guerrero eligible to pay at next month’s tournament in Russia.

“We respectfully ask the Fifa Council to show compassion,” the trio wrote. “In our view it would be plainly wrong to exclude him from what should be a pinnacle of his career.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

That Lloris, Kjaer and Jedinak are the players lobbying in favor of Guerrero is particularly notable given the fact that Peru will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

Guerrero tested positive for cocaine late last year, after a tea he drank was tainted and triggered a fail drug test.

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

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

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

Photo credit: Rayo Vallecano / @RayoVallecano
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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.