Young U.S. star Engen signs with Liverpool

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The name Whitney Engen should mean something to you, but it probably doesn’t. Three years ago, she was the first defensive player picked in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft, a stature earned while contributing to four national title teams at the University of North Carolina. A year later, she was voted the league’s best defender as her team (Western New York Flash) won the title. At 24 years old, she’s right on the cusp of regular duty with the U.S. Women’s National Team, her ability to play in the middle or wide giving her multiple means of impressing whomever replaces Pia Sundhage. Among women’s soccer diehards, she’s more than well known. She’s part of the future.

She’s also the type of player who needs to look at options overseas, which may be the biggest reason why Liverpool LFC have made a minor splash, luring the twice-capped U.S. international to northwest England. As the club announced on Tuesday, Engen will join the team in January for the 2013 season.

Her thoughts, from Liverpool’s website:

“I have always been very interested in playing in the WSL so when the opportunity arose, I took it.
“Joining a club with such a legacy and impact in the world of football made the decision easy. I want to thank everyone at Liverpool who worked hard on my behalf to make this happen. I am very excited for next season.”

That it’s Liverpool signing Engen makes this move a surprise. The big names in English women’s football are Arsenal, Birmingham City and Everton. Liverpool, last place finishers in this year’s WSL, are not on the same level, but that may be about to change. That Engen “had various offers from other teams around Europe” (according to her agent) makes this signing is a mind coup. Liverpool’s stepping up.

For Engen, getting to play strong clubs on a regular basis is huge, particularly at this point in her career. She’ll be playing for a big organization, in a good league, in a place where the culture won’t be a significant obstacle. Even before considering the (likely modest) money involved, Liverpool’s a great opportunity for 24-year-old who lacks the same outlets as the national team’s established stars.

But this is also a small warning for U.S. Soccer, who are busy trying to put together a domestic, professional league for the 2013 season (the WSL, like other women’s leagues, is semi-professional). Particularly for players in Engen’s situation – talented, young, still establishing themselves professionally, and looking for some some stability – Europe’s going to be a temptation.

For players willing to leave home, it’s difficult to fault their decision to jump to Europe. The leagues are established, stable, and offer a level of competition the possible U.S. league may not be able to replicate. If a player is lucky enough to land with one of the continent’s bigger clubs, they’re likely to have a professional lifestyle that can’t be matched in this country. For players whose games are still developing, jumping to a high-caliber league might be the best way to improve.

Even after the U.S. league stars, there’ll still be players like Ali Krieger, who’s done her career so much good by playing in Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga. There’ll still be players like Sarah Hagen, who has had success after going from UW-Milwaukee to Bayern Munich last year. And there may be more Lindsey Horans, who was lured by Europe’s money before she’d even made it to college.

And now, there will be the Whitney Engens – a national team hopeful whose career could get a boost from her time in England.

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.