Anja Mittag, Christie Rampone

America’s Captain ready for another run

Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Ore. – Only her face and hands were exposed to the sharp Portland evening, the winds from an unexpectedly frigid November night circling and attacking players, media, and fans assembled at the basin of Jeld-Wen Field. Long black sleeves and pant leggings were complemented by a knit cap, the women’s national team training shirt, and the half-sneakers, half-cleats players use on FieldTurf. With frozen breath clouding her face as she stood at the side of the Timbers’ home field, Christie Rampone was in a place few expected at this stage of her career: Preparing for another game.

“I thought I’d have this amazing feeling after the (2012 Summer) Olympics,” the 37-year-old Rampone said, reflecting back on what was supposed to be her final major tournament, “like ‘I’m done, this is it.'”

It’s the reaction everyone expected. Rampone was the second-oldest out-field player at the Olympics. At Canada 2015 — the U.S.’s next major competition — she would turn 40, three years older that the most senior out-field player at Germany 2011. With little competitive soccer in the national team’s near-future, Rampone was supposed to use Wembley Stadium as her swan song.

But she didn’t. When the U.S. Women’s National Team captain was finished winning her third gold medal (the States defeating Japan 2-1 in August’s final), there was no feeling of completion. Redemption against a Japanese team that had denied Rampone a third World Cup in Germany provided no closure for a career with nothing left to accomplish.

But accomplishment can be overrated. Too often onlookers look at players like Rampone (or, on the other side of U.S. Soccer, Landon Donovan) and ask why a player would continue after all the boxes are checked, even though for many, no such checklist exists. Some athletes define themselves by their resumé. Others take pride in the process.

“I love the journey,” Rampone confessed, with pride. “Winning is obviously the main goal, but for me, it’s the journey to get there. The ups and downs. The highs and lows. Just being with my teammates.

“I’m not quite ready to give that up. I don’t feel it.”

source: Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12, 2012: Rampone attends Citi’s Every Step of the Way Culmination Event at a Citibank Branch in midtown in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Citi)

Part of those ups and downs is women’s international soccer’s three-year stretch between meaningful tournaments, a span that includes the U.S.’s current Fan Celebration Tour: 10 cities, 10 states, 10 chances to cash-in on the U.S. team’s London success, and zero opportunities for competitive matches. It’s part of a mystifyingly unbalanced women’s soccer schedule that allows the sport to fade into irrelevance for three years before staging the World Cup and Olympics in a 14-month window.

It also creates the kind of slog that could deter an older player who can justify moving on – especially if that older player has won a combined five Olympics and World Cups. To have to spend two years playing meaningless friendlies around the obscurity of Algarve and Women’s Gold Cups may seem anti-climatic, particularly for somebody with two children and a husband in New Jersey.

But for as tough as it may be for Rampone to fly cross-country to play an exhibitions like the one against the lightly-regarded Irish on a frigid night in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all part of the job she loves.

“If my kids said to me, ‘Hey, Mom, you’re done traveling, I want you home,” I’d do it in a second,” Rampone explained.

“[The children] love it. They love the travel. Rylie, my oldest, she doesn’t want me to stop. She goes ‘I’ll miss it.’ Yeah, well, eventually [retirement is] going to happen. But why now?”

Rylie’s urgings should give some relief to U.S. national team fans who’ve seen the team’s dependence on Rampone grow despite the captain’s increasing years. While part of that is due to the changes at the back (Rampone was the only defensive player other than goalkeeper Hope Solo to start the 2008 and 2012 gold medal games), Rampone’s personal contributions – her maturity, as a player – are the main reasons for her prominence. Her recovery speed, still as good as any in the game, combines with her experience, intelligence and leadership to keep her in the conversation among the best defenders in the world.

It’s a remarkable place to be for somebody who started her career as an attacker, her 5’6″ height normally a deterrent to a role in central defense. As her career evolved, she was moved to fullback, often played wide in a three-women defense, and then settled into the middle under Sundhage, a position she’s made her own.

source: AP
Rampone, center, high-fives figure skater Sarah Hughes after they threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, at Yankee Stadium in New York. At left, Rampone’s daughter, Rylie, 6, wears her mother’s gold medal. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

“[I’m] just more a confident player, especially playing in the center,” she says when asked to compare herself to the 27-year-old version of Christie Rampone. At no point does she mention an area of her game where she feels she’s worse. “You’re organizing. You’re dictating [the game]. You’re seeing the game. I just feel so confident out there when I’m playing that just everything else flows.

“Still having the speed, the recovery speed, I’m there to help everybody else out … Just being able to be the one solid person back there that can help [the game] flow.”

Hers is not the type of vocal, front-of-camera leadership you see from her teammates, most notably Abby Wambach and Hope Solo. Minute-to-minute, there’s little in her words that separate her from her teammates, though her on-field actions speak to national team experience that dates back to 1997.

“I feel like I’m more the calming effect on the field,” is how Rampone explains her leadership style, “because I’m not like Raaar. It’s just more of a when I speak it means something.”

In a squad that, under Pia Sundhage, was often left players to sort out their own internal problems, Rampone’s level-headed leadership often provided crucial balance. Combined with her on-field contributions, for which U.S. Soccer has no replacement lined up, Rampone’s decision to persist becomes a particular blessing.

Should she stay with the team though the next World Cup (Canada 2015) and Olympics (Brazil 2016), Rampone could become the most-capped player in national team history. That honor currently rest with Kristine Lilly, whose 352 appearances are 79 more than Rampone’s 273. Over the last four years, U.S. soccer has played 78 games, though that includes an eight-match schedule in 2009. Up that slightly, a Rampone could pass Lilly after Brazil.

“I would love to continue to play,” Rampone said, “at least for a year or two, see where the team’s at, because I really am still enjoying it.”

That “year or two” timeframe is a curiously short one for a standout defender who seems committed to the next cycle. The next major tournament doesn’t start until June 2015. A three-to-four year commitment will be needed to get through the next Olympics, at which time Rampone will be 41.

But the numbers were less reference to her age or performance than deference to the changes happening above her within the team. Sundhage, who guided the team through the last cycle, has left the U.S., taking the head coaching position with her native Sweden. With her went all of the preferences and biases each coach develops in a job.

Now former-Australia head coach Tom Sermanni is stepping into the position, and although Rampone is familiar with him from their time together at the Women’s United Soccer Association’s New York Power, the captain’s taking nothing for granted.

source: AP
Tom Sermanni, new coach of the United States women’s soccer team, poses for a photo outside the United States Soccer Federation Headquarters after an interview on Oct. 30, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

“I’ll just talk to him, feel him out, see if I’m going to get a call in,” Rampone says, modestly. “Playing with [Sermanni] would be unbelievable. I would be sad if I couldn’t get a few games under him.”

It’s an excessively modest assessment. Rampone is clearly the best defender on the team, somebody who has had no problem maintaining her high level of fitness. She’s neither injury-prone nor visibly slowing down, something that would mark that end to her effectiveness at the international level. With uncertainty surrounding every other position along the back, her exclusion from the team’s future plans would be anywhere from unlikely to a huge, unnecessary risk.

As somebody who wants to get back into coaching when her playing days are gone (as an interim head coach, she led Sky Blue FC to Women’s Professional Soccer’s 2009 title), Rampone was deferential to her new coach’s potential plans:

“It’s just up to where he sees me and what he wants to do. I have no idea, his thoughts.”

There was no fear in her words. She wasn’t afraid of competing for a spot or being told she was too old. (“I’ve had a great career. If I’m able to keep playing … I want to do it. If not, I’ll move on.”) If anything, Rampone welcomes the competition.

“Every coach comes in with their philosophy and their thoughts. Will he want to go younger? Will he want to sick with the same or just bring everybody in and everybody fight it out, just like the good old days? Just grind it out, earn your spot, which I’m hoping. That way it just makes it more competitive here.”

Rampone’s questions will start to be answered this week when Tom Sermanni joins up with the national team  on Dec. 7 for a three-game observation period before assuming full head coaching responsibilities in January.

He’ll likely observe what U.S. Soccer fans already know – what he, likely, already knows. Despite retirement expectations and a future of two major tournaments in her 40s, Rampone remains a crucial part of the U.S.’s chances in 2015 and 2016. With player and family set to continue, Rampone may yet become the most capped player in team history, a worthy status if she’s able to add to her five major titles.

Arsenal director Kroenke responds to supporter group letter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A unified group of 16 supporter groups sent Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke a letter urging the head man to show “better leadership” in helping rebuild the squad and return the Gunners to the Champions League in what will be a third successive season outside Europe’s top competition.

His son Josh, currently serving as a member of the Arsenal board, responded to the letter by saying he “respects” the fans’ passion but also noting that it “hurts” to have his own called into question.

“As Arsenal fans, we have watched with frustration as the team’s football performances have declined over the past decade,” the letter from the fans read. “When Stan Kroenke began buying Arsenal shares, the club had just ­competed in a first Champions League final. Twelve years on, Arsenal are about to play in the Europa League for the third year running.”

The letter also hit out at the “soulless atmosphere” at the Emirates and attacked the “lack of strategy” when it came to player recruitment and investment into the squad, noting that money spent is not the issue, but instead the execution of the team build.

The younger Kroenke responded to the coordinated message, saying he takes his position with the club seriously because he can feel the emotion behind the decisions made.

“Is it hard to take? Absolutely,” Josh Kroenke said of the letter. “But I’m not in this business to make friends, I’m in it to win. If anyone is ever going to question anything about our ownership – which I view as a custodianship, the supporters trust us to be a custodian of the values — that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to win whilst also respecting the values and traditions of the club.”

“I was there in Baku [for the Europa League final] on behalf of KSE [Kroenke Sports & Entertainment], my father and family. I was down there on the sidelines, on the medal podium handing out second-place medals. I saw the look on our coach’s face, our players and all our staff. I felt and I saw what they felt. I felt the same way. The most important thing about being down on the pitch is understanding that there is a resolve there. There are some people who are also pretty pissed off that we had dropped that last match. That resolve should serve us well.”

Finally, Kroenke addressed the money available this summer, and highlighted the difficulties presented by the Europa League loss, which left Arsenal yet again on the outside looking in as Chelsea qualified for the Champions League. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging message for fans.

“If we’re going into the finer points I’d have to defer to these guys [managing director Vinai Venkatesham and head of football Raul Sanllehi]. I’ve always told them we need to be as aggressive as possible. It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Haller nearing West Ham move, Lovren to AC Milan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to multiple reports across England, West Ham is close to its marquee Marko Arnautovic replacement as Sebastian Haller is nearly a Hammer.

Haller’s club Eintracht Frankfurt confirmed that the 25-year-old is on his way to London for a medical and will be a Hammer before long. His signature would represent a club-record fee of $55.9 million according to both the BBC and Sky Sports, far surpassing the $44.7 million paid for Felipe Anderson.

Haller is a goalscorer as well as a contributor, bagging 24 goals in 60 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt in his two years with the club and also assisting 13 more. The analytics folks love the move.

With Lucas Perez, Arnautovic and Andy Carroll all having departed the club this summer, the addition of Haller is a much-needed boost to the West Ham attack that includes Felipe, Robert Snodgrass, and Javier Hernandez.


Divisive Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, who infamously declared not so long ago that he is the best defender in the world, is rumored to be considering a move away from Anfield after last season’s Champions League winning campaign.

According to Nicolo Schira of Gazzetta dello Sport, Lovren is a target for AC Milan, although he would likely be asked to take a serious pay cut from his current Anfield salary. The report says that Liverpool wants at least $22 million for Lovren’s services, and that AC Milan would offer him a contract of $13.6 million over four years. That’s a significant drop from the $5.6 million a year he makes currently.

Still, if a deal can be struck, it may be enticing for Lovren considering his playing time at Liverpool has dipped in the past year. Now 30 years old, Lovren appeared in just 13 games for Liverpool last season, partially due to a pair of injuries but also having lost his place to Joel Matip. He was on the bench behind Matip for the final three matches of the Champions League run after starting the final next to Virgil Van Dijk the year before.


According to French publication L’Equipe, Southampton is in talks with OGC Nice to offload winger Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international joined Saints in 2016 from Lille but spent last season on loan with Spanish club Celta Vigo where hee scored just three goals in 35 league appearances.

With those struggles, his value has reportedly dropped to just $11.2 million, having been purchased for $21 million three years ago. L’Equipe says that while fellow French clubs Marseille and Bordeaux were interested, neither wanted to commit to a permanent transfer, with both wishing for a loan with an option to buy, whereas Nice has gone the extra mile.

Boufal was with the Moroccan squad in the Africa Cup of Nations this summer, appearing in three of their four matches, with all three appearances off the bench. He did not score or assist a goal.


Over the past few days there have been reports that should Leicester City cash in on Harry Maguire to Manchester United, they could pounce for Brighton defender Lewis Dunk as his replacement for about half the reported fee they would receive from the Red Devils. Now, with more time to think, that price may have spooked the Foxes.

According to Rob Dorsett of Sky Sports, Leicester City may decide to stick with internal replacements instead of spend big on a defender they don’t believe to be of accurate value in the market. Dorsett mentions 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu and 22-year-old Filip Benkovic as possible options to receive more playing time.

Benkovic, a Dinamo Zagreb youth product who arrived at Leicester City last summer, received his Croatian international debut this summer as a reward for a solid loan spell at Celtic last season. Aside from an ankle injury that sidelined him for all of February, Benkovic was a regular in the Celtic lineup and helped them post a glittering defensive record en route to the Scottish Premiership title, conceding just 20 goals in 38 matches. Celtic also lost every Europa League match that Benkovic missed, while they won three and lost one of the four he played.

Soyuncu joined Leicester last summer as well, coming over from German side Freiburg, but only saw the field for six Premier League matches, starting four. Of the four matches he started, the club conceded just one goal in every game, and he also started the EFL Cup loss to Manchester City that saw the league champions score just once in regulation before losing on penalties.


Kieran Trippier is reportedly receiving interest from major European clubs and could be considering an exit from Tottenham this summer, despite the season drawing closer. According to Daily Telegraph reporter Matt Law, Trippier has particularly interested Atletico Madrid, who could be in for a $25 million move.

Given Trippier’s growth at Tottenham and importance to Mauricio Pochettino‘s setup, selling a player of Trippier’s quality for that low a price seems a poor decision for Spurs, but if the player has his head turned after a run to the Champions League final there may not be much the club can do.

A right-back by trade, Trippier was recently deployed by Pochettino as part of a three-center-back system that saw the England international transform into one of the most versatile defenders in the Premier League, maintaining a strong defensive stance but also swinging out wide to perform wing-back duties at times and becoming one of the Premier League’s best free-kick takers.

Trippier’s name has cropped up a few times this summer, but nothing remotely concrete has taken hold and it would at this point be surprising if Daniel Levy allows an England international in his prime with three years left on his contract to depart so cheaply.

Some of the best new 2019/20 kit releases so far

Getty Images
3 Comments

One of the most enjoyable parts of the run-up to the new season is following clubs slowly trickle out their new home and away kits for the upcoming campaign.

Kit releases are becoming a bigger and bigger deal as kit makers pour more and more money into lucrative contracts. As we slowly make our way towards the new 2019/20 season, here are a few of the best releases across Europe so far. Obviously, these are extremely subjective, so if you feel one has been left out or strongly dislike one on the list, let us know what you think!

Arsenal away kit

The Gunners have produced some iconic kits in the past, and also some horrific ones, preferring on many previous occasions to be bold and risk it all, to mixed results. This season, Arsenal’s away kit is yellow, and unlike a number of swings & misses with yellow in the past, this one is fresh. The club brought in NBA star James Harden to model the new away kit, and it rules. The yellow isn’t too bright and the background V pattern keeps it interesting but not eye-popping which can be the trouble with yellow at times.

AS Roma away kit

Speaking of bold, Roma did risk it all this season with their away kit, and we’re glad they did. The Italian club unveiled a white kit with a lightning bolt splashed in the club’s maroon, yellow, and orange colors. It’s an outstanding choice done well, and proves one of this season’s most intriguing looks.

FC Barcelona away kit

While the Spanish giants’ home kit is a checkerboard pattern that doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, the away kit is another successful use of yellow. Like Arsenal’s, the yellow isn’t a staggeringly bright shade, instead allowing the diagonal sash to smartly take center stage. Check out new signing Frenkie de Jong unveiling the kit.

Bayern Munich home & away kits

Bayern Munich produced a fresh double this season, with a new-age home kit that looks fantastic plus a clean white away kit that jumps off the page. The home kit, as you can see on Benjamin Pavard below, is the typical Bayern Munich red with a subtle background that helps the kit pop, while the away kit is plain white that just looks outstanding, with the bottom of the shirt sporting a small dot pattern that gives it some form of uniqueness, as David Alaba shows off.

Celtic home kit

Hoops and collars are both often a feast or famine type of design, and while plenty of hoop kits have failed miserably in the past, Celtic nails both this season. As you can see below, they stopped the hoops above the shoulder, and that helps the green collar jump off the design. Along with the plain white shorts and green socks, this kit is a standout product.

Chelsea home kit

Like Bayern Munich, Chelsea went for the background pattern behind the club’s well-known main color, but the Blues went for a much bolder pattern, choosing to sport a randomized criss-cross that really pops behind the dark blue hue. As you can see youth product Mason Mount show off while announcing his new contract, the various sized lines are interesting but also not distracting.

Inter home kit

I audibly gasped when I saw this kit for the first time. Inter, always a leader in the kit department with the famed Pirelli logo, has produced a fabulous home kit for the upcoming campaign. Unlike last season which was just straight vertical stripes, this year’s kit has the stripes that break behind the sponsor logo and return to normal underneath, and it looks amazing, as does that particular shade of blue.

Marseille home kit

Puma knocked it out of the park for the French side, scaling back the blue to a white kit with blue pinstripes and the blue logo. It’s an outstanding look, as you can see on midfielder Morgan Sanson below. Coincidentally, they have some absolutely fire training gear to go along with it as well.

Nottingham Forest away kit

How about a Championship club to add to the mix? Nottingham Forest released a smart looking away kit that splits the two sides of the shirt into dark blue and black, and it works to perfection. Working with an already clean-looking sponsor logo and the white outline of the club crest without the red, the two-sided look is a great one. A cool touch to include the ladies squad in the kit release as well.

Wolverhampton Wanderers home & away kit

Wolves has quietly been one of the consistently best English kit producers, and they got it right again this year on both counts. The home kit is a simple yellow-orange with a subtle lined pattern in the background that looks great with the three adidas lines under the arm, while the away kit is black with diagonal yellow pinstripes that jump. Well done.

Ajax

As a bonus for making it this far down the list, here’s a bold choice that flat out doesn’t work. Ajax released its new 2019/20 away kit fresh off its run to the Champions League semifinal, and the combination of a weird forest green and an eye-burning traffic cone orange makes for a face-melting combination. Sorry, Daley Blind, but this is a hard pass.

Tottenham signs Mauricio Pochettino’s son to contract extension

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mauricio Pochettino put his arm around the player as he always does when a Tottenham member signs a new contract. This one was different.

A proud dad smiled for the camera as son Maurizio put pen to paper on a new deal seeing him move up to the U-23 side. The 18-year-old has been with Spurs youth side since following his father from Southampton to the English capital four years ago.

The boy impressed in 21 appearances for the U-18 squad last season, deployed on the wing where he scored four goals and assisted another. He was part of the squad that took on his old club Southampton in the very first event held in the club’s new stadium, essentially a trial run before the true opening match for the senior side.

Unlike his father, who is Argentinian and played for the Argentina national team, Maurizio was born in Barcelona and therefore could choose to represent Spain if he so desires, or his father’s native Argentina – given, of course, he reaches those heights. First, it will be the Checkatrade Trophy he takes part in, with the Spurs U-23 squad set to take on Gillingham, Colchester United, and Ipswich Town in Southern Section Group A.

View this post on Instagram

2019/20 underway… #COYS

A post shared by Maurizio Pochettino (@maurizio.8) on