One more: Tobin Heath headed for Paris Saint-Germain

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If Megan Rapinoe’s blazing a new trail with her exploits in Lyon, it looks like one of her teammates will be right behind her. Attacking midfielder Tobin Heath appears to be following in her fresh footsteps, having signed a contract with emerging Division Feminine club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Her six-month deal will mirror Rapinoe’s with Lyon, with both stars set to miss the start of the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season.

Sources within the league confirmed the signing, news that originally leaked after U.S. Soccer posted a roster for the impending national team camp detailing Heath’s new affiliation. Her official team has since been corrected to reflect her place with Portland Thorns FC; however, the announcement still says the former University of North Carolina star’s time in Tom Sermanni’s first camp will be cut short by her commitments in Paris.

Sources within the NWSL have confirmed Heath’s contract will run until June. Rapinoe signed a similar deal with Lyon.

Heath was recently allocated to Thorns FC along with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair in what most considered the league’s most favorable allocation; however, with Heath set to miss the beginning of the season, head coach Cindy Parlow Cone must now find somebody capable of making the connection to Morgan and Sinclair.

Sources also confirm the league was aware of Heath’s possible move at the time of allocation, a fact that could explain why the league was willing to add the midfielder to a talented Thorns roster.

Love of the game

Though Rapinoe and Heath are not the first U.S. players to see time in France (Hope Solo spent time with Lyon in 2005), it’s no coincidence they are the two most prominent members of the current national team to take advantage of new opportunities in Europe. Ali Krieger was already there (Germany), as were borderline national teamers Ashlyn Harris (Germany) and Meghan Klingenberg (Sweden), but Rapinoe and Heath are the first from this summer’s Olympic team to make this leap.

The commonality between the two is their love of the game. Both Rapinoe and Heath have a reputation for being insatiable soccer players, and while Heath’s health (during her WPS days) and national team commitments have left her with a playing record not dissimilar to other her age, Rapinoe had spent time in Australia in addition to a brief stint with the Seattle Sounders Women.

With the NWSL season still at least two-and-a-half months away (no official schedule’s been released), it’s not shocking that two players who can’t get enough of the game will spend their winter in France. That each will cash in on France’s escalating arms race make the moves financially and competitively attractive.

source: APHeath was the one

There are a series of national team players entering crucial points in their development. If players like Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux don’t find opportunities to test themselves more consistently against top competition, they could risk a relative stagnation. At the rate at which the women’s international game is improving, it’s no longer good enough to stay home and develop through national team tours and W-League summers. It’s unclear the NWSL will solve this problem.

Teams like Germany and France see their players near-constantly playing against top competition. The Frauen-Bundesliga and Division Feminine are among the best leagues in the world, each competition placing its best talents in a quickly improving UEFA Champions League. With the margin for error for the U.S. Women’s National Team smaller than ever, it’s unclear whether its stars can afford to miss out on opportunities to play for clubs like Lyon, PSG or the various teams in Germany.

Heath is the player with the most to gain from time abroad. She’s the U.S.’s most technically gifted player, but because of injuries incurred after leaving North Carolina in 2010, she’s never played consistently at club-level. In addition, her role as a creative presence in midfield is the type that would be consistently tested against the tactics and talents of the European game. It’s more than just a striker trying to beat better defenders.

At a very important point in her development, opportunities like PSGs will only help Heath realize her potential: That of a game-defining playmaker on the international level. Other players have that potential but fall short, but with this move, Heath is giving herself the best chance to succeed.

French pursuit

Lyon has the most talented squad in women’s soccer, but getting into the U.S. market is key for them. Club president Jean-Michel Aulus admitted as much when Lyonnais announced Rapinoe’s capture, and with rumors that representatives have also reached out to Alex Morgan, it wouldn’t be a shock if Rapinoe’s capture is the tip of the iceberg for a team looking to raise an already high bar.

PSG’s Heath signing is the same. The Parisian club signed a six-figure deal last year for Colorado teenager Lindsey Horan — a declaration of the emerging club’s financial intent — but trying to track down Lyonnais’ juggernaut, high school prospects are not enough. Playing in the wake of Lyon, PSG needed more talent.

With the Heath signing, the Parisians have made another foray into the U.S. market, one which will help them secure the second place (Champions League) spot they currently hold in France.

And just as with Rapinoe, there’s always the possibility this deal leads to something more. The core of the U.S. Women’s National Team is committed to helping the NWSL launch, but there’s nothing to say players like Heath and Rapinoe won’t finish the NWSL season in August before signing up for another stint abroad. The experience and money are hard to turn down.

AT HALF: Pogba switches off, Chelsea pounces (video)

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Antonio Rudiger‘s perfectly-timed run and matching header left Paul Pogba looking the fool as Chelsea claim a 1-0 halftime lead over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

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Manchester United was extremely lively, rewarding Mourinho for going attack-first with his lineup, but it was Paul Pogba who let the team down.

The superstar midfielder let Antonio Rudiger use a pick to create some space on a corner kick, and couldn’t catch up to the German. Rudiger powered Willian‘s offering across goal and David De Gea couldn’t get a hand on the header. 1-0.

It’s a big second half for United, who has Alexis Sanchez on the bench.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Man United

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A huge clash kicks the Premier League action back off after the international break, as Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

[ STREAM: Watch live online ]

Chelsea have lost just one of their last 16 PL home games against United and the Red Devils have lost more times against the Blues than any other PL club.

Throw in the fact that Chelsea are on fire under new manager Maurizio Sarri and Eden Hazard is ripping apart the league, while Jose Mourinho and Man United are struggling after their worst-ever start to a PL season, and this will be an intriguing battle.

In team news Sarri starts Alvaro Morata up top instead of Olivier Giroud, while Ross Barkley is only fit enough to make the bench.

Mourinho has a slightly more attacking lineup than expected as Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial all start.


LINEUPS

The Canadian Premier League is building buzz

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Maybe he’s just new on the job, but a conversation with Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is like an imperial stout from one of Ontario’s many breweries: It gets you buzzing really quickly.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Sure, the man who knows how to politick, crediting NBC and EA Sports for the uptick in soccer popularity in North America, but it’s more than salesmanship for the former Tim Horton’s chief operating officer (Tim’s is an inescapable Canadian coffee chain).

But in discussing the construction of Canada’s new league, there’s an unavoidable energy that tracks from the ground up (and there’s little doubt their publicity and communications crew has won its mission). From the league’s very open trials in seven cities — announcing cut lists after Day One of each — to several other notable announcements, there’s an optimism in a new North American soccer league that hasn’t been felt in some time.

“You’d think in sports mad North American it should be easy to do, and many have tried but it hasn’t worked in Canada,” Clanachan says of trying to build a new league. “The bottom line is we took a very different approach. We’re building from the community level in everything we’ve done. You surround yourself with a group of storytellers who really know the game and how it shows that great passion. That’s driven by the movement and passion of the spectators. Soccer supporters are there whether their team is in third-last or first. They are all in.”

And so when the CPL started with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg, and York, it made sure those fan bases got a different taste of pro sports.

Who had the hardest shot or best agility at the Winnipeg trials? It’s all right there. Who made it to the second day of trials in Quebec? Just look at the list. Why did the league choose one uniform designer for all the teams? They’ll tell you, plainly.

Transparency is a big claim, but one the CPL has so far embraced in a big way.

“I talk about that incessantly with our people,” Clanachan said. “From everything when we announced the league and the league identity, people were blown away with us being very transparent. We believe that to really build it is to take people with you on the journey. It helps people understand who we are and what we want to do. Then it just became about continuing the momentum.”

Clanachan has said he dreams of a 2-3 division league with promotion and relegation one day, but is focused very much on keeping his seven teams strong at the start.

Clanachan (canpl.ca)

He credits club owners’ ownership of the league with helping idea sharing, saying the NBA is a good model for intra-league support.

And he thinks the relative lack of jobs for Canadians, especially in MLS, is only going to help his league start stronger.

“When you look at the entire MLS, there are only four Canadians that are playing meaningful minutes and only 28 total, and that’s the largest pro league close to this country,” Clanachan said.

Four, really?!?

“That’s what our guys are telling me.”

I expected him to be wrong, but there are only four Canadians in the Top 200 for minutes in MLS despite three teams playing North of the U.S. border. The number expands to eight over 300, but point well-taken.

And the open trials reflect that. NCAA college stars, MLS draft picks, and players from smaller European clubs dot the open tryout list, and these are just the names hungry to get on the radar of coaches who clearly have their own lists of players.

“Players from Singapore, Japan, South Korea are all getting attention, and they’ve paid their own way,” Clanachan raves. “Two nights ago Canada played Dominica. Our whole staff went. One of the starting forwards for Dominica was at our York trials last week. Dominica’s a very small country, let’s be honest, but a lot of people want to live in these countries, Canada and the U.S.”

And so, it follows that Canada is going to have fan enthusiasm and a decent level when it begins its way into the North American soccer landscape.

“What I took from Tim Horton’s is we built it community by community,” he said. “When you do it that way, you make a lot of deposits, and they’re with you when the withdrawal comes when you want support. And they are there in spades. Because they see you with them every day.
“When these owners came looking for me, I heard two words ‘legacy’ and ‘Canadians.’ And that to me was not the typical, ‘Well we gotta make money at this.’ Because people who go into sport to make money are going into it for the wrong reasons. They’ve gotta be into it for development of the sport. It rang a true bell. You look at why we’re having success: We’ve haven’t kicked a ball yet and people are over the moon. We’ve sold thousands of season tickets without announcing a roster. And it’s all calculated.”
The league kicks off in April. The league web site is canpl.ca.

Jurgen Klopp has some hot takes on the UEFA Nations League

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Jurgen Klopp loves tepid friendlies.

Of course, we’re kidding, but the Liverpool manager is not happy with the new UEFA Nations League, which has amped up matches during international breaks previously reserved for experimental XIs and low-key affairs.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

With Liverpool losing several players to injury — albeit two during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying — Klopp was asked for his opinion on Friday.

The vociferous German did not disappoint. From The Liverpool Echo:

“They say ‘now we have proper games, real opponents and it’s better than having friendlies’, stuff like that. … Maybe people want to see (boxer Anthony) Joshua fighting every second night but it’s not possible. Nobody asks for it in other sports.

“Do we really want opera every night or every two months? That’s the question. We have to be careful. That’s all I said. I like competition of course but at one point someone has to step back and say ‘wait, they are players, I want to watch it, but if they don’t perform then I am angry’. How can we make sure they perform? That’s all I wanted to say.”

Now I’m all for more personalities like Klopp in sports, but I have to say this is about as poor a take as it gets. Do I want any event I watch, let alone pay to see, to be less intense? Nope. Not at all.

Do I like preseason matches, or dead rubber games late in the season? Only in-as-much as they are examples of sports I like. Sorry that your guys are hurt, Jurgen, but no one short of Liverpool fans and other club managers are giving thumbs up to your talk.

I mean, seriously, have you ever watched a game and thought, “I’m glad these guys or girls aren’t trying as hard as they can!” Doesn’t being less tuned into a game provide more chances for someone to get hurt.

I don’t buy it one bit. Anyone in Jurgen’s camp? I’m happy to argue in the comments section.