Looking at the lesser known USWNT’ers called into Tom Sermanni’s first camp

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Yesterday’s news was supposed to be about Tom Sermanni’s first callups, but when the U.S. Women’s National Team selections were announced mid-day, Tobin Heath’s move to Paris Saint-Germain swiped the headlines. Beyond that blockbuster, there are a number of subtle story lines within Sermanni selection, plots woven from the predictability that defined Pia Sundhage’s approach.

There was never any drama with the U.S.’s previous coach. Renown for her loyalty, Sundhage’s selections were so predictable that they’d be overlooked. Perhaps one or two new names would dot each team, but there’d rarely be any surprises. Even as Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux were assimilated into the team, the methodical nature of the process drained the intrigue. There was never an Eddie Johnson, where did this come from Jurgen moment. Every Sundhage callup was always (looking at the list) “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh … Yep.”

Not that a coach should try to create drama. On the contrary, many see Sundhage’s reluctance to rock the boat as a key to the team’s recent success; however, that reluctance meant a number of good players may not have gotten chances other coaches would have provided.

Sermanni’s first team features a few of those names, though those inclusions are mostly because of the size of the call-in. To bring 29 players in for a look, you have to pick a few new faces.

Let’s go ahead and count down the surprises from 10-to-1 in terms of … let’s call it “intrigue.” We start with someone who’s no surprise at all (but deserves a mention):

10. Ali Krieger, D, Washington Spirit – Krieger is not a new name (she’s one of the best right backs in the world), but this is her first camp since tearing up her knee in Olympic qualifying. A strong following of devoted fans will be happy to see the former Frankfurt star back in action. She’s an obvious pick as Sermanni’s starting right back.

9. Whitney Engen, D, Liverpool – Engen’s signing in Liverpool earned some press, and despite the creation of the new NWSL, the former North Carolina standout plans to stay in England. She was one of the victims of Sundhage’s predictability. Despite strong play at both collegiate and WPS levels, Engen rarely got a look under the previous coach.

8. Ashlyn Harris, G, Duisburg/Washington Spirit – Harris has never been capped but has the talent to be a regular in the team. Under a new regime, players like Harris may be able to win coveted spots, like the place behind Hope Solo. She’ll join the Spirit once her German commitments end, with player and agent hoping to negotiate and early departure (her contract runs through May).

7. Kristie Mewis, M, FC Kansas City – The number three pick in last Friday’s College Draft, the former Boston College star represents a possibility for a thinning midfield. Not yet 22, Mewis can also slide farther up the field to play as an outright forward.

6. Crystal Dunn, D, North Carolina – The MAC Herman Trophy winner helped the Tar Heels reclaim their national title. Still 20 years old, Dunn has played in the middle at U-levels but projects as a wide option for the senior team.

5. Julie Johnston, D, Santa Clara – Like Dunn, a collegiate star who Sermanni will get a chance to evaluate in person. Johnston is also a potential solution for the once-precarious fullback situation.

4. Jane Campbell, G, Concorde Fire South – The high school senior is the biggest surprise on the team, passing over a number overseas and NWSL names that justified this selection. This could be Sermanni just wanting a first-hand look at a prominent prospect, but Campbell could have also gone to the concurrent U-20 camp. Players like Turbine Potsdam’s Alyssa Naeher or Western New York Adrianna Franch should have gotten this spot.

3. Yael Averbuch, D, Göteberg (Sweden) – Averbuch was not only hurt by Sundhage’s loyalty to the regular squad members but left out by system that didn’t use a real defensive midfielder. One of a handful of national team hopefuls who passed on the NWSL, Averbuch’s club performances hint she’s reaching the peak of her career.

2. Keelin Winters, M, Chicago Red Stars – Winters recent success at Turbine Potsdam makes her a key part of the new Chicago team. Capable of playing a defensive midfield as well as a box-to-box role, Winters has the versatility to be a good bench option for the national team.

1. Christen Press, F, Tyresö FF (Sweden) – Perhaps the most exciting callup, Press is a former MAC Herman Trophy winner spent last season in Sweden, where she elected to stay rather than joining the NWSL. He 17 goals in last year’s Damallsvensken were second only to German star Anja Mittag’s 21. With a slew of talents in front of her at forward, it will be difficult to crack the squad for a real game. But at least now Press is getting the chance.

Here’s Sermanni’s full call-in, courtesy of U.S. Soccer:

U.S. Women’s National Team Training Camp Roster by Position

GOALKEEPERS (5): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Jane Campbell (Concorde Fire South), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (9): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool FC), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Heather Mitts (Boston Breakers), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Yael Averbuch (Göteborg FC), Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lori Lindsey (Washington Spirit), Carli Lloyd (Western NY Flash), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), Keelin Winters (Chicago Red Stars)

FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö FF), Amy Rodriguez (Seattle Reign FC), Abby Wambach (Western NY Flash)

Sargent describes how it felt to score first Bundesliga goal

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Less than 12 months after signing his first professional contract, Joshua Sargent accomplished his dream of playing in the Bundesliga. Seconds later, he was on the scoreboard.

Just 88 seconds after coming on, Sargent provided a header to put the ball across the goal line and score his first Bundesliga goal in a Werder Bremen 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. Sargent found the back of the net again two weeks later, against strong opposition in RB Leipzig.

[READ: “Pity” Martinez pictured in New York]

Following a short trip back to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Sargent joined up with his teammates in South Africa for some warm-weather training during the Bundesliga winter break.

Sargent is looking for another taste of first team action as Werder Bremen resumes the Bundesliga season at Hannover on Saturday. Should Sargent continue to get regular minutes for either or both the Werder Bremen first or second teams, expect him to get another call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for its European-based friendly matches in March.

‘Pity’ Martinez arrives in U.S., even with no official ATL UTD announcement

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Atlanta United hasn’t officially announced the signing of Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, but the talented Argentine attacker is in the U.S. now anyway.

Martinez posted a selfie of himself at Times Square in New York City, likely getting his first taste of anonymity after a star-studded run with River Plate in Buenos Aires.

[READ: Bielsa admits to spying all his “rivals”]

Following the rescheduled second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, Martinez and River Plate both confirmed to media post game that he was departing River Plate for Atlanta United, but despite this, the MLS club still hasn’t made the new official on their end. It’s unclear what the hold up is, whether it is transfer fee, agents fee, or Designated Player related. For the record, the LA Galaxy announced in December that it was re-signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a Designated Player contract, knowing all along that they couldn’t start the next MLS season with more than three DPs.

Previous reports out of Argentina have stated that Martinez’s transfer to Atlanta United could cost the club as much as $14 million including the base transfer fee to River Plate, agents fees, and potential add-ons.

A year ago, Atlanta United announced its club record signing, Ezequiel Barco, then-19, during the MLS Superdraft, but there was no Designated Player announcement at the league’s annual weekend symposium this year. Atlanta United has a challenge on its hands if Miguel Almiron isn’t sold to Europe this offseason. Under current MLS rules, it can’t have more than three players signed to Designated Player contracts.

Perhaps it could loan Barco, who struggled at times last season, or loan Martinez elsewhere, because Josef Martinez seems a lock to be in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

Either way, Pity Martinez’s arrival in the U.S. could be a sign that an announcement could come soon from Atlanta United.

Reports: Chelsea edging closer to signing Higuain

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The transfer window appears to be heating up as we head towards the close in the next two weeks, with the first of many dominoes about to fall.

According to The Telegraph and reports out of Italy, Chelsea have now made an official offer to Juventus for Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on-loan with AC Milan. If confirmed, the report states that Chelsea will effectively take over Higuain’s loan for six months, and then the Premier League side will have the option to keep Higuain on loan for another 12 months or buy him outright.

[READ: Derby County stuns Southampton in FA Cup]

Higuain and Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri have history, as Higuain had arguably his best club season under the Italian manager at Napoli. Higuain scored 36 goals in Serie A, by far the top scorer in the league in 2016, which led to a $102.6 million move north to Juventus. However, it’s been an up and down time in the North of Italy for the Argentine. He scored 24 goals with Juve in his first year with the club but finished with just 16 last year before the Italian giants signed Cristiano Ronaldo, which effectively meant Higuain had to look for a new home.

News that a deal is close to completion is a big turnaround from a few weeks back, when even as Higuain struggled at Milan, the two sides didn’t seem close to breaking apart, and Juventus reportedly was insistent on recouping some of their transfer fee. However, following the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday, it appears both sides are ready to move on.

Higuain coming to Chelsea may be the first domino to fall. With Sarri getting his preferred striker, that frees up Alvaro Morata to return to his native Spain, although he’s reportedly set to join Atletico Madrid, instead of his former side Real Madrid. In addition, Chelsea has been shopping Michy Batshuayi, the top target for AS Monaco, where he would reunite with Thierry Henry, his former assistant coach with the Belgian National Team. The Telegraph reported that Chelsea wanted to recoup some of the $51.5 million it spent on Batshuayi but at this point, it’s looking more likely that he’ll move to Monaco on-loan or for a cut-rate fee, with his current loan to Valencia likely to be terminated shortly.

In Italy, the next domino to fall is Genoa’s Krzysztof Piątek, who is set to take Higuain’s place at AC Milan. Piatek has been the revelation of Serie A this season, with the Polish international scoring 13 Serie A goals in 19 games, just one goal behind Ronaldo. It’s unclear what the transfer fee will be for Genoa – Piatek joined the club last summer – but it’s likely to be a big one considering the premium on goals these days.

Once Higuain moves and the dominoes fall, we’ll see how it affects the rest of the Premier League, with other players becoming available as the transfer window enters its final weeks.

Henry’s Monaco draws 1-1 with Vieira’s Nice in French league

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PARIS (AP) Old friends Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had to split the points as Monaco drew 1-1 with French Riviera rival Nice on Wednesday in a scrappy match featuring three video reviews.

Winger Allan Saint-Maximin put Nice ahead in the 30th minute and 17-year-old defender Benoit Badiashile equalized shortly after halftime, becoming the youngest scorer in the French top flight this season. Badiashile’s header from a corner was deemed to have crossed the line by the use of goal-line technology.

[MORE: Ligue 1 scores, schedule]

Henry and Vieira are in their first seasons coaching in France, but they go way back and hugged warmly before kickoff.

Living next to each other in London, they blossomed with Arsenal and were part of the famed “Invincibles” side which went a whole season unbeaten in the Premier League. The Frenchmen also won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000, as well as playing together in the 2006 World Cup final.

Having started their illustrious careers as teenagers on the French Riviera – Henry with Monaco and Vieira with Cannes – they have come full circle as coaches.

Monaco had chances through Aleksandr Golovin and Rony Lopes, only for Nice to strike against the run of play following a sloppy mistake from Youssef Ait Bennasser. After he gave the ball away in midfield, Saint-Maximin took it off him easily and shrugged off defender Jemerson before shooting confidently past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

The goal was awarded before being checked and confirmed by referee Benoit Bastien using VAR. Moments before the interval, he consulted VAR again to send off Nice striker Ihsan Sacko for a late challenge on defender Benjamin Heinrichs.

“There’s a lot of frustration and questions about the decisions. The red card is very harsh,” Vieira said. “It wasn’t a dangerous action and it had a negative impact on us.”

Bastien used VAR for the third time to award a penalty in the 75th, ruling that Badiashile impeded right back Youcef Atal when images suggested Atal initiated contact with Badiashile before tumbling down.

Benaglio guessed correctly to keep out Saint-Maximim’s spot kick. Monaco almost won it near the end when Radamel Falcao hit the post with a curling effort.

“A point isn’t enough for us, but we could have been sat here talking about a defeat,” Henry said. “I have no opinion about the VAR, those are their decisions. Diego saved the penalty – so much the better for us.”

Monaco has not won at home this season and is 19th – only one point ahead of last-place Guingamp, which beat Rennes 2-1 at home.

OTHER MATCHES

VAR also played a key role elsewhere as Saint-Etienne equalized with a penalty in a 2-1 home win against Marseille.

Referee Antony Gautier awarded the penalty in the 56th after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda upended forward Wahbi Khazri.

Gautier then changed his mind after the linesman signaled Khazri was offside when receiving the pass, but further confusion ensued as he then consulted VAR and re-awarded the penalty, which was confidently tucked away by Khazri.

There was no debating Khazri’s late winner, struck ferociously from 20 meters past Mandanda. It was his 12th league goal of the season and leapfrogged Saint-Etienne over Lyon into third place ahead of their local derby on Sunday.

Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman headed Marseille ahead early on from Florian Thauvin‘s excellent cross. The defeat increases the pressure on ninth-place Marseille and its coach Rudi Garcia after a string of poor performances have left fans disgruntled and angry.

In other matches, forwards Moussa Dembele and Nabil Fekir netted late on as Lyon rallied to draw 2-2 at Toulouse.

Nimes moved into 11th spot after winning 1-0 at home to Nantes.