We need to keep researching the effects of heading the ball

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We’re a few years away from having a serious discussion about the effects of heading the ball. But that discussion’s coming, and the sooner, the better. It’s impossible to persist in the illusion soccer will dodge that scrutiny when you read stories like today’s at The New York Times.

Anne B. Sereno, a neurobiology professor in Houston, looked at cognitive function in high school girls soccer players. She and her colleagues took her iPads and their tests to one school’s varsity soccer practices. They noted how many times players were heading the ball, had them do some basic cognitive testing after sessions, and compared their results to non-soccer playing high school girls.

There’s already evidence suggesting repeated heading of the ball causes “subtle structural changes in certain parts of the brain” (that sounds like brain damage, to me). And as Sereno notes, “female soccer players are second only to football players in the number of concussions” incurred each year. The group she focused on may be particularly susceptible to the negatives of heading the ball.

What’d she find? Relying on an assessment called the anti-point test (which involves selecting cued boxes in a small matrix, as adapted for the iPad), Sereno collected some worrisome data:

It turned out, that the soccer players were not as adept at the anti-point test. As a group, their responses were slightly but significantly slower, suggesting some degree of cognitive impairment.

What is more, the more times a girl had headed the ball in the immediately preceding practice, the worse her scores were on the anti-point test.

Wondering whether the effects might, potentially, be cumulative, the researchers then re-ran their analysis, using information about how many years each soccer player had participated in the sport and also how many hours per week she currently practiced.

They found that the more years a girl had played, the slower she tended to be on the anti-point test.

Similarly, the more hours per week a girl played, the worse she performed on the anti-point test.

The Times piece stresses: We can’t base conclusions on these results. The study was too small in size and scope.

However, it’s a reason to continue. Or more readily, it’s part of a mandate. Heading the ball seems to have negative neurological consequences. We have to find out the extent of those consequences.

We also can learn from how this issue has unfolded in other sports. Football has been embarrassingly slow acknowledging their problems. They’ve only recently become proactive, and across the country, there’s still incredible reticence in acknowledging full contact football is not be a good idea for young children.

Boxing, as an industry, has never adapted to landscape that’s become less tolerant of a “the players know the risks” justification. It’s a logic you could use to justify the way soccer’s currently played.

Sports always evolve. Heading has not always been a part of soccer, though it has been for a long time. If there isn’t a way to sustainably head the ball, the sport needs to know.

We’re pretty far from that point. We don’t even have the data to justify broad conclusions, and once we do, that data may be better used to find solutions than indict the entire sport.

But we need to keep an open mind. And we need to keep pursuing this.

Dempsey scores first goal of season, Sounders tie Fire

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season to match the Seattle regular-season career goals record, helping the Sounders tie the Chicago Fire 1-1 on Saturday night.

Dempsey tied the club record for regular-season goals with 47 set by Fredy Montero from 2009-12. It was Dempsey’s 57th goal across all competitions for the Sounders, three away from Montero’s overall mark.

Harry Shipp started the scoring play for the Sounders (3-8-3) midway through the first half, taking the ball up the attacking right side. He sent it ahead to Will Bruin, who took it to the top right corner of the 6-yard box. Bruin tapped the ball across, and Dempsey slid into it, sending his shot into the upper left side.

It was Dempsey’s first goal since last Nov. 30, when he scored in a 3-0 win over Houston in the second leg of the Western Conference final. His last regular-season tally was last Sept. 27 in a 3-0 victory over Vancouver in Seattle.

Chicago (5-7-5) went up 1-0 in the ninth minute. Brandt Bronico backheeled a pass to Aleksander Katai, who took control about 35 yards up from the goal. He dribbled up to the top left of the penalty area restraining arc and fired a shot past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei to the back right corner for his sixth of the year.

MLS roundup: SKC roar back vs. HOU; FCD hammered by RBNY

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 16 of the 2018 MLS season…

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sporting Kansas City 3-2 Houston DynamoFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Peter Vermes’ side fell 2-0 behind by halftime, courtesy of a costly error by reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara in the second minute and a disastrous midfield breakdown in the 45th — both scored by Mauro Manotas. Sporting KC, who entered the weekend level on points with FC Dallas for first in the Western Conference (and four back of Atlanta United in the Supporters’ Shield race), were read the Riot Act at halftime, per Vermes, and responded accordingly.

Daniel Salloi bagged his fifth goal of the season in the 59th minute, and it was one-way traffic favoring Sporting from that point forward. Diego Rubio’s equalizer (assisted by Salloi, also his fifth) didn’t came until the 85th minute — the same minute in which he entered the game as a substitute — and Khiry Shelton’s winner (also assisted by Salloi) came three minutes later.

New York Red Bulls 3-0 FC Dallas — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

Despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour, the Red Bulls hammered the aforementioned side from Dallas to the tune of 3-0 at Red Bull Arena. The defeat snaps a four-game winning streak for FCD, as well as a seven-game unbeaten run dating back to late April.

Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, followed by Aaron Long (now a man down) in the 39th and Kemar Lawrence in the 48th (assisted by Kaku, making the 23-year-old Argentine-turned-Paraguayan the first player to reach 10 assists this season).

Los Angeles FC 2-0 Columbus Crew SC — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

LAFC did their damage early — Laurent Ciman in the 4th minute and Adama Diomande in the 8th — and Bob Bradley‘s side held on for 82 more minutes while limiting Crew SC to just one shot on target and handing Gregg Berhalter’s side a second straight loss and extending their current winless skid to five games. After riding alongside Atlanta atop the East standings a few weeks ago, Columbus have fallen to fourth and trail the Five Stripes by six points.

Elsewhere in MLS

Philadelphia Union 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Orlando City SC 0-2 Montreal Impact
Colorado Rapids 3-2 Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders 1-1 Chicago Fire

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE