Picking apart the U.S. Women’s roster for upcoming Germany, Netherlands friendlies

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If there was ever a time to show a preference for the U.S.’s Europe-based soccer players, the upcoming international break would be it. Yet for the women’s national team’s early April friendlies at Germany and the Netherlands (Apr. 5 and 9), head coach Tom Sermanni has elected to call in a predictable squad. Yes, names like Tyresö’s Meghan Klingenberg and Western New York Flash’s Adrianna Franch opened some eyes, but throughout the rest of the 23-woman team, the U.S.’s squad offered few surprises:

Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Adrianna Franch (Western New York Flash), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit)

Hope Solo is recovering from a wrist surgery that will keep her out until June. Jill Loyden, who seemed to have claimed the backup’s role, is out with a broken hand. That left the veteran Barnhart, the recently capped Harris, and a void.

Sermanni has elected to call in Franch ahead of Jane Campbell, the 18-year-old he brought in to the Jacksonville camp, and Alyssa Naeher, who has only conceded 11 goals in 12 starts for Turbine Potsdam in Germany. That leaves Franch, a recent graduate of Oklahoma State who is set to embark on her first professional season, to join the senior team in Germany.

Though the third-choice keeper will likely be irrelevant, it was one of the most anticipated selections of the April roster. Sermanni elected to go with Franch, somebody he’s already seen in a previous camp. rather than take a look at Naeher.

source: Getty ImagesDefenders: Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Liverpool, England), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö, Sweden), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC, pictured, right), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

The only real surprise here is Klingenberg, who is just as likely to get time in midfield as defense. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has two career caps, with former head coach Pia Sundhage previously flirting with the idea of converting her to a fullback’s role. Just coming off shoulder surgery, the 24-year-old’s inclusion was Thursday’s biggest surprise.

The recalls of Dunn and Johnston are mild eye raisers, but at this point in the Sermanni era, each seem so close to being regular selections that it’s not worth marveling when they get called in. Dunn, in particular, looks to have secured a regular recall, with the MAC Hermann Trophy winner seeming to establish herself as Sermanni’s second choice at right back.

Midfielders: Yael Averbuch (Göteborg, Sweden), Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Lauren Cheney (FC Kansas City), Tobin Heath (PSG, France), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon, France)

Again, no real surprises here, though those wondering if Sermanni was giving players extended tryouts during the Algarve Cup could read something into the continued inclusions of Yael Averbuch and Kristie Mewis. With Carli Lloyd’s shoulder injury keeping her out for up to six more weeks, Averbuch should see regular time in the middle of the park.

Mewis, fresh out of Boston College, is more in Dunn and Johnston’s boat. It’s no surprise to see her called in, but her playing time will still be iffy.

Forwards: Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö, Sweden), Abby Wambach (Western New York Flash)

Don’t expect this foursome to change anytime soon. It is arguably the deepest and most talented position for any team in international soccer.

The foursome also seem to have found a balance. Press is playing more as a right wing/midfielder in Sermanni’s typically 4-4-2 formation. Morgan and Wambach are starting up top with Leroux playing the supersub’s part. When Wambach needs a rest, she switches with Leroux. Everybody’s getting time.

Who didn’t get called in?

Lindsey Horan, F, Paris Saint-Germain – If you expected Sermanni to lean toward recalling Europe-based players, the exclusion of Horan was a surprise. The 18-year-old PSG regular has 11 goals in 16 Feminine Division matches, but she also failed to make an impact during limited time at the Algarve Cup.

Sarah Hagen, F, Bayern Munich – The 23-year-old striker has 13 goals in 24 Frauen-Bundesliga appearances, but at 5’11”, she also projects as more of a target striker. In a squad that has Abby Wambach to target and Alex Morgan playing along the defense’s line, it’s difficult to see where she fits.

Hagen deserves a look, and the upcoming camp gave Sermanni a chance to recall her, but for a new coach who is still familiarizing himself with the player pool, the April friendlies may be too soon for Bayern’s promising forward.

Amber Brooks, D/M, Bayern Munich – Brooks’ double in her Bundesliga debut may have raised her profile ahead of Thursday’s callup, but there are still questions as to whether she possesses the quickness to fulfill a defensive midfielder’s role. That’s the position she’s most likely to compete for in the national team.

As a U-level standout and an accomplished collegiate player, Brooks is destined to get a chance. But that opportunity may not come until she returns stateside and can impress Sermanni if (when?) she joins the Portland Thorns.

Camille Levin, D, Göteborg – Having established herself as a regular in Sweden, the former Cardinal seems like another player who will eventually get a call. Yet when you look at the defensive depth in a team that’s called in nine players capable of playing at the back, Levin seems squeezed out. She may be making an impact in Sweden, but Sermanni’s is a numbers game. Which defender should be dropped to make room for Levin?

The 22-year-old seems destined to get a look, particularly with two-plus years separating Sermanni’s team from the next World Cup. On Thursday, the number just didn’t work in her favor.

Alyssa Naeher, G, Turbine Potsdam – Long jams on the depth charts of Sermanni’s field positions explain why Horan, Hagen, Brooks, and Levin were excluded, but Naeher’s snub is a little more confusing. The 24-year-old is starting for the second place team in Germany, one that’s established a good defensive record.

Is that enough to stake a place in the team? Not necessarily, but when Hope Solo is out, and Jill Loyden is out, who do you have left?

Sermanni likes Franch enough to justify her recall, but there’s a certain logic behind leaving the young keeper with her club ahead of her first pro season. With the Germany-based Naeher performing well ahead of a camp that starts in Germany, this was the time to call her in.

That she wasn’t makes you wonder what would have to happen for Alyssa Naeher to get a look with her national team.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

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Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.

Chelsea verdict due mid-December in FIFA transfer ban case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Chelsea can expect a verdict within three weeks in its appeal to overturn a FIFA transfer ban for breaking youth transfer rules.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said after a hearing Wednesday its ruling is expected in the first half of December.

The month-long trading window for English clubs opens Jan. 1. Chelsea already served half its one-year ban on registering new players during the offseason.

Chelsea is challenging verdicts by FIFA’s disciplinary and appeal committees that the club had 150 violations of rules protecting minors from trafficking. Those cases involved about 70 players.

Chelsea also broke rules prohibiting third-party influence on players. FIFA imposed a fine of 600,000 Swiss francs ($608,000).

The club has denied wrongdoing.

The timeline of this transfer of minors’ case is similar to Barcelona’s appeal in 2014 when CAS upheld a transfer ban on Dec. 30, almost four weeks after a hearing.

MLS takes big step with All-Star Game update

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For the first time since 2004, the Major League Soccer All-Star team has a new opponent.

In a press conference in Los Angeles, MLS commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla jointly made the announcement that the 2020 MLS All-Star Game would test the best players from MLS against the top stars in Liga MX, with the match set to take place on July 29 at Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium.

The news of MLS taking on the Liga MX all-stars is the realization of an idea that has been floated by fans and media members for the last few years. The annual MLS All-Stars vs. club giant had grown stale in recent years, especially since those clubs weren’t ever incentivized to take the game seriously. Big stars might have only played one half, if at all, as they built match fitness for the start of their seasons in Europe, and it ultimately is a bad marker for MLS.

If MLS really wants to compare itself with other top leagues in the world, then there’s no better an opponent than Liga MX. The Mexican first division has continued to basically wipe the floor with MLS clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League, though this season Atlanta United did triumph over Club America in the Campeones Cup.

In addition, MLS may have a decent chance to beat Liga MX in an all-star game. The talent at the very top of MLS is arguably higher than in Mexico, though the Liga MX clubs are stacked with talent in the middle of the rosters, which is where MLS clubs are exploited year after year. However, if it’s Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela, and Nicolas Lodeiro up front for the MLS All-Star squad, they could have a very good shot to succeed.

“We are so pleased to bring the 2020 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target to Los Angeles, one of the great soccer markets in North America,” Garber said in the press conference. “As we celebrate our 25th season, we wanted to deliver an unique and unprecedented format for our annual All-Star Game. Our first ever game between the best of MLS and LIGA MX’s top players is the perfect way to build on the growing relationship between the two top soccer leagues in the region.”

It’s unclear whether this will be a recurring match in the future. However, moving away from the prior all-star game model will help MLS grow as a league and catch up to Liga MX in the long wrong.

How the USMNT found and kept Dest

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With the stroke of a pen on Gregg Berhalter’s lineup card and the referee’s whistle to finish the game, a 4-1 U.S. Men’s National Team victory over Canada, Sergino Dest officially tied his future to the USMNT. It was arguably the final step in a recruitment that began more than three years ago thanks to a message from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Dave van der Bergh.

Since retiring as a player, the former New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas winger has spent his time coaching youth teams within U.S. Soccer, and in this instance, he was working with then U.S. Under-17 head coach John Hackworth. Hackworth was unavailable for comment on this story.

Dest first came on van der Bergh’s radar from a contact at Ajax, where van der Bergh came through the youth academy, and it led to Dest’s first call-ups to the U.S. U-17s in 2016.

“I was tipped off by people at Ajax that there was a player with a dual nationality, and considering that we had been looking at dual nationalities, that I should take a look at him,” van der Bergh said in an e-mail. “I found out about him through the club itself, actually.

“The first time I saw him, I asked for video footage from Ajax, which they gave to me and that was great. Then I asked a really good friend of mine to take a look at him for us. He is somebody I really trust as far as scouting goes, and he said the same things that I thought I had seen. That’s when I decided to tell John Hackworth about him.”

Hackworth and co. brought Dest along slowly, getting him incorporated in the group. He was a reserve in the 2016 Nike International Friendlies as a 15-year-old, with Sporting KC defender Jaylin Lindsey starting ahead of him at the time.

But while the U.S. Soccer Federation was at turmoil at the top – this was just months after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena after his season with the LA Galaxy wrapped up – Dest was making a very good first impression to the coaches.

“I thought that it was unusual,” former U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach Tab Ramos recalled in a phone interview. “Normally, our defenders on youth national teams, 1-on-1 they usually have a lot to learn. I felt that Sergino was one of those defenders that never got beat 1-on-1, and that caught my attention.”

Dest wasn’t part of the U.S. U-17s run to the CONCACAF Under-17 final in 2017, but he earned a spot on the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup roster, and it’s where he became a breakout star for American soccer fans. His impact  play from left back or right back added a new element to the U.S. attack and he held his own defensively.

Since then, Dest has continued to progress for club and country at a rapid rate. He helped lead the U.S. U-20s to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and a run to the quarterfinals at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and for Ajax he went from the U-19s in 2017 to Jong Ajax a year later and now a sure-fire starter at right back for the first team in 2019.

“He just became more and more mature,” Ramos said of Dest’s progression as a player in a short span. “He became more of an impact player on the attacking side of the field, and in general I give the players the freedom to express themselves within the context of the way we want to play. I think he was happy with the way we played and it allowed him to express himself, so it worked really well.”

His success in the Ajax first team of course got the attention of the Dutch National Team, who suddenly had an interest in Dest. In the youth stages, it made more sense for Dest to play with the U.S. because he’d have a better opportunity to play at a youth World Cup. The Netherlands hasn’t made the World Cup at U-20 or U-17 level since they hosted the U-20 World Cup in 2005, a shocking statistic considering all the stars they’ve produced over the years.

Suddenly, Dest was being faced with the prospect of competing for playing time on a team that made the final four less than a decade ago and looks to be surging back to prominence, or staying with the only national team program he’d known. The U.S. stepped up its recruitment in September when Gregg Berhalter called Dest in for a pair of matches, first against Mexico and then against Uruguay, where the teenager started both matches. At the same time, his former coach Ramos was keeping in touch with Dest once he decided in October to take more time to make his decision between the U.S. and the Netherlands.

“I continue to be in contact with Serg like I do with many of the players,” Ramos said. “Basically, my recommendation to him was to go with his heart. I feel like, of course you can listen to your agent and you can listen to people in the press, and you can always choose what’s more convenient to you, for your career. But I think the most important thing when playing for a country is to choose where your heart is. That’s basically what I told him.”

Dest made his decision to stay with the U.S. on October 28, and it was a big win for a USMNT program that had lost promising midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez in a similar situation to Mexico. Even bigger, Ramos noted, was that Dest wasn’t born and raised in the U.S., and his main connection with his nation was through the national team itself.

“I’m very proud of that, because it means he has a trust in our program and he’s confident that he’s going to get the most out of his opportunities that he gets here with our program,” Ramos said. “I think it goes to show the great job Hackworth did with him and how happy he was to be with us in the U-20s that he feels like this is his home.

“You have to remember this a kid who never lived in the U.S., he grew up in Holland, and that the closest thing for being home for him has been our youth national teams. I think he felt comfortable. He’s been comfortable and he felt like we took care of him, and he’s been happy. That’s just my feeling.”