Sauerbrunn, Quon, and why its still too early to see NWSL’s influence on Sermanni’s choices

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It’s too early to tell who will be the NWSL’s Becky Sauerbrunn – somebody who used the ill-fated Women’s Professional Soccer as a springboard into the U.S. women’s national team. The then-Washington Freedom defender had seen some limited time with Pia Sundhage’s team before WPS began, but she wasn’t a real factor. By the time the league started in 2009, she’d been seen and judged; seemingly a long shot to forge a role with the national team.

In that new league, the Virginia grad was a stand-out, her cerebral leadership combining with a two-plus-year iron woman streak to force her way into the squad. With it, her recall became a symbol of hope of an array of professionals who, shut out by an increasingly stagnant national team roster, could see Sauerbrunn’s ascension as vindicating their persistence. Thanks to WPS seasons that put Sauerbrunn’s intelligence, consistency, and dependability on display, the now-FC Kansas City captain embedded herself at the international level. Now, after 42 caps, Sauerbrunn’s an obligatory call-up.

We’re now a month and a half into WPS2; or, WUSA3, depending on how you want to look at it. Tom Sermanni has been at NWSL games just about every weekend, and with every team streaming their home games online, the U.S’s new boss has seen all the potential candidates. After six weeks, there’s a pretty big body of evidence to suggest who is in form, so if somebody had emerged as an early Sauerbrunn, they would have called up, right?

The June 2 against Canada is a friendly. It’s on foreign soil, where there’s no significant need to sell tickets. It’s against a rival, but one that the U.S. faces with some regularity. With the World Cup two years out, there’s no pressing need to see how the Alex Morgans and Abby Wambachs of the world will do against the Canadians, even if it’s always good for the team to get time together. In a low-leverage situation where the information you gather about players is more important than the final result, doesn’t it make sense to call in a few more borderline players?

[MORE: Breaking down the 21 called into to face Canada.]

Perhaps. Perhaps Sermanni doesn’t agree that a month and a half of games is enough to justify any shakeups. And perhaps there haven’t been any players who’ve made a sufficient case, because when yesterday’s roster was announced, there were no huge surprises. No new Sauerbrunns had won a spot. Even the inclusion of an uncapped Amber Brooks caused little discussion, given her form at Bayern Munich and Shannon Boxx’s continued recovery from surgery. With a team as tight as the U.S. women’s national team, it might not be worth shaking things up, even if that means some of the same motives that kept players like Christen Press from breaking in appear to be in play.

That may also be why Yael Averbuch and Megan Rapinoe were the only surprise omissions, with U.S. Soccer making the point to explain Rapinoe, at a busy point on the calendar with Olympique Lyonnais, will join the team for June’s matches against South Korea. Megan Klingenberg was also a potential call in, but having only three national team caps, the omission of the former Tar Heel wasn’t a huge surprise. Alyssa Naeher could have gotten a look, with her season in Potsdam done, but her absence surprised no one.

The roster’s curiosities aren’t so much the omissions as two of the inclusions. Carli Lloyd, who spent the first part of the season recovering from a broken shoulder, has only made one brief substitute’s appearance for Western New York. Jillian Loyden, who broke her hand before Sky Blue FC’s season started, was recalled despite having yet to play a minute in the NWSL. Rather than look at Becky Edwards or McCall Zerboni in midfield, or give young Adrianna Franch another camp’s training in goal, Sermanni’s elected to stay the course.

It’s too early in Sermanni’s tenure (and NWSL’s existence) to start drawing conclusions, but it’s worth considering what it would take for somebody to be dropped from the national team. Lloyd and Loyden have barely played ahead of a friendly on foreign soil, yet they’re still in. Kelley O’Hara has inexplicably struggled for Sky Blue, and while it’s probably far too early to be dropping her from the national team, no natural left backs were called up. As the league moves forward, we’ll have to see if fitness or form influence national team recalls, because after Wednesday’s selection, the only thing we know will keep you from an invite are finals in UEFA Champions League and the French Cup. If that’s the standard, it’s going to by 2011-12 all over again.

If you’re looking for a drawback to the lack of turnover in a highly successful team, look to the Canada. Look to the squad they named on Wednesday. Illinois-born left back Rachel Quon, in her first season with the Chicago Red Stars, has been recalled by John Herdman, the Stanford alum having a connection to Canada through her father. The CSA still has you get her cleared, and who knows if the call-up will stick, but this could turn into a minor irritant for the U.S. No, Quon was never likely to be a major contributor for the national team, but if she evolves into a regular for Herdman, she’ll join Lauren Sesselman, Karina LeBlanc, and Chelsea Stewart as U.S.-born players who’ve elected to play for Canada (all with varying levels of connection to the States). Those aren’t Sydney Leroux-level players (somebody who made the opposite switch), but for a U.S. team looking at an improving rival, it should still be a concern.

There are two things that make Quon’s move particularly interesting. First, she’s been playing well, and when rumors circulated last week that the U.S. may have a surprise call-up, Quon’s name was one you could have inferred. Ultimately, however, it’s unclear she’s that much better of a long-term prospect than somebody like Sky Blue’s Kendall Johnson. Camille Levin, starting for Göteborg in Sweden, could also be an option. Quon may have a U-level pedigree, Stanford training, and be in form, but ultimately, the difference between her and Johnson could prove irrelevant.

The second curiosity may become more important. Left back is arguably the States’ weakest position, which only highlights the loss of a potential contributor. Kelley O’Hara’s first on that depth chart and played very well this winter, but while being shuttled between left back and left-wing for Sky Blue, O’Hara has struggled. If she carries that form into national team duty, Sermanni has problem. (Keep in mind, we’re still two years out from the World Cup.) Kristie Mewis, a natural attacking midfielder, is number two on the depth chart, through Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Sauerbrunn, and even Megan Rapinoe are capable of playing left back.

It is troublesome that, in light of potentially losing Quon, there are no natural left backs on the roster, the team’s first choice is in a slump, and none of the alternatives are playing the position for their clubs. But perhaps more troublesome is a sacred cow syndrome that kept Press out of the team for so long and perhaps contributed to Quon’s Canada call-up. Having played at U-levels for the United States, it’s reasonable to assume the 22-year-old would have remained loyal to the U.S. given reason to do so. But with as little roster turnover as we see from the States’, it’s difficult to blame her for pursuing an international career.

In his fifth month on the job, it’s far too soon to say whether Sermanni will protect the sacred cows. While none of the last cycle’s core have been dropped, Sermanni has found time for players like Press, Dunn, Mewis, Ashlyn Harris and Julie Johnston – all encouraging signs. Those inclusions may be a function of injuries and absences or a concerted effort by a new coach, yet when you see Lloyd and Loyden as obligatory callups while a player like Quon is turning to Canada, it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind: Is there too much deference to the old guard? And when will another Becky Sauerbrunn rise from the domestic league?

Right now, it’s far too early to answer those questions. Just file it away.

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.

Arsenal seals transfer of German goalkeeper Leno

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Arsenal unveiled German goalkeeper Bernd Leno on Tuesday as the latest member of Unai Emery’s unit.

The longtime Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, 26, has six caps for Germany but is not on the World Cup roster.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Leno had appeared in 304 matches for Bayer before the move, which will reportedly cost the Gunners approximately $25 million.

Head coach Unai Emery said: “We are very pleased that Bernd Leno will be joining us. Bernd is a goalkeeper of high quality and experience. He has been a top performer and regular number one goalkeeper with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for the past seven years. We are all excited that Bernd has chosen Arsenal Football Club and look forward to start working with him in pre-season.”

The Gunners have Petr Cech and David Ospina at goalkeeper, but it’s reasonable to expect at least one to leave town. Emery has already added Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus to help shore up his defense.

Clinical Russia tops Egypt to (pretty much) reach knockout rounds

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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  • Russia goals: Fathy o.g. (48′), Cheryshev (59′), Dzyuba (62′)
  • Egypt: Salah (PK, 73′)
  • Next: Russia-Uruguay, Egypt-Saudi Arabia

Hosts Russia scored a trio of second half goals to all but seal the first spot in the 2018 World Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.

The loss means Egypt is 0-2, the Pharoahs unable to find momentum despite the return of Mohamed Salah. Egypt needs a wild combination of factors to stay alive for the knockout rounds, and is likely heading home.

Salah won and converted a penalty for Egypt, while Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, and an Egyptian own goal accounted for Russia’s goals.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Some sloppy play out of the back allowed Golovin a shot from outside the 18 but he hit his effort wide of the frame.

Egypt stayed in the mix though, and a Russian mistake  deep in its own end forced Zhirkov to concede a corner with a desperation intervention that stopped Mo Salah from a doorstep opportunity.

Salah then won a yard of space but fired wide in the 42nd minute after Zhirkov stopped him from going to his right peg.

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

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Russia went ahead through an Egypt own goal from Fathy, who was jostling for position with Artem Dzyuba and turned Roman Zobnin’s mishit inside his net.

After Cheryshev made it 2-0, Dzyuba took an Ilya Kutepov long ball out of the air with his chest before turning past Ahmed Hegazy and blasting Russia’s third goal home.

Salah won a penalty in the 73rd minute, one initially ruled a free kick, and the Liverpool man blasted his shot home.

Neymar limps out of Brazil training

AP Photo/Andre Penner
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Having drawn against Switzerland in its opener, Brazil now faces renewed concerns over the health of its megastar forward.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Neymar’s right foot was “still not 100 percent” when he took the field for the 1-1 draw on Sunday, and the 26-year-old left practice early two days later.

He missed nearly three months after fracturing his foot for PSG under pressure by Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, but returned to score for Brazil in friendly defeats of Croatia and Austria. Neymar has 55 goals in 85 caps.

Neymar was favoring his right foot as he limped off the pitch, two days after being fouled 10 times against Switzerland. Fox reports that Neymar will be fine to practice on Wednesday, but the situation bears close observation.

Neymar was injured in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals when Juan Zuniga kneed him in the back.