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.

English FA allows Floyd justice messages by players in games

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English Premier League players will be able to show solidarity with the George Floyd justice campaign during games without the prospect of facing sanctions.

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The Football Association on Tuesday endorsed FIFA’s new stance that “common sense” would be applied when assessing the context of on-field messages on players’ equipment. The laws of the game prohibit “any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.”

German soccer authorities said they may sanction players who used goal celebrations to highlight last week’s death in Minneapolis of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air.

But the English FA, which oversees disciplinary action for Premier League games, has given the green light for players using games to protest against social and racial inequality.

“Where any behaviors or gestures on the pitch that may constitute a breach of the laws of the game have to be assessed, they would be reviewed on a case by case basis with a common sense approach and understanding of their context,” the FA said in a statement when asked about players’ tributes to Floyd. “The power of football can break down barriers across communities and we remain deeply committed to removing all forms of discrimination from across the game we all love.”

The Premier League is due to resume on June 17.

Players from Premier League clubs Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle have been pictured this week in training taking a knee as part of anti-racism gestures sparked by the death of Floyd.

The England team tweeted a close-up photo of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling high-fiving alongside the message “whatever our nationality. Whatever our race. We’re all on the same team.”

An England men’s game had to be stopped twice last year in Bulgaria after players were subjected to racial abuse.

The FA said it “strongly condemns discrimination of any kind and has endeavored to ensure that football in England is both diverse and inclusive in recent years.”

England winger Jadon Sancho was booked while playing for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday for removing his jersey – a yellow-card offense – only so he could reveal a T-shirt with a “Justice for George Floyd” message.

That led to FIFA telling The Associated Press on Monday that national federations should apply “common sense and have in consideration the context surrounding the events.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Season restart preview: Arsenal

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they are at ahead of the final nine weeks of the season as Arsenal are up first.

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Focusing on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, who had plenty of momentum before the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, they now have plenty of players back fit and ready for a late season surge.

Let’s take a closer look at all things Arsenal when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Arteta has lost just one of his 10 Premier League games in charge of Arsenal and somehow he has managed to solidify their defensive unit and the Gunners could be set for a late top four push. They do have a game in hand on their rivals but that is away at Man City. However you look at it, Arteta has Arsenal grinding defensively and we all know they have the attacking weapons to score goals galore. They are in the FA Cup last eight too and there is plenty of optimism around the Emirates Stadium as Arteta has placed his faith in young homegrown talents.


Tactical analysis: What has been the biggest change since Unai Emery was fired? Arsenal have kept things tight at the back with a solid back four which has seen David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi strike up an unlikely partnership. With Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos ahead of them there is a mixture of grit and flair too. Stats wise, Arsenal have faced the sixth-most shots in the Premier League this season (415) and among the ‘big six’ clubs, only bitter rivals Tottenham have faced more (418). Arsenal have to stay solid and stop giving up so many shooting opportunities. If they can do that, you always fancy to knock in a few at the other end.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Leno —–

— Bellerin — Luiz — Mustafi — Saka —

—- Xhaka —- Ceballos —-

—- Pepe —- Ozil —- Aubameyang —-

—– Nketiah —–

Notice that there is no Alexandre Lacazette, Kieran Tierney or Matteo Guendouzi. Lacazette and Guendouzi do not appear to be favorites of Arteta, while Tierney has been unlucky with injuries and the emergence of Bukayo Saka playing out of position at left back. Do not be surprised to see Saka pushed up to be a winger and Tierney come in, while January loan signings Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares may also be given the chance to establish themselves. The lineup above perhaps isn’t their strongest on paper but it is the on which was working best for Arteta before the suspension arrived.


Remaining schedule:
Home: Norwich, Leicester, Liverpool, Watford
Away: Man City, Brighton, Southampton, Wolves, Tottenham, Aston Villa

Predicted finish: With Arsenal currently in ninth place in the table, it seems unlikely they can make a late surge into the top four but they are just eight points off fourth-place Chelsea and have a game in-hand. Arteta would surely be happy with a top six finish and run to at least the FA Cup final. Given everything that has happened at Arsenal this season with Emery leaving, Arteta arriving and

McKennie: I have to stand up for what I believe in

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USMNT and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie has said he will stand firm and accept any punishment for wearing an armband in support of George Floyd.

During Schalke’s 1-0 defeat at home to Werder Bremen on Saturday, McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and along with several other Bundesliga players, he will now be investigated by the German Football Association as there are rules against players wearing political messages on shirts or other garments. FIFA have called for “common sense” to take place when it comes to each association ruling on regulations against players revealing political, religious or personal slogans during a game.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN last week there have been widespread protests across the USA. A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested last Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Over the weekend Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages of support on their jerseys, while McKennie wore his armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga.

Clubs and players across Europe have since issued their support to the movement. As for the German FA, they said they are looking into potential breaches around rules on political, religious or personal slogans.

Speaking to Forbes in an interview, McKennie said that as an American international player he simply had to speak out.

“I was like, ‘I’m not taking it off’. There’s a rule in the league that you can’t make political statements. But I mean, if you really, really look at this as a political statement, then I don’t know what to tell you,” McKennie said. “The league and everyone (in soccer) always preaches ‘say no to racism’. So I didn’t think that there would be a problem. If I have to take the consequences to express my opinion, to express my feelings, to stand up for what I believe in, then that’s something that I have to do.”

“I felt like it was my responsibility and my duty, especially being American, and with the situation going on in America,” McKennie added. “And I felt like it was the best and biggest platform that I could use to spread awareness. Of course, maybe some people don’t agree with it, but that’s their opinion and for me, I felt like it was my duty and my responsibility to go out to show justice for George Floyd. This is a problem that’s been going on way too long. We’re the only (soccer) league that’s playing right now, all eyes are on the Bundesliga. So I felt like there’s no better way and no better time than now.”

McKennie then went on to detail some of the racist abuse his family have received in the USA and said he wasn’t surprised at all about what happened to George Floyd, but urged people around the world to join the Black Lives Matter movement and the battle to stop police brutality.

“It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. If you believe that this is wrong, if you want to see change, it’s something that you can join. Every voice matters, no matter how big or how small,” McKennie said. “Obviously it’s a global problem and it’s going to take the world to fix it.”

Hasenhuttl signs new four-year contract at Southampton

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Ralph Hasenhuttl has handed Southampton a massive boost by signing a new four-year contract at the Premier League club.

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Hasenhuttl, 52, joined Saints in December 2018 and his high-pressing style of play has impressed fans and neutrals, although there have been a few bumps in the road along the way.

The low-point was the 9-0 home defeat to Leicester City in October but since then Hasenhuttl went back to basics with his tactics and the slate was wiped clean for most of his players. Saints went on a run of seven wins from 11 games from late November to January to drag themselves away from the relegation battle.

“This, for me, was a simple decision. Simple because of the relationship that I have built with the club, the players and the fans, and also because of the relationship they have built with me too,” Hasenhuttl said. “I said when I arrived at the club that we were at the beginning of a long journey, and also a journey that would bring emotion and hopefully enjoyment. We have already had some moments where we could celebrate together, and some that have been emotional and also challenging.

“The way we have handled this together as a group of people has been incredible for me, and I believe we now have strong foundations here that can allow us to take the next steps in our progress as a team… We value the same philosophies, and this is a big part of why I want to stay here, and I hope we can share in some very successful moments moving forward.”

This works out well for everyone. Saints need Hasenhuttl and vice versa, as the club stood by him when his side were battered by Leicester and were all over the place defensively earlier in the season. Since then there’s been a massive turnaround as Hasenhuttl’s high-pressing style has returned to Saints and they’ve won away at the likes of Chelsea and Leicester City.

Southampton currently sit seven points above the relegation zone with nine games of the 2019-20 season to go and Hasenhuttl’s young, hungry side have a string of games against teams battling against relegation to come.

This contract will give the playing squad certainty as Hasenhuttl only had one year left on his previous deal. Shane Long is expected to sign a contract extension soon too, while captan Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has one year on his contract but may be swayed to stay at Saints given Hasenhuttl will be sticking around.

The financial situation at Saints is a little unclear given that their majority owner Gao Jisheng has stated he will not bankroll signings and wants the club to be sustainable, so Hasenhuttl will likely have to rely on polishing plenty of gems from Saints’ famed academy to bring into the first team.

Providing Saints don’t collapse in the final games of the season, they will be in the Premier League next season and they will have stability with Hasenhuttl around as they can plan ahead. During the suspension of play, Hasenhuttl has been working on a virtual book for the entire academy system at Saints to follow and his style of play will now be present from their youth sides all the way up to the first team.

The ‘Klopp of the Alps’ has found his home on England’s south coast.