Legacies of Wambach, Hamm, Morgan intertwine — just as they’d like them to

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HARRISON, N.J. — The mark of many great goal scorers is the ability to be selfish in front of net.

Three of the best United States forwards ever must have missed that memo.

On Thursday at Red Bull Arena, Abby Wambach smashed Mia Hamm’s international goal scoring record. Wambach entered the game needing two goals to tie the record of 158 goals; she had those within 19 minutes. By halftime she was alone at the top and two clear with 160 goals.

Wambach now owns the greatest individual record in all of soccer – men’s or women’s. She said she would celebrate her record with family and friends on Thursday night, but the significance of Hamm’s name — one synonymous with women’s soccer to this day — bumping down to second on the charts isn’t lost on Wambach.

“If I were to end my career right now, I would have done it before breaking (the record),” Wambach said. “That’s how much respect I have for Mia – how much she’s done for me personally, how much she’s doing even for Alex Morgan, still. This is a personal thing. Mia wants players to break her records. I now want Alex to break mine and I just told Alex, ‘you better do it in much less time than I did.’”

Such is the relationship of three of the most prolific scorers in the history of soccer. Wambach and Hamm are atop the charts, while Morgan’s 44 goals in 68 caps (and at 24 years old) has her on a blistering pace to join the fray. But their ambitions always lie in seeing their apprentice succeed them. Hamm did it for Wambach, guiding the 5-foot-11-inch forward through her early professional years with the U.S. and the Washington Freedom and shaping Wambach’s raw talent into a more determined, more focused player.

[MORE: Wambach breaks Hamm’s mark with four-goal night]

“I’m just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun,” Hamm said humbly in a statement issued through U.S. Soccer.

That’s it. No grievances. No ego. That’s Hamm’s nature. It’s Wambach’s too, and now she plays role model to Morgan. Their goals are to create each others goals.

Just as Hamm and Wambach became a dynamic duo in the three-plus years they played together in the early 2000’s, Wambach and Morgan have become inseparable on the field. Morgan’s assist on Wambach’s fourth goal Thursday was her 14th on a Wambach goal (Hamm also assisted 14).

[MORE: Wambach praises teammates in reaching milestone]

But the connection goes well beyond pinging crosses to each other. Find Abby Wambach in warm-ups and you’ll find Alex Morgan. Passing together. Stretching together. Even sitting next to each other on the bench after being taken out of the match (a 5-0 rout) early in the second half.

Postgame on Thursday, Morgan was beaming as if she just scored goal No. 160.

“I’ve looked up to Abby for so many years,” Morgan said. “She’s a great leader for this team, and to be able to be a part of this memory looking forward and breaking this record, Abby completely deserves it and I’m really happy for her.”

The relationship is triangular. Hamm helped Morgan train in the offseason to sharpen her skills through the dormant winter. Wambach said she was likely to speak with Hamm following Thursday night’s interviews.

Three greats at what can be the most selfish position in soccer, as unselfish as they come when it comes to each other. That they emerged for the United States in succession without any lapse in between is an unprecedented gift from the soccer gods. Greatness followed greatness, and Morgan is well ready to take the torch and sprint away with it.

“Alex is going to score tons of goals in the next few years,” Wambach said. “I think we have such a different kind of strength. When I’m having a great game, she’s probably going to be on the assisting end of things. But I want to be putting her in the positions to score goals, because my legs can’t move like hers. She can score goals in such random positions, like the Canada game.

“She’s going to be a threat for us. She’s going to be scoring the lion share of goals for our team over the next couple years, so if my role becomes assister, great. If I’m the set piece threat, fine. Whatever my role is to help this team win a World Cup title, that’s all I care about.”

That elusive World Cup – the only thing Hamm, and now Wambach, ever really cared about. Hamm won two.

Wambach gave Hamm the retirement gift of an Olympic gold medal. The best thank you Morgan could ever give Wambach is a World Cup trophy in 2015.

 

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.