European commitments see United States name 25-woman squad for friendlies against Australia, New Zealand

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Oct. 20 isn’t a reserved date on FIFA’s women’s calendar, and with an increasing number of U.S. players taking advantage of opportunities in Europe, that poses a problem for U.S. Soccer. Four of the current squad (named this afternoon) are playing for Swedish power Tyresö. Two more are in France. Another promising attacker is playing for Bayern Munich. It’s hard to get the band together when their clubs aren’t obligated to release them.

That may be why 25 women were named to Tom Sermanni’s squad for upcoming friendlies against Australia (Oct. 20) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, Oct. 30), though only 18 women will dress for each match. For the Australia game, the squad will be without Tyresö’s players (Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Christen Press), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon). Erika Tymrak, with Bayern Munich after earning the NWSL’s Rookie of the Year award, was not named to the squad.

Sermanni’s team will undergo a second shift after the Australia match. College stars Crystal Dunn (North Carolina) and Morgan Brian (Virginia), who will miss their team’s Oct. 20 ACC matchup to be in Texas, will return to their schools after the Australia match. Likewise NWSL fullbacks Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City) and Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC) will leave the team before the New Zealand games.

For Cox, the callup is her first since returning to the field late in the NWSL season, the 27-year-old sidelined for most of the season as she welcomed her first child. With 82 caps to her credit, the 2008 gold medalist was once a national team mainstay, though he last appearance with the U.S. was in May 2012. Now she’ll compete against Dunn and converted midfielder Kristie Mewis for a place on the depth chart.

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Stephanie Cox, pictured here with the LA Sol, returned to action late in the NWSL season after delivering her first child. Though 27-year-old defender has 82 caps with the U.S. national team, she’s been called in for the first time since May 2012. (Source: JMR Photography, via Wiki Commons.)

They’re part of the 10-defender crew named to the U.S. squad, one that’s emblematic of the strange tension between old world scheduling and the new realities of the women’s soccer world. Whereas the U.S. has previously been able to ignore FIFA dates because few (if any) players were playing in Europe, financial opportunities in France, Sweden, England and Germany makes it more likely out-of-window games will create conflicts. In one sense, the U.S. surely has enough depth to give players 22 through 25 a shot in otherwise meaningless matches, but on the other hand, the margin for borderline players like Tymrak, Paris Saint-Germain’s Lindsey Horan, and Bayern’s Amber Brooks diminishes with decreased opportunities. There’ll be deprived of opportunities granted domestic-based players.

With two games scheduled in the October FIFA window, it’s hardly a major concern. It’s unlikely the borderline Europeans were omitted because they wouldn’t be released for the Oct. 20 friendly. After all, the Tyresö and French contingents were still named to the squad despite being unavailable for Australia.

Still, the scheduling is an example of a unique, unprecedented predicament for U.S. Soccer. Their women’s players are becoming subjected to the same pressures as their men’s. National team priorities must be balanced with their professional ambition. While that doesn’t preclude scheduling games outside a FIFA window, it remains to be seen how the practice persists.

Heath, Rapinoe, Press, and Krieger — all key players for Sermanni are already out for Australia. A few more key players go to Europe, and these out-of-window camps will no longer be worth it.

Here’s the full squad:

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster
GOALKEEPERS (4): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Adrianna Franch (WNY Flash), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (10): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Tyresö), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö), Ali Krieger (Tyresö), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Yael Averbuch (Göteborg), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon)
FORWARDS (4): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clarke is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clarke has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

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Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earned promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen have impressed, while both Hibernian and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998. He was also assistant coach under Jose Mourinho and played a key role in some of their most successful seasons.