USWNTbegins three-match stretch with cruise past Australia (Video)

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Like the rest of her teammates, Australia’s Lisa De Vanna will see her efforts forgotten, the cruel nature of sports’ bottom lines likely to overshadow the multiple tests she gave Hope Solo. With the U.S. goalkeeper responding each time, finishing the match with five saves, the final looks like most other friendlies the U.S. has hosted through a still-undefeated 2013. The 4-0 final was an apt illustration of the divide between the world’s first- and eighth-ranked teams.

Expect more in the weeks to come. Today’s match in San Antonio was the first of a three-game stretch, the U.S. Women’s National Team closing October with friendlies against New Zealand (Oct. 27, 30). The Football Ferns, however, are unlikely to offer as much resistance as the still-overwhelmed Aussies.

Lauren Holiday got the U.S. on the board early, her shot from just inside the penalty area deflecting off an Australian defender on its way past Lydia Williams. Eight minutes later, a nice, controlled left-footed volley from Carli Lloyd saw Holiday’s midfield partner score from roughly the same range, giving the U.S. the 2-0 lead they’d carry through halftime.

Abby Wambach got on the board in the second half, the FIFA World Player of the Year registering her 162nd international goal in the 56th minute. In stoppage time, Christen Press scored her seventh goal in 10 games, giving the U.S. a controlling four-goal win.

That control wasn’t complete, however. The defense was caught out multiple times, occasions where the ever-working De Vanna was able to get on to direct balls from her teammates and past the States’ defense. The two goals the team had in the second half could have possibly been more if it weren’t for a handful of occasions where better execution and finishing would have made this into a truly overwhelming result.

But there are only so many qualms you can have about a four-goal win over quality opposition, and given the point of these matches is to continue improving ahead of 2015 World Cup qualifying, the performance (and its details) was more important than the final score.

And on that performance, here are five things that jumped out:

source: AP
Sky Blue FC forward Lisa De Vanna nearly broke through for Australia on Sunday, often stressing North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn – the U.S.’s starter at right back. (Photo: AP Photo.)

1. Defense gave Australia their chances

We covered De Vanna, somebody whose exceptional work rate can exploit problems in any defense. Thankfully, Lisa De Vanna isn’t the greatest finisher in the world; otherwise, the U.S. would have gotten themselves into a shootout.

In her post-game interview, Hope Solo mentioned how excited she was to be playing behind a defense that was playing more two-way soccer, but the cost of that is sometimes being caught out. Maybe a fullback (Crystal Dunn) finds herself out of position. Maybe your central defenders end up isolated. There are costs to any approach, and if the U.S. truly is changing theirs — moving away from a philosophy that saw a natural central defender deemed an acceptable left back at the last World Cup — they’ll be a period of adjustment. If this is the direction Tom Sermanni’s decided to go, the U.S. will be better off for it, but they may also need Solo to paper over the cracks in the short-term.

Then again, this may have just been a bad day. Maybe we’re reading too much into Hope Solo’s words. Regardless, if the U.S. had been playing Germany, Sweden, or even Canada, the scoreline wouldn’t have been as forgiving.

source: Getty Images
Becky Sauerbrunn started in central defense for the U.S., going 90 minutes in their win at the Alamodome in San Antonio. (Photo: Getty Images.)

2. Was this Becky Sauerbrunn’s best game of the Tom Sermanni era?

If the U.S. is going to play out of the back more, getting their defenders more involved in play, then Becky Sauerbrunn may become the central defender most likely to claim the spot next to Christie Rampone (who did not dress today). Though her range of passing was an issue under Pia Sundhage, Sauerbrunn is great playing the short passing game Sermanni may want. Out of all the people vying for the place next to Rampone, she is the most intelligent with the ball – somebody whose presence could allow both Holiday and Lloyd to push on, given Sauerbrunn and Rampone’s comfort with the ball.

All of this was in Sauerbrunn’s repertoire before today’s game, but today was the first time she really asserted herself. Starting next to Whitney Engen, Sauerbrunn was more aggressive in possession than we’re used to seeing her at the international level, flashing the type of game we’re accustomed to seeing with FC Kansas City. There she was voted NWSL Defender of the Year in part because of the command she had over games, using not only her defensive instincts but also her offensive awareness to make an impact.

If that awareness starts to exert itself for the U.S., Sauerbrunn will have an advantage Rachel Buehler and Whitney Engen do not. The player domestic soccer fans have wanted to see get more time since she blossomed in Women’s Professional Soccer? If today’s any indication, she may finally be coming through for the national team.

3. Sydney Leroux out wide, huh?

Sydney Leroux is the best athlete on the team. She can play anywhere, if she wants. Under Pia Sundhage, the natural striker even had a (very brief) spell at right back.

On Sunday, she started wide in a 4-4-2. It’s not her natural position, but it gave her a start she covets, and given the U.S. was extremely thin on wide midfielders coming into this game, a solution like this was necessary.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have much of an impact. At least, we didn’t see her have the kind of impact we often see the Boston Breakers star have in these types of games. Coming off a four-goal performance against Mexico on Sept. 3, Leroux was kept off the scoresheet on Sunday, and while 57 minutes in a role isn’t enough to draw any conclusions, it’s safe to say Leroux’s turn out wide produced mixed results.

source: Getty Images
Alex Morgan didn’t get on the scoresheet on Sunday, but particularly in the second half, she was a constant threat against Australia. (Photo: Getty Images.)

4. Alex Morgan looks healthy

The last time we saw Alex Morgan, she had a near-hip-to-ankle leg brace, trying to protect some injured knee ligaments. It wasn’t anything major, but it was enough to slow her down over the last month of the NWSL season. The last time we saw a healthy Alex Morgan was mid-summer.

At least, until today. Morgan looked back to her normal self, constantly sprinting past the Australian defense to get onto balls lofted down the left side. It’s the U.S.’s stock way to get Morgan involved. Thankfully, she’s back to the point where she can pull it off.

The game also served as a reminder of how much Morgan benefits from playing with Abby Wambach. For Portland in the NWSL, those long balls would often see defenses collapse on her, close own all her options, leaving her with low percentage chances. She led the league in shots and shots on goal but didn’t challenge for the scoring title, largely because, for much of the year, she was stranded up top.

Wambach, however, demands a defense only give so much attention to Morgan, and while that’s not breaking news, it’s interesting to note in light of what happened this past NWSL season. Though Thorns FC has Canadian international Christine Sinclair as a potential partner, for much of the year she was relegated to midfield. Was this game a reminder of how best to use Alex Morgan? If so, 2014 could be a big year for both her and her captain at club level.

5. So does Hope Solo

It seemed like she rushed back from wrist surgery. With the Seattle Reign off to a disastrous start in the NWSL, Hope Solo may have hurried back for a club that desperately needed one of their stars to show up. Between that and persisting questions about the flexibility of her surgically repaired shoulder (from which she hastily returned off to take part in the World Cup), Solo’s health remains an issue.

Today, however, Solo looked fine. Actually, she looked more than fine. As De Vanna streaked through the U.S. defense on multiple occasions, she was left on her own to come up big. Just as she did before her surgeries, just as she’s likely to do through the rest of this cycle, Solo stepped up.

She didn’t hesitate to act. If there was any uncertain about what she could and could not do, it didn’t show. Solo didn’t hesitate to get down on that Alamodome turf.

Maybe it was a confidence thing, Solo looking shy upon returning for Seattle. Maybe there was rust. Or maybe there really were (are) lingering issues. Athletes break down.

Solo, however, looked like the player who’d claimed the title of world’s best goalkeeper. When called upon on Sunday, she was back on that pedestal.

VIDEO: Top 10 players in the world as soccer resumes

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Who are the top 10 soccer players in the world right now as the season is about to resume in multiple leagues?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With the Bundesliga in full flow for a few weeks, Spain’s La Liga will return next week and the Premier League and Serie A will follow the week after.

Given that there are so many superstars scattered across those four leagues, here’s a list of the top 10 players set to be in action over the summer months as we will be treated to a sort of bonus World Cup with multiple leagues spreading out games over multiple days as top four, title and relegation battles take center stage.

From Manchester to Milan and Barcelona to Berlin, there will be so many superstars in full flow in the coming months.

Of course, the Ligue 1 season in France is canceled so we can’t watch Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for at least a few months. If we could, the Paris Saint-Germain duo would be high up on the list of top 10 players in the world right now as the soccer world gets ready to resume in empty stadiums.

Top 10 players in the world who will be in action this summer

10. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

9. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

7. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

6. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

5. Bruno Fernandes (Man United)

4. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)

3. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Which clubs have toughest, easiest remaining PL schedule?

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Now we know that the Premier League will return on June 17, which clubs have the toughest and easiest remaining schedule to navigate?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have taken a deep dive into the remaining schedule for all 20 Premier League clubs and it is intriguing to see this list. I love this kind of analysis.

Based on the current Premier League table, our partners have calculated the average position of teams who all 20 clubs have to face in their remaining schedule.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

First, here’s the list and below we will break down which Premier League clubs have the toughest or easiest remaining schedule and why.


Average opponent position

Man United: 12.3

Man City: 12.1

Wolves: 11.8

Southampton: 11.7

Newcastle: 11.4

Leicester: 11.3

West Ham: 11.3

Chelsea: 11

Norwich: 11

Everton: 10.7

Burnley: 10.6

Liverpool: 10.6

Arsenal: 10.5

Tottenham: 10.4

Watford: 10.1

Sheffield United: 9.4

Brighton: 8.6

Aston Villa: 8.4

Crystal Palace: 8.2

Bournemouth: 8.2


Analysis

This is very revealing when it comes to the ‘strength of the remaining schedule’ for all 20 Premier League clubs and explains why some fans are still hesitant to see their teams back in action, while others are licking their chops in anticipation of a late-season surge up the table.

In short: if you are Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Brighton you could struggle in this relegation battle. All three clubs have plenty of the big boys left to play, while fellow relegation rivals West Ham and Norwich have much easier schedules, on paper, to navigate.

As for the top four battle, Man United look to have a clear edge on Chelsea in the race for fourth place but Wolves are also high in this list so Nuno Espirito Santo’s side look well sit to finish off another remarkable season with a flourish. Sheffield United have a very tough remaining schedule so if they can stay in the top six it will be a fabulous achievement for Chris Wilder’s side, while we should keep an eye out for Southampton and Newcastle to potentially make a late surge up the table given the respective strength of their schedules.

However, this is just a study on the average position of teams they are facing. It doesn’t taken into account the players now available after recovering from injuries which impacted plenty of clubs in varying degrees, or the fact that different teams will adapt differently to playing in empty stadiums. If the Bundesliga is anything to go by, away teams have dominated so far and that could mean that the more away games Premier League teams have left in their schedule (six of Villa’s final 10 games are at home, while six of Sheffield United’s final 10 games are away) the more points they could pick up.

We all know funny things happen late in the season every season and with an intense scrap for the top four, Europa League spots and the battle against relegation, previous form can go out the window as desperation sets in. Still, stats like these are fascinating to sift through and give us an inclination as to wide to expect on a general level.

Liverpool, Man United show support for Black Lives Matter

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Liverpool and Man United have joined the growing number of clubs and players across the world offering their support to the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and honoring George Floyd.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN last Monday 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 USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga.

On Monday Liverpool players posted a photo of their entire squad taking a knee around the center circle at Anfield during a training session with the message Black Lives Matter and Unity is Strength, while Man United star Marcus Rashford released a powerful statement on the widespread protests across the USA.

Paris Saint-Germain and France superstar Kylian Mbappe also posted an image on social media with the caption “police with us, not against us.”

Across the soccer world clubs and players are speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and honoring George Floyd.

Report: MLS threaten lockout, players on the clock

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Reports have emerged that MLS may lock out their players as the owners put the MLS Players’ Association (MLSPA) on the clock when it comes to negotiating a plan for the 2020 season during the coronavirus pandemic.

Per a statement released by the MLSPA late Sunday, they say that players have formally submitted a package to the league so that “players can return to competition as soon as they are safely able to do so.”

However, it is believed that package has been countered by the owners and the league want a decision by Tuesday or will sanction a lockout.

The MLS players’ statement detailed that they voted in favor of “economic concessions for the 2020 season, modifications to the recently agreed-upon CBA, including its extension by a year, and their agreement to participate in a summer tournament in Orlando.”

They also accepted salary reductions across the board, reduced bonuses and additional concessions to existing and future terms of the CBA.

Multiple reports, including this one from ESPN’s former USMNT striker Hercules Gomez, states that MLS owners are giving the players until Tuesday to come to an agreement or they will shut the league down.

MLS reportedly say they have already given the players their best offer and they are not budging, with a report from Jeffrey Carlisle of ESPN saying that the league want the players to take a 8.75 percent pay cut, while the players have agreed to 7.5 percent. There is also the ‘force majeure clause’ which would allow either side to back out of a CBA due to a diastrous event such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The top-flight of soccer in North America has been shut down since Mar. 12 and talks have been ongoing for several weeks between MLS and the MLSPA regarding the financial impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on the league.

With players making big concessions across the board, the fact that MLS shot that offer down so quickly suggests both sides still have a long way to go around the virtual negotiating table. Time is running out.

Right now, the 2020 MLS season looks like being a mini-tournament in Orlando for six weeks to hold things over and who knows what comes after that. But given the location of many of their teams in states which still have strict lockdown orders, plus fans not being allowed to attend sporting events across the country, the situation appears bleak for MLS for at least the next few months and probably much longer than that.