Forward overload: Sermanni tasked with managing four world-class US women’s national team strikers

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Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press have combined to score 30 of the United States women’s national team’s 47 goals this year. All four are world-class forwards, but for the most part only two of the players are on the field at the same time.

Sunday’s 4-0 win over Australia, in fact, marked the first time that Wambach, Morgan and Leroux all started in the same match, despite all being national team regulars – a sign of coach Tom Sermanni’s dilemma. it’s a good problem to have, to be clear.

“It’s more of a management thing for me rather than to be concerned about who is going to score goals today,” Sermanni said. “It’s a slightly different problem than most teams (have).”

Sermanni has the U.S. playing in a 4-4-2, with a quartet of forwards who could start for almost any team in the world. And his best solution it seems is to keep two of them on the field, with the other two ready to step in at any moment — and not necessarily at forward.

A 4-3-3 could be a solution, but Sermanni says all four of Leroux, Morgan, Press and Wambach are best in central positions. And the U.S. women are equally deep in the midfield, with talent centrally and on the flanks.

“If you’ve got three up top, I don’t think that the balance of our strikers, in general, is a three up top scenario,” he said. “I think that what is better when you’ve got a major central striker – which we obviously do have – and two players who are more comfortable in wider roles, we tend to have strikers, in general, who are more comfortable in central roles, and then we have very good wide midfield players.”

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Alex Morgan’s skill is well known, but the U.S. has more world-class forwards than can fit on the field at once. (Getty Images)

Those wide players include mainstays Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly, who are equally necessary on the pitch. The United States’ midfield is crowded, too, with young group of up-and-coming players to join the three aforementioned, plus Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd centrally.

Sermanni did start Leroux out wide on Sunday and played Press there when she entered the game for Leroux in the 57th minute. Leroux played okay there given the short amount of preparation for the role, Sermanni said, but it wasn’t any indication that she’ll be converted to a wide player..

“I put her out there because I think she deserved to start in the team given the squad that we had and the way she’s been training and playing,” Sermanni said. “When she does play up front she can drift out to the left side so she’s not uncomfortable over there and she did play a couple of times on that side for the Boston Breakers. It’s not the perfect role for her, but under the circumstance, it was the best fit for the team in this game.”

Press has seen time on the wing with the U.S. throughout the year, and said she’s willing to adapt to whatever Sermanni asks of her. Whether it’s up top or as a wide midfielder, whether starting or in reserve, her goal is the same as the rest of the group’s: To be in Canada in 2015, and to help the U.S. lift its first World Cup in 16 years.

There is time for Sermanni to figure out how to best use his star strikers. How he manages their minutes and roles at the 2015 World Cup could look similar to how he is doing it now: Use Leroux or Press on the wing in a pinch, but primarily look to them as a spark in the second half.

The last thing any defender wants to see midway through the second half, after chasing around Alex Morgan and keeping track of Abby Wambach all game, are the speedy, dangerous Leroux and Press standing at midfield, waiting to enter the match. And 18 months from now, there’s nothing to say that the roles might even be different. Any combination of the four in any role is intimidating and productive.

“I think that every team you play for, you have to change,” Press said from San Antonio on Monday after U.S. training. “As I’ve become a more veteran player – not that I’m a veteran player – but I’ve learned that I played for three teams in the last three years and every time I’ve had a different role. If I’m asked to change again, that’s something I can do and I’ll do willingly.”

Workers to fix automation issues on Atlanta stadium’s roof

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ATLANTA (AP) Workers will begin the final construction phase of Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s tricky retractable roof on Tuesday, nine months after the facility opened.

The $1.5 billion stadium will be open in good weather for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United games. Automation problems kept the roof closed for most of the stadium’s first year.

Beginning Tuesday, the roof will remain in a locked open position for 10 days, including June 2, when Atlanta United plays the Philadelphia Union.

The management group of Arthur Blank, who owns the Falcons and Atlanta United, says the final commissioning work to complete the automation will last several weeks.

When work is completed, the roof is expected to close or open in as few as 12 minutes.

“The complexity of the design and our heavy events schedule has made it take longer than we had hoped, but great things take time and we’re happy to see the finish line,” Steve Cannon, CEO of Blank’s management group, said in a statement.

The stadium will be host to the 2019 Super Bowl. The NFL prefers for the roof to be open for the Super Bowl, weather permitting.

The roof has been closed for most major events at the new stadium, including the Southeastern Conference championship game, Peach Bowl and College Football Playoff national championship game.

For the Falcons’ first season in their new home, the roof was open only for the first home regular-season game against Green Bay.

Falcons CEO Rich McKay said on Jan. 24 the plan was to have more games played with the roof “fully operational.”

“Fully operational means you will see us go to much more of an open configuration as we designed at the beginning,” McKay said. “When it’s ready to go, we’ll be open depending on weather.”

Ongoing work on the roof delayed the 2017 opening of the stadium by about a month. Atlanta United used Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium as its temporary home for the inaugural season in 2017 before moving to the new stadium.

The stadium will host the men’s NCAA Final Four in 2020.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

MLS roundup: Dynamo top NYCFC, Toronto suffers seventh defeat

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Three matches took over the slate of Major League Soccer’s Friday night fixture list, and it was a rough evening for two of the Eastern Conference’s best clubs.

Here’s a look back at the night’s matches.


Toronto FC 0-1 FC Dallas

Last season’s MLS Cup winners are in some real danger right now, with Greg Vanney’s side losing their seventh match of the year on Friday. To put that into context, TFC lost five regular season matches a season ago, en route to their first MLS title. Despite a dominating effort from the host, including nine shots on target (23 shots overall), Sebastian Giovinco and TFC simply couldn’t break past Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.

In all, Gonzalez made nine saves on the night. Check out a few of them below.

Houston Dynamo 3-1 New York City FC

David Villa made the Dynamo pay for an early miscommunication in clearing from the back, but after that, the home side simply dominated. The NYCFC back line looked out of sorts on a number of occasions, including the first goal allowed on an Alejandro Fuenmayor header at the far post. The Dynamo are now unbeaten in their last four matches.

LA Galaxy 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes

In reality, this was probably an unfair result considering the way the two sides have been playing as of late. Neither side managed a shot on target until the 82nd minute, however, the Galaxy nicked a goal late through Romain Alessandrini.

The Quakes had reason to be furious though in the first half when Valeri Qazaishvili’s volley from inside the Galaxy penalty area hit the arm of Emrah Klimenta. No penalty decision was made though, and it was likely the only legitimate chance of the match.

Chicharito says Mexican team “always feels welcome” in the United States

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Mexico will take on Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA as they warm up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Playing in the United States is nothing new for the USMNT’s southern neighbors, and it doesn’t phase them. In fact, they love it.

Star striker Chicharito told reporters that he and the rest of the squad is more than happy playing north of the border, because according to him, apart from a pair of venues, they can’t even tell they’re on the road.

“We always feel welcome here,” Chicharito said. “It’s like our second country, if we can say that, apart from Columbus [Ohio] and apart from the stadium in Miami when we played Colombia…those two stadiums, that’s the only time I’ve felt that we were the away team.”

Chicharito knows that the high population of his countrymen and women in the United States helps the Mexican team feel close to home when they play over the border. He’s all for the melting pot of the US.

“We feel at home [in the United States],” Chicharito said. “We have plenty of Mexicans here, so I don’t know what else to tell you, we feel welcome, we feel glad, happy to be in touch with those people here. They are sacrificing a lot of things, and they are all enjoying their lives that they decide to live in the USA…it’s great. It’s great when you come to another country and you feel like you are home. You see all the stadium green, shouting and screaming your names, screaming your goals, so yeah, it’s great.”

Mexico will play Wales on Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET, and will return home to take on Scotland at Azteca on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

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England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.