Hitzlsperger hopes his announcement will help other players reveal they’re gay

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On Wednesday former German international midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger became the most high-profile former soccer player to announce he is gay following his retirement from the sport.

Hitzlsperger, 31, retired from playing last season after multiple injuries meant he had to cut his promising career short. Stints in the Premier League with Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham saw him become a fans favorite as he was nicknamed ‘the hammer’ for his ridiculously hard shot with his left foot. Now he has decided to follow the LA Galaxy’s Robbie Rogers, who announced he was gay but then left English soccer and moved to MLS.

During his playing days Hitzlsperger represented his national side 52 times, and after revealing his sexual orientation earlier this week, he hopes players currently playing at the top level will speak out and become the first to reveal their gay while still playing professional soccer in Europe.

“Hopefully talking about it the way I am now, it encourages some others because they see that they can still be professional football players, play at the highest level, and be gay,” Hitzlsperger said. “It is not a contradiction as I proved. Therefore, hopefully it gives some encouragement to young players.”

But, given the huge level of interest from the media, fans and just about everyone out there, is it actually possibly for a current player to reveal his homosexuality and still concentrate on being a professional?

“I certainly think that it is possible and it will happen one day,” Hitzlsperger said. “In my case it just took longer to realize that I’m gay and t admit it to myself. But I think young players these days, when they’re sure about their feelings, they can talk about it.”

(MORE: Former German national teamer, Aston Villa star announces he’s gay)

On a personal level, Hitzlsperger was with his former female partner for eight years before breaking off their engagement and solely focusing on soccer.

“It took me a long time to realize how I felt,” Hitzsperger said. “When I started playing as a professional footballer I was in a relationship with a woman. we stayed together for eight years but after that time when we broke up. I focused more on football because this was what I always wanted to do, be a professional football player. Only the last few years I’ve realized that I do want to live with a man, that I am gay.”

source: Reuters
Hitzlsperger believes current PL stars shouldn’t feel afraid to reveal their homosexuality.

But what about the conception that soccer fans across Europe are against homosexual soccer players and all of the stereotypes that exist? Hitzlsperger thinks he did a lot with his playing style to help get ride of those negative connotations.

“I’ve heard that in professional football you have to be strong, powerful and they think being gay means you aren’t that. You’re soft, don’t like to tackle and that you’re very weak,” Hitzlsperger said. “But then I look at myself and people nicknamed me ‘the hammer’ early on because I have a powerful left foot and I’m a strong guy. So that’s a contradiction again. Why do people think that if you’re gay that you’re also weak? I think I proved the opposite”

In the future Hitzlsperger hopes the visibility of gay players will be embraced by fans across European soccer. But right now, it’s like they don’t even exist in many leagues and cultures.

“It’s difficult for me to say if there’s an anti-gay atmosphere because so far there isn’t an openly gay footballer in a European league,” Hitzlsperger said. “It’s probably easier if you compare it to racism. In racism you know who people dislike when they shout things at them, it’s clearly visible. But gay players, so far, don’t exist officially.”

Pellegrini: ‘I’ve felt everyday the commitment from the players’

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Saturday’s 1-0 win against a nonclinical Southampton was a big break for West Ham United, specifically for Irons’ manager Manuel Pellegrini, who was reportedly going to lose his job if he’d fail to capture three points at St. Mary’s Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays  | Match recap ]

Despite starting the season in spectacular shape, West Ham started slipping, winning a lone match in an 11-match stretch. Even then, Pellegrini managed to hold on to his day-one bravado (and optimism), claiming that his team are still in contention for “European football.” They aren’t. But what is a new reality at West Ham is that after their first December win, the Irons are four points clear of the relegation zone, and Pellegrini, himself, has some room to breathe.

To the BBC:

“I can’t divide myself from the team,” Pellegrini said after the victory. “For West Ham it was an important three points. Maybe we have had a difficult moment but I have never lost trust in what we do. I don’t read the media but I am not stupid. I always focus on the win.

“I said before the game that I felt everyday the commitment of the players in the work that they do. I am happy for the players. We started the season very well and I hope now we have recovered our best performance for the next games.”

With more possession throughout the 90 minutes and an aggressive attacking product in the second half, struggling Southampton were unlucky to not hit the back of the net. Saints’ boss, Ralph Hasenhuttl, described the game as the type that his side “need to win.”

No stranger to scrappy wins, Mark Noble is well aware that his team need to embrace any positive light shined their way. To him, it builds character, camaraderie, and the confidence that West Ham will need to get out of the overwhelming situation that they find themselves in: a team fighting mediocrity.

“We looked a lot more compact tonight,” Noble said. “When you win not so pretty like that, it gives you a lot more confidence because the players are fighting for each other. It was such an important win for us. Sometimes we need to start attacks from the defense and I think that’s really important. It builds confidence in the team that we can defend and we can build. You don’t get anything in this league if you don’t try hard.”

UPSL playoff match abandoned after coach punches referee

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A United Premier Soccer League playoff game was abandoned after a referee assault in Maryland on Saturday, the latest in a long line of referee abuse stories.

A player from Mass United had been shown a red card, and a member of the club’s coaching staff punched the referee.

The match between Mass United and World Class Premier FC (Maryland) was a Northeast Championship match, and would send a winner to the UPSL’s national finals in Miami.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The match was tied at 1 around halftime when the referee stopped play after a foul led to a skirmish between players.

According to a source, the referee mistakenly removed a red card from his pocket when he meant to show a yellow. Before the referee could correct himself, an assistant coach punched him in the face. The game was abandoned and the win awarded to World Class Premier.

The UPSL is considered to be the fifth-tier of the American Soccer Pyramid and is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association.

Referees in Berlin protested increased incidents of violence earlier this year, while Franck Ribery and Neymar have both been suspended for making contact with officials. In 2014, an American referee was killed after a player punched him in the face after a red card incident. The player was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Here’s how it looked from the local angle in Maryland, with The Montgomery County Sentinel reporter Carlos Alfaro Rodriguez on scene. He confirmed the incident with ProSoccerTalk.

Bundesliga wrap: Leipzig, BVB, Bayern all win in routs

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Bundesliga has a new leader, at least for a day.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ]

RB Leipzig cruised to a win on the road and will now wait to see how Borussia Monchengladbach responds to bombing out of Europe.

Bayern and Borussia Dortmund also ran up the score lines on a busy day in Germany.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 0-3 RB Leipzig

Nordi Mukiele scored twice as Julian Nagelsmann’s men moved top of the table for at least a day. Patrik Schick also scored for Leipzig.

USMNT backstop Zack Steffen was under fire all day, making four saves, two high claims, and a clearance, but was at fault for one of the goals.

And ICYMI: Leipzig’s American midfielder, Tyler Adams, should return by the end of the month.

Bayern Munich 6-1 Werder Bremen

Milot Rashica supplied a surprise lead for the visitors, but it was all Bayern from the 24th minute onward. Philippe Coutinho scored the first goal of his hat trick in the 45th and Robert Lewandowski started his brace in stoppage time. Thomas Muller added a 75th minute goal as Bayern rose fourth, six points of Leipzig.

Mainz 0-4 Borussia Dortmund

Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho both had a goal and an assist for BVB, who pulls into third on the table. Nico Schultz and Thorgan Hazard also scored in the 0-save clean sheet for Roman Burki.

Hertha Berlin 1-0 Freiburg

Czech midfielder Vladimir Darida scored in the 53rd minute to help Jurgen Klinsmann to his first win as Hertha manager. Hertha is now three points clear of the relegation playoff spot, and the win comes over a Freiburg side flirting with the European places.

Elsewhere
Hoffenheim 2-4 Augsburg — Friday
Paderborn 1-1 Union Berlin — Rare point for the hosts
Koln 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen — Visitors finish with 9 men
Wolfsburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke v. Eintracht Frankfurt — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 15 10 3 2 42 16 26 4-2-1 6-1-1 33
 Mönchengladbach 14 10 1 3 30 16 14 6-1-1 4-0-2 31
 Borussia Dortmund 15 8 5 2 37 19 18 5-2-0 3-3-2 29
 Bayern Munich 15 8 3 4 41 21 20 5-1-2 3-2-2 27
 FC Schalke 04 14 7 4 3 25 18 7 3-3-1 4-1-2 25
 SC Freiburg 15 7 4 4 24 18 6 4-2-1 3-2-3 25
 Bayer Leverkusen 15 7 4 4 22 20 2 3-4-1 4-0-3 25
 1899 Hoffenheim 15 6 3 6 21 27 -6 3-1-4 3-2-2 21
 VfL Wolfsburg 14 5 5 4 15 14 1 2-3-2 3-2-2 20
 1. FC Union Berlin 15 6 2 7 19 20 -1 5-0-3 1-2-4 20
 FC Augsburg 15 5 5 5 24 28 -4 3-2-2 2-3-3 20
 Eintracht Frankfurt 14 5 3 6 24 22 2 4-3-1 1-0-5 18
 Hertha BSC Berlin 15 4 3 8 21 29 -8 3-0-4 1-3-4 15
 FSV Mainz 05 15 5 0 10 20 38 -18 3-0-4 2-0-6 15
 Werder Bremen 15 3 5 7 23 35 -12 1-2-4 2-3-3 14
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 15 3 3 9 16 32 -16 2-1-4 1-2-5 12
 1. FC Köln 15 3 2 10 14 30 -16 2-1-4 1-1-6 11
 SC Paderborn 15 2 3 10 18 33 -15 1-1-6 1-2-4 9

West Ham outlasts wasteful Southampton

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West Ham United allayed some of the pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini by holding on for a 1-0 defeat of Southampton at St. Mary’s on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sebastien Haller scored the lone goal and Michail Antonio had one pulled back by VAR, but Saints missed myriad promising chances to draw level.

West Ham moves 15th with 19 points, while Saints remain behind 17th place Aston Villa on goal difference.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Haller ends drought: Sebastien Haller’s early season honeymoon at West Ham was the thing of dreams. The big money Eintracht Frankfurt signing scored five times in seven matches. His chemistry with Felipe Anderson and company was wonderful. Then came eight matches without a goal and just one start in three matches. Manuel Pellegrini played him in attack with and not instead of Michail Antonio, and the pair delivered a goal.

2. Saints fail reward their own production: Southampton, quite frankly, should’ve claimed at least one point. Yes, West Ham also misused chances to score when it was 1-0 in its favor, but Saints had extreme problems in finishing what should’ve been great team goals. Ings hit the bar, which, yeah it happens, but Stephens and Hojbjerg’s second half chances have this 2-1 on another day.

There were similarities to their last outing, a 2-1 loss at Newcastle.

3. Antonio and Haller an answer for Pellegrini? Manuel Pellegrini likely bought himself more time with the win, but it wasn’t as convincing as it could’ve been had Antonio not been denied by VAR or Haller’s header not been saved by McCarthy. The big men were a problematic duo for the Southampton defense, and Pellegrini may opt to combine them again in future days.

Man of the Match: Antonio was a handful as usual, winning a half-dozen aerials and completed just as many dribbles.


Declan Rice had a first minute goal ruled offside (and properly so).

Sebastien Haller hit a glorious bass to Michail Antonio in the 17th minute, but the striker’s poor touch caused a handball.

Two West Ham players appeared to be fouled in the box on the same play, but Martin Atkinson saw nothing and VAR stayed with him.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Irons took the lead on a well-worked team goal, Antonio crossing to the back post for Pablo Fornals. He headed back for Haller, who kissed the ball off the far post.

Fornals looked to have his first Premier League goal in the bag one minute after the break, but was defied by Alex McCarthy.

Antonio had it 2-0 for a moment, but VAR spotted his handling of the ball early in the dribble that led to his would-be marker.

Danny Ings struck a ball off the cross bar and Long butchered the rebound as Saints bid for an equalizer.

McCarthy made an outstanding save on an off-balance Haller header in the 78th, while substitute Andriy Yarmolenko couldn’t keep his 79th minute effort under the bar.

Jack Stephens made the least of a terrific set-up in the 81st minute, though he would’ve had to do well to level the score.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was the next to miss a back post effort, wide of the frame.