Alex Morgan among 26 called for U.S. ahead of France friendlies

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From the outside, it’s difficult to be too critical of call ups, cuts, or omissions from national team squads. That goes for both the women and the men. We can (and do) complain all we want about situations like Landon Donovan’s, but ultimately, Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff know much more about the player than we do. All a reasonable person can do is sit back and say, “based on everything I know …”

It’s the universal caveat. That’s the assumed stance whenever anybody criticizes their national team. Given nobody will confuse an internet writer, commenter, or tweeter for a national team boss, it’s something that should also go unsaid. When it comes to the national team, few has the knowledge or authority of Jurgen Klinsamnn or Jill Ellis, even if they may, in fact, be wrong.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions to ask about today’s 26-woman squad, named for upcoming friendlies against France (June 14, 19). For example:

Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart, Ashlyn Harris , Hope Solo

Nicole Barnhart is back in the team after missing the last two call ups, taking the place of Sky Blue FC’s Jill Loyden. While Loyden’s club performance has made it clear she’s not among the U.S.’s best keepers, why is Barnhart back over, say, Boston’s Alyssa Naeher?

More importantly: Why was she ever out in the first place? Last year’s NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year is generally recognized as the second-best keeper in the pool, yet we still don’t have a clear explanation as to why, after being a regular call up for years, she was suddenly dropped this spring.

Defenders: Stephanie Cox, Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn

No surprises here, though it’s important to note three players listed at other positions (Julie Johnston, Kristie Mewis, and Kelley O’Hara) are also part of picture, one that continues to be murky after two-plus years of competition.

For instance, who are the center backs? With Rachel Van Hollebeke still out, this looks like a three-woman race, though it’s unclear if captain Christie Rampone really is behind Whitney Engen and Becky Sauerbrunn. Julie Johnston is playing in the middle for Chicago, but is she seen as a defender by a national team that may be newly willing to play a real defensive midfielder.

At fullback, Ali Krieger looks like a given at right back (even though she’s been playing in the middle for her club), but the left back position is still wide open. Kelley O’Hara, a starter at the end of the last cycle, is healthy and playing in attack for Sky Blue. Kristie Mewis has just returned for Boston. Crystal Dunn has been used on the left before but has stockpiled minutes elsewhere for Washington. Ultimately, Stephanie Cox may be the best pure left back in the squad.

source:  Midfielders: Shannon Boxx, Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday, Julie Johnston, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long, Kristie Mewis, Heather O’Reilly

There are so many angles here, we have to go bullet point:

  • As expected, Shannon Boxx (right) is given a look post-pregnancy. Too bad she has zero NWSL minutes to her credit. Though another look in the national team may be obligatory, it’s still a small slap in the face to players like Keelin Winters, Becky Edwards, and Jen Buczkowski who’ve been excelling in defensive midfield.
  • Further to that point, Morgan Brian, an attacking midfielder at the University of Virginia, will presumably get another look out of position in deep midfield. Johnston may, too, even though she’s played almost exclusively in defense for Chicago. Allie Long has improved for Portland this year, but she’s not one of the U.S.’s nine best midfielders, let alone a go candidate for a holding role. Mewis has yet to have an impact at senior level despite 15 caps, yet she continues to get this call. It’s becoming evermore clear that club-level soccer, where players get most of their minutes, is not given the weight it should.
  • Having finished her season with Champions League-qualifying Paris Saint-Germain, Tobin Heath is back. Where she plays in a team that’s experimenting with a 4-3-3 is the question. Whether in the middle or on the flank, Heath has the talent to start. A formation change, however, may make it more difficult to claim a first XI role.
  • Megan Rapinoe continues to struggle with a foot injury for Seattle. Like Heath, it’s unclear whether she’s a starter or a super sub, at this point. Unlike Heath, she won’t get a chance to fight for her place this camp.

Forwards: Sarah Hagen, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez, Abby Wambach

I’ve long stopped worrying about sounding naive while pointing these things out, but my stubbornness won’t let me delete it: Alex Morgan has zero minutes for Portland this season. Stugglining with a foot injury all season, she seems unlikely to play against France. But who knows? National team play is clearly the priority, and while that make sense, it also make sense to use potential minutes as club-level to work back into shape. If players know they’ll go straight back into the national team, however, club duty presents more risks than rewards.

A bigger surprise than Morgan’s inclusion is the sure number of players listed a the position. O’Hara is here, not in defense. Hagen, just showing up for FC Kansas City, is getting another look. Rodriguez continues to show she’s the form striker in the pool. At a position where the U.S. already had Leroux, Morgan, Press and, Wambach, does the senior team need to keep calling in forwards? Particularly when Rodriguez may actually be capable of challenging for a spot?

Overall

There’s a lot of room to nitpick, but ultimately, there were no real surprises in the squad. Boxx’s return is the biggest one, but another shot in the team was always inevitable. With Ellis calling in all the healthy, big-time players, we’re arguing at the fringes of a successful core.

Though it would be nice to see the U.S. start recognizing the development that’s happening in the league it’s funding, the program’s preference for more familiar faces is nothing new. And there’s no indication that will change this cycle.

From U.S. Soccer:

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (3): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (7): Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (Houston Dash), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Kristie Mewis (Boston Breakers), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers)
FORWARDS (7): Sarah Hagen (FC Kansas City), Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

Arteta rues missed chances in Arsenal loss to Liverpool

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Mikel Arteta knows his Arsenal team has a long way to go to be as fearsome as reigning Premier League champions Liverpool.

He also knows the Gunners could’ve easily taken a point off the Reds in place of the 3-1 loss on the scoreboard after Monday’s match at Anfield.

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things | Player ratings ]

“Really tough place to come for anybody in the world,” Arteta said. “They set incredible standards. They dominate every aspect of the game. … They’ve been together five years. We are at a different moment of our journey.”

Alexandre Lacazette gave Arsenal an early lead in the game and was stymied by Alisson Becker in a second-half bid to make it 2-2.

But the Reds had so many chances before substitute Diogo Jota salted away the points, out-attempting Arsenal 21-4 and holding 66 percent possession.

[ MORE: Klopp’s animated post-match reaction ]

“Taking the lead put us in a really strong position to believe we could get something out of the game but we conceded too early,” Arteta said. “We had some problems with the ball and we had the best chances in the game and when it comes to Anfield you’re not going to get 10 chances. When you get through 1-against-1 against the keeper you have to score if you want to get something out of the game.”

Lacazette won’t love reading that, but Arteta is right. And Alisson also stopped a Lacazette chip on a breakaway goal bid that wouldn’t have counted because the Frenchman was offside.

Arsenal lost its first Premier League match of the season after winning its first two. The two sides meet again at the same venue in League Cup fourth round action on Thursday.

Arsenal’s next PL match is home to Sheffield United on Sunday.

Animated Klopp rejects Keane’s ‘sloppy’ adjective, rips handball rule

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp heard an adjective he did not like from analyst Roy Keane after the Reds’ 3-1 win over Arsenal on Monday.

The word was ‘sloppy’ as Keane mentioned some mistakes from the Reds, which certainly happened.

Klopp was not amused.

[ MORE: Match recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

“Did Mr. Keane say we had a sloppy performance tonight? Maybe he was watching another game? Cannot be this game,” Klopp said. “Sorry. It was absolutely exceptional, from the first second dominant against a team in-form and (we were) careful as hell that we did not get caught on the counter-attack.”

A mishit Andy Robertson clearance allowed Arsenal to take a 1-0 lead but the Premier League champions had it level within a couple of minutes, led at halftime, and shutdown Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang en route to a 3-1 win.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Liverpool-Arsenal ]

“Alisson had to make one save, they had two chances in behind but apart from that the football we played was exceptional tonight,” Klopp said. “This game tonight there is nothing bad to say, it was the opposite of sloppy. … We had so many big moments. We played a super game but were 1-nil down. Completely deserved. Could we have scored more goals? Yes. Could they have scored more? Yes.”

Klopp was also asked about the handball rule which has brought ire from around the football world including teams that have lost and won points off its implementation.

“Eric Dier could do absolutely nothing wrong and it is a penalty. You cannot control your body in that way, you have to move somehow. The only other thing you can do is cut arms off. I’m also really not happy with how long we have to wait (for offsides). … Obviously some rule changes or other things we changed didn’t help but in the moment we have to accept it.”

We’ll all be keeping our arms, as will the players. Never change, Jurgen, although perhaps a few deep breaths might give you a bit longer run on earth!

Player ratings: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool – Arsenal player ratings: This was a real story of defense against attack as the Gunners sat back and Liverpool’s attacking stars had plenty of the ball.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Alexandre Lacazette’s opener saw Liverpool behind briefly, but quickfire goals from Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson put them ahead and Diogo Jota scored a late clincher in the 3-1 win.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]    

Here’s a look at Liverpool – Arsenal player ratings, as we give the players a mark out of 10.


Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Made a good save to deny Lacazette in the second half and had little else to do. Kicking a little shaky on occasions.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 8 – Superb cross for Mane early on and had a vicious shot deflected onto the bar.

Joe Gomez: 6 – Didn’t have much to do but a few gaps appeared between him and Van Dijk in the second half.

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Shot well-saved by Leno and a cool customer, as always, throughout.

Andrew Robertson: 8 – A menace down the left and gave Bellerin a torrid time.

Fabinho: 7 – Sat in and soaked up the play in midfield, and won the ball back time and time again.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 6 – Solid, steady and reliable. Does he ever have a bad game!?

Naby Keita: 6 – Wasn’t able to make his runs forward from midfield. Tidy enough.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Lovely run and shot to set up the first goal and bullied Tierney. Greedy in the second half and took a chance of Jota.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – Good movement and occupied Luiz and Holding to allow Mane and Salah to cut inside.

Sadio Mane: 8 – Could have been sent off early on for an elbow on Tierney and hit a shot straight at Leno. Took his goal well. A constant threat.

Substitutions
James Milner (80′ on for Keita): 6 – Helped Liverpool see out the game by clogging up midfield.
Diogo Jota (80′ on for Mane): 7 – A debut PL goal for Liverpool and had some good runs, a cross and two other shots were both off target. Very lively on his Anfield debut.
Takumi Minamino (90′ on for Firmino): N/A


Arsenal player ratings

Bernd Leno: 6 – A decent stop from Mane but his distribution was sloppy.

Rob Holding: 6 – Did okay defensively but never looks that comfortable in possession.

David Luiz: 6 – Sloppy on the ball at times, and struggled to cope with Liverpool’s pressing. Hung in there.

Kieran Tierney: 5 – Caught out on Liverpool’s first goal but caught by Mane’s elbow early on. Didn’t receive much help.

Hector Bellerin: 5 – Caught napping on both of Liverpool’s firs half goals. Didn’t add anything from an attacking perspective.

Mohamed Elneny: 6 – Worked hard, as always, and tried to string a few passes together.

Granit Xhaka: 5 – Overrun in midfield and couldn’t get on the ball. Subbed off.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 5 – Should have done better to control a ball over the top and pinned back.

Willian: 4 – Switched off to allow Robertson to finish for Liverpool’s second. Offered little in attack.

Alexandre Lacazette: 6 – Scored his goal as he was in the right place at the right time. Worked hard but missed a great chance for a second.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: 5 – Hardly involved and when he was he failed to run at Liverpool or provide quality.

Substitutes
Dani Ceballos (60′ on for Granit Xhaka): 6 – Made a real difference when he came on as he got on the ball.
Nicolas Pepe (68′ on for Willian): 5 – Barely involved.
Eddie Nketiah (74′ on for Lacazette): N/A

3 things we learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool – Arsenal was an interesting tactical battle, as Liverpool pressed high and Arsenal stuck to their defensive shape but the extra quality of Liverpool’s attack shone through in a 3-1 win.

[ MORE: Player ratings out of 10 ]

Alexandre Lacazette’s opener saw Liverpool behind briefly, but quickfire goals from Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson put them ahead and Diogo Jota scored a late clincher.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]    

Here’s a look at what we learned from Liverpool – Arsenal at Anfield.


Jota the perfect understudy to Mane

Sadio Mane wasn’t happy to be subbed off but Jurgen Klopp was perhaps keeping him away from a red card he probably should have got early on. Mane was lucky to stay on the pitch after an early elbow on Kieran Tierney. Was it intentional? No. Was it reckless? Yes. Mane chased down Tierney but raised his elbow and caught Tierney in the face. VAR didn’t determine he should have been sent off as Mane was only booked and stayed on the pitch to duly score the equalizer and was a constant thorn in Arsenal’s side. Liverpool’s star winger wasn’t happy about being replaced by Jota with 10 minutes to go as Klopp had a quiet word.

In that 10 minutes the Portuguese winger scored his first Liverpool goal, hit the side-netting, set up a chance and should have had another but Salah nicked the ball off his foot. Life after Mane, Firmino and Salah is not something Liverpool fans will have to (or want to) think about for a while but Jota, still just 23 years old, is a fine signing from Wolves and will be the perfect understudy to Mane as his pace, finishing and movement is very similar. It’s almost like Liverpool and Klopp have a plan…


Resilient Arsenal showed a little too much respect

Arsenal had two touches in opposition box in first half. Two. It was their lowest total in a single 45 minutes since Opta started recording the stat and it showed how much respect they gave Liverpool. Like they have done against the top teams since Arteta arrived, Arsenal sat back deep and tried to keep the ball at the back to draw Liverpool up the pitch. It didn’t work but they stayed in the game. Arsenal couldn’t string enough passes together to launch dangerous counters but Lacazette did have a big chance to make it 2-2 but he hit his shot straight at Alisson. Arsenal were more resilient than they have been against Liverpool in the past and Arteta’s project has just started. They have taken strides forward, we shouldn’t forget that. Arteta has made them gritty but they still have a long, long way to go.


Sloppy Liverpool caused own problems

They gave Arsenal the opening goal after Andy Robertson couldn’t control the ball in the box, then were cut open in the second half on the break but Lacazette couldn’t make the most of it. It wasn’t a case of Arsenal creating lots of chances, but instead Liverpool giving them the few they did have.

If Liverpool are going to win the Premier League, and other trophies, this season then they must tighten up at the back. They conceded three against Leeds on the opening weekend and have now given Chelsea and Arsenal plenty of chances to score. Klopp worked so hard to eradicate the silly defensive mistakes which riddled his first few years as Liverpool boss but now they’re creeping back in.