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)

Video: Modric, Milner show off in training ahead of UCL final

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The UEFA Champions League final hasn’t even kicked off yet, and Liverpool and Real Madrid are already trying to show each other up with some gorgeous golazos.

[ MORE: Everything you need to know ahead of Saturday’s UCL final ]

Both sides had their final training sessions on Friday, and there were several unforgettable moment for each club.

We start with Real, who even got manager Zinedine Zidane involved in a crossing and finishing drill with some of his players.

This is where Luka Modric’s stunning volley came into play (below).

Meanwhile, in an inter-squad scrimmage amongst Liverpool’s team, James Milner unleashed this brilliant curling effort into the top corner (below).

LIVE: Aston Villa, Fulham battle for Premier League promotion

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The task is quite simple for the two sides competing at Wembley Stadium on Saturday; win and you’re back in the Premier League.

Aston Villa and Fulham will battle it out for the third and final promotion spot into the PL (12 p.m. ET) after boasting tremendous 2017/18 campaigns.

LIVE UPDATES FOR THE PLAYOFF FINAL 

For both clubs, there is a significance about restoring their role as a PL club, with Fulham last competing in the top flight four seasons ago and Villa two seasons removed.


Aston Villa: Johnstone; Chester, Snodgrass, Grealish, Hourihane, Jedinak, Hutton, Terry, Elmohamady, Adomah, Grabban. Bench: Whelan, Hogan, Bree, Onomah, Bjarnason, Kodjia, Bunn.

Fulham: Bettenelli; Fredericks, Sessegnon, Odoi, McDonald, Johansen, Cairney, Ream, Targett, Mitrovic, Kamara. Bench: Button, Fonte, Ayite, Norwood, Piazon, Christie, Kalas.

Cream of the crop: Ranking all 23 current MLS managers

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When it comes to “who’s the best?” arguments, they usually encompass which team or player has earned the right to call themselves king.

[ MORE: Chicharito says Mexican team always feels welcome in U.S. ]

Recently though, conversations over social media had us thinking about Major League Soccer, and more specifically, the managerial side of the game.

Household names like Gerardo Martino and Bob Bradley are surely considered to be among the best of the best, and that got us here at Pro Soccer Talk listing the all the potential candidates.

We’re ranking all 23 current MLS managers, based on past performance (wins/losses), longevity at their club and ability to construct a high-caliber roster.


23. Ben Olsen — D.C. United

Olsen’s value to D.C. as both a player and manager cannot go unstated, but his struggles in the latter department have been mounting for years now. Outside of an Open Cup win in 2013, Olsen has been quite underwhelming given the team’s history.

22. Anthony Hudson — Colorado Rapids

It was a tough situation to come into, but some of the player moves that Hudson made in his first season were just mind-boggling.

21. Remi Garde — Montreal Impact

Wholesale changes could be coming at the Impact sooner rather than later, and Garde’s early difficulties make you wonder how long he’ll be around.

20. Mikael Stahre — San Jose Earthquakes 

The Earthquakes have made a conscious effort to get younger, so Stahre deserves some more time to get acquainted.

19. Adrian Heath — Minnesota United

It’s been a tough go in Minnesota for Heath, particularly in the injury department. However, his struggles seem to carry with him throughout MLS, whether it was previously in Orlando or currently with the Loons.

18. Jim Curtin — Philadelphia Union

The club’s unwillingness to spend has really crippled Curtin, who deserves to be higher on this list, but there are simply too many quality coaches in the league right now.

17. Veljko Paunovic — Chicago Fire

Since arriving in the U.S., Paunovic has gone heavy with high-profile moves, whether that be Nemanja Nikolic or trading for Dax McCarty. He’s had his shares of ups and downs, so we’ll have to monitor if he gets over some of the humps this season.

16. Brad Friedel — New England Revolution

Friedel’s first season in New England is probably going about as well as he would have hoped for. After getting situated with Lee Nguyen, Friedel has seemed to have brought a real presence that has allowed players like Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury to thrive.

15. Giovanni Savarese — Portland Timbers

In a small sample size, Savarese has essentially picked up where Caleb Porter left off with a talented Timbers squad. Time will tell how well he can sustain success in MLS.

14. Mike Petke — Real Salt Lake

RSL boasts one of the best, young squads in MLS with its academy continuing to be a driving force, but Petke has had his share of struggles handling some of the team’s well-known players.

13. Jason Kreis — Orlando City

He has an MLS Cup, so yes, there is a legitimate argument to have him higher. However, his time in New York was one of a nightmare, although not entirely unexpected for an expansion side. That carried over in Orlando until this season, so perhaps a sustained run in 2018 could boost his stock once again.

12. Sigi Schmid — LA Galaxy

Schmid has been stuck with a lot of the holdovers from the previous Galaxy regime, but he has to figure things out very soon because there is a clear gap between the top six and the rest of the Western Conference field at the moment.

11. Wilmer Cabrera — Houston Dynamo

Cabrera has erased a lot of the aftertaste from his time at Chivas USA, and 2018 has been even more impressive given the fact that he and his squad lost Erick “Cubo” Torres during the offseason.

10. Oscar Pareja — FC Dallas

Last season’s second half struggles were likely an anomaly for Pareja and Dallas. He continues to develop talented players through the academy pipeline, which is why Dallas will be in contention in the West once again this season.

9. Patrick Vieira — New York City FC

The Frenchman has brought stability to the Bronx since arriving in 2016, and despite the team’s lack of playoff success, NYCFC has built a strong roster that is honestly one of the most entertaining to watch when clicking on all cylinders.

8. Carl Robinson — Vancouver Whitecaps

His record is dead even across the board 70-49-70 since taking over the Whitecaps, but Robinson has helped his side make the playoffs in three of four seasons, while also hoisting a Canadian Championship.

7. Brian Schmetzer — Seattle Sounders

Consecutive trips to MLS Cup, including one title, is no small feat. Schmetzer may very well be the most-underrated coach in MLS.

6. Greg Vanney — Toronto FC

2018 hasn’t been ideal for Vanney and TFC, but he helped construct one of the best teams in league history, and when healthy, they are still capable of living up to that billing.

5. Gregg Berhalter — Columbus Crew

Despite some of the off-field turmoil surrounding the Crew, Berhalter has instilled a winning culture, and this season might be his best job yet as a manager.

4. Peter Vermes — Sporting KC

There’s a reason why Vermes is the longest-tenured manager in MLS. The club has qualified for the postseason in seven straight seasons under Vermes, including an MLS Cup win in 2013.

3. Bob Bradley — Los Angeles FC

Bradley’s journey back to MLS came with criticism based on his time outside the states, but it’s very clear he knows what he’s doing in the U.S.. LA FC is following in the footsteps of Atlanta from a season ago, which is a scary thought.

2. Gerardo “Tata” Martino — Atlanta United

Martino’s already-impressive reputation has only increased since arriving in Atlanta last year. All the credit cannot solely go to Martino, but much of the team’s success in less than two seasons can go to the Argentine.

1. Jesse Marsch — New York Red Bulls

It’s easy to argue for some of the names other than Marsch at number one, but his system with the Red Bulls has become iconic. The club doesn’t overspend on players, and Marsch manages to get the most out of his Homegrowns and other young squad members.

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