Thigh injury will likely sideline di María for rest of the World Cup; what are Argentina’s options?

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One of Argentina’s most important players will miss the final two games of the World Cup, but since his name isn’t Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, or Sergio Agüero, his contributions may be overlooked. Yet anybody who watched the UEFA Champions League final (or, any Real Madrid game over the last four years) knows the value of Ángel di María.

Within a talented Argentina team that often lacks flexibility, the winger/forward/midfielder’s presence may be even more valuable. His combination of talent, versatility, and relentless work makes Di María a player that would fit into any team in the world.

Unfortunately for the Albiceleste, over the final two rounds of this year’s World Cup, that team won’t be theirs. Having suffered a right thigh tear today against Belgium, the 26-year-old is expected to be ruled out of the semifinals and, if Argentina defeats the Netherlands, Brazil 2014’s final. An official announcement is expected on Sunday.

From reporting by The Guardian:

Di María suffered the tear when mustering a shot, which was blocked by Vincent Kompany, with his team leading 1-0 in Brasilia. He received treatment on the pitch and attempted to play on, but crumpled back to the turf moments later before hobbling away in tears … The Argentina manager, Alejandro Sabella, initially expressed hopes the injury would not prove too serious … However, the severity of the tear became clearer over the course of evening with media in Argentina reporting the Real Madrid player, who had scored the team’s late winner against Switzerland in the round of 16, was now resigned to missing the remainder of the finals.

With Argentina showing so many different looks this World Cup, it’s difficult to know how, exactly, this will affect Sabella’s team. Maybe that can turn into an advantage against the Dutch, who have tailored their set up for each opponent.

Without di María, Sabella could elect to put Agüero back in the team, switching back to 4-3-3 that worked before the tournament. But if di María’s not there to severe as the midfield’s linking element, Messi may be drawn further from goal. Perhaps Enzo Pérez could be that guy, but the Albiceleste may not have another central midfielder who can fill that role.

With that in mind, it makes more sense than ever to keep Agüero on the bench and simply replace di María with somebody who can play wider. That replacement could be Pérez, who came on against Belgium, or it could be veteran right-winger Maxi Rodríguez, if Sabella wants to tweak his team’s shape. Ricardo Álvarez and Rodrigo Palacio are other possibilities, but with the width the Netherlands has utilized through their wing backs, relying on either of those Inter Milan attackers to keep up is more hopefully than prudent.

Then again, Argentina could go back to the five-defender setup -the one they used in their tournament’s opening match. Unfortunately, that leaves Sabella with the same questions he’d have with a 4-3-3: How does Argentina play an effective three-man midfield without Di María?

At some point over the next three days, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal will have to make an educated guess about how Argentina will play and set up his team accordingly, but given di María’s importance, a guess will be as good as it gets. Even van Gaal will some uncertainty as to how Argentina replaces Ángel Di María.

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.

Authorities drop assault charges against Hope Solo

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KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) — Prosecutors in Washington state have dropped domestic violence charges against former U.S. national team star goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Solo was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault in 2014 after police said she assaulted two family members at a home in Kirkland, east of Seattle. The case was delayed by appeals.

KING-TV reports that city prosecutors dropped the charges Wednesday, saying the witnesses in the case wanted to move on with their lives and did not want to participate in a trial. An attorney for Kirkland, Melissa Osman, wrote in court documents that the circumstances were unlikely to be repeated.

The longtime national team goalkeeper and two-time Olympic gold medalist recently ran unsuccessfully for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has called for equal pay and equal treatment for the U.S. women’s team.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.