Meet the US Women’s World Cup team: Midfielders

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Jill Ellis’ midfield has been the most scrutinized section of the field over the past eight months. Whether there are two or three players in the middle of the part, a narrow or a wide system or a direct style of play, this is the area that the match will be won and lost.

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Can the U.S. women win the midfield? The question will loom large over each match, especially against the better, more technical teams that will be able to keep the ball away from the Americans.

Shannon Boxx

Shannon Boxx is headed to the World Cup at 37 years old, but age was the least of her fights to get to this point. Boxx’s battles with Lupus and Sjogren’s disease have been ongoing and she missed a large chunk of 2014 to give birth to her daughter. Once among the world’s best midfielders, Boxx is the only defensive midfielder on the United States’ roster. It isn’t a position that U.S. coach Jill Ellis specifically utilizes, but it is one that could be necessary to kill off matches which the United States leads late. The combination of that with Boxx’s fitness levels set the stage for her to be a late-game sub if the U.S. is leading.

Morgan Brian

The team’s youngest player, Morgan Brian, shot into the spotlight over the past two years, winning back-to-back MAC Hermann Trophies as college soccer’s best player becoming the easy-choice No. 1 pick by the Houston Dash in the 2015 NWSL Draft. Brian has adapted relatively seamlessly to the international and professional levels. Brian is an attacking midfielder who has often been shoehorned into a wide role or deeper role at times. She provides depth in central midfield, which has been locked down by Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd.

Tobin Heath

Tobin Heath is a rare breed of American midfielder: crafty, technical and confident enough to beat players one-v-one. She is the most likely of all the U.S. players to have her nutmeg or other skill move go viral, as one did recently when she torched a Mexico defender. Heath battled a hamstring injury earlier in May but has since played. Her ability to play on the flanks could come in handy for a U.S. team whose biggest weakness in the early spring was too narrow of a shape and a lack of creativity (cue Heath) to break down opposing defenses that sat in.

Lauren Holiday

Of all the X-factors on this United States team, Lauren Holiday’s play could be the most important to watch. With FC Kansas City, Holiday was the best player in the NWSL in 2013 and looked it for large stretches of 2014, when she helped her team win the league title with two brilliant assists in the final. But Holiday plays in a deeper and slightly less comfortable role with the United States, where she burdens more defensive duties and frequently drops as low as level with the center backs to collect the ball and distribute. Holiday, who solidified her place on the world stage in 2011 as Lauren Cheney, is married to Jrue Holiday, a guard for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd’s quest is a microcosm of her team’s: translate Olympic success into World Cup glory. The Americans are three-time defending Olympic champions and Lloyd scored the gold-medal winning goal in 2008 and 2012, the only player to achieve that back-to-back feat. At 32 years old, she is very much in her prime and eager to fully stake her claim as the world’s best midfielder. She is certainly already in the conversation as the United States’ best all-time scoring midfielder (63 goals), but a World Cup title could cement that.

Heather O’Reilly

HAO, as Heather O’Reilly is known, is one of the most experienced players on the United States national team. She is known for her fierce hustle and blazing speed, the latter of which is a half-step slower at 30 years old but the former of which is as relentless as ever. O’Reilly is a reserve these days after spending much of the last decade as a regular starter, but she provides the United States with that much-needed width that it at times so desperately needs.

Megan Rapinoe

Arguably the team’s most creative player, Megan Rapinoe is one of the team’s most recognizable players both on the field and off. She has been part of the United States’ greatest recent moments – crossing the ball to Abby Wambach in that historic 2011 quarterfinal comeback against Brazil and scoring an Olimpico in the 4-3 extra-time win over Canada in the 2012 Olympic semifinal, arguably the best game ever played – and she still probably doesn’t get enough credit for what she does. The U.S. misses a beat when Rapinoe isn’t on the field. The creativity can dry up and the crosses are less frequent. She’s dynamic, entertaining and one of the team’s most personable players.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
Photo credit: Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
Photo byJacques Feeney/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+