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.

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

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Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

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Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

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Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

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The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.