Sinclair’s penalty kick in stoppage time lifts Canada in Women’s World Cup opener

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EDMONTON, Alberta – Hosts Canada kicked off the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 win over China in front of a packed crowd of 53,058 rabid fans at Commonwealth Stadium. The hosts carried the momentum from the spectators and earned a penalty in second-half stoppage time and captain Christine Sinclair stepped up to finish.

Canada created the majority of scoring opportunities and held the possession advantage. Adriana Leon earned the late penalty after taking a forearm to the face from a Chinese defender.

“Yeah it was a frustrating game,” Sinclair said. “We knew heading into the game that China, their going to be a tough team to breakdown. They tend to drop off and sort of let the other team have the problem of possession. We created some good chances, we didn’t finish them and the pressure sort of started to mount. A great result for us. I felt like they were waisting time from the kickoff. Playing for a tie so it was nice to get one in the back of the net at the end.”

[THREE THINGS LEARNED: Ugly put enough for Canada in opener]

Canada attacked China right from the first whistle. Sophie Schmidt’s early free kick from the left flank found Kadeisha Buchanan open near the far back post. Buchanan had a pair of shots on target that goalkeeper Wang Fei was quick to save.

Sinclair broke through the young China back-line and fired a tough shot on target from a difficult angle. Fei Wang was again in great position to turn aside Canada. The Red clad Canadians controlled the opening 15 minutes of the match.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

China almost caught Canada and specifically, Lauren Sesselmann, napping in the 18th minute. The usually sound center back coughed up the ball to Gu Yasha in the Canada box. An alert Erin McLeod came rushing out of her net to stop Gu before she could shoot or pass to her wide open teammate. The Sesselmann error gave China a spark and moments later they almost scored.

“I think we played nervous,” McLeod said. “We never really calmed down for most of the game, so our quality dipped. I think we’re lucky to come out with a win. We came out with 3-points and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Our goal is to be the team that grows the most throughout the tournament and we will definitely grow a lot of that game.”

China was awarded a free kick on the outside corner of the left flank. From well beyond distance, Wang Lisi stepped up and delivered a booming strike that hammered off the crossbar in the 22nd minute. McLeod leaped and managed to get a finger to the ball. Canada escaped what surely would have been a shock to the system had China capitalized from their opportunity.

Josee Belanger earned the start for Canada at right back and did not look out of place in the first 45 minutes. She was great defensively and was also able to get forward and add to the Canada attack, including a 26th minute shot off the crossbar.

The opening pace that accompanied the first few minutes of the match slowly came to a halt as both sides settled in. China looked more comfortable against Canada and the hosts continued to create chances without finishing. Heading into the half, Canada was pushing all the right buttons without finding a goal. China did well to whether the early Canada pressure.

Coach Wei Hao made his first substitution just before the interval. An injured Wang Lisi was replaced by Peng Han.

Hao wasn’t overly pleased with his team’s performance or the condition of the pitch.

“The match was very hard because we only played on this turf once before and it was hot. I don’t think we gave our best,” he said.

The penalty decision went against China. However, Hao took the high road and did not place blame on the referee. His team caught a bad break and on this day it just wasn’t in the stars for China.

“We respect all the rules whether it’s fair or not. We respect all the referees judgement.”

The second half kicked with much of the same strategy and tactics from China. If the plan was organized blocking and frustration, coach Hao Wei had a perfect formula against 8th-ranked Canada. Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and Jonelle Filigno had trouble connecting with the midfield and fullbacks from Canada going forward.

Allysha Chapman and Josee Belanger both looked lively running up and down the flanks, but they weren’t able to connect with a cross or corner in the China box. Whenever Canada got forward and looked to make a play near the Chinese goal. There was always two or three players in white ready to swarm the opposition. Canada was not quick enough in making adjustments.

Herdman’s first substitution came in the 60th minute when Filigno was replaced by midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. Canada quickly made another substitution in the 70th minute with the injection of 17-year-old Jessie Fleming for Desiree Scott.

Sensing that a goal could dramatically change the match, Schmidt and Sinclair worked a lovely give-and-go. Sinclair found herself open and sent a well timed shot on target. Her effort did not appear to trouble Wang Fei. The crowd — a record for a Canadian national team match — was hoping and wishing for a Canadian marker, and they got their wish deep into stoppage time.

Leon was tripped up in the China box and referee Kateryna Monzul made no hesitation in pointing to the spot. With the roar of the crowd behind her, captain Sinclair stepped up and delivered a calm and cool penalty to lift Canada.

The hosts almost got a shock to the system from the upstart Chinese team. If not for a lucky break, this could have easily been a disappointing draw for Canada.

“It was by far the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in here in Canada,” Sinclair said. “They were loud. I really thought the last 10-15 minutes of the game they gave us that extra boost. It was incredible to get a result for them.”

The hosts almost got a shock to the system from the upstart Chinese team. If not for a lucky break, this could have easily been a disappointing draw for Canada. But Sinclair and Canada got a much needed assist from the Canadian faithful and she talked about how it helped immensely.

“I know that we were getting in their end more and we were going a little bit more direct. We were trying to put more heat on them, and I had a feeling. When she pointed to that PK spot I felt like I could breath for the first time in the whole game.”

Canada Starting XI: Erin McLeod; Allysha Chapman, Lauren Sesselmann, Kadeisha Buchanan, Josee Belanger; Desiree Scott (Jessie Fleming 70), Ashley Lawrence, Sophie Schmidt; Jonelle Filigno (Kaylyn Kyle 60); Christine Sinclair(C), Melissa Tancredi (Adriana Leon 76). (4-3-3)

China PR Starting XI: Wang Fei; Liu Shanshan, Wu Haiyan (C), Li Dongna, Wang Shanshan, Li Ying (Zhao Lina 61), Rong Rong, Gu Yasha (Ma Jun 87), Tan Ruyin, Wang Lisi (Han Peng 42), Ren Guixin.

Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Report: Salzburg star Haland meets with Borussia Dortmund

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Erling Braut Haland is one of the most promising young names in European football, his career trajectory shooting up, up, up after several dynamite performances in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker, 19, wasn’t in full fitness when his side was bounced from the UCL by Liverpool on Tuesday, but he’d made his presence felt earlier in the competition.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Haland bagged eight of his 28 season goals in the UCL, including three against Napoli and one against the reigning champion Reds.

Now the Leeds-born Norwegian is eyeing up his next step. Having been linked with Manchester United and his dad’s club Leeds, Haland reportedly flew into Dortmund for a Wednesday meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Dad, Alf-Inge Haland, played 22 years between Bryne, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Rosseland.

Now should Haland find a new home, it seems awfully likely it would work similar to Christian Pulisic‘s move to Chelsea from Dortmund last season; The twice-capped Norway international could sign for BVB (or another club) and head back to Salzburg to star in the Europa League (he’s cup-tied in the UCL).

Plus, Salzburg would love to give coach Jesse Marsch a full year with the star. They’re unbeaten in league play.

Europa League preview: Injured Arsenal still seeking knockout round berth

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The Europa League got a lot trickier on Wednesday, as it tends to do when UEFA Champions League outcasts transfer to the competition.

Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg will join the competition for knockout stage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Two of three Premier League sides have already laid claim to places in the next round, Wolves and Manchester United handling their business while Arsenal left its fate in the balance for Thursday’s final group stage match day.

Joining Man United and Wolves as already through to said Round of 32 are Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia, Basel, Sporting Lisbon, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Wolfsburg, Braga, and AZ Alkmaar.

So what hasn’t been decided? Let’s begin with the Gunners.

Arsenal needs just a point from Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday to advance, although an unlikely Eintracht Frankfurt home loss to Vitoria SC would send a defeated Gunners onto the Round of 32.

Freddie Ljungberg is missing a lot of firepower. Nicolas Pepe is now dinged up, joining Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, and Dani Ceballos as unavailable.

“But we’ve brought a lot of firepower here, we have younger players here who have played earlier in the group stages, not just now. They’ve been playing the whole time. So it’s a big game and we’re here to get a result. We have a lot of respect for the opponents.”

While Ljungberg’s status as Arsenal boss feels likely to be short-term, another club whose UEL status is up in the air sees its manager looking long-term.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is coming off the disappointment of what would’ve been a deserved silverware triumph off an age-old rival, and now immediately has to get his team to bounce back and earn a spot in the next round.

[ MORE: Five UCL match-ups we’d love to see ]

Celtic saved a penalty and scored an offside goal — no VAR — in lifting the Scottish League Cup this weekend in a 1-0 win over Rangers, but the defeated Glaswegians will be buoyed by the news that Gerrard is making progress on an improved deal.

“(Only being here for a couple of years) wasn’t in my thinking, it has been in the thinking of the majority of everyone else – ‘Oh, Rangers is a stepping stone’ or ‘He’s just going there to rehearse for something else.’ It’s a load of nonsense – I’ve come here as this is a big opportunity for me and I have no plans of going anywhere else.”

Rangers (eight points) simply need a point at home against Swiss powers Young Boys, who enter the game one point back of Glasgow’s blue side. Porto is also a point back of Rangers, and they’ll meet last place Feyenoord (five points).

Full Thursday slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Vitoria
CFR Cluj v. Celtic
LASK v. Sporting Lisbon
Copenhagen v. Malmo
PSV Eindhoven v. Rosenborg
Qarabag v. Dudelange
Standard Liege v. Arsenal
Basel v. Trabzonspor
Dynamo Kiev v. Lugano
APOEL Nicosia v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Lazio
Getafe v. Krasnodar

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Young Boys
Wolves v. Besiktas
Espanyol v. CSKA Moscow
Gent v. Oleksandriya
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Porto v. Feyenoord
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Ferencvaros
Slovan Bratislava v. Braga
Roma v. Wolfsberg
Manchester United v. AZ Alkmaar
Wolfsburg v. Saint-Etienne
Partizan Belgrade v. Astana

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

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We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?