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.

An about face: MLS to now seek training compensation, but MLS players oppose move

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With teams spending millions of dollars annually on their youth academies, the league has decided it will now fight to recover some of that investment should a youth player sign their first professional contract abroad.

MLS announced in a statement that it will now work to acquire training compensation and solidarity payments from international clubs when players from team academies sign with clubs or transfer to other clubs abroad, while also agreeing to pay those fees when signing players from abroad. In the past, MLS had refused to pay training compensation and solidarity payments – in opposition to FIFA regulations – over fears for an anti-trust lawsuit from the MLS Player’s Association or others as well as possibly violating U.S. child labor laws, per ESPN.

U.S. Soccer even forbade these solidarity payments and training compensation on these grounds, but now have stated that they won’t enforce their decree from 24 years ago.

If a player signs their first professional contract outside of the country they were developed in, training compensation is provided to all clubs that helped develop the player between the player’s age 12 and 21 years. If a player then is transferred at any point from one country/federation into a different one (like Christian Pulisic from the Bundesliga to the Premier League), up to five percent of the transfer fee will be distributed to clubs that helped develop the player between the ages of 12 and 23.

In response to the MLS decision, the MLS Players Association has come out in total opposition of this decision, pointing out the hypocrisy of MLS choosing to apply some FIFA rules but not all of them.

In addition, the players association believes that this doesn’t work to help develop better soccer players in the U.S., only to make it harder for them to move abroad. In theory, a team abroad now will know it may have to pay thousands, or millions to sign a young American, and may hurt that player’s chances from moving to a country with a higher competition level.

“Today’s announcement by MLS regarding training compensation and solidarity payments is a step backward for the development of soccer in the United States and Canada,” the MLS Players Association said in their statement. “It is an effort by the league to inhibit player choice, does nothing to address the development of youth soccer, and makes plain MLS’ selective application of international rules to suit its own agenda.

“Despite claims to the contrary, this move is not about improving youth development. Rather, it is simply about trying to force players to sign with MLS by limiting opportunities abroad. Limiting opportunities to train and play in other environments does not further the development of young professionals. The MLSPA strongly supports efforts to improve youth development, but we do not believe that placing the burden to fund these efforts solely on players is a sensible approach. A levy on professional clubs and/or the Federation that is unrelated to individual player transactions would spread that burden across the industry, which would be a far better approach to funding development.

“The fact that training compensation and solidarity payments are paid elsewhere in the world under applicable FIFA regulations is an indefensible justification for MLS’s change in position on these issues. The league routinely ignores regulations that protect players under contract with MLS – like those requiring guaranteed contracts, prohibiting unilateral options and limiting the length of contracts – yet is now attempting to rely upon these same regulations to limit opportunities for players in youth academies.

“We will review these changes, including the Consent Decree entered into by the US Federation on this subject, and will explore all of our options with other stakeholders.”

It appears that MLS is only interested in fighting for training compensation when it benefits them. The most recent famous case is Weston McKennie, who spent seven years with FC Dallas but left on a free transfer in 2016, with FC Dallas not recouping a dime and McKennie soon establishing himself as a first team player in the Bundesliga.

In a Q&A, MLS stated that it won’t pay training compensation for players it signs through the draft or acquires into its youth academies. In addition, if a player was developed with both an MLS club and an independent youth club, MLS said it would only seek the training compensation for themselves and not for other clubs.

MLS states intention to expand to 30 teams

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In a move that was more a matter of when, then if, MLS announced on Thursday it plans to continue expansion to 30 teams.

The league released a statement stating that the decision to expand to 30 teams was approved by the league’s board of governors at a recent meeting in Los Angeles. In addition, the board of governors approved the MLS commissioners office to move forward into “advanced discussions” with Sacramento and St. Louis over expansion bids, enabling those market’s to make formal presentations to the league. The governors also approved a $200 million expansion fee for the No. 28 and No. 29 expansion teams, with the fee yet to be determined for No. 30.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

While it doesn’t confirm that Sacramento and St. Louis will be the next MLS expansion markets, it certainly puts them in the front seat for spots No. 28 and No. 29, with a plethora of other cities in the mix for the latter two slots and the – for now – final No. 30 spot.

As of the 2019 MLS season, the league has 24 teams. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will make it 26 in 2020, and Austin FC will make it 27 teams in 2021.

Other previous MLS expansion possible markets have included Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa, Louisville, and more.

While MLS continues to focus on expanding across the country, it may be losing sight of some of its established teams in major markets. The Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have all experienced poor attendance so far this season, and little has been said about how best to correct this problem.

There’s no doubt that soccer is big in both cities, but fans aren’t making the trek out to see their local teams play, which is a big problem in MLS, especially with the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga all expanding marketing operations into the U.S.

U.S. National Soccer Team players association speaks out against U.S. Soccer

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Even though the U.S. Men’s National Team doesn’t have to play multiple matches per year on artificial turf like the U.S. Women’s National Team, the USMNT players are taking a stand against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In a statement, the U.S. National Soccer Team players association said that it opposes playing on both turf or grass laid on top of turf due to player safety concerns. Since Nippert Stadium is an artificial turf surface, it’s expected that U.S. Soccer will pay to fly in and lay down grass on top of the field ahead of the USMNT’s friendly match with Venezuela on June 9.

“In the view of the Players Association, this is just one more example of a serious problem that the United States Soccer Federation is not advancing the interests of the sport of soccer or the interests of the players or the fans, but is solely focused on generating ever-increasing revenues and profits for the Federation, its employees, its sponsors, and private businesses associated with the Federation,” the the players said in its statement, after corresponding with U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro via e-mail.

The players association highlighted a section of the U.S. Soccer press release in announcing the friendly match in Cincinnati, noting the strong FC Cincinnati fan support. This backed the players association’s point that U.S. Soccer is more interested in revenues than player safety.

Even with all of our society’s technological advances, it appears that only old-fashioned planting and allowing grass to gain roots deep in the soil is the best way to ensure a strong, stable field, and not one that will come up with a quick change of direction. Issues at Yankee Stadium recently highlighted this problem.

New York City FC captain Alex Ring, who played in that match, said he slipped on some of that temporary sod and suffered an injured ankle, but soldiered on to play through the pain for the final hour of the game.

“It hurts, unfortunately,” Ring told reporters on April 6, via Front Row Sports. “What can I say? I can’t complain about the pitch, but it happens after 30 minutes and you play the whole game with a sore ankle, it’s not the best.”

While coming to Cincinnati and bringing the USMNT to cities it has never been before – this will be the first USMNT trip to Cincinnati – is an important mission for U.S. Soccer, it’s also surprising because the beautiful pitch at Crew Stadium, the heart and soul of U.S. Soccer, is right up the road. Of course, Crew Stadium’s capacity is much smaller than Nippert Stadium, which I’m sure had something to do with this decision.

The USMNT hasn’t had to play on grass laid on top of turf since the 2017 Gold Cup semifinals against Costa Rica, which was played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is an indoor facility and thus uses artificial turf.

For U.S. Soccer, that now means all of its senior national team players are against the federation’s current position. The USWNT has made its sentiments known about playing on turf, even before Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in a match on a turf pitch in bad shape, and they’ve even recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Soccer is engaging in gender discrimination against the USWNT players.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s a bad look for U.S. Soccer that all of its main players are against the federation in one form or another, and together they could use their media platforms to make an even bigger statement.

Europa League Roundup: Arsenal shutout Napoli; Eintracht, Valencia advance

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What road problems?

For the second consecutive match, Arsenal picked up a 1-0 win on the road, this time against even tougher competition. Arsenal beat Napoli, 1-0, and 3-0 on aggregate to advance to the Europa League semifinals. Alexandre Lacazette scored a terrific free kick from 30-yards out, taking advantage of Alex Meter shifting the wrong way.

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In the second half, with Napoli needing four goals and pushing, Arsenal relied heavily on its centerback trio of Sokratis, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saed Kolasinac helping in defense.

It’s a reversal of Arsenal’s recent fortunes, where before Monday, they hadn’t won on the road since February, including in the Europa League to Rennes. However, the 2-0 scoreline from the first leg really gave Arsenal the push and momentum it needed to get past a struggling Napoli side under Carlo Ancelotti.

Elsewhere, Valencia took care of languishing Villarreal in style with a 2-0 victory, winning 5-1 on aggregate, but the real drama took place in Germany.

With Eintracht Frankfurt trailing before kickoff by a pair of goals, the Eagles – well, both Benfica and Eintracht are the Eagles – managed to secure a 2-0 result to advance in the Europa League. Sebastian Rode’s second-half finish off an Ante Rebec pass has kept Eintracht’s season alive in Europe, where Luka Jovic can continue to market himself to the world’s biggest clubs.