Three things learned: Slow start for US midfield, Sauerbrunn shines, Australia impresses

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The United States opened its 2015 Women’s World Cup campaign on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Australia in Winnipeg, sending the U.S. atop Group D.

Group D is already living up to the hype as the tournament’s best quartet. Here’s what we learned from USA-Australia.

U.S. midfield struggles, but gets by: Australia dominated much of the first 20 minutes of the match. The Matildas had an extra player in the midfield with the U.S. lining up in a 4-4-2. Carli Lloyd noted that with Australia’s extra player in the middle of the park, the directive was to play slightly more direct and try to find the flanks.

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

But the U.S. largely struggled on the flanks, where Australia drew its chances from in the opening 20 minutes. U.S. coach Jill Ellis cited nerves as the reason for the shaky start.

“We lacked a little bit of movement, especially in the first half,” said Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice.

Around the 40-minute mark the United States settled into the match and they looked better in the second half. Ellis said the message at halftime was to get the wide players more involved in the match.

Luckily for the U.S., Rapinoe came up big again. She seems to live for the big moments, as learned by her role in Abby Wambach’s famous 2011 World Cup quarterfinal goal against Brazil.

“Megan thrives in these big games, big moments,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis. “She’s got ice running through her veins a lot of passion running inside of her.”

Becky Sauerbrunn quietly comes up big again: One of the game’s big moments that will be lost in Megan Rapinoe’s goals and Hope Solo’s saves is U.S. center back Becky Sauerbrunn chasing down Sam Kerr – one of the fastest players on the field – in the 51st minute. Kerr was in behind the U.S. defense and looked like she would go 1-v-1 with Solo in a 1-1 match.

[KASSOUF: Solo saves the day for U.S. against Australia]

But Sauerbrunn, who turned 30 years old on Saturday, chased down the 21-year-old and blocked her goal-bound shot for a corner kick. That could have been a 2-1 lead for Australia. Christen Press scored the game-winner for the U.S. 10 minutes later.

“Becky’s just grown and grown,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said after the game. “I think she is one of the best center backs in the world, probably a little bit underrated by our opponents in terms of what she gives us and what she can do. Without Christie (Rampone) being there, she’s now settled into a leadership role. But her individual defending, here ability to read attacks and snuff things out and chase things down – she’s tough. And she’s good with the ball in front of her and she’s good tracking down the ball from behind. She’s really become a mainstay. I’m just really pleased with her growth.”

One of the several key elements to a deep run from the U.S. in this tournament could be the continued stellar play of Sauerbrunn. She doesn’t wear the armband, but she shoulders much of the on-field leadership in the back.

Australia still very much in the mix: There’s no denying from any parties – Australia, the U.S. or neutrals – that the Matildas controlled the start of the match. Had it not been for world-class saves by Hope Solo in the 5th and 13th minutes, the U.S. would have went down early and conceded an equalizer within a minute of Megan Rapinoe’s first goal.

[KASSOUF: Even on an off day, U.S. shows why it will contend]

Australia coach Alen Stajcic was encouraged by his team’s play.

“I said we’d come out and attack and not sit back, not let America dictate the game and I thought we did that,” Stajcic said. “The effort of the players and the spirit and the execution was there.

“I certainly thought we were well in the contest and for the first 15, 20 minutes I thought we were the way more dangerous team.”

Australia will face Nigeria on Friday in a matchup of two fast, athletic teams that like to attack. Nigeria gave Sweden fits in the first match of the night.

“You’ve got two very similar teams, haven’t you? You’ve got two teams that like to attack, two teams that like to go at each other.”

Expect Friday’s Nigeria-Australia match to be wide-open.

Key issues ahead of Premier League restart

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, but there are still plenty of issues to sort out ahead of the resumption.

‘Project Restart’ still has a little way to go, but we now have a date.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters confirmed the restart date of June 17, as long as everything goes as planned with a return to contact training and COVID-19 tests among Premier League staff and players.

There is still plenty to sort out though, so here’s a look at the key questions and issues which remain between now and the Premier League restart on June 17.


Will teams play games at home stadiums?

Some reports state that Liverpool will play home games at a neutral venue due to concerns from police about fans congregating outside Anfield considering their impending title victory. Other high-profile games such as Tottenham against Arsenal may not be played at home stadiums either as reports state that neutral stadiums such as Wembley may be used to host some of the higher profile matches. Simply put, the only thing we know about stadiums is that they will be empty for all of the remaining 92 games of the season.


What happens if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the UK or within Premier League clubs?

The key part of Richard Masters’ statement was the first few sentences: “Today we have provisionally agreed to resume the Premier League on Wednesday 17 June. But this date cannot be confirmed until we have met all the safety requirements needed, as the health and welfare of all participants and supporters is our priority.” The Premier League have to first and foremost make sure there is no rise in the number of COVID-19 positive tests among its players and staff.

Staff and players are all tested twice per week and 60 tests will be available to each club. So far, out of 2,752 tests from three batches, there have been 12 positive COVID-19 tests. If those numbers stay that way, or fall, the Premier League will be in good shape to return, as planned, on June 17. If they rise, the date will have to be pushed back. There can be no room for complacency from clubs and players over safety protocols during the next three weeks and beyond. That said, the situation in the UK has been the worst in Europe in terms of the death toll and if a second spike arrives in England, the plan for the Premier League restart would be put in jeopardy.


If the season is delayed further and the games cannot be finished, then what?

It has been reported, but not confirmed, that clubs agreed that an unweighted points-per-game model will be used to decide the final table if the season is curtailed. That means that the average number of points teams have won during their games played so far will be calculated in accordance with their remaining games to play. The Premier League have admitted they will have to come to a curtailment plan just in case the situation worsens in the UK or within their clubs.


Using five substitutes per game?

This is something the Premier League can do as the IFAB rules allow it and have been modified during the pandemic. Clubs will be able to use five substitutes per game, up from three, but subs can only be used in specified windows such as half time so the flow of the game isn’t disrupted. This has worked well in the Bundesliga and it is expected it will also work well in the Premier League, especially with so many games being played in a six-week period.


What about players out of contract?

This is something the Premier League clubs have already agreed on. With most player contracts running until June 30, we now know that the 2019-20 season will run beyond that date. Up until June 23, clubs and players can agree to extend the contracts until the end of the 2019-20 season as a short-term measure. However, players and club do not have to do this so some players may be out of contract and free to move on from July 1.

Spadafora: Coppa Italia, Serie A can return June 13

Serie A return
Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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Italian football can return June 13 with the second legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals and perhaps the final, followed by Serie A the next weekend.

Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora made the announcement Thursday, bringing calcio back to a country that’s been ravaged by the coronavirus.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In addition to stringent testing protocols and quarantine for club members who test positive, Serie A has plans in place for another wave of the coronavirus should it rear its ugly head. From Football-Italia.com:

“The FIGC also assured me that the Plan B (play-offs and play-outs) and Plan C (using the existing table) can be adopted in case of suspension. It is not up to me as Minister to decide, as that will be done by the FIGC. In the light of all those events, we can today say that the season can resume from June 20.”

Spadafora said he was hopeful the entire Coppa Italia could be completed before June 20, which would be a heavy burden on two of the following semifinalists: AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Napoli.

The winners could face three matches inside of eight or nine days.

Napoli leads Inter after one leg in Milan, while Milan and Juve drew 1-1 at the San Siro.

Juve had its four Coppa run broken by Lazio last season. The Old Lady leads Lazio by one point in the race for a ninth-consecutive scudetto.

MLS announces return voluntary small group training

MLS return
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Major League Soccer’s long road to returning from the coronavirus pause has hit another mile marker with the return of voluntary outdoor small group training.

The full team training moratorium remains in place through at least June 1.

MLS made the announcement Thursday and there are several stipulations given the size of our country and the variables in how it’s governed at the state and local level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The voluntary sessions will be held “in compliance with detailed health and safety protocols that were created in consultation with medical and infectious disease experts.”

Perhaps most notably:

The sessions must not conflict with local public health official or government policies and provide the ability for players to step up their training while maintaining physical distancing protocols.

The league has been under a mandatory training moratorium since the league suspended its season on March 12.

MLS is also making sure to cover every base imaginable, healthwise and legal, by making public and transparent its demands of its clubs.

It’s been a busy break for MLS, which has canceled three major events but also taken hold of the boys youth soccer landscape.

Premier League schedule, how to watch

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed on Thursday, and here is how you can watch every single game live on TV and online in the USA.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

‘Project Restart’ is all systems go.

The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

[ MORE: Reaction to return ]

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Below is how the new weekend and midweek schedule for the Premier League games in June and July will look, with specific games.

Click on the link above to watch every single Premier League game live in the USA across our platforms here at NBC Sports.

Weekend match schedule
Friday: 3 p.m. ET
Saturday: 7:30 a.m., ET, 10 a.m. ET, 12:30 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. ET
Sunday: 7 a.m. ET, 9 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. ET
Monday: 3 p.m. ET

Midweek match schedule
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 1 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET