Women’s World Cup notebook: Sweden up next for United States

1 Comment

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The United States women held a light training session in southern Winnipeg on Tuesday, the morning after defeating Australia, 3-1 in their 2015 Women’s World Cup opener.

The 10 field players who started the match were given the morning off from training, while Monday’s reserves and the three goalkeepers participated in about a one-hour long session.

Monday’s performance by the United States was shaky despite the victory. Australia dominated the opening 20 minutes and would have gone ahead early were it not for two world-class saves by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.

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

Several players and U.S. coach Jill Ellis admitted the performance was sub-par in the opening minutes, citing nerves among other things. They believe all of that is out of their collective system now, however.

“All those things that you see in the first game, we got out of our system,” midfielder Tobin Heath said Tuesday.

Ellis said before Monday’s match that she wanted the team to build into its peak throughout the tournament. (“I’m so damn literal, aren’t I,” she quipped when asked a follow-up on that following her team’s underwhelming start to the match against Australia.)

Morgan gets back into full swing

Alex Morgan trained Tuesday after seeing her first minutes of game action in almost two months on Monday. She entered the match in the 79th minute on Monday and looked as eager as any player who hasn’t played for club or country since April 11 might be expected to be, showing confidence and having a go at goal almost right away.

“We’re so excited to have Alex back,” Heath said. “Obviously a world-class player and someone we’re going to need this tournament. It’s awesome to see how quickly she’s gotten back into the group. The way she’s taken care of herself over this time has just shown. She’s been able to jump in so seamlessly with us now. So in that way, we’re really fortunate to have her back healthy and we’re all excited to just have her on the team and on the field.”

[ MORE: U.S. tops Australia  |  Three things learned  |  Not at their best ]

Morgan’s introduction to the match was a dramatic one. She began warming up not long after halftime. Ellis said that given Morgan’s knee injury – a bone bruise in her left knee – the U.S. staff wanted to allow the 25-year-old forward extra time to warm-up. Morgan was personally accompanied by U.S. fitness coach Dawn Scott while warming up.

And after the long warm-up, Morgan had an extended wait to check into the game. She stood at the midfield line for an inordinate amount of time. There was no stoppage in play for over five minutes until Megan Rapinoe scored the United States’ third goal.

“I was waiting for the ball to go out of play for like five minutes,” Morgan said postgame, laughing as she replayed the dramatic wait in her head. “It took a while. I was hoping that someone would maybe kick the ball out of play a little quicker than that. But that’s OK, I think that we were playing well. We were keeping the ball really well and when I got in, I was just happy to help the team in whatever way that was. And that was to keep the 3-1 lead and not to (give up) another goal.”

Morgan said after the game that she feels “really good.”

Sweden up next for the U.S.

Sweden looked like the worst of the four teams in Group D on Tuesday. The Swedes scored twice in the first half on corner kicks that were a result of poor marking and goalkeeping by Nigeria, but they never settled into the game, failing to find any rhythm in the midfield. Sweden blew the 2-0 lead and then again conceded late while leading 3-2 to draw Nigeria, 3-3.

After the match, Pia Sundhage was quick to point out on multiple occasions that players didn’t follow her game plan. Sweden wanted to prevent 1-v-1 opportunities for Nigeria, since the Super Falcons are so dangerous off the dribble. But all three goals saw Nigeria either 1-v-1 or in behind Sweden’s defense.

[ MORE: Nigeria rallies to draw Sweden in wild opening match ]

Sundhage said before the game that Nigeria was a mystery of a team, since they are so hard to scout. So was she surprised by anything?

“Not really, because I was prepared and we prepared the team quite well,” she said. “As I said in the beginning, we just – if we would have been able to follow the game plan, we would have done even better. Now, yeah, scoring three goals was nice. But this was not – I saw another game in front of me. But then again, it is the first game and people out there are a little bit nervous. At the end of the day we have a second game and a third game as well, so we will do better.”

Midfielder Lisa Dahlqvist was a particular culprit, in Sundhage’s eyes.

“Lisa Dahlqvist, she was 100 percent ready to go, it was more of the gameplan, the fact that she should work really hard to make space for (Caroline) Seger and give a lot of battles. So I didn’t expect her to play 45 or 50 or 65 or something like that, so we prepared Linda Sembrant to jump in and take over her position, role”

Sundhage was complimentary of defender Nilla Fischer, which was interesting given Fischer was culpable on all three Nigeria goals (she did score one on the other end).

Next up for Sundhage and Sweden is the United States on Friday. This will be the fifth time the two teams have met in a World Cup and the fourth straight edition in which they have met in group play. The two rivals can’t seem to shake each other, and this time, there is the added wrinkle that Sundhage coached the Americans to two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup final from 2008 to 2012. While guiding the U.S. at the 2011 World Cup, Sundhage lost to Sweden in the group stage.

A New York Times piece released on Tuesday revealed what are being made out to be controversial quotes from Sundhage about her former team. She called U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd a “challenge” to coach because she is so “delicate.” Sundhage said Abby Wambach would be a substitute if she were still coaching the team and she noted that goalkeeper Hope Solo was a challenge, “especially when it comes to trouble.”

To some extent – and part of this is Sundhage’s English being her second language – this is just how Sundhage speaks. She’s honest but hardly confrontational.

Asked by a Swedish journalist on Monday to ensure that Sweden wouldn’t follow the same fate as 2007, when a tie against Nigeria in the opening match eventually led to Sweden missing out on the knockout stage, Sundhage laughed.

“I can ensure you one thing: I will do my very best to make sure that I boost the team and we come together as a group and at least try as hard as we can to win against United States of America,” she said.

Nigeria-Australia could be a goal-fest

Nigeria-Sweden was the best match of the tournament through one round of play. It is clear that the Super Falcons love to attack, and they have more organization than ever in doing so.

[MORE: Australian FA website blasts U.S. performance]

Australia was similarly impressive against the United States and could have had a different result had Solo not bailed out the Americans twice early. Both Nigeria and Australia showed a propensity to attack and a slight lack of desire to defend, which could make Friday’s match-up another thriller.

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

Nigeria coach Edwin Okon refused to over-hype the importance of Friday’s match, the potential loser of which could be doomed in the Group of Death. Every match is a must-win match, he says.

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

Getty Images
2 Comments

A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Wrap: What we learned

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal