Women’s World Cup Day 4 — Vero, Spain Debut

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The long awaited World Cup debut of Spain’s Vero Boquete, by any measure one of the best women’s soccer players of her generation, was a dud Tuesday, unfortunately.

But it’s hard to blame Boquete for Spain’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, most of the credit has to go to Las Ticas and their rookie coach Amelia Valverde, who only took over in January after Carlos Avedissian – the man who led Costa Rica to the World Cup by beating Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago last fall – left to take a position in his native Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately for all her greatness, Boquete was surrounded by Costa Ricans at every turn (as Richard Farley demonstrated on his Twitter feed). And they did it in a very modern, organized way. They didn’t hack her every time she got near the ball or man-mark her all over the field, they collectively knew where she was and cut off her space at every turn (primary credit likely going to holding midfielders Katherine Alvarado and Raquel Rodriguez).

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

Boquete did get loose a few times and even set up a couple of glorious chances for her teammates, but they were squandered. Unfortunately for Vero, she’s not the type of superstar who beats you with world-class speed or breathtaking individual runs, which doesn’t make her greatness any less extraordinary if you’ve watched her career, but this isn’t basketball or baseball where stars can often shine through whatever the defense throws at them.

And with Brazil and South Korea remaining, a couple more performances like this could see a disappointing short stay to the first World Cup appearance for the Spanish women.

-Ray Curren

Here are some other things we learned from Tuesday’s play in Groups E and F:

England cannot win the World Cup sitting in: It was not exactly a surprise that England played low pressure in their 1-0 loss against France, but it became clear the No. 6 team in the FIFA World Rankings has no chance to win the World Cup playing that style. The first half-hour saw Mark Sampson’s team concede almost every inch of turf to the French. Once they fell behind by a goal there was no choice but to take some changes but the English still went with low pressure and rarely created anything to offer much trouble to the French defense. The most troubling part is that sitting in created little to no traction on the counterattack. This could be different in their other group matches against Mexico and Colombia, but it won’t cut it once they get to the knockout stage and start seeing more teams like France. The catch-22 is the open secret that the runner-up in the group has a softer entry into the knockout phase than the winner so it is possible that Sampson held some cards in this one and did not pull out all stops to get the result.

-Dan Lauletta

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

Costa Rica is very young, but… Yes, Costa Rica has improved dramatically at youth levels and they are one of the most improved programs in the world, not just in CONCACAF. They started two teenagers in Melissa Herrera and Maria Barrantes, but the backline of Diana Saenz, Carol Sanchez, Wendy Acosta, and Lixy Rodriguez (who set up Costa Rica’s goal) average 26 years old (with Rodriguez being the youngest at 24). Goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz is also 27, while Shirley Cruz, who has led Costa Rica for so long, is now 29. Some credit also has to go to the American college system, which – at least for now – is one of the best training grounds for young women in the world. Several Ticas, including goal-scorer Raquel Rodriguez (Penn State) have played for Division I programs, and have looked organized and disciplined for the last couple of years in CONCACAF, and now have a point at the World Cup as well.

-Curren

Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)
Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)

Goalkeeping is an issue around the world: Every time Hope Solo makes a big save we hear the familiar refrain that, altogether now, “no one else in the world makes those saves.” That is usually something of an overstatement, but there is no doubt the United States enjoys a comfort with Solo in goal that many other teams do not have. France is very sound defensively but their keeper, Sarah Bouhaddi, was shaky. She made one extremely poor decision to come off her line and on another occasion somehow gave up a corner kick trying to pass off to a defender. Wind could have played a factor in trying to cut off the lofted ball but on television it never looked like she had a chance to get close. In the Mexico-Colombia match, Mexico scored after a series of punches by Colombian keeper Stefany Castano led two a pair of corners. One of them easily could have been caught cleanly, and both of them at the least could have been cleared beyond the 18. Instead Castano was caught off guard by Veronica Perez’s whipping cross/shot that went in for the goal. On the other side, Colombia nearly scored a goal when Mexico’s keeper Cecilia Santiago went up for a free kick but saw it glide through her hands before she was saved by the post. It feels like before the tournament is over, a goalkeeping miscue will play a role in deciding a result.

-Lauletta

[MORE: Colombia’s first World Cup goal earns draw with Mexico]

Brazil won’t be scared If you want to talk about inexperience in Group E, you have to include Brazil, which somehow has only eight players on its roster with World Cup experience. But in its opener, Brazil overwhelmed South Korea with high pressure and it was the ultimate veteran, 37-year-old Formiga, who took advantage, scoring one (becoming the oldest player in World Cup history to score) and setting up the other in a 2-0 win. Newcomers like center back Rafaelle were strong and physical from the opening kickoff, while Fabiana and Tamires had no trouble marauding down either wing with speed and strength and scaring the daylights out of the South Korean defense. In fact, Marta was able to sit back and let the action come to her for most of the game, rarely taking people on with the ball and content to be a playmaker.

-Curren

Brazil may not know much about itself until the knockout round There were some worrying moments in the second half when South Korea finally let go of the reigns and started sending numbers into the attack, particularly Ji Soyun – who, like Boquete, was a world-class player making her World Cup debut and could have used a little more support. With Formiga playing in midfield along with Thaisa (just 26 caps coming into the World Cup) and Andressa, who just turned 20, Korea did have some joy moving the ball around in the second half. I already mentioned Rafaelle, who picked up just her fourth cap Tuesday, who was paired with Monica (just 21 caps). If you’re a Brazil supporter, you can look at the glass half-full and say all these players will be able to get much needed experience. However, you can also look at it half-empty and say that rolling past Spain and Costa Rica won’t get Brazil ready for what could be a tricky knockout-round game against a team with some serious offensive weapons like Nigeria (Australia and Sweden are the other two options with the United States as a wild longshot).

-Curren

UEFA Champions League qualifying preview

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Six slots remain in the UEFA Champions League’s 2019-20 group stage, and the 12 teams hoping to fill them begin the final round of qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There are a pair of Americans in the bunch of hopefuls, with Sergino Dest of Ajax and Ethan Horvath of Club Brugge in action on Tuesday.

The fortunes of those players have changed dramatically in recent months.

[ MORE: Julian Green flying high ]

Horvath, 24, was the starter for 34 matches across all competitions last season and the first two matches of this domestic season but has seen nothing but bench since Brugge scooped up Simon Mignolet from Liverpool.

Will Mignolet allowing three goals to Dynamo Kiev have changed anything for manager Philippe Clement? Seems unlikely, but we’ll still keep an eye on the lineup against Austrian side LASK. Ghanaian national teamer Samuel Tetteh is an intriguing player for the hosts, on loan from Red Bull Salzburg.

Dest is still 18 until November and has started Ajax’s last two games at right back. He made his debut at left back in a 2-0 defeat of PSV Eindhoven to start the season, and Ajax is 4-0 with him on the field this season.

While we’re talking Yanks in the UCL, the group stage already has Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Lille’s Timothy Weah, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, and Red Bull Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch.

Canadian winger Alphonso Davies is with Bayern Munich.

Full schedule

All matches at 3 p.m. ET

Tuesday
APOEL Nicosia v. Ajax
CFR Cluj v. Slavia Prague
LASK v. Club Brugge

Wednesday
Dinamo Zagreb v. Rosenborg
Olympiacos v. Krasnodar
Young Boys v. Red Star Belgrade

USMNT’s Green flying high with new manager, new position

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The early season report that 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Fuerth manager Stefan Leitl wants to tie Julian Green down to a new contract are making a lot of sense with three league matches in the books.

Playing as a No. 8, Green has gone 90 minutes in all three league matches under Leitl this season, scoring against FC St. Pauli and Jahn Regensburg. That gives him five goals in 15 matches since Leitl was hired late last season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Green turned 24 this summer, a number that feels even younger considering his goal against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup seems like it happened about 150 years ago.

It’s a small sample size, but after three games Green is the 8th-ranked performer in the entire German second division by advanced statistics site WhoScored. And for those who sleep on the English Championship and 2.Bundesliga, it’s worth noting that is one of only two second tiers the web site bothers rating on a week-to-week basis.

In addition to his pair of goals, Green is completing 89.2 percent of his passes in the center of the park, making 1.7 tackles per match, and has drawn 3.3 fouls per match. That last figure is fourth in the league.

Green isn’t a flashy personality and even says in the above article that he’d rather his play do the talking, but you have to think he’s on the radar of Greeg Berhalter for next month’s USMNT friendlies with so many Americans on new club teams and MLS in the thick of its stretch run.

Green had certain success under USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan but has yet to be called up by Berhalter, a man who knows the value of the 2.Bundesliga having helped Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion as a player.

And as a No. 8, or even further up and central? Nice.

If he doesn’t re-up with Furth, it will be intriguing to see where he winds up next season (especially if Furth manages to get promoted).

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 2

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Boy do I love getting yelled at, so let’s invite more criticism with Week 2 of the Premier League Power Rankings.

Let’s also get something out of the way, though: While a round-robin tournament such as the Premier League doesn’t need power rankings by the end of the season given the balanced schedule, the early season is ripe for these sorts of debate because of the performances and opponents.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

Additionally, we like having fun. Because this is sports. And sports are supposed to be fun. Even if you support Newcastle and the idea that sports are supposed to be fun sounds like someone telling you something you’re allergic to is goooooood eatin’.

Excited for the furor. Let’s party in the comments section.

20. Newcastle United — For all the promise Miguel Almiron showed under Rafa Benitez, the Paraguayan looks like absolutely clueless under Steve Bruce.
Last week’s ranking: 16
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Spurs

19. Watford — The Pozzo Family is known to change managers on a whim, and Javi Gracia will be wondering if his wonderful 2018-19 is fresh enough in the owners’ minds following an insipid loss to Brighton and a two-shot performance at Everton.
Last week’s ranking: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham

18. Crystal Palace — Unlike Newcastle at Norwich, the Eagles probably deserved a point in losing to a newly-promoted side. They still did, however, lose to a newly-promoted side. Will Wilfried Zaha torment his old club (Man Utd) and teammate (Aaron Wan-Bissaka) on Saturday? Also, those away jerseys…
Last week’s ranking: 14
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Manchester United

(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

17. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini will be under deserved pressure if he can’t manufacture a result at Watford.
Last week’s ranking: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford

16. Southampton — Thoroughly deserved a home point versus Liverpool, but that does not totally make amends for a terrible Week 1.
Last week’s ranking: 19
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Brighton and Hove Albion

15. Aston Villa — Dean Smith knows the mistakes made early against Bournemouth can’t happen in the Premier League, but the Villans were the better team in a loss to Bournemouth.
Last week’s ranking: 8
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Everton

14. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe, on the other hand, will be thanking his lucky stars that Tom Heaton decided to put Villa behind the 8-ball after just 45 seconds. We need to see better from the Cherries, and it’s probably not coming when Man City visits on Sunday.
Last week’s ranking: 15
Last match: Won 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

13. Sheffield United — The Blades have been a pesky problem in collecting four points from Bournemouth and Palace. Saturday’s visit from Leicester City will be a bird of a different feather.
Last week’s ranking: 13
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Leicester City

12. Norwich City — Teemu Pukki was lethal against Newcastle, and the Canaries probably could’ve scored thrice on Opening Day at Anfield. That, folks, is what we call encouraging stuff for a newly-promoted group.
Last week’s ranking: 17
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

11. Chelsea — There’s a lot to say about Frank Lampard as a manager, but we can’t stop thinking about how gigantic he looked standing next to Brendan Rodgers after the match. Will we have the chance to see it again when Chelsea visits Leicester City on Feb. 1?
Last week’s ranking: 12
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Norwich City

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

10. Leicester City — So far, so okay for Brendan Rodgers and the Foxes, who took points from two tricky fixtures. Nothing but three points will be acceptable this weekend at Sheffield United.
Last week’s ranking: 10
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

9. Burnley — Don’t bet against Sean Dyche. You’ll either lose, or be terrified at how angry you’ve made Sean Dyche in being right.
Last week’s ranking: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

8. Everton — After taking four points from two matches, the Toffees’ bring an extremely enticing start to the Premier League weekend on Friday at entertaining Aston Villa.
Last week’s ranking: 11
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Watford
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Aston Villa

7. Wolves — What they’ve done in drawing Leicester City and Manchester United while bombarded with Europa League fixtures and planning is laudable and acceptable.
Last week’s ranking: 9
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Burnley

6. Brighton and Hove Albion — Graham Potter‘s Blue and White Army are unbeaten through two matches and deserved three points against West Ham in a 1-1 draw. Leandro Trossard is a talent, and looks like what the Seagulls thought they bought last summer with Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Last week’s ranking: 5
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Southampton

5. Manchester United — Paul Pogba: Penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws. We’ll hang up and listen. The Red Devils should be 2-0 and sitting atop the league. Alas.
Last week’s ranking: 2
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace

4. Arsenal — 2-0 is 2-0, even if the wins come against Newcastle and Burnley. There’s no way Arsenal will be able to afford Dani Ceballos at the end of his loan stint if he keeps looking like an absolutely wondrous midfielder of the highest order.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

3. Liverpool — The bad news is that Liverpool’s poor defensive summer has dragged into August and they are a competent Danny Ings flick away from drawing Saints. The good news is that the Reds are alone in first place despite the defensive foibles. Also, relax, you’re the European champions. It’s okay.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Arsenal

2. Spurs — Took the most shots in the league in Week 1, and followed it up by scoring twice and taking a point from the Etihad Stadium. That’s something only one team did over 19 matches last season (Palace’s 3-2 memorable win around Christmas).
Last week’s ranking: 3
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Man City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Newcastle United

1. Manchester City — VAR did it’s job in enforcing a rule that is, at best, against the spirit of the game in supporting defenders unfairly in comparison to attackers. City took 30 shots against the Champions League finalists and deserved all three points. If you think they should be lower on the list, try this mental exercise which is at the heart of the PL power rankings: Based on what you’ve seen this season, tell me you’d rather play City than any other team in the league. You’re lying.
Last week’s ranking: 1
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Bournemouth

USMNT to play Cuba at Washington, DC

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CHICAGO (AP) The United States’ home game against Cuba in the first CONCACAF Nations League will be played at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11.

The site was announced Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has yet to say where the Nov. 15 home match against Canada will be played.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

As part of the new tournament, the U.S. plays Canada at Toronto on Oct. 15. The U.S. closes Nov. 19 against Cuba, a game that may be played at George Town, Cayman Islands.

In its first year under coach Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. has eight wins, three losses and one tie, losing to Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans have a pair of exhibitions next month, against Mexico on Sept. 6 at East Rutherford, New Jersey, and versus Uruguay four days later at St. Louis.

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