The “Pia vs. her past players” subplot to Friday’s impending Women’s World Cup group stage match between Sweden and the United States jumped up a notch when ex-U.S. and current Sweden coach Pia Sundhage had some critical comments on some of the best U.S. players.
Sundhage said Carli Lloyd was a “delicate” player to coach, and that she didn’t like the “challenge” of Hope Solo’s off-field issues. She also said she’d be using Abby Wambach as the “best ever” substitute during this World Cup, as opposed to Jill Ellis’ choice to start the American legend.
Most of it was the sort of honest talk that is only damning because we’re so used to watered-down, politically-correct baloney. And in Wambach’s case, there’s literally nothing wrong with calling someone the best ever substitute. And what would you say about Hope Solo’s myriad distractions? I suppose nothing would’ve been a better choice, yet isn’t it almost worse to issue a “no comment” and leave it up to interpretation.
In any event, as Sundhage prepares for what will surely be a fired-up team — if there even is a level above “World Cup against our old coach” — she’s clarified her thoughts with slightly more polish (I guess). Here are some choices cuts culled from The Equalizer:
On Lloyd: “Carli Lloyd is a player like sometimes smarter than I am. That’s so interesting to see the message I’ve tried to give her and her role. Sometimes she thought about it and had some questions about it and she didn’t do what we were supposed to do. That’s exactly what coaching is about.”
On Wambach: “And when I answered the question in the context of where you are the coach of the U.S. team and just ended the Olympic gold medal 2012, what would you have done? I would make sure that Abby will last forever and ever.”
On Solo: “When it comes to Hope Solo, she’s a piece of work. That’s good as well. Because it’s – things happen around her. As somebody told, sometimes outside the field. But when it comes to two times 45 minutes, she is the best goalkeeper in the world. So why wouldn’t you try to make her happy and at the same time have a team spirit?”
Again, no issues here. Sundhage issued an interesting group of comments that inspire discussion. She doesn’t call anyone a bad person, player or teammate. Sundhage simply gives her opinion in a situation that, quite honestly, is far more of a distraction to the U.S. team than Sweden.
And she might be right which, you know, should make it even less controversial. To the field!
The 2022 FIFA World Cup features 32 nations competing in soccer’s biggest event in Qatar, the first World Cup ever held in the Middle East. This year marks the final edition of the tournament with a 32-nation field – that number is set to increase to 48 for the 2026 World Cup, which will have venues across the United States, Mexico and Canada.
This year’s Copa Mundial looks different for several reasons, including the dates (due to Qatar’s intense summer heat, the schedule was shifted to November-December instead of its traditional summer timing). But as always, the event features the world’s top fútbol nations vying for global glory as well as individual awards for top performers, including the coveted prize for attacking players: the Golden Boot.
At the last iteration of the World Cup, England’s Harry Kane, also a star for Premier League side Tottenham, took home the award thanks to his six goals, which likely helped soften the blow of the Three Lions falling 2-0 to Belgium in the third-place match. One of the top storylines to watch at this year’s World Cup is the swan song for two of the game’s biggest stars: Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo. Neither player has ever won the Golden Boot, and neither of their teams has won the World Cup during their tenures. Defending champions France will likely field some contenders for the award, including Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud. For more on the latest Golden Boot standings, odds and predictions throughout the tournament, follow along with ProSoccerTalk and NBC Sports Edge.
The Golden Boot is the award given to the top goal-scorer at each edition of the World Cup. If at the conclusion of the tournament two or more players are tied at the top of the list with the same number of goals, the award will go to the player with the most non-penalty goals, and if they are still tied, it will go to the player with the most assists. While there has always been a top goal-scorer at the tournament, the specific award has been given since 1982. It was known as “The Golden Show” until its re-christening in 2010.
The World Cup begins Sunday, November 20th with host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador in the opener. The group stage runs through December 3rd before the knockout rounds begin. The final is set to take place on Sunday, December 18th.
Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, but the Atlas Lions are the only one of the trio to survive into the quarterfinals. Germany, Denmark, and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.
Argentina meets the Netherlands in the quarterfinals for a familiar matchup that stands between Lionel Messi and a semifinal date with either Brazil or Japan.
Goncalo Ramos scored a hat trick as he started over Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal’s65-1 win over Switzerland in the World Cup Round of 16 on Tuesday.
Ramos also had an assist and Portugal mainstays Raphael Guerreiro, Raphael Leao, and Pepe also scored in the win. Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot, and Joao Felix all had assists for the clinical EURO 2016 champions.
Portugal does Fernando Santos right, flashes title credentials
Pulling Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Starting XI for any reason is a gutsy move for a coach, but doing it for Portugal is even braver than doing it at a club.
But Fernando Santos did just that on Tuesday in a World Cup knockout round match, opting for a 21-year-old with just 33 minutes of national team playing time.
Goodness, did it work.
The EURO-winning boss saw Santos score three times and set up a Raphael Guerreiro goal as Portugal steamrolled Switzerland and moved within two wins of a World Cup final.
Ramos scored a goal and an assist against Nigeria in his most extensive senior action for Portugal, but he had yet to start a match for Santos’ side.
Portugal has seven players on its squad from the team that won EURO and will now like its chances as the favorite against plucky and in-form Morocco. Then it would be England or France for a berth in the final.
Say what you will about Ronaldo not starting but he’s a heck of a player to come off the bench. Ruben Neves (9 mins),
Ruben Neves (3 mins) and Joao Cancelo (0 mins) were among the players who didn’t have to hit the pitch or do much more than stretch their legs.
There really isn’t a reason for Portugal to stop dreaming big.
How to watch Portugal vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Dec. 6 Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Portugal’s complete team is something to behold as Ruben Dias, Ruben Neves, and Bruno Fernandes give the side a robust spine that can be topped just as robustly by Cristiano Ronaldo when the great player is at his best in terms of defying the age 37.
The Swiss have seen Breel Embolo as a threat up top but the backs and midfield have so many tough nuts to crack with Granit Xhaka operating atop Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.
Portugal quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo
Switzerland quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler
The United States men’s national team had, if we’re honest, the sort of World Cup we expected in Qatar this winter.
Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks came out of the group stage before losing to a superior program in the Round of 16, delivering a performance that was always energetic, at times naive, and at no point a real disservice to the USMNT’s reputation.
But the devil’s in the details, and the federation will have to dissect not whether the team could’ve done better this month, but whether it should’ve provided better performances.
There were absolute successes, like how the team got better in each successive game of the group stage. And how it’s stars — Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams — were mostly utilized in the best manners possible for their talents. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Tim Weah all had arguably the best USMNT stretches of their careers. That’s all real.
But there were also pitfalls. A timid side was bossed by inferior Wales at times in the second half of the tournament-opening 1-1 draw. Weston McKennie was uneven and missed multiple chances to give the U.S. a lead against England. And the rotation Berhalter talked about so often during qualifying was almost non-existent, leading to a team that looked cooked and borderline burnt out at times of the tournament-ender against the Netherlands.
What does it all mean for the program? That’s down to the powers-that-be, but we’ll let you know how we feel each player did, by minutes played, in Qatar. And maybe, as an aside, we can stop worrying about “changing how the world sees American soccer” and just worry about tangible deliverables.
USA player ratings out of 10: How did USMNT do at World Cup?
Sean Johnson: N/A (0 minutes)
Ethan Horvath: N/A (0 minutes)
Joe Scally: N/A (0 minutes) — What could this team have done against the Netherlands by finding a little more rest for Dest and Robinson? Berhalter clearly didn’t think they could get to the knockouts without them, and they were great. But they were also dead by the end of it and Scally’s play for club said he could’ve sidled up to the sub’s table just fine.
Aaron Long: N/A (0 minutes) — Glad he got to a World Cup, and slightly surprised Berhalter didn’t plug him into the lineup instead of CCV vs Iran (The decision was good, just surprising).
Cristian Roldan: N/A (0 minutes)
Jordan Morris: N/A (14 minutes)
Shaq Moore: N/A (20 minutes)
DeAndre Yedlin:N/A (31 minutes)
Kellyn Acosta: N/A (40 minutes)
Jesus Ferreira: N/A (45 minutes) — It would feel cruel to grade Ferreira on his 45 minutes against the Netherlands, as he was asked to lead the line at center forward while making his World Cup debut in a match that would be his first in front of a crowd since his FC Dallas season ended on Oct. 24. Will Ferreira be able to rise above or along with Haji Wright, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, and a host of new faces to make it two World Cup rosters? His career in MLS has given him the base for it.
Giovanni Reyna: N/A (57 minutes) — The tournament had been crying out for a combination player like Reyna (or Aaronson) but Berhalter felt he was getting enough out of Tim Weah and a rotating cast of center forwards plus Brenden Aaronson off the bench. It’s a shame that we’ll have to wonder if he could’ve done something with Wales pressing for an equalizer and looking unthreatened in the opener, or starting with Weah at center forward versus the Dutch. If Gregg Berhalter’s going to remain in charge — and who knows if the coach is even interested in that? — he’s got a huge task in re-earning the faith of a player who should be Pulisic-level important in 2026 if he wasn’t already.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 (90 minutes) — The Celtic star did what he was asked to do against Iran: keep and move the ball, and bully someone every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if a new coach values the big back more than he’s been valued by Berhalter, as CCV was one of Celtic’s Player of the Season candidates in their SPL run last season.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5 (105 minutes) — The Leeds man wasn’t bad at all. You can see why he’s valued by Berhalter as a super sub but Aaronson also feels like a player who should be needling opponents from the opening whistle. He’s a card-conjurer. Could he be one of two Aaronsons on the 2026 team?
Haji Wright: 6.5 (135 minutes) — There were good moments and bad ones for the Antalyaspor center forward, the best clearly being his goal to bring the Yanks within one against the Netherlands. What is the future with the program for the 24-year-old Wright? You could see him starting another four years or dropping further back on the radar, but let’s celebrate a big, strong young man who went from LA Galaxy academy to New York Cosmos to Schalke to four other European clubs in order to make a World Cup roster.
Josh Sargent: 6.5 (163 minutes) — The argument’s there if you want it: Sargent’s better when he’s running around like a maniac at Norwich City and either helping wreak havoc with a Teemu Pukki type or doing the grunt work for Milot Rashica. But Sargent showed himself to be an adequate hold-up man for the USMNT and he’s certainly maturing by the game for club and country. It seems likely he starts against Netherlands if not for the ankle injury that hampered him all week. Where will he (and Norwich) be when 2026 arrives on Planet Earth?
Weston McKennie: 6 (275 minutes) — The enduring tournament questions for “What if” types will be how the Round of 16 game would’ve shaken out if Pulisic buries his chance in the 3rd minute, and how the 0-0 draw with England might’ve ended had McKennie not failed to convert two chances including an early one that was close to gimme status. McKennie, at times, has been the team’s heart and engine. His passion seeps into the room and onto the pitch. But fitness and sharpness kept him from being above his average and — perhaps — the Yanks from winning the group.
Walker Zimmerman: 7 (278 minutes) — Yes, the penalty conceded to Gareth Bale was poor. But Zimmerman has been shining on big stages at every stop of his career since he was running Dallas’ back line with Matt Hedges. His 15 clearances — what he was there for — rank Top 20 in the tournament and his 13 completed long balls show just how far his passing’s come since his early days in MLS.
Sergino Dest: 7 (309 minutes) — Again let’s not let the recency bias of his very poor defending against home nation the Dutch gloss over a sensational group stage. Dest had his two best games in a U.S. shirt versus England and Iran, keeping talented wings honest while also holding it down at the back. He finished just ahead of Robinson and Musah with the most successful dribbles on the team with five.
Christian Pulisic: 8 (315 minutes) — Fouled an almost absurd 11 times over 315 minutes, the Pennsylvanian Pulisic earned his moments in the sun and paid for them with a hospital visit to treat a pelvic contusion. Pulisic will lament having a third-minute shot saved by the Dutch, but he had a hand in three of the Yanks’ goals, which — checks notes — were all of their goals. Led the team in goal contributions, assists, and key passes, finishing behind only Adams in duels won.
Timothy Weah: 7 (320 minutes) — If Weah was playing center forward, we might have to ding him for a failure to convert some difficult chances. But the Lille wide man — often used as a sort of right mid by Paulo Fonseca — was explosive and his goal against Wales one of the finer in recent USMNT memory. Weah was especially tidy in the passing game for a winger, and his work on the right worked oh-so-well with Dest to give left backs a tremendous amount of headaches.
Yunus Musah: 7.5 (345 minutes) — Out of gas by the end of the Netherlands tilt, yes. But did any player do more for his transfer value in this tournament than Musah? The Valencia man will have certainly impressed clubs in his home nation of England, as his ball progression was exceptional and he snapped into eight tackles, too. By the way, he left his teenage years in the middle of the tournament. We may see him for another three World Cup cycles.
Antonee Robinson: 8 (359 minutes) — It’s going to be difficult for readers eyeballing this piece close to the final whistle of the Netherlands loss to see the ‘8’ and not think of Robinson completely losing his way on the third Dutch goal, but it would be a shame to shade the perception of his tournament. “Jedi” was a relentless and critical part of the program’s success in Qatar and looks very much like the best left-sided defender in the program since… Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley were jostling for ownership of the wingback position? His seven interceptions show a wise reader of the game who is now more than electricity and industry.
Matt Turner: 7 (360 minutes) — Not gonna lie: There were moments against Wales — mostly in ball control — that had us doubting the decision to leave Zack Steffen home (nothing against Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But that was a thing of the past as Turner’s skill as a shot-stopper, something we knew about, was joined by a vast improvement in distribution since we saw him leave New England for Arsenal. Love another college soccer player working his way to USMNT starter, too, don’t we?
Tim Ream: 8 (360 minutes) — He
Think about that. Fulham’s Ream combined with club and country teammate Robinson to make the left side a very strong side until the late stages versus Holland. His 274 passes led the team, his 16 long balls trailed only Adams and Turner, and his 11 clearances were only four fewer than Zimmerman’s team-best total. The U.S. has a long history of funny paths to the team and Ream’s career journey, long-term and short-term, is almost as good a tale as Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit.
Tyler Adams: 8 — 360 minutes — Made arguably one significant mistake over the whole tournament and it helped Memphis Depay score the Netherlands’ first goal, but don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment of the captain and player most likely to captain the side on home soil in 2026. The Leeds United man led the team in tackles with 11 and handled off-field controversy like a 35-year-old veteran. Health will be wealth for the MLS-grown wonderboy.