Wambach says she, teammates would have more goals on grass instead of turf

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source:  VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Abby Wambach nearly played the role of savior for the United States national team (again) four minutes after checking into Friday’s match, a 0-0 draw with Sweden in Winnipeg.

Wambach lunged for a ball that Megan Rapinoe crossed into her path and the world’s all-time leading goal scorer redirected it down into the ground and back up toward goal. Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl tipped it over the bar, denying the United States’ best chance of the game.

“If it’s grass, I think it goes in,” Wambach said on Saturday, standing on a different turf field two time zones west in Vancouver.

Wambach says maintains that she plays differently on artificial turf, that she would throw her body around more on grass. It’s an argument she has publicly voiced for a year now in what ultimately ended as a futile fight against the inclusion of the plastic and rubber fields at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Women’s World Cup coverage ]

All six stadiums and all 18 training sites being used by host nation Canada are artificial turf surfaces.

Wambach led a group of players last year who took legal action against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association for making the women play on artificial turf, citing gender discrimination. This is the first men’s or women’s senior World Cup to ever be played on artificial turf.

Players dropped their legal claim in January, citing a lack of time to carry out any potential changes. “We filed too late,” Wambach said two weeks ago in New York.

[ KASSOUF: USWNT still looking for production out of forwards ]

But the opposition to the turf remains. Wambach recently called turf “a nightmare” and she maintains that in part as a fight against having to play on it herself but more so as a fight against future generations having to play on it. The 2019 Women’s World Cup in France will be held on natural grass.

“A lot of games are definitely played differently now that the games are on turf,” Wambach said Saturday. “I think that there are a lot more goals in this tournament if it weren’t for the turf, myself having probably been on the losing end of that battle a few times now.”

Wambach missed a pair of diving headers – typically trademark Wambach goals – in a 3-1 win over Australia last Monday.

Wambach says there is a hesitation about diving and sliding when she knows she could be facing turf burn or other injuries by doing so.

“In the previous game, I don’t lay out and commit to those headers and that’s why they glance off my head rather than me contacting them,” Wambach said of the Australia match.” For me, I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we’re playing on grass.”

[ RELATED: Kassouf: USWNT’s defense the difference thus far at WWC ]

The most legitimate claim from players opposing turf could be the issue that no two turf fields are the same, and viewers have seen noticeable differences particularly with the field at Vancouver’s BC Place playing different from the rest. But it also must be acknowledged that no two grass fields are the same, either.

“The reality is, we’re on turf,” Wambach said. “You have to play the ball more to feet, the ball rolls faster, it depends if it has just been watered, depends if the water has dried, depends on what turf we are actually playing on. So there are a lot of factors that go into it that to the average person watching the game, they may not realize that it does make a huge difference to how the game is played.”

At this stage, Wambach & Co. are resigned to the fact that they are on turf. And much like the United States’ slow-but-good-enough start to the World Cup (a win and a draw), sometimes you have to take what life deals you.

“It never goes the way you envision in life.” Wambach said. “That’s what makes great teams.

“Championship teams are able to deal with all things, in all moments, in all sorts of ways.”

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

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

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.