Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 8

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Statistics and analytics are a huge part of sports in the modern age, and rightfully so, but sometimes one comes across that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, “Huh?”

On Saturday, after Spain came within inches (maybe three) of picking up an equalizer in stoppage time against Brazil, it was this: “Last time Brazil conceded a goal in the group stage of a World Cup: 9/27/2003 vs. France.”

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That game was played at RFK Stadium, which is still in existence (barely), and it was Marinette Pichon who equalized in the 92nd minute for France (if you’re an old-timer like me, you may remember her from the WUSA) in her last World Cup appearance. Marta was 17 at that World Cup, and Brazil – whose defense has already been referred to as shaky this year, and whose center backs had a combined 24 caps coming into this World Cup – has eight straight clean sheets in the group stages. Currently, host Canada and Brazil are the only two of the 24 teams at the tournament not to allow a goal.

There surely is some luck involved here, like Silvia Meseguer’s shot with time running out was left by Brazil goalkeeper Luciana, only to see it hit the inside of the post, somehow avoid Luciana, and carom out. I was as critical as anyone about the Brazil defense four years ago at the World Cup when they seemed extremely disorganized, and – while it hasn’t been as bad to me this time around – I’m inclined to say the same now.

But there it is in black and white. Brazil goals conceded in last eight group stage matches: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0. Case closed, no?

Perhaps we should give young Rafaelle and Monica their due, they do look very strong and athletic, while their partners on the outside – Fabiana and Tamires – have shown the same strength and an ability to get forward as well. Luciana has had to make exactly two saves in two matches (according to FIFA), and maybe the team in front of her deserves plenty of credit for that as well.

In fact, maybe Brazil deserves a little more recognition historically. The last time they actually lost a group stage match at a World Cup? June 9, 1995 to Germany. Marta had just turned nine and although probably pretty good, was not in the team quite yet.

The United States has a #ScoretoSettle, and don’t we know it by now, but Brazil has had more than its share of disappointment at the World Cup, too. Obviously, four years ago they were seconds from the semifinal only to have it snatched from them by the United States. In 2007, they conquered the U.S. emphatically, but lost to Germany in the finals on a pair of second-half goals. Four years before that, it was Sweden that upended them on their way to the finals.

Women’s soccer history as it relates to Brazil could be much, much different with a little luck at the end of the tournament rather than the beginning. Will they be relegated to the same fate this time around? They are inexperienced, but much has been made of their residency and camaraderie in the lead-up to Canada, so it’s not probably not wise to discount them completely as some have done. They do still have Marta, too, after all.

France have work to do:  France have now played twice, scored only one goal, and somehow sit 3rd in Group F despite beating England in the match that was supposed to decide who finished 1st.  The question for Phillippe Bergeroo and his side is whether the 2-0 loss to Colombia embolden them to start playing for each other or if it will sufficiently shock them to where they are not a serious factor the rest of the tournament.

[ MORE: STUNNER — Colombia upset France, 2-0 ]

It is clear they can defend, attack, and win the midfield battle, but through two matches they have not done enough in the final third nor did they make enough supporting runs while trying to pull a goal back against Colombia.  The knock on France coming in was their lack of experience on the big stage and so far they seem to be playing like they’re not quite ready.  Perhaps they will get their confidence back against Mexico.

– Dan Lauletta

Spain might have gotten off the hook:
Sitting on one point through two games is not an enviable place to be, particularly with a feisty South Korea team remaining for its third game. But the way the group has broken down, Spain will likely finish second with a win (unless Costa Rica beats Brazil). Spain played a very good match against Brazil, especially in the final half hour, but will have to find some way to finish if they want to advance and be a threat from there.

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

Starting striker Natalia Pablos had a glorious chance on a breakaway in just the seventh minute, but barely even got a shot off. The same went for Vero Boquete later, and Spain had a few other good build-ups that led to nothing. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes one goal can make a team feel much more comfortable, so we shall see.

– Ray Curren

Mexico disappointing again:  Mexico will not finish as the worst team at this World Cup, but if they fail to beat France they will be out of the event and left to ponder a third World Cup without a trip out of the group stage or even a single victory.  Considering that it was less than five years ago they upset the United States in qualifying and that sending players to NWSL was supposed to bolster the program it has been a disappointing run for Mexico.  They can turn it all around by beating France on Wednesday but they’re not playing like a team ready to put a second straight upset on one of the world’s best teams.

– Lauletta

Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities: Karla Villalobos, who is joined on the Costa Rican roster by her 15-year-old sister Gloriana (who actually has more caps, too), had a wonderful goal and a better celebration in the 89th minute after her goal gave Las Ticas their second straight draw Saturday. Amazingly, Costa Rica has scored on all three shots it has put on target so far at the World Cup, but their results have been far from lucky, Costa Rica had been threatening to equalize for a while before actually doing so.

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

Even a second-string Brazil will be a tall order on Wednesday, but even so, the days of the United States beating everyone by seven goals in CONCACAF appear to be over, and the third automatic berth from the region going forward (assuming the allocations stay the same) may be Costa Rica’s to lose, not Mexico’s, especially with all the young players on the field for the Costa Ricans.

– Curren

England can actually attack:  Did you see the second England goal? Was that not a lovely display of attacking soccer that ended with Karen Carney heading in an Alex Greenwood cross? You have to wonder what might have happened had they tried that against France.  They are now in position to win the group of they beat Colombia and do not lose any goal differential to France.  One of Mark Sampson’s objectives should be to see if Eniola Aluko can snap out of the funk that dogged her through much of the Mexico match or if he is better off finding an alternative on the left side.

– Lauletta

Colombia has already done plenty:  Colombia and Thailand—maybe Cameroon—are the countries that will have great stories to tell their grandchildren even if nothing else goes right the remainder of the tournament (ironically Colombia’s win might have put Thailand out of the knockout rounds).  Most of their players are not full-time, which makes their win over France something akin to the 1980 Miracle on Ice win for U.S. men’s hockey over the Soviet Union.  They are very likely going to be playing at least one knockout match and actually have a chance to win the group of they can do it again when they play England.  But the biggest gain for Colombia will be if Saturday’s result leads to more support back home ahead of the Olympics and the next World Cup.

– Lauletta

Tough luck for Korea Republic: Korea Republic played well against Brazil and had a few chances to double its lead in the early portion of the second half, but they didn’t do so and paid the price. Their fate now rests on beating Spain, and they showed Saturday they may have the firepower to do it, but Spain is due to score against someone and it might be the Koreans. It also means that either Vero Boquete or Ji Soyun would be eliminated before the knockout stages, which is a shame for two of the world’s best players. But, hey, at least they were here, right?

– Curren

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”