Leroux expects more welcoming homecoming this time around in Vancouver

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Things are different this time around for Sydney Leroux.

Last time she played at BC Place in Vancouver – not far from where she grew up, in the suburb of Surrey – for 2012 Olympic qualifying, Leroux was taunted by Canada fans. Over a year later, after taking some grief in Toronto after scoring in the United States’ victory over the hosts in a friendly, Leroux said that she was subject to racial slurs at that qualifying tournament in Vancouver (the claims were never proven).

In a still-growing women’s soccer rivalry between the United States and Canada – one ignited by a controversial, 4-3 extra-time victory by the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic semifinals – Leroux has been soccer’s public enemy No. 1 in Canada. She played briefly for Canada at the youth level before deciding to pursue her dream to play for the world’s most storied program, the United States. London was the team’s third consecutive gold medal.

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So Leroux took off for Arizona at age 14, leaving behind her mom and the life she knew in Canada to make it with the United States. (Leroux’s father, Ray Chadwick, is a former professional baseball player who is an American citizen, which makes Leroux eligible to play for the United States.)

This homecoming appears to be much different than the last, Leroux says.

“To be honest, that is totally in the past,” she said Monday underneath the stands of BC Place. “And the amount of people who have come up to me while walking the streets of Vancouver and even Canadian fans, being like, ‘Congratulations, we’re proud of you, we’re coming to the game, we’re rooting for you guys’ – it’s been really cool. So I really don’t have anything bad to say.”

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Claims of any racist behavior by Canadian fans have never been proven. Leroux did not file any complaint with the Canadian Soccer Association at the time, instead voicing her opinion after scoring in that June 2, 2013 win for the United States.

“When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don’t be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. .america,” Leroux tweeted after scoring in Toronto and raising the U.S. badge on her jersey to the sold-out crowd.

U.S. Soccer said in a statement following that Leroux tweet that the player “has endured abuse both verbally and in social media,” since switching her international allegiance from Canada to the U.S. in 2008.

Canada fans have in the past often referred to Leroux as “Judas” for making the switch and she is subject to boos, but Vancouver has had a decidedly American feel to it over the past few days. A sellout crowd of 51,000 fans is expected at BC Place for Tuesday’s USA-Nigeria game, and the crowd will be predominantly American. Ninety-five percent of all ticket sales at the 2015 Women’s World Cup have been to U.S. or Canadian citizens, according to a World Cup National Organizing Committee spokesman.

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Leroux said a few weeks ago in New York that she expected some kind of backlash while in Canada, but the host country has been refreshingly welcoming. “I’ve worked very hard to get where I am and I hope that people understand when I come to Canada that that was the best decision for me and my family to make when I made the decision.” The expected pro-U.S. crowd should make for a friendlier environment this time around.

“I don’t think that it’s been like that this time around,” midfielder Lauren Holiday said of the team’s support for Leroux. “I think that Canada has been very welcoming and we’ve had some great fans.

Nigeria must win the game to have any chance of advancing to the knockout stage of the tournament, while a win for the U.S. will guarantee that the Americans win Group D, dubbed the Group of Death. That could make for a wide-open match.

“[Nigeria] gives space, but they close it very, very quickly,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said Tuesday.

Leroux says she has about 50 people coming between family and friends, including friends from her days in Sereno, Ariz. For Leroux, that makes Vancouver feel like home again.

“I love Vancouver more than any city in the world,” she said. “Obviously, my mom still lives here, my family still lives here, so this city is very dear to my heart.”

The Americans’ hope is that the city remains endearing to them, on Tuesday and again on July 5, when they hope to be in the World Cup final.

Mourinho denies bust-up with Rose

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Jose Mourinho has denied he has had a training ground bust-up with left back Danny Rose.

Reports had circulated that Rose and Mourinho were involved in a heated argument in training on Monday after the England left back was unhappy to be left out of the squad for the 0-0 draw at Watford on Saturday.

Mourinho had said that Rose was out injured with a back problem but the left back has since denied he wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets.

Speaking to the media ahead of Spurs’ home game against Norwich on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mourinho wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t know what you mean by tension in the air, I don’t have a problem with him,” Mourinho said. “On the Thursday before Watford late evening I got a call from my medical staff saying that Danny was calling them with a problem in his back and he wouldn’t train the next day. Friday it was a bit of a surprise to see him training, but even so I decided to play with (Japhet) Tanganga and have Ryan (Sessegnon) on the bench. That is the situation.”

Mourinho added that Rose’s display against Liverpool was “not phenomenal” and reading between the lines, he was dropped.

If there wasn’t an incident or at least some anger between Rose and Mourinho, why would reports of this nature surface?

With youngster Japhet Tanganga starting at left back for Tottenham, and doing a very good job as Mourinho praised him afterwards, it is understandable that Rose would have his nose put out of joint a little.

The England international has less than 18 months left on his current contract at Spurs and has already spoken publicly about his plans to run down that deal as chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t offered him a new deal.

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out as Tanganga now seems to be Spurs’ first choice left back and Rose will have to be happy with playing a bit-part role between now and the end of the season.

His experience and quality is undoubted but with Spurs’ defensive unit all over the place this season, Mourinho is well within his rights to mix things up with formations and personnel as he tries to make Tottenham tough to beat.

Solskjaer: United have made “strides forward”

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Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer believes his Manchester United side have taken “strides forward” following their 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday.

United were outplayed for the vats majority of the game and were lucky to be only 1-0 down heading into the 90th minute but the grit and determination they showed impressed Solskjaer who lauded his young team.

Without the injured star duo of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba for the daunting trip to the Premier League leaders, United’s manager was in a positive mood ahead of their clash against Burnley on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“We lost to Liverpool. A team that you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball. For me, that’s strides forward,” Solskjaer said. “Of course we’re disappointed about losing the game. We don’t want to be behind them in the league. But there are signs there that we’re on the right track, definitely.”

Is Solskjaer’s positivity misplaced?

Some would argue that United were lucky that Liverpool’s finishing was lackluster and that is true but the Red Devils hung in there and should have equalized in the second half but Anthony Martial blazed over.

They were missing at least four or five players in key areas for the trip to United as Rashford, Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured and they badly need another attacking midfielder (ahem, Bruno Fernandes) to help with their play in the final third.

Solskjaer is right, there were positives for United. Fred played extremely well in midfield and both Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood tall defensively out wide. But the main takeaway from their trip to Liverpool was that United were delighted to not lose by three or four goals. The gulf in class between the two teams was clear for all to see and although United are trying to sort out their disjointed and confused squad by signing young, talented players, they are so far off Liverpool it is scary.

USMNT youngster Vassilev praised by Villa boss

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18-year-old USMNT youngster Indiana Vassilev has been praised by Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after making his Premier League debut at the weekend.

Vasillev came on for the final 25 minutes at Brighton and Hove Albion with Villa 1-0 down and helped them rescue a point as his run opened up the chance for Jack Grealish to score a late equalizer.

The lively attacking midfielder/forward has excelled in Villa’s reserve side after his arrival in England in the summer of 2018 following impressive displays for the U.S. youth national teams.

With Villa struggling with injuries up top after main striker Wesley went down with a season-ending injury early this month, Smith is clearly ready to put his faith in Vassilev.

“He is definitely ready to start,” Smith said. “The kid’s a bright spark, and we’ve seen that when he’s come on so far. He gave them (Brighton) problems on Saturday when he came on. It was a super ball from Douglas but, unless Indi makes that run down the side, he doesn’t drag Webster across, and Jack get in for the goal. He knows what he’s doing up there, he’s got a lot of pace, and he can run all day as well.”

Villa’s boss didn’t stop there though, as he also revealed that the young striker born in Savannah, Georgia has the backing of the senior players around him to go on and become a regular contributor in the Premier League.

“I’ve never been afraid to go and put young kids in if I feel they’re ready. I congratulated him after the game and said, ‘You’re a Premier League player now.’ He’s surprised me in a good way,” Smith added. “Sometimes when you give an opportunity to a young player they can sink or swim. He is certainly a swimmer. He has looked really good so far. You can always tell how the reaction is through the other players, in their relationships with them. You can see them all behind him. He goes in and puts a shift in for them. If you do that and have quality to add to it you will do alright in the dressing room. He’s got a goalscoring ability, he knows where the back of the net is, he knows what runs to make. Tactically he’s intelligent. Physically he’s impressive as well.”

Vassilev comes from a long line of soccer players and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all played in Bulgaria and he was born and raised in the USA after his parents emigrated from the eastern European country in the early 1990s.

It looks like the USMNT have another top talent breaking through in Europe which is great news for Gregg Berhalter and potentially even better news for Villa as they badly need a forward to deliver goals in their fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Expect to see more cameos, and maybe even starts, from Vassilev in the final months of the Premier League season.

Chicharito on LA Galaxy arrival: ‘Right place, right time’

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ Hernandez has made a living out of being in the right place at the right time.

The LA Galaxy’s newest Designated Player believes he is now in the “right place at the right time” in his career as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer confirmed his move to Major League Soccer.

Hernandez, 31, joins the Galaxy from Sevilla in La Liga and the former Chivas Guadalajara, Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen and West Ham United striker is ready to take MLS by storm.

“Like when people describe me playing. You know, that he’s always in the right place at the right time,” Hernandez said in his first interview as a Galaxy player, with the LA Times.

After a few years battling for minutes at West Ham in the Premier League and Sevilla in Spain after a successful spell at Leverkusen, Hernandez is heading closer to home as the Mexico star is ready to play week in, week out for the most-successful franchise in MLS history.

“I’m going to be playing. That’s what I want in my life,” Hernandez said. “People are going to say it was because I couldn’t make it [in Europe], but sometimes in football there are things that are not in your hands. The last two years, the managers decided on giving confidence to other players rather than me. And now, the LA Galaxy, the manager of the club and the league, are telling me, ‘Look, Javier, we want to give you all the trust, all the confidence to help us,’ and that’s why I’m taking this opportunity.”

He will link up with Mexico teammate Jonathan dos Santos in the Galaxy’s team as they try and wrestle back the City of Angels from MLS new boys and reigning Supporters’ Shield champions LAFC.

Hernandez was always destined to play in MLS before he retired and now that day has arrived. Following in the footsteps of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be easy but if anyone can score goals, it is Hernandez.

Get ready for his jersey to be the fastest-selling in history as Mexico’s favorite son is ready to become an even bigger star in MLS in the final years of his career.