Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 10

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There’s more than one way to skin a cat, we’re told, which is really disgusting and should get you thrown in jail, actually. (The origins of that gruesome cliche are interesting as well.)

Thailand and Ivory Coast attacked essentially being outclassed in completely different manners, and neither is necessarily wrong. Although, it would have been hard to argue that after last week’s first matches where Germany scored 10 times against the disheveled Ivorians and possibly could have doubled that with a little luck.

But Ivory Coast had taken the YOLO approach, throwing a legitimate 4-3-3 out there and not worrying about the repercussions of not giving much cover against the top-ranked team in the world. There were some benefits, even though they weren’t readily apparent in the match in question, the most important being that Ivory Coast actually looked dangerous on a few attacks and not just with one attacker who might get loose in a 1-v-3 situation. Thailand wasn’t about to be that brave, and they were able to frustrate Norway for long stretches. Their one outlet – Kanjara Sung-Ngeon – proved to be excellent in the thankless role, although organized, disciplined Thailand (whose average height is only 5-feet-4-inches) still fell 4-0.

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

If the real test was when the two teams clashed, obviously Thailand’s method prevailed, the discipline took advantage of a couple of Ivory Coast mistakes (and the lack of an offside flag) to score three times and hold on for a 3-2 win.

But with one more chance to prove itself, Ivory Coast did not change who they were Monday against Norway, potentially setting themselves up for another lopsided result on its way out of Canada. However, as people squinted at their televisions (and in Moncton), hoping not to see another dismantling (possibly some masochists did), a funny thing happened. Ivory Coast and the dangerous Josee Nahi had the game’s first chance, and had a few others after that as well.

In the end, the Ivorians still have plenty of work to do on defensive organization and possibly goalkeeping, but they gave Norway (albeit a changed side) fits before falling 3-1. Ivory Coast had 46 percent possession and the shots ended up even at 16-16. And they left with possibly the goal of the tournament when Ange N’Guessan unleashed a 35-yard missile in the 71st minute, a goal they surely deserved on the balance of play.

Thailand certainly deserves plenty of credit Monday as well, as goalkeeper Waraporn Boonsing and that discipline held Germany to just one first-half goal before falling 4-0. As I said before, their way of going about things was not incorrect, either. But with a little bit of coaching and experience, Ivory Coast, like Cameroon and Nigeria could be a factor in the international game in the not-so-distant future.

-Ray Curren

What else did we learn Monday in Groups A and B?

New Zealand falls short again: New Zealand have now played in four World Cups, including the last three, and have a combined match record of 0-9-3 (7 goals scored, 29 against.) Obviously they have yet to advance out of the group stage. But this is the one they will look at as one that got away. Sure they were hard done by a gaffe of epic proportions by the referee that altered the course of Monday’s 2-2 draw with China, but there was also Amber Hearn cracking her penalty off the crossbar in what turned out to be a scoreless draw against Canada. And there was Erin Nayler making her only mistake of the tournament and having it cost her team a pivotal goal against China. Hearn, the program’s marquee player, will be 34 at the next World Cup. Ali Riley and Emma Kete will also be across 30 and Abby Erceg and Ria Percival will be 29. That is not too old to make a run, but the window for the current crop is at the very least on its way down.

– Dan Lauletta

[KASSOUF: United States expects Nigeria to ‘fight for their lives’]

It’s tough to change gears on the fly sometimes:
Neither Germany nor Norway played well Monday, especially in their respective first halves. The coaches, despite changing several players each, will not make excuses for their teams, and they shouldn’t. However, even past all the new faces, it can sometimes be hard to play when: a) the opponent has proven that they are weaker than you, and b) the game is not essential. Yes, the group was at stake, but the goal difference was too much for Norway to realistically overcome, and really, second is almost as good as first going forward the way the bracket shapes up. The bottom line is I wouldn’t judge either team too much on this performance.

– Curren

China will be a tough out: If not for how good China were in the 1990s, the current iteration would be viewed as a future world power. Instead they are left to chase the Sun Wen teams that never quite got over the hump in a World Cup or Olympics. This team probably won’t either, but their first knockout match is going to be against Cameroon or Switzerland, and the winner of that likely gets the United States. The Chinese lack the breadth of attacking personalities to make a deep run, but whoever knocks them out is going to have to work at it.

Lauletta

Norway will likely need Ada Hegerberg to be ‘on’ to win: She won’t turn 20 until after the World Cup, but Hegerberg is clearly Norway’s best attacking option and her strength will be needed against whomever Norway draws going forward. But they’ll probably need her to finish, or at least set someone else up to do it. There is always the possibility that Norway could score on a set piece, and they wouldn’t necessarily need Hegerberg for that (see Mjelde, Maren), however if they’re scoring in the run of play, it will probably involve Hegerberg.

– Curren

Netherlands waiting, planning: There were high hopes for the Netherlands ahead of their first World Cup, and even though they won their opening match and grabbed a late equalizer against Canada to almost certainly go through, there must be an air of disappointment around the team. Their attacking components were not enough of a factor during group play and both the goals they surrendered were the products of horrible defensive miscues. Japan or Germany await in the Round of 16. That could be good insentive to throw caution to the wind and see if Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martins, and Manon Melis can help spring an upset.

– Lauletta
The weak group may actually hurt Germany: They obviously struggled in the second half against Norway, and really weren’t tested any other time. So does Silvia Neid really know what she has? Dzsenifer Marozsan came in battling an injury (yet curiously started Monday) and has not looked great in either of her two matches. Nadine Angerer had a couple of solid saves against Norway, but who knows about her and the back line? If they get in trouble against a team like Sweden in the second round, how confident will they be to find their way out? Or are we nitpicking and moving toward the panic button for no reason?

– Curren

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.