US looks to stay loose despite mounting pressure of knockout stage

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EDMONTON, Alberta – They are here, and that is what really matters.

The United States national team held its first training session in Edmonton on Thursday ahead of Monday’s match against Colombia in the Round of 16 of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Getting to Edmonton for this match was always top priority

“At this point, it’s really about winning and moving on,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis. “That’s what it comes down to.”

[ MORE: Round of 16 matchups  |  WWC histories of each matchup ]

Ellis’ team came out on top of Group D, dubbed the Group of Death for it featuring USA, Sweden, Australia – three of the world’s top 10 teams – and African champions Nigeria. While the Americans looked unconvincing at times – especially in the opener against Australia, which eventually amounted to a 3-1 victory – they came through the group unbeaten and played their best of the three matches on Tuesday against Nigeria.

Now, the U.S. looks to collectively loosen up and get the attack going.

“I think in the group stage, you can be a little bit more conservative,” U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday said. “I think in the knockout round, every team is going for it. It’s all you have; you’re fighting for your lives each game. I think that that mentality clicks in everybody.”

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

Abby Wambach’s goal in the 1-0 win over Nigeria is the only one scored by a player in a forward position this World Cup. The U.S. scored four goals in three games, which includes a scoreless draw against Sweden and only one goal against a Nigeria defense that otherwise leaked them, giving up five in the first two games. The lack of scoring is a concern for a United States team looking to win its first Women’s World Cup in 16 years, but Ellis is optimistic, particularly from what she sees in training.

“I would be concerned if we weren’t getting opportunities,” Ellis said. “But having opportunities presents opportunities to score goals.”

[ KASSOUF: High stakes, high pressure — Wambach still delivers ]

U.S. defender Christie Rampone, who turns 40 years old next week, officially played in her fifth World Cup when she entered Tuesday’s match in the 80th minute. She is the last remaining active player from the 1999 World Cup winning team and she’s seen how U.S. teams have the ability to gradually get better as the tournament progresses.source: Getty Images

“I think it’s more of the team feeling that pressure and maybe not combining like we would have or going 1-v-1,” Rampone said of the 2015 group stage, “but I think you are going to start seeing that really open up and I think the personalities will really come through. Because it’s too tight. We’re playing too tight and we have such creativity and amazing players up top, that their personalities will start coming through.”

Colombia, ranked 28th in the world, enters Monday’s match as significant underdogs. They’ve played the United States twice before, losing 3-0 in both the group stages of the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics.

But Colombia upset world No. 3 France last week in the group stage, proving that they are capable of picking up a result against the United States. Las Cafeteras will be without starting goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda due to yellow card accumulation, which could prove a debilitating blow.

[ KASSOUF: Defense the difference thus far for US at Women’s World Cup ]

Colombia will likely play a similar type of match against the U.S. as it so successfully did against France, defending well and patiently building counterattacks in a 2-0 victory. Such a strategy would require the U.S. to be more inventive going forward, to create scoring opportunities that to date at this World Cup have gone largely unfinished.

“You have to put yourself out there to make mistakes, in order to succeed,” Rampone said before training on Thursday. “I think it’s just the emotion and the feeling that you have when you’re here. Once you get through that group stage, you think it’s more stressed, but I think we do better under the pressure.”

No team has a less difficult path to the semifinals than the United States, who would play either Cameroon or China in the quarterfinals, should they advance. So while they’ve arrived here, in Edmonton, the next goal is already about getting there – to Ottawa, Montreal and eventually back to Vancouver.

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.

MLS roundup: Timbers end road trip with emphatic win in Philly

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in MLS…

[ MORE: USA topped by Ukraine in U-20 World Cup opener ]

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Just when everyone had begun to take the Union seriously — to give them the respect befitting a first-place team — Jim Curtin’s side fell flat on its face and fell out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Saturday’s defeat to the suddenly streaking — and homeward bound — Timbers snapped Philadelphia’s six-game unbeaten run (four wins).

24-year-old attacker Brian Fernandez, signed as a Designated Player earlier this month, made his first MLS start and marked the occasion with two first-half goals (31st and 36th minutes). Diego Valeri added the third (87th) after Kacper Przybylko pulled the Union back to 2-1 in the 47th.

Now, with 14 points from their 12-game road trip to start the season, Portland heads home for 17 of their final 22 games to be played inside a newly renovated — and expanded — Providence Park. The gap between themselves and a Western Conference playoff place is just four points.

New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

With the Union slipping up and dropping all three points, D.C. United made the most of their opportunity to return to the top of the East on the back of Wayne Rooney‘s 90th-minute penalty kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with (what will soon be) Bruce Arena’s Revolution.

Juan Agudelo put the home side ahead with a header in the 61st minute, and the lead held firm for nearly the final half-hour. Alas, video review reviewed a handball late in the game, which presented Rooney the chance to play the part of hero. He duly obliged and hammered his spot kick past backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who replaced Matt Turner following his 56th minute red card for cleaning out Rooney.

Arena is expected to take charge of Revs training this week and make his debut as head coach next Sunday, when his new side visits… his old side, the LA Galaxy.

Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew SC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Don’t look now, but the Rapids have won two straight games under interim head coach Conor Casey and appear set on clawing their way out of the league’s basement.

Sure, they blew a pair of leads at home, but they also hit back with another goal of their own every time Crew SC drew level, culminating in a stunning winner from Nicolas Mezquida.

The gap between Colorado and 23th place is now just three points, as expansion side FC Cincinnati come closer and closer on the horizon.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York City FC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 FC Dallas [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
FC Cincinnati 0-2 New York Red Bulls [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Minnesota United 1-0 Houston Dynamo [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Sporting Kansas City v. Seattle Sounders — 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET