EDMONTON, Alberta – Defense wins championships, but it still hardly ever gets recognized.
Forwards score goals and goals win games, true of the past, present and future. Scoring is entertainment.
This defense, however, has been getting its dues.
Entering this 2015 Women’s World Cup, the attack was all anyone could talk about for this United States team. How could a team with Abby Wambach – the world’s all-time leading goal scorer – Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and 2014 NWSL leading scorer Amy Rodriguez not run roughshod over opponents?
That’s what makes the story of the United States’ World Cup thus far even more incredible: all anyone can talk about is the defense.
Led by Becky Sauerbrunn, the back line overcame a shaky opening 20 minutes of the tournament against Australia to give up only one goal in the first three games. Sauerbrunn has been the team’s best player, with fellow center back Julie Johnston a close second. Left back Meghan Klingenberg saved the day in a 0-0 draw with Sweden last week, practically jumping out of her cleats to head a shot off the line, off the crossbar and away from danger. Ali Krieger has gotten forward into the attack to provide service offensively and goalkeeper Hope Solo has been clutch when called upon, no more so than in the opening minutes against Australia when she made two game-changing saves.
“Those four have been so cohesive with each other,” Morgan said. “They’re showing that they’re the best back line in the world right now.”
So it begged the question over the past few days, first in Vancouver and now in Edmonton: Can the United States win the Women’s World Cup with the defense as its main act?
“Well if you don’t give up any goals, I think you have a hell of a chance,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.
“There’s not a back line in the world that wouldn’t be tested in this group, with the pace and transition of these teams. So I’m just really pleased. We just talked about in the locker room how battle-tested we are coming out of that and how confident we should feel in our back line.”
The Americans defeated Australia in their opener, followed by the draw with Sweden and a narrow victory over Nigeria.
Sauerbrunn has taken over the leadership role in the absence of Christie Rampone, who battled injuries earlier in the year. By the time Rampone was healthy, Johnston looked like a shoe-in to start after scoring in three straight matches – including the Algarve Cup final against France – and seamlessly forming a partnership with the 30-year-old Sauerbrunn.
“They both read the game really well,” Ellis said of Johnston and Sauerbrunn. “They are both instinctual on when they need to go to ground. I think they are both good in the air. I think they are very, very good at reading the game and cutting off angles and timing.”
Both Johnston and Sauerbrunn excel at reading the game, stepping to the ball at the right moment and slide-tackling when necessary. Their positioning has been nearly perfect thus far, and when it hasn’t been, they have compensated with athleticism.
Sauerbrunn said in a recent interview that her favorite player of all-time is the recently retired Paolo Maldini, a gritty force in defense for Italy and AC Milan in the 1990s and 2000s. But this World Cup thus far – for Sauerbrunn and her team – draws more similarities with the Italy team that won the 2006 men’s World Cup.
That year, the Azzurri were in the Group of Death, just as the United States women found themselves in at this World Cup. Like the U.S. women this year, that Italy team won the group (which featured the United States) with seven points, giving up only one goal.
Italy would only give up one more goal the entire tournament – in the final, which the Azzurri won over France in a penalty shootout – and Fabio Cannavaro finished second for the Golden Ball award, given to the tournament’s best player (defenders never win those). Later that year, Cannavaro won the Ballon d’Or as the best player in the world, only the third defender to earn the honor (OK, defenders hardly ever win this award).
Cannavaro had many of game-saving plays for Italy in 2006 and his form was consistently spectacular through all seven games at the World Cup. Sauerbrunn, through three games, is having a similar sort of tournament for the U.S. women. She twice tracked back to catch a player from behind and deny a clear goal-scoring opportunity, first chasing down speedy Sam Kerr on a breakaway in the opener against Australia and then sliding to intercept a pass on a 2-v-1 against Sweden.
Sauerbrunn calls that her “oh-crap speed,” an instinctual next gear that tells her something is wrong and needs to be corrected – and quickly. (Johnston has that speed too, as evidenced against Nigeria when she got a foot in to block Asisat Oshoala’s 1-v-1 opportunity.)
If the U.S. is going to win this World Cup, Sauerbrunn and Johnston will need to continue to stand on their heads, so to speak, which they make look quite easy.
Johnston wasn’t even supposed to be playing at this World Cup, remember. Not by the way the initial World Cup qualifying roster looked only eight months ago. Ellis left Johnston off the roster, thinking that Johnston, who only turned 23 years old in April, still needed to refine her game.
Mentally, Johnston wasn’t yet strong enough, she said in an interview with NBC Sports prior to the World Cup. And physically, she wasn’t as fit as she needed to be. So Johnston trained with midfielder Carli Lloyd and her trainer, James Galanis, in New Jersey in late September and early October while the national team was in between training camps. She eventually made the qualifying roster due to an injury to Crystal Dunn, but Johnston didn’t see the field during the tournament.
“At moments, I didn’t believe in myself as strongly as some others, including Jill,” Johnston said. “When I think back about it, [it] helped motivate me as well. I knew I could do it and it was just like at moments of time it got hard. But [Ellis] sat down and said, ‘I believe in you, I watched you at the [U-20 World Cup].’ All of this stuff that just sounded so confident in me.”
Rampone could see Johnston’s future, too. Rampone, the longtime U.S. captain, watched that 2012 U-20 World Cup, which the U.S. won. Johnston captained that team. She even wrote letters of encouragement to the team ahead of the tournament.
Later that year, Johnston sat on the bench to watch the senior U.S. team practice ahead of a game in Arizona, where Johnston grew up.
“You’re going to be here some day and it’s not going to be long,” Rampone said then to Johnston.
Little did Rampone or anyone else know that Johnston would arrive this quickly. Even only a few months ago, Rampone and Sauerbrunn were the expected starters at center back for the United States. But Rampone and Whitney Engen both carried injuries in May, forcing Johnston into the lineup. She never looked back from there.
“Opportunity presented itself with two injuries,” Ellis said. “So now she’s getting the starting nod in big games and she’s risen to the level. She’s good both sides of the ball as well, certainly on attacking set pieces as well as defending.”
Johnston embraced the opportunity, taking it head-on.
“At the end of the day, when the team asks you to do something and everyone else is busting their butt, you want to do whatever the teams asks of you,” she said.
Doing what the team asks: another way of finding that “oh-crap speed” of which Sauerbrunn speaks.
“Luckily I found it because I was not going to be the reason why we went down,” she said after the Sweden match.
Those are the attitudes that have made a world of difference thus far, and they will need to continue for the United States to succeed. The credit may not always go to the defense – although it certainly has for the U.S. thus far at this World Cup —
“For us, I think we give them that credit they deserve,” says U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, noting that she plays against the defense every day in practice. “They are incredible and we need them for these next games moving forward, because I think that’s what’s going to win this thing.”
Chivas vs Tigres: How to watch live, stream link, updates
Tied at 0-0 from the first leg of the final in San Nicolas on Thursday, the advantage is with red-hot Chivas as their stunning recent form saw them win their final four games of the Clausura regular season to finish third in the table before beating Atlas and Club America in the playoffs.
Victor Guzman and Alexis Vega are Chivas’ main attacking threats as they will keep it tight defensively and the energy of the home crowd at Akron Stadium should be a huge help as Chivas aim to win their first Clausura title since 2017, when they also beat Tigres in the final.
Tigres finished seventh in the Clausura standings and beat Toluca and Monterrey to reach the final. The duo of Sebastian Cordova and Andre-Pierre Gignac are their main hope of winning on the road in Guadalajara and lifting the trophy.
Below is everything you need for Chivas vs Tigres, one of whom will be crowned as the Clausura champions on Sunday.
Borussia Dortmund gave the Bundesliga title to heated rivals Bayern Munich on a shocking final day in the Bundesliga, a stunning collapse that left a ready-to-party Westfalenstadion in mourners’ status.
Bayern took an early lead through Kingsley Coman at Koln and Dortmund went down 2-0 in the first half versus Mainz, missing a penalty that would’ve tied the score at 1.
Dortmund entered the day with the table lead and dominated Mainz to the tune of 26-7 in shots and 3.64-0.62 in expected goals, but Andreas Hanche-Olsen and Karim Onisiwo’s goals were enough as only Giovanni Reyna’s set-up of Raphael Guerreiro got Dortmund on the board in a 2-1 loss.
Koln briefly gave hope with a penalty equalizer in the 80th minute versus Bayern, but Jamal Musiala’s 89th-minute goal put the defending champions back in front.
Dortmund would’ve won the league by matching or bettering Bayern’s result and but Instead hand an 11th-straight Meisterschale to the Bavarians. No one has won more German top-flight titles than Bayern’s 33.
BVB remains on eight Bundesliga titles and remains one behind Nurnberg, which has not won since 1968.
MAINZ TAKE LEAD AT DORTMUND 🇩🇪 If results hold, Bayern win 11th straight German title. Bundesliga scriptwriters trying to one-up Premier League counterparts.pic.twitter.com/dXn5Ruk5If
Luton Town overcame a blown lead in regulation to earn a place in the Premier League by outlasting Coventry City in penalties during Saturday’s playoff final at Wembley Stadium.
USMNT goalkeeper Ethan Horvath watched as Fankaty Dabo’s penalty sailed over the goal to give the Hatters a 6-5 win after 120 minutes ended 1-1 and neither team missed on 11-straight attempts from the spot.
In 2018 Luton and Coventry were both in the fourth-tier of English football. Now Luton is joining Sheffield United and Burnley in the top flight.
Jordan Clark scored Luton Town’s goal, while Gustavo Hamer leveled the line for Coventry City.
Coventry City vs Luton Town as it happened:
GOAL! Luton’s taken the first five shots of the match and now one’s found the back of the goal. It’s Jordan Clark who belts home in the 23rd minute to put the Hatters on top! Luton Town, 1-0
CHANCE! It’s Elijah Adebayo, who assisted the opener, who can’t quite get a very decent chance right, as Luton is looking to put an early vice grip on the final. Still 1-0, 30′.
Shots are up to 9-0 in favor of the Hatters but the total xG is still below 1.00. Coventry has to wake up, but maybe they’d take getting to halftime down one at this point.
The 11th shot of the game is Coventry’s, and it’s a high volley that slashed over the goal. Off-balance and improbable, but Coventry will be hopeful it’s a sign that they’re coming into the affair; Soon after, a rush is bungled but into the Luton third.
HALFTIME: Luton Town 1, Coventry City 0 — (Clark 23′)
SECOND HALF: Coventry has more of the ball and is building off its late first half, but Luton looks well-drilled into its system despite the concession of some set pieces.
Good news on a scary-looking injury for Luton star Tom Lockyer:
We are able to report that after collapsing on the pitch, Tom Lockyer has been taken to hospital for further tests.
He is responsive and talking to his family, who are with him.
GOAL! And the Sky Blues are level! It’s Brazilian-born Dutch youth international Gustavo Hamer who has it so with a solid finish, though the playmaking’s come from star performer Viktor Gyokeres. It’s all on now at Wembley! 1-1, 66′
A dangerous free kick in stoppage time for Luton after a very questionable foul, but fate makes sure this one doesn’t end with ignominy. Are we headed for penalties? Extra time is almost certain deep in stoppage.
xG is basically even after 90 minutes, as are shot attempts, and anything can happen when it comes to the 20th berth in the 2023-24 Premier League season.
END OF 90: Coventry City 1, Luton Town 1 — (Clark 23′, Hamer 66′)
INJURY! USMNT keeper Ethan Horvath is down for treatment 11 minutes into the first frame of extra time, which has otherwise been a scrappy period. Looks like he’s going to try to continue despite dropping to the pitch after a long goal kick.
END OF FIRST ET PERIOD: Coventry City 1, Luton Town 1 — (Clark 23′, Hamer 66′)
Not much happened there. Nerves? Can someone seize history in the next 15 or will we go to pens?
NO GOAL! Joe Taylor has it in the goal for Luton off a bad giveaway but VAR, not used in the regular season, spots a handball and the Hatters won’t win it here. We’re going to penalties.
END OF SECOND ET PERIOD: Coventry City 1, Luton Town 1 — (Clark 23′, Hamer 66′)
Horvath was a penalty hero for the USMNT in the CONCACAF Nations League against Mexico, while well-traveled Ben Wilson is between the sticks for Coventry. Here we go…
X Carlton Morris goal for Luton 1-0
X Matty Godden goal for Coventry 1-1
X Taylor goal for Luton 2-1
X Viktor Gyokeres goal for Coventry 2-2
X Marvelous Nakamba goal for Luton 3-2
X Ben Sheaf goal for Coventry 3-3
X Jordan Clark goal for Luton 4-3
X Josh Eccles goal for Coventry 4-4
X Luke Berry goal for Luton 5-4
X Liam Kelly goal for Coventry 5-5
X Daniel Potts goal for Luton 6-5
X Fankaty Dabo miss for Coventry 6-5
Coventry City vs Luton Town player ratings: Stars of the Show
The managers and star players
Luton Town boss Rob Edwards left rival club Watford in November and the risky maneuver has paid off for the coach and club. Viktor Gyokeres is the club’s 21-goal scoring hero and he’s chipped in 11 assists as well, and Gustavo Hamer has been sensational as well.
Coventry City manager Mark Robins has been with the club since 2017 and it’s been up-up-up. Carlton Morris leads the way with 20 goals, while Alfie Doughty and Tom Lockyer have been key players, too, with Lockyer scoring in three of the Hatters’ last four matches.
Championship playoff schedule, how to watch, updates
Dates: Final – Saturday, May 27 at 11:45am ET Updates: Via scoreboard on NBCSports.com How to watch: ESPN+
Can Manchester United’s new-look side keep its place in the top four? What about Newcastle? Is Tottenham going to turn things around to claim a place or will another new name, Brighton or Aston Villa, make their claim? Liverpool’s not out of this, either…
How will the new boys get on? Who will be the surprise package? Can Chelsea salvage any pride from the season? Who will stay up in the congested scrap against relegation?
Those questions will be answered from August 2022 to May 2023, with the full list of Premier League fixtures.
While below are the answers to all of the questions you have around the Premier League fixtures and everything else you need to know for the upcoming season, with full details on the Premier League TV schedule across the NBC family of channels and more.
The Premier League fixtures for the 2022-23 season were announced on Thursday June 16, 2022 at 4am ET. Below is the full schedule, as you can watch all 380 games across our NBC platforms.
The Premier League fixture computer decides who plays who and when, as teams located close to one another are usually playing at home on opposite weekends to help with policing, crowd control and transport congestion in those areas.
When did the Premier League take a break for the 2022 World Cup?
When will the 2022-23 Premier League season finish?
The final day of the season will be on Sunday, May 28, 2023.
Which teams will compete in the 2022-23 Premier League?
These are the 20 teams which will compete in the Premier League for the upcoming season:
Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Leeds United, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers