Despite advancement to quarterfinals, US women yet to reach their peak

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EDMONTON, Alberta – The exposition has been extensive.

For the past six months, United States players said that they were looking to peak in June.

There was the 3-2 loss to Brazil in December, the 2-0 loss to France in February when Les Bleues ran the U.S. off the park in Lorient and even the scoreless draw with Iceland at the Algarve Cup in March.

All the while, as alarm bells went off from fans and media – Where is the midfield? Why is the shape so narrow? Is the U.S. creative enough to break down a bunker? – U.S. players kept their cool. The best is yet to come, they said.

But June’s arrival hasn’t yet brought the United States’ best soccer, despite an unbeaten mark at this Women’s World Cup.

[KASSOUF: Morgan relieved to get back on scoresheet]

On Monday, the U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals for the seventh time in seven World Cups with a 2-0 win over Colombia, a team that played with the heart and ferocity with which they promised in the days leading into the match. It was an ugly first half from the Americans – “impatient” is the word goal-scorer Alex Morgan used to describe the play – but they were able to overcome another slow start to ultimately prevail.

But is the soccer – the style, the combination play, the finishing – satisfying?

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“This is the World Cup. I’m really satisfied with advancing,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis bristled when asked. “Most goals in World Cup tournaments, the majority of them come on set pieces. We’ve been brilliant. So it’s about finding a way. I thought we stroked the ball around pretty well at times. I’m pleased with where we are.”

There’s a consensus among players that their play is getting better, but that it hasn’t yet reached its peak. But with the U.S. now into the quarterfinals, there’s only so much time left to find that groove. The World Cup final, should the U.S. get there, is less than two weeks away. First up is a tricky test against a very organized China team on Friday, with the winner getting either Germany or France – the world’s two best teams on form right now – in the semifinals.

After a group stage that didn’t see any of the world’s best teams put forth overly convincing performances, world No. 1 Germany came out and smacked Sweden on Saturday, 4-1. France made quick work of a highly organized Korea Republic team in a 3-0 win on Sunday, the same Korea Republic team that held the U.S. scoreless earlier in the month in the Americans’ sendoff team.

With their potential semifinal opponents finally firing on all cylinders, the U.S. is still waiting to do exactly that.

“We all want to play better,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said. “We want to play better football. We want to create more consistent chances. But we also know that the better teams we play, the fewer the chances you are going to create. Those chances that you create, you have to bury.”

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

Wambach’s missed penalty kick three minutes after hafltime only exacerbated the tension in the air of the decidedly pro-Colombian crowd at Commonwealth Stadium on Monday, but Morgan took advantage of third-string goalkeeper Stefany Castano and Megan Rapinoe, as she has done all tournament, made something out of nothing to draw the United States’ second penalty kick, which Carli Lloyd buried for the two-goal advantage.

Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will miss the quarterfinal match due to suspension, an added caveat of concern. Each player received a second respective yellow card of the tournament on Monday. Rapinoe has been the United States’ best offensive player at the World Cup, scoring twice in the opening win against Australia and causing trouble for opponents throughout the tournament.

“She’s a tremendous player, but I think we’ve got players with tremendous technical skills,” Ellis said of replacing Rapinoe. “We’ve got good pace in certain positions and I know that we will step up.

“I have the utmost confidence in the players that we have,” she added. Ellis later said that 22-year-old Morgan Brian will likely start in place of Holiday. Rapinoe indicated that Christen Press could be her replacement against China.

Teams playing with numbers advantages in the middle of the park – Australia, Colombia and, next up, China – have had a distinct advantage against the U.S. at this World Cup.

It is unanimously stated by U.S. players that they aren’t at their best right now. But when will they be? Friday is a quick turnaround to face China, and it’s presumptuous to think that this U.S. team will roll through the Steel Roses, even if China looked less than impressive against Cameroon on Saturday.

“I don’t feel like time’s running out at all,” Holiday said when asked about the team’s urgency to play better. “I feel like it’s completely in our control. I believe in all the girls in my team so much that I know that they’ll show up in big games and I’ll know that we’ll put our best soccer together in those games.”

In the end, as Ellis said, a win’s a win. But the Americans haven’t yet put together a fully convincing 90 minutes at this World Cup, often coming alive in the second halves of games. And against Germany and France – especially the Germany and France which finally showed up in the Round of 16 – flat starts just aren’t going to cut it.

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.