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.

Watch Live: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final

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The 2019 U-17 World Cup final takes place in Bezerrão Stadium on Saturday as favorites Brazil host an inspired Mexico.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

With four goals and one assist, Kaio Jorge has been Brazil’s most productive attacking player this tournament, while Mexico’s and Los Angeles Galaxy’s Efrain Alvarez is hoping to end an incredible tournament in triumphant fashion.

History between both national teams in a U-17 World Cup final dates back to 2005, when LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Mexico routed Marcelo and Brazil 3-0 in Lima, Peru.

Click on the link above to watch the game live.


U-17 World Cup final
Brazil v. Mexico – 5 p.m. ET

England finishes EURO 2020 qualifying by beating Kosovo

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England’s 2020 European Championship qualification campaign wrapped up on Sunday with a slightly flattering 4-0 victory away to third-place, and playoff qualifiers, Kosovo.

[ VIDEO: Game stopped for racist chanting; player targeted later scores goal ]

Gareth Southgate‘s side was hardly at its best just three days after thrashing Montenegro and securing qualification to this summer’s tournament. They only led by a score of 1-0 through 78 minutes, before scoring a trio of late goals to put the game out of reach and rob the hosts of any potential moral victory.

Harry Winks opened the scoring, and his England account, in the 32nd minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found Winks near the top of Kosovo’s penalty area and though Winks’ first touch appeared quite poor, every player in blue stopped and stood as the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder walked in on goal and coolly slotted the ball home to make it 1-0.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

From that point forward, Kosovo enjoyed control of the game’s tempo and looked every bit the Three Lions’ equal. That is, until Harry Kane finished an open chance at the back post in the 79th minute and opened the floodgates.

Marcus Rashford added a third four minutes later, followed by another first England goal — this time, scored by Mason Mount — in the 91st.

England finishes EURO 2020 qualification with a record of 7W-0D-1L and a +31 goal differential, which is second only to Belgium who sit at +32 with one game still to play. England required Sunday’s victory to confirm its place as a Pot 1 team at the draw for the group stage.

Arsenal beat Spurs in front of WSL-record crowd of 38,262

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LONDON (AP) The first north London derby in the Women’s Super League produced a record crowd of 38,262 for the competition on Sunday when Arsenal claimed a 2-0 victory at Tottenham.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

The newly fully professional side held out until the 66th minute when Kim Little struck for the champions and Vivianne Miedema extended Arsenal’s lead in the 82nd minute.

It was the first time Tottenham, in its first top-flight campaign, had staged women’s football at its main 61,000-capacity stadium, which opened earlier this year.

The crowd surpassed the 31,213 at Manchester City for the visit of Manchester United on the opening weekend of the season in September.

Tottenham hosted Arsenal on the first designated Women’s Football Weekend in England which also saw 23,500 at Anfield for Liverpool’s 1-0 loss to Everton.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

Chelsea opened the season by hosting Tottenham in front of around 25,000 at Stamford Bridge.

League leaders Chelsea were back at their usual home of Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Maren Mjelde’s penalty sealed a 1-0 victory over promoted Manchester United in front of 4,790 fans – a WSL record crowd for a game not played in a large stadium usually used by the men’s team.

VIDEO: Dutch 2nd-division game stopped for racist abuse; player later scores goal

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A Dutch second-division game between Den Bosch and Excelsior was temporarily stopped on Sunday due to suspected racist chanting and Nazi salutes performed by some of Den Bosch’s fans.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

The game was halted by referee Laurens Gerrets in the 30 minute. Dutch winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira, who plays for Excelsior, was the player targeted by the racist chanting. He was at that time seen gesturing toward the crowd, indicating to Gerrets and teammates that he was hearing racist abuse from the stands.

In a mixed zone for media availability after the game, Den Bosch manager Erik van der Ven is reported to have called Mendes Moreira a “pathetic little man” for pointing out the racist abuse to Gerrets. Den Bosch released a statement claiming that no racist abuse occurred, that the fans were instead making “crow sounds” and treating Mendes Moreira to a “crow concert,” which they claim is part of customary treatment of opposing players.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

Mendes Moreira appeared emotional after scoring a goal to put Excelsior 2-1 ahead fewer than 15 minutes after the game was restarted.