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.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mata to Newcastle; Wilson to Saints

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Juan Mata is out of contract at Manchester United this summer, and it appears he could be staying in the Premier League.

The Spanish attacking midfielder has spent the last nine season in the Premier League at Chelsea and Man United, scoring 78 goals in 353 appearances in all competitions.

Mata, 31, has been linked with a free transfer for Newcastle United with the Sun saying that Rafael Benitez is keen to bring in the Spanish midfielder. He will have to use his powers of persuasion with owner Mike Ashley to try and get in the players they need this summer.

Benitez is still not assured of being at St James’ Park himself next season, as talks with Ashley over a new contract are ongoing, but it is clear that the Spanish coach needs to be backed in the transfer market if the Magpies are going to improve on their 13th and 10th place finishes in the last two seasons.

Mata played for Benitez at Chelsea and it is believed he has offers to return to La Liga.

With Matt Ritchie, Miguel Almiron and Ayoze Perez in attack, Newcastle could probably strengthen in other areas of their squad first. However, with Salomon Rondon only on loan from West Brom last season and no deal to sign him permanently currently in place, Benitez will know he needs extra attacking options and must do it on the cheap to appease Ashley.

Given that fact, Mata is a quality player who would demand high wages but no transfer fee is a clincher.


Harry Wilson is a man in demand after his superb loan spell at Derby County this season.

Wilson, 22, is wanted by Newcastle, Southampton and Brighton according to Sky Sports, while the likes of Wolves, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, as well as several Bundesliga clubs, have all been previously interesting in the Liverpool youngster. Jurgen Klopp has loaned Wilson out to Crewe, Hull and now Derby, and it is unlikely he will break through at Liverpool soon considering the attacking talent they possess.

A fee of $32 million has been suggested for Wilson, as the Welsh international has excelled under Frank Lampard at Derby and has been key in their run to the Championship playoff final against Aston Villa next Monday. His set piece delivery is sensational and Wilson has scored 18 goals and added four assists in all competitions for the Rams this season.

If Derby are promoted, maybe Wilson will remain at Pride Park, but the likes of Southampton, Wolves and Newcastle would seem like a very good spot for him to kick on and prove himself in the Premier League. Saints and Newcastle would offer him guaranteed playing time almost immediately and that has been key in his development this season at Derby.

Ralph Hasenhuttl has been keen to stress Saints will only sign young players or those who are hungry and searching for a first big contract of their career, and Wilson would slot into their attack nicely alongside Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse in support of Danny Ings.

Sarri to discuss Chelsea future

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Maurizio Sarri isn’t sure if he will be in charge at Chelsea next season.

The Italian coach has confirmed that he will sit down and meet with Chelsea’s hierarchy after the UEFA Europa League final with Arsenal next Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Baku, Azerbaijan, Sarri was asked about news reports linking him with a return to Italy to manager Juventus.

“It is very exciting to be here, but now it is time to think of the final,” Sarri said. “I have two years of my contract here. I have no contract with other clubs. I have to speak with my club after the final. I want to know if they are happy with me.”

Sarri added that he will discuss the situation in detail, but is extremely happy to remain at Stamford Bridge.

“I’m very happy to stay in the Premier League, with Chelsea, one of the most important clubs in the Premier League. I’m very, very happy but we have to discuss the situation. It’s normal. You have to discuss things with the club. It’s like this,” Sarri said.

Chelsea have hardly set the world alight this season, but finished third in the Premier League as they limped over the line at the end of the season. A top four finish was key for Sarri in his first season, so he achieved that, but the style of play was lambasted by many fans and neutrals, as the predictable, slow build-up play turned out to be easy to defend against. The reports around his future state that Chelsea are quite happy to let him leave this summer if another club wants to pay his $7 million release clause.

Sarri has reached the League Cup final and Europa League final in his debut season in England too, but his downbeat demeanor in press conferences has translated to a negative vibe with supporters.

Many want Frank Lampard — who has excelled in his first season as a manager at second-tier Derby — to replace Sarri this summer and given the impending transfer ban for Chelsea and Eden Hazard leaving, will he be able to improve the squad of players he currently has?

A big few weeks coming up for Sarri and Chelsea and their immediate futures.

Dortmund continue shopping spree, sign Julian Brandt

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That Christian Pulisic money is going far and wide for Borussia Dortmund.

Hot off the heels of signing Thorgan Hazard for $38 million on Wednesday and adding German defender Nico Schulz for $30 million, Dortmund have signed Julian Brandt for $30 million.

Not bad business after getting $73 million for Pulisic…

Brandt, 23, was linked with a move to the Premier League to Tottenham Hotspur and others in recent months but the Bayer Leverkusen winger will remain in the Bundesliga. His combination of speed out wide and cutting inside to finish off moves has seen him become a regular for the German national team.

After finishing second in the Bundesliga this season, Dortmund are wasting no time in stealing a march on Bayern Munich who fought back from a nine-point deficit to win the title on the final day of the season.

Bayern’s offseason plans have seen them add defender Lucas Hernandez for a club record $85 million, while his French national team teammate Benjamin Pavard, who can also play at center back and full back, will also arrive for $38 million.

That said, Dortmund’s early moves this offseason are impressive and may even install Lucien Favre’s men as the preseason favorites to win the German title.

Report: Inter Milan, Man United to discuss Lukaku, Perisic deals

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Multiple reports state that Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is set to talk to Inter Milan this week about a swap deal involving Ivan Perisic and cash for Romelu Lukaku.

According to the Daily Mirror, Woodward will meet Inter’s hierarchy in Milan to discuss a swap deal which involves Lukaku and Perisic this summer.

Perisic, 30, has been a long-term target for United and per the report is said to be worth around $45 million. United value Lukaku at $90 million, so Inter would have to let Perisic leave and put about $40 million down to sign Lukaku.

A good deal?

Lukaku, 26, has previously stated he admires Serie A and wants to move to the Italian top-flight, and if he stays at United he will likely play second fiddle to Marcus Rashford. So moving him on and getting in a top quality winger they’ve wanted to sign for some time makes sense.

Perisic doesn’t fit into the young and hungry category that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is after this summer, but his quality speaks for itself. The Croatian international had a superb 2018 World Cup and has been consistently good for Inter, scoring 40 goals in 161 appearances in all competitions since he arrived in 2015.

United need to rebuild their team and Lukaku, aside from his poor 2018-19 campaign, is one of their most valuable assets. If he has another bad season coming up, you can expect his value to half what it currently is.