Three things learned: O’Hara steps up as United States’ high pressure sees off China

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OTTAWA, Ontario – The United States is through to the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup for the seventh time in seven editions of the tournament after defeating China, 1-0 on Friday at Lansdowne Stadium.

Carli Lloyd scored the game’s lone goal in the 51st minute in the first truly convincing performance from the U.S. at this World Cup.

Here are three things we learned:

High-pressure worked – and so did Ellis’ choice to start Kelley O’Hara: Knowing China would sit in and be defensively compact and organized, the United States was always going to have to take the initiative in this match. It may have been an ugly road getting to the quarterfinals, but Friday was finally a performance from the U.S. that displayed the confidence of a team that actually believes it can beat anyone.

The Americans pressed out China’s typically concrete back-four and created opportunities aplenty (finishing those remains both imperative and elusive). Within about 60 seconds, the U.S. was in 1-v-1 against China goalkeeper Wang Fei. Initiative was there from the start, which has been rare for this team all year as its gotten off to slow starts in matches both at and before the World Cup.

“The history of this team, we want to make other teams nervous, and not vice versa,” Lloyd said after the match.

Kelley O’Hara was the catalyst of that electric energy the U.S. brought, a breath of fresh air to a team that was looking for a kick-start. She brought flair and hustle to the field in her first World Cup start, leaving the field after 61 minutes with the battle scar of a bloody, black and blue nose with cotton balls stuffed in her nostrils (she doesn’t think her nose is broken, but hadn’t yet gotten it checked before speaking to reporters).

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

After the match, Ellis lauded O’Hara’s for both her performance on the night and for the work she put in all month.

“Kelley has been phenomenal in practice and I felt that her energy and her willingness to take on [players] and her engine was something that we needed out there,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.

O’Hara’s play was particularly impressive given that she not only hasn’t been playing – she hardly ever plays in that wide midfield position. She was named college soccer’s best player in 2009 while playing forward for Stanford, tallying 26 goals and 13 assists that senior season for one of the best scoring seasons in NCAA history.

But she was asked to play fullback for the United States and played every minute in that position at the 2012 Olympics, where the U.S. won a third-straight gold medal. So with Megan Rapinoe suspended for Friday’s quarterfinal, O’Hara got the nod to start – but as a wide midfielder.

Ellis met with O’Hara on Thursday night, when the 26-year-old O’Hara got word that she would start in a slightly unexpected position. O’Hara’s response? “I was like, sweet, let’s do it.”

O’Hara did acknowledge postgame that the wait for playing time isn’t easy, but she’s remained patient.

“You just have to show up for practice, be professional, work your ass off – sorry, butt – and be ready,” O’Hara said postgame. “Be the best teammate you can be, be the best player you can be and just be as supportive and encouraging for the people who are playing.”

On Friday, it was her teammates encouraging her as she executed everything from nutmegs to diving headers.

Defense still can’t be beaten: The United States’ shutout streak is now at a staggering 423 minutes. The only goal the Americans have given up this tournament came in the 27th minute of the opening game against Australia. The back line is quick to point out that team defending is the key, but those four defenders and goalkeeper Hope Solo have been the reason the U.S. is where it is today.

There was, however, a new addition to that defensive prowess on Friday: 22-year-old Morgan Brian. Filling in for suspended Lauren Holiday, Brian was asked to play a more defensive role to let Lloyd roam higher up the field. Quietly, Brian was superb in clamping down any fleeting attempt China made to come through the middle of the park.

“I thought Morgan was fantastic tonight,” Ellis said. “I thought her touches were good, her rhythm was good, her choices on the ball, her decisions were all very, very good.

“For such a big game and a young player, I thought she did a great job,” Ellis added.

Ellis now has a good problem to figure out: What do you do now that Brian and Lloyd played so well together? First off, Germany is not China. Ellis speaks often of executing a gameplan that is tailored to a given opponent – as every coach should – and that will be true come Tuesday in the semifinals. China sat in and absorbed pressure; Germany won’t do that at all – although the French showed for at least 45 minutes that the Germans are vulnerable. Holiday and Rapinoe are realistically likely to slide right back into the lineup, but there are now options.

Let Lloyd be free: Carli Lloyd got her freedom.

And then she got her goal.

Lloyd struggled all tournament alongside Holiday as the two were asked to play deeper than either of them are ideally comfortable playing. But on Friday, Lloyd had the freedom to get forward that she so desperately desired, and she delivered at a big moment, just as she so consistently does.

The execution was picture-perfect. Lloyd had this to say earlier in the week: “For me, I love to attack. I had a decent shot last game. I need more of that. I need to get the ball and I need to run at players, I need to create stuff. I need to find a way to impact the game, no matter how it’s going.”

After Friday’s victory and her goal, Lloyd was asked what the difference was this time out compared to previous four, more disjointed performances.

“Freedom,” Lloyd said.” Freedom to play. Do what I do best, go at players. As a team we wanted to come out fast and put them under pressure.”

It’s a freedom the U.S. needs to give Lloyd again on Tuesday against Germany, and one that really should never be taken away.

USMNT reportedly opens contract talks with Gregg Berhalter; Good or bad idea?

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Gregg Berhalter may be sticking around the United States men’s national team program, giving the USMNT coaching continuity as it moves from 2022 World Cup Round of 16 member to 2026 World Cup co-host.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle says that Berhalter is beginning contract discussions with the United States Soccer Federation but also interested in taking a job in Europe with his profile having risen alongside the USMNT at the World Cup.

Berhalter’s current contract ends at the end of the calendar year, and the Yanks have scheduled a domestic camp in January and friendlies against Serbia and Colombia.

[ MORE: USMNT transfer rumors for Musah, Dest ]

Berhalter has done some good things for the program, most notably winning the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup with two different groups. He also straightened out the defending, for the most part, and got out of the World Cup group.

Berhalter successfully recruited Sergino Dest and Yunus Musah, two of the program’s stars at the World Cup. He also convinced Malik Tillman, Gaga Slonina, and Jesus Ferreira that the U.S. was the right place for their national team futures.

He also, subjectively, was slow if not downright stubborn in acquiesing to certain points-of-view that made the team better. From Tyler Adams as a right back at the outset of his tenure to saying Tim Ream didn’t fit how he wanted to play about a month before the World Cup… then playing him every minute of the tournament.

But for the most part when lessons were learned, they stayed learned.

Should Gregg Berhalter continue as USMNT boss?

Let’s start here, because it’s necessary: It’s clear that Berhalter cared about his players and the project, whether you like the way he operated or not. This wasn’t a half-assed operation, but one with passion.

So does he still have that passion? Only he can answer that, and if he’d like to get more matchdays in his life then maybe he does want to go back to the club game.

And frankly, that’s fine either way, because his four years with the program were neither amazing nor pitiful. They can be described as anything from a slight disappointment to a minor success, depending on your perspective and expectations.

If you believe that picking up the pieces from the absolute travesty that was failing to qualify for the World Cup from the richest nation and one of the two most talented nations amongst CONCACAF men’s programs was really hard, then you think Berhalter getting the men to the 2022 World Cup and surviving the group with a young group was a solid step in the right direction and a minor success.

If you believe that the American soccer climate is such that you should always make the World Cup out of one of the world’s lesser confederations and that the Yanks progressed as the second team of a group in which they were the second-ranked team according to FIFA and Elo Ratings, well, you can have a different standard.

The Yanks will never again fail to qualify for the World Cup given the expanded field, but hosts have historically had a drastically-improved chance to reach the semifinals. THe federation would have to be confident that picking the best squad regardless of how it reflects on his previous selections — let alone a Best XI — is going to happen under a given coach.

Berhalter’s 49 and is far from the worst or best boss in USMNT history. Whoever’s in the job four years from now will have a chance to go down as either one. Choose wisely, fed. And Gregg! Who knows how far his star could rise with a solid run in Europe, and history says there will be the chance to reconnect with the USMNT job.

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Premier League table, 2022-23 season

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If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

We’re at the 2022 World Cup break, and the final few rounds of Premier League fixtures caused so many shocks.

Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

Almost at the halfway mark of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest.

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.

Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United are locked in a battle for the top four, while Liverpool have improved and will be back in the Champions League scrap and Chelsea are struggling.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Who are the early-season candidates for relegation?

Newly promoted Nottingham Forest moved off the bottom of the table with a win before the break, with Wolves and Southampton currently occupying the other two relegation places.

Leicester have picked up a few big wins, while West Ham, Everton and Leeds all find themselves within a few points of the bottom-three after a topsy-turvy start.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.


Premier League table – Matchweek 16

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England vs France: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Match 59 of the 2022 World Cup features a pair of European heavyweights duking it out for a place in the semifinals when England faces France on Saturday.

Didier Deschamps’ France is bidding to become a back-to-back World Cup winner, but Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are tournament-hardened and have shown their explosive nature three times this tournament.

STREAM ENGLAND vs FRANCE LIVE

France beat Poland 3-1 in its Round of 16 match while England overcame a dodgy start to pound Senegal 3-0.

Neither team can say its faced a test like this in the tournament, and this could be a fantastic fight in Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for England vs France.


How to watch England vs France live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday, December 1
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

England will look to Harry Kane, though the question remains who will flank the Tottenham center forward. Marcus Rashford’s been very good but Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden got the starting spots against Senegal and it paid off for Southgate.

Kylian Mbappe has been borderline unstoppable and will test Harry Maguire, John Stones, and friends and Antoine Griezmann pulls the strings in behind and Aurelien Tchouameni continues to strengthen his reputation in the center of the pitch.


England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Pickford

France quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 4
World Cup titles: 2 (1998, 2018)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group D)
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key players: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann

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Croatia vs Brazil: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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World Cup-savvy Croatia stands in the way of stylish Brazil’s pursuit of a sixth World Cup crown, and the pair promise a complex match-up on Friday in Al Rayyan.

Match 58 of the 2022 World Cup kicks off the quarterfinals as Neymar leads Tite’s star-studded CONMEBOL powers into a match against the 2018 runners-up.

STREAM CROATIA vs BRAZIL LIVE

Croatia got past Japan in penalties and will now dream of the two wins that could set it back in the final where France could again be waiting for a juicy rematch.

Croatia needed penalties to get past Japan in the Round of 16, while Brazil pasted South Korea 4-1.  Croatia has never beaten Brazil in four meetings, losing at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Brazil.


How to watch Croatia vs Brazil live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Friday, December 9
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic was fantastic in penalties versus Japan to get here, but Luka Modric continues to do the things that get Croatia out of trouble and puts the opponents into heaps of it. Josko Gvardiola has arguably been the defender of the tournament, and the 20-year-old looks to test his mettle again against the Selecao.

Pick a Brazil player who’s failed to impress and you’ve achieved a mighty feat. Neymar’s been fantastic when healthy while RIcharlison is in serious pursuit of the Golden Boot. Alisson Becker flexed his muscles once or twice versus South Korea and figures to be busier as the competition continues to heat up in Qatar.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol

Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Follow @NicholasMendola