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.

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

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The European season is back in full flow, Major League Soccer is hitting its stretch run, and we have USMNT calendar news.

Yet it’s the transfer market that’s inspired us to revisit our periodic ranking of the top 25 players in the USMNT player pool.

Sergino Dest looks destined for either Barcelona or Bayern Munich, while Weston McKennie is off to Juventus and is currently learning midfield next to Adrien Rabiot, behind Aaron Ramsey, over Arthur, and under the watchful eye of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

If you’re the swooning type, here’s where you swoon.

It’s been 10 months and 10 days since our first rankings hit ProSoccerTalk and there’s been a pandemic pause, restart of one season, and beginning of another since our second.

Where is the player pool now? As a reminder, here are some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one that could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Konrad de la Fuente is a better long-term prospect than 30-year-old Jozy Altidore, but most would rather have the Toronto FC man in a big spot right now.

Obviously there’s been plenty of movement.

Top 25 USMNT players – September 2020 

1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (1)

2. Tyler Adams, RB Leizpig (4) — Just out here scoring UCL tie-deciding goals

3. Weston McKennie, Juventus (2) — Oh, hi there. This is cool.

4. John Brooks, Wolfsburg (3)

5. Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (13) — This is 17 years old? Come on.

6. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (8)

7. Sergino Dest, Ajax (5) — Barcelona or Bayern Munich?

8. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (18) — Midfield?

9. Zack Steffen, Manchester City (9) — First Man City start probably comes Thursday.

10. Antonee Robinson, Fulham (10) — Come on, Scott Parker. Put him in there.

11. Timothy Weah, Lille (14) — Working back to fitness and form. Came off the bench in first three Ligue 1 games.

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12. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (21) — Looking good in second full season with the Turkish giants

13. Julian Green, Greuther Furth (12)

14. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (25)

15. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf (7)

16. Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (NR) — If you’re yelling at this, I get it, but you’re not watching MLS. He’s been wonderful.

17. Matt Miazga, Chelsea (17) — Rumors of a Trabzonspor loan are interesting.

18. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Spurs (20) — Crushed it at Luton Town. Is Bournemouth next?

19. Darlington Nagbe, Columbus Crew (NR)

20. Reggie Cannon, Boavista (NR)

21. Brendan Aaronson, Philadelphia Union (NR) — Credit to Gregg Berhalter, who saw it before any of us.

22. Matt Turner, New England (NR) — Incredible season alert.

23. Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (NR)

24. Tim Ream, Fulham (13)

25. Henry Wingo, Molde (NR) — Unsure where the Norwegian league rates in relation to MLS, but Wingo’s moved from non-regular with Seattle to starting right back on a team knocking on the door of the UEFA Champions League group stage. Plus I had like nine names I liked for spots 23, 24, and 25.

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Notes

  • Columbus’ resurgence this season has seen Zardes and Nagbe shine. It’s difficult not to place them higher than we initially planned.
  • Judging the center back pool has become fraught. Chelsea’s Matt Miazga and Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers are on a loan recycling program and have done well but we haven’t really seen them outside of the Championship. MLS regulars Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson, and Aaron Long are good on inconsistent teams. After John Brooks, who knows?
  • Dropping out are DeAndre Yedlin, Jozy Altidore, Cristian Roldan, Ike Opara, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Miles Robinson, Paul Arriola, and Jackson Yueill.
  • Small sample size, but if you’re the top rated player on Besiktas then you’re Tyler Boyd and you’re getting a higher spot than we anticipated when we started the post.

Last five out: Chris Richards, Bayern Munich; Duane Holmes, Derby County; DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United; Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt; Frankie Amaya, FC Cincinnati.

Keep an eye on: Ulysses Llanez, Heerenveen (loan from Wolfsburg); Cole Bassett, Colorado Rapids; Julian Araujo, LA Galaxy; Chris Mueller, Orlando City; Konrad de la Fuente, Barcelona; Indiana Vassilev, Burton Albion (loan from Aston Villa); Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas; Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC; Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders; Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC.

MLS upcoming schedule, MLS Cup odds

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MLS betting odds and upcoming schedule: Major League Soccer still has six weeks left of fixtures left in the regular season after its long-awaited return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Dest to Barcelona? ]

A full Wednesday slate of games will be highlighted by a meeting of Cascadia Cup rivals Portland and Seattle in Oregon with newer rivals NYCFC and Toronto matching wits and a 5 pm ET kickoff between Thierry Henry’s Montreal and Bruce Arena’s New England starting off the night.

The regular season is currently scheduled to end on Nov. 8, with the playoffs beginning that same week and culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

All of the games are available to watch on ESPN+.

Click here for MLS betting odds and different odds on soccer and beyond from our new official sports betting partner PointsBet, as there will be plenty of selections to make each week with game lines and more available via NBC Sports Bet.

[ MORE: Five-subs rule again voted down by Premier League clubs ]

This page will be updated following the completion of every round of games in 2020, to feature the upcoming set of fixtures and MLS betting odds.


This weekend’s MLS schedule and odds (via PointsBet)

Wednesday, Sept. 23

New England (-154) v Montreal ( +340) / Draw (+275) — 5 pm ET
Atlanta (+130) v FC Dallas (+175) / Draw (+230) — 7 pm ET
NYCFC (+130) v Toronto FC (+175) / Draw (+235) — 7 pm ET
Chicago Fire (-106) v Houston Dynamo (+225) / Draw (+255) — 7:30 pm ET
Cincinnati (+200) v Philadelphia (+125)/ Draw (+215) — 7:30 pm ET
Columbus (-150) v Minnesota (+320) / Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Sporting KC (-125) v Orlando City (+270) / Draw (+260) — 7:30 pm ET
Inter Miami (-115) v New York Red Bulls (+260) / Draw (+245) — 8 pm ET
Nashville (-150) v DC United (+350) / Draw (+260) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado (-167) v San Jose (+340) / Draw (+300) — 9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake (+118) v LA Galaxy (+175) / Draw (+260) — 9:30 pm ET
Portland (+150) v Seattle (+135) / Draw (+260) — 10 pm ET
LAFC (-556) v Vancouver (+1000) / Draw (+525) — 10:30 pm ET

Saturday, Sept. 26 (Odds forthcoming)

Nashville ( ) v Houston ( ) / Draw ( ) — 3:30 pm ET
NYCFC ( ) v Cincinnati / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET

Sunday, Sept. 27 (Odds forthcoming)

DC United ( ) v New England ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
New York Red Bulls ( ) v Montreal ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
Philadelphia ( ) v Inter Miami ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Chicago ( ) v Atlanta ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Toronto ( ) v Columbus ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Minnesota ( ) v Real Salt Lake ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8 pm ET
FC Dallas ( ) v Orlando City ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado ( ) v Sporting KC ( ) / Draw ( ) — 9 pm ET
Vancouver ( ) v Portland ( ) / Draw ( ) — 10 pm ET
LAFC ( ) v San Jose () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy ( ) v Seattle () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET


MLS Cup winner odds

Los Angeles FC (+450)
Toronto FC (+450)
Seattle Sounders (+800)
Philadelphia Union (+1100)
Atlanta United (+1400)
Columbus Crew (+1400)
LA Galaxy (+1800)
New York City FC (+1800)
Sporting KC (+1800)
Portland Timbers (+2000)
Minnesota United (+2500)
New England Revolution (+2500)
Orlando City SC (+2500)
New York Red Bulls (+3000)
Montreal Impact (+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000)
Real Salt Lake (+5000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6000)
Chicago Fire (+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000)
D.C. United (+10000)
Houston Dynamo (+10000)
Inter Miami (+12500)
FC Cincinnati (+25000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+25000)
Nashville SC (+30000)

Europa League: The biggest underdogs, how to watch, start time

Shkendija - Tottenham
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Tottenham Hotspur is hoping Macedonia is a bit kinder than Bulgaria.

A week after Spurs came back from a late deficit to beat 9-man Lokomotiv Plovdiv — a win in which many missed the key moments due to technical difficulties — Tottenham has to beat Shkendija in Tetovo to move within a win of the Europa League group stage.

Shkendija has become a regular participant in either the Champions League or Europa League but has been handled by most name opponents including AC Milan, Red Bull Salzburg, and Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ]

Ay, but here’s the rub: The home legs have all been close in those ties, all 1-0 losses, and this is a one-legged affair with the promise of a visit from either Rostov or Maccabi Haida on Oct. 1.

Mourinho branded Spurs’ schedule a ‘total joke’ but got some relief in a sense when Leyton Orient’s positive COVID-19 tests postponed Tuesday’s short trip across London.

It’s a 2pm ET kickoff on Thursday in Macedonia. Spurs are favored in a big way even away from home, with a Shkendija win paying off +1800 from some bookmakers.

Not bad considering Spurs have the second best odds to win the tournament behind (ducking) Arsenal.

A Shkendija win would not be the biggest upset of the day. Instead of talking about Sporting Lisbon versus Aberdeen or Galatasaray’s tough visit from Hajduk Split, let’s acknowledge the biggest underdogs of the penultimate round before the group stage.

NS Mura +1000 home to PSV Eindhoven

Underdog fun fact: The Slovenian hosts have technically only existed since 2013, having risen from the ashes of ND Mura 05, which itself began in 2005 by picking up the pieces of NK Mura. That club had been around since 1924.

Riga +1100 home to Celtic

Underdog fact: The young Latvian club was put together as a merger of two others and has already beaten CSKA Sofia, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Copenhagen in single matches during its European life.

Desna Chernihiv +1500 away to Wolfsburg

Underdog fact: Ukrainian side Desna handed West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko his senior debut at the age of 17. Yarmolenko scored four goals in nine appearances before signing for national giants Dynamo Kiev.

Shkendija +1800 home to Tottenham

Underdog fact: Once managed by former German national team striker Thomas Brdaric.

B36 Torshavn +1900 away to CSKA Sofia

Underdog fun fact: The White Tigers of the Faroe Islands have played in 51 European matches, winning just seven. Three of those have come this season.

Locomotive Tbilisi +4400 away to Granada

Underdog fun fact: The Georgian side stunned Russian mainstays Dinamo Moscow to make it this far. Safe to say the bookies don’t see them repeating the feat against La Liga opposition.


How to watch Shkendija – Tottenham + Europa League playoff round streams, start times

When: Wednesday and Thursday
Online: Bleacher Report Live


Europa League playoff round ties

All times ET

Wednesday
Apollon Limassol v Lech Poznan — Noon

Thursday
Ararat-Armenia v Celje — 10 am
KuPS v Suduva Marijampole — 11:30 am
Viktoria Plzen v Sonderjyske — Noon
Fehervar v Stade de Reims — Noon
Rostov v Maccabi Haifa — 12:30 pm
Riga v Celtic — 1 pm
Besiktas v Rio Ave — 1 pm
NS Mura v PSV Eindhoven — 1 pm
Sporting Charleroi v Partizan — 1 pm
Malmo v Lokmotiva Zagreb — 1 pm
Djurgardens v CFR Cluj — 1 pm
Rosenborg v Alanyaspor — 1 pm
CSKA Sofia v B36 Toshavn — 1 pm
FCSB v Slovan Liberec — 1:30 pm
Hapoel Be’er Sheva v Motherwell — 1:30 pm
Shkendija v Tottenham Hotspur — 2 pm
Galatasaray v Hajduk Split — 2 pm
Copenhagen v Piast Gliwice — 2 pm
Granada v Lokomotiv Tbilisi — 2pm
Standard Liege v Vojvodina — 2 pm
APOEL Nicosia v Zrinjski Mostar — 2pm
Sheriff Tiraspol v Dundalk — 2 pm
Sarajevo v Buducnost Podgorica — 2 pm
Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag v Dinamo Tbilisi — 2 pm
Wolfsburg v Desna Chernihiv — 2:15 pm
AC Milan v Bodo/Glimt — 2:30 pm
Basel v Anorthosis Famagusta — 2:30 pm
St Gallen v AEK Athens — 2:30 pm
LASK v DAC Dunajska Streda — 2:30 pm
Legia Warsaw v Drita — 2:30 pm
Floriania v Flora Tallinn — 2:30 pm
HNK Rijeka v Kolos Kovalivka — 2:45 pm
Sporting Lisbon v Aberdeen — 3 pm
Willem II Tilburg v Rangers — 3 pm

Reports: Ajax, Barcelona reach agreement over USMNT’s Dest

Sergino Dest Barcelona
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Ronald Koeman couldn’t convince Sergino Dest to represent the Netherlands over the United States, but the Barcelona boss has reportedly talked the Ajax back into choosing the Blaugranas over the Bavarians.

Dest, 19, has been widely linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks, though Barcelona was also mentioned with the caveat that Koeman would have to sell players to bring others in due to the La Liga outfit’s salary problems.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

Wolves’ pursuit of Nelson Semedo and Atletico Madrid’s move for Luis Suarez may have opened the door for Dest, and multiple reports say Ajax and Barcelona have reached an agreement on a $22 million transfer with another $6 million in incentives in the deal.

Dest was named Ajax Young Talent of the Year last season and is also a member of the 2020 Golden Boy shortlist. He has two goals and six assists in 37 senior appearances for the club after coming through its vaunted academy. He’s also been linked with moves to Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

Capped thrice by the United States after the Yanks won a recruitment battle with the Netherlands, Dest went 90 minutes in eight of Ajax’s last 10 Eredivisie matches and came off the bench in their opening two Eredivisie matches of the 2020-21 campaign. That’s likely due to transfer issues.

Dest would become the second American to represent Barcelona on a matchday 18, just missing out on the honor of being first. Barca academy product Konrad de la Fuente signed a contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub when the Blaugranas beat Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Aug. 8.