Carli Lloyd proves she’s the Women’s World Cup hero she always knew she would be

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Carli Lloyd waited her entire life for this moment. The United States women’s national team waited four years for a second crack at a World Cup title.

On Sunday, Lloyd needed only five minutes to emphatically secure her and her team’s fate.

The United States midfielder scored twice in the first five minutes on Sunday at BC Place to electrify a pro-American crowd of 53,341 fans, and the Americans marched on to score another three goals – Lloyd added one of those – to beat Japan, 5-2 on Sunday in the highest-scoring Women’s World Cup final in history.

Her third goal “might be the best goal ever scored by the United States,” said longtime captain Christie Rampone, who was part of the 1999 World Cup title team as well as this one.

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Getty Images

In the 16th minute, Lloyd collected the ball in her own half off a Japan turnover and made a subtle touch on the ball to slip past a defender. When Lloyd lifted her head, she saw Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori well outside of her goal box and, with a foot inside of each half, Llloyd launched a shot over the head of the hopeless goalkeeper, who got a finger on the ball but could only slow its inevitable roll of destiny over the goal line.

“I’ve dreamed of scoring a shot like that,” Lloyd said, adding that she scored a similar goal once when she was younger.

“I think when you’re feeling good, mentally, physically, those plays are just instincts and it just happens.”

[LAULETTA: Wambach finally wins the World Cup she has so desired]

The team’s World Cup triumph was at one point a relatively improbable thought, but Lloyd playing the role of hero is really the most probable of endings. She was the first man or woman to score the Olympic gold-medal winning goal in back-to-back Olympic Games, lifting the now three-time defending Olympic champion U.S. women to glory in 2008 and 2012.

Lloyd, who turns 33 years old this month, has evolved from an out-of-shape young player, who was cut from youth national teams and on the verge of quitting the game over a decade ago, to one of the greatest players in the history of the greatest women’s soccer program on the planet now that it has become the first nation to win three titles, in addition to four Olympic gold medals… She won the Golden Ball award for the 2015 World Cup, given to the tournament’s best player.

Lloyd is the epitome of an athlete who is laser-focused, eyes wide and hungry at every moment on the field. She disconnects from her personal life during major tournaments and maintains minimal contact with her family and friends in order to focus solely on herself.

However, during tournaments, Lloyd does maintain daily contact with James Galanis, her trainer and the man she credits for her career turnaround. Galanis has been in Greece on vacation during the World Cup, but on Sunday morning, in a time zone 10 hours ahead of the one in which Lloyd played, Galanis sent the midfielder a motivational email just has he does before every major tournament final (Lloyd has played in four now), the contents of which remain between trainer and player.

“She’s just a mental and physical machine,” Galanis said via text message.

Mentality is key for Lloyd.

“All these years, there are going to be people that try to push you down,” she told me in October. “There are going to be people that try to tell you you’re not good enough. What James has always continued to harp on with me, is that you train 100 percent, 100 percent of the time and you prove everybody wrong.”

That there are any doubters of Lloyd left out there after Sunday’s performance is a ludicrous thought. But any lingering thoughts about Lloyd and this generation of players not yet having a World Cup title of their own have been put to rest.

Lloyd’s mentality – emblematic of the team’s – is a big part of what got the United States to the podium.

After Sunday’s otherworldly performance, Lloyd shared a personal moment she had back home in southern New Jersey last month before departing for the World Cup. Lloyd was by herself on the humble, unassuming fields of raggedy grass in Medford, N.J., headphones in her ears while she ran sprints. Lloyd had a moment, she said, when she was daydreaming of playing in the World Cup final again. In that dream, she scored four goals, which by all realistic accounts of a soccer match – especially a World Cup final between two world-class teams – is an audacious pipe dream.

But there sat Lloyd on Sunday, having just become the first player to score a hat trick in a Women’s World Cup final, and it never seemed like it couldn’t happen. It felt like Lloyd could have scored six goals on the day if she were given the time; the same could be said for her teammates.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis also envisioned winning the World Cup, just not that emphatically. “Five is kind of a dream come true,” she said.

Even 10 days ago, the United States winning this Women’s World Cup title seemed unlikely. “I feel like this core of these 23 players and this staff have believed more than anybody else in this country,” U.S. forward Alex Morgan told me on Friday. She is right. That belief among players is all that the team ever really needed, and they told everyone all along.

In the face of team-wide criticism following an ugly round-of-16 victory over Colombia, Lloyd stepped up and led like a captain. (Lloyd and Abby Wambach rotated the armband throughout the tournament. Both wore it at one point on Sunday, but the 40-year-old Rampone walked off the field one last time at a World Cup with the armband around her bicep.)

Ahead of the quarterfinal match against China – which was the turning point of this World Cup for the United States – Lloyd faced the TV cameras and the scrutinizing questions all that week – just as she did all tournament – in Ottawa.

“We all know we’re not playing our best football,” she conceded then.

“Our best is yet to come,” she promised.

“I need to get the ball and I need to run at players, I need to create stuff,” she implored. “I need to find a way to impact the game, no matter how it’s going.”

All of those things happened. U.S. coach Jill Ellis, first by force due to suspensions and then by choice, changed her approach and pushed Lloyd up higher on the field, giving her the freedom for which she longed – the freedom which had delivered two Olympic gold medals and now, ultimately, a World Cup title to the United States.

Lloyd speaks often of her desire to be the best midfielder in the world. On Sunday, she proved that such a designation would be a disservice; to just call her a midfielder is too limiting.

“She was obviously the best forward in the world, the way she performed tonight,” Rampone said.

On this day, Lloyd stated loud and clear her case as the world’s best player.

“It’s a surreal moment,” she said. “It’s been amazing. We just wrote history today and brought this World Cup trophy home, which is unbelievable.”

But really, it’s all believable when Lloyd is on the field.

USMNT striker Sargent out for rest of 2019

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American forward Josh Sargent will be shut down for the rest of 2019 thanks to a groin injury.

Werder Bremen said the injury first arose during USMNT duty and has bothered the 19-year-old in recent weeks.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sargent has two goals and three assists in 13 matches this season, playing mostly a center forward or primary striker role.

Here’s Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt:

“Since this is a small, deep-set muscle, the problems only occur at certain, very specific loads, which is why he was able to play and train for so long with problems. We will now give Josh’s injury time to properly heal, then he will get back to training in January.”

There are four more match days in the Bundesliga before the league goes on holiday break until mid-January.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 15

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The congested schedule means we’ve had two match days since we last took stock of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got a brand new Top Five (well, in terms of the four behind eventual champions Liverpool) and two teams dipping to season lows on our ol’ litmus test.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]

20. Watford — As many losses as goals (9), and that figure is one more than the Hornets’ total points. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the verge of full-time manager No. 3, as full-time manager of Watford is a bit more like seasonal help.
Last week: 18
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

19. Everton — A top half team in terms of talent seeks the manager who can organize its way out of the drop zone. Might it be this guy? Better than the alternatives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Leicester City

18. Norwich City — The first team to 10 losses is four points shy of 17th.
Last week: 16
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Everton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Arsenal

17. West Ham United — A gigantic ball of “blah.” Should thank Everton for existing so people aren’t more focused on this particular collection of currently squandered talent.
Last week: 20
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Bournemouth — It’s just not good enough, is it? To have held onto Callum Wilson and get another step up in class from Philip Billing and still be so wildly inconsistent.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Spurs

15. Southampton — It really feels like the Danny Ings revival show could rival any story for the best individual one in the league this season. Happy to see Ralph Hasenhuttl get some good performances, as he was being scapegoated in a hurry.
Last week: 19
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

14. Aston Villa — Allowing a league-worst 18.8 shots per game, but staying in the mix thanks to Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings.
Last week: 13
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 11 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Arsenal — The Gunners back line gets a lot of heat, and rightly so, but maybe a little help from the midfield would be nice considering Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz have combined for 39 blocks. Sokratis is third in the PL and Luiz fourth.
Last week: 12
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Southampton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Norwich City

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — First win ever away to Arsenal is another feather in the cap of Graham Potter, especially nice considering they had lost four on the bounce.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

11. Newcastle United — No one is punching above its weight more than Steve Bruce‘s Magpies, and they’ve been aided in a big way by Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian goalkeeper has a league-best 44 saves from shots inside the 18.

Also, according to Understat’s xG numbers, they should’ve lost to the Blades. In fat, the xG table says they should be dead last. Life’s funny like that. It’s Steve Bruce’s world and we’re living in it.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

10. Sheffield United — Just lost for the first time since September. That’s amazing.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 3-3 v. Manchester United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

9. Burnley — Striker Chris Wood has been credited with 12 “big chances missed” by Sofascore, more than any player in the league.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 3-0 at Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday v. Crystal Palace

8. Spurs — Jose Mourinho learned Wednesday that Moussa Sissoko is nice for the squad, but not to be leaned on.
Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

7. Crystal Palace — Wilfried Zaha‘s 68 dribbles are 13 more than anyone else in the league.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

6. Manchester United — Ole had himself a moment in outfoxing Mourinho without Pogba or Martial.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Drew 3-3 at Sheffield United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. Sunday v. Aston Villa

5. Chelsea — We told you, Frank. WE TOLD YOU.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

4. Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte is still two months away and that’s two months too long.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United

3. Wolves — This is going to sound nuts, but there are days I’d rather see Liverpool on my schedule than Wolves. The Reds are obviously better weaponized, but Wolves come at you in waves, man, and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing it without his best center back.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Sheffield United

2. Leicester City — How’s this for an unsustainable stat? Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira rank first and second in the league in tackles, with 67 and 62.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 2-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton
1. Liverpool — Big Virgil Van Dijk is on track to become the first Premier League player to complete 1000 passes this season, currently at 953.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton and Hove Albion

Report: Everton targeting former Porto, Fener boss Pereira

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Everton might be looking to the Chinese Super League for its next manager.

Vitor Pereira is the top target for the Merseyside set, report our partners at Sky Sports, as the Toffees begin life after Thursday’s firing of Marco Silva.

Pereira, 51, has been in management since 2002, leading Porto, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce, and current club Shanghai SIPG amongst others.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He’s won titles in Greece, China, Saudi Arabia, and his native Portugal, but there are suitors beyond the Toffees’ reported interest.

The 51-year-old is currently one of the highest paid coaches in the world and was recently offered the job of managing the Chinese national team.

It is understood he is currently considering a new contract offer from Shanghai, which will guarantee he earns £30m a year.

Duncan Ferguson is the interim boss as Everton hosts Chelsea this weekend.

MLS teams no longer will play every opponent each season

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer is breaking away from soccer’s tradition of having each team play every opponent in its league.

MLS is expanding to 26 teams in 2020 with the additions of Miami and Nashville but will keep a 34-game regular-season schedule. A team will play each of its 12 conference opponents home and away, and will face only 10 of the 13 teams in the other conference.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Nashville opens Feb. 29 at home against Atlanta and David Beckham’s Inter Miami starts March 1 at Los Angeles, the league said Thursday in announcing all home openers. Defending champion Seattle opens March 1 against Chicago.

Other Feb. 29 openers are Colorado at D.C., New England at Montreal, LA Galaxy at Houston, Toronto at San Jose, Philadelphia at Dallas, Salt Lake at Orlando and Kansas City at Vancouver. Games the following day include New York City at Columbus, Cincinnati at New York Red Bulls and Minnesota at Portland.

Home openers on March 7 are Chicago at New England, Red Bulls at Salt Lake, NYC at Toronto, Cincinnati at Atlanta, Houston at Kansas City, Orlando at Colorado and Vancouver at LA Galaxy. Four more home openers are set for March 14: Dallas at NYC, LA Galaxy at Miami, D.C. at Cincinnati and San Jose at Philadelphia.

The final home openers are Red Bulls at Minnesota on March 15 and Atlanta at Chicago on March 21 as the Fire return downtown to Soldier Field, their home from 1997-2005. The played in suburban Bridgeview from 2006 through last season.

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