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Press, Johnston get the goals, USWNT thumps Colombia in latest friendly

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CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Julie Johnston scored two goals, Tobin Heath had a pair of assists and the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated Colombia 3-0 on Sunday.

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Christen Press also scored for the Americans, who wrapped up a two-game exhibition series with Colombia after a 7-0 win on Wednesday in Connecticut.

U.S. captain Carli Lloyd, the 2015 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, was held scoreless despite several chances in her homecoming, coming out to a thunderous ovation in the 73rd minute.

The Delran, N.J., native grew up 30 minutes from Talen Energy Stadium, the home stadium of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. It was her first game in the area since leading the United States to the 2015 World Cup, getting a hat trick in the final.

“Although I would have liked to score in front of my home crowd, it’s not really the end of the world,” said Lloyd, who had more than 100 family and friends in attendance. “We won the game and that’s the most important thing.”

The Americans are 11-0 in 2016, outscoring their opponents 42-1. They are preparing for the Rio Olympics, where they’re seeking their fourth straight gold medal.

[ MORE: Press scores a stunner in 7-0 victory over Colombia ]

Coach Jill Ellis has several tough choices for the tournament and experimented with Sunday’s lineup, giving playmaker Heath her first start at fullback and sitting out starting goalkeeper Hope Solo in favor of Alyssa Naeher, who’s competing with Ashlyn Harris for the backup role in Rio.

“Way back when, Tobin played at the under-20 level as a left back,” Ellis said.

“But Tobin has a good mind, good feet, versatility, athleticism and she’s playing with so much confidence. That’s huge, especially when you go into a tournament with six games and a small roster – to have that flexibility is great.”

Heath admitted that she “prefers to be attacking,” but certainly put in a strong shift at both right back and left back, especially with her set pieces.

In the 42nd minute, Johnston one-timed Heath’s free kick past Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez to put the United States up 2-0. Heath and Johnston connected again on another free kick to close the scoring in the 79th minute.

“At the end of the day, it’s all Tobin,” Johnston said. “Tobin played the set piece perfectly where I needed to be. I was lucky enough to be in the right spots.”

[ MORE: England women’s team supports USWNT in equal-pay battle ]

It was the first multiple-goal game for Johnston, whose seven career goals have all come off set pieces. Like Lloyd, she also played in front of several family members, including her fiance, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

“It was awesome,” Johnston said. “To have Zach here, my family here, it’s always fun.”

Naeher improved to 4-0, earning her fourth career shutout. But she didn’t need to make any saves.

Perez, who plays for the University of Miami, made seven saves, including a big one on Lloyd in first-half stoppage time and a couple of more great ones right before the final whistle.

“I have a lot of respect for her,” Perez said of Lloyd. “Of course I watched her win the Golden Ball (at the World Cup). I think she’s an amazing person and player. To be able to play against her, it was awesome.”

Star Alex Morgan (hip) and Morgan Brian (hamstring) both missed their second straight game with injuries.

[ MORE: Abby Wambach apologizes for DUI arrest ]

Press opened the scoring in the 26th minute with a chip over Perez following a through ball from Lindsey Horan. It was the 33rd goal of her career, moving her into 16th place on the team’s all-time list.

Lloyd had a few chances to build on the Americans’ first-half lead, but pushed one close-range shot wide and had trouble controlling a cross right in front of the net.

Afterward, the star midfielder lamented that she “couldn’t buy a goal,” but denied pressing in front of her home crowd.

“Carli could be playing in front of five people and she will want to press for a goal,” Ellis said. “I think that’s her instinct. She’s a competitor and a goal-scorer. I think she could have had a couple today but credit their ‘keeper. She came up big and, at times, we weren’t as precise as we need to be.”

The Americans were playing their second game since five players, including Lloyd, filed a wage-discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.