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Kelley O’Hara hoping USWNT’s gold rush continues at Rio 2016

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Kelley O’Hara and the U.S. women’s national team begin their quest for gold at Rio 2016 on Wednesday as the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off.

The USWNT have won three-straight gold medals — including four golds in the five Olympic soccer tournaments to date — and are the heavy favorites to defend their Olympic title in Brazil this summer.

[ STREAM: Watch every game from Rio 2016 ]

O’Hara, 27, was part of the U.S. side which secured the gold medal at London 2012 and after adding a World Cup winners medal to her trophy cabinet in 2015, the Sky Blue FC star is aiming for more glory as part of Team USA.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk in the build-up to the Olympics in association with Coppertone, O’Hara is eager to experience the rush of competing in the Olympics once again.

How hopeful is she that the U.S. can bring home a gold medal this summer and become the first-team ever to hold both the World Cup and Olympic titles at the same time?

“Extremely hopeful,” O’Hara said, energetically. “Everyone’s goal is always to win the gold medal and no women’s soccer team has ever won a World Cup and then won an Olympic gold medal so we all want to be the first team to do that.”

In terms of the competition in front of the USWNT in Brazil, it is perhaps the strongest-ever field at a women’s Olympic soccer tournament. Six of the top 10 FIFA-ranked teams in the world will be competing

“Every year women’s soccer continues to grow and countries continue to get better,” O’Hara said. “I think this tournament will be even harder than London was in 2012. I think France is going to be a contender and also Brazil, being the host country, will also be one.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09: Heather Mitts #2 and Kelley O'Hara #5 of United States celebrate their 2-1 gold medal victory over Japan during the Women's Football gold medal match on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

At the London 2012 games O’Hara played every single second as the U.S. launched a memorable run to the gold medal match and beat Japan 2-1 at Wembley Stadium to win gold.

How did she feel after winning that title?

“When the final whistle blew and we knew we had won and there was no more stress and no-one could ever take away our gold medal, it was incredible,” O’Hara said. “I was one of the youngest players on that team and just knowing that I didn’t let any of the older players down, that was kind of one of my biggest stresses during the tournament. I wanted it for them. Obviously for everyone and for myself, but just knowing that I didn’t screw anything up and we had the gold medal was pretty cool.”

Fast forward three years and O’Hara was again tasting success, this time with the USWNT at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

In the semifinal win against Germany she came onto the pitch in the 75th minute and scored her first-ever international goal nine minutes later to seal the USA’s spot in the final against Japan which they would go on to win 5-2 and become world champs. Reflecting on that goal, O’Hara was happy to play her part.

“Probably from my individual performance at the tournament, that goal was pretty incredible. I was just so happy to be able to help the team in any way possible,” O’Hara said. “Putting in that goal meant we were up 2-0 with about 10 minutes left of a semifinal, that pretty much guaranteed we were going to be going to the final. That was an incredible feeling.”

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 30: Kelley O'Hara #5 of the United States celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal in the second half against Germany in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Following on from that World Cup success was a huge victory tour of games around the country and an open-to bus parade of New York City as the USWNT rode down the Canyon of Heroes with the trophy in a glorious ticker-tape parade. That was the highlight of the World Cup success for O’Hara.

“I would say they ticker-tape parade was pretty cool. None of us really knew what to expect going into it,” O’Hara said. “We didn’t really know the type of turnout we would get so riding down Broadway and seeing people completely packed from the buildings all the way to the sidewalk. And then every block we passed people were just all the way down each block. It was insane. It was just really cool to see and especially to see everyone from New York come out and support us.”

Originally a forward during her standout career at Stanford University which saw her win the Hermann Trophy as the top collegiate player in 2009 and excel in attacking roles for the U.S. youth teams, O’Hara has gradually shifted further back during her career. Able to operate as a winger or a full back after former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage switched her there before London 2012, O’Hara now operates a more defensive role for the U.S. national team.

When asked what her preferred position is, she gave this honest answer.

“I just like playing soccer,” O’Hara laughed. “I’ll play wherever you put me. I honestly don’t have a preferred position. Whatever the coach needs I can do that. All the different positions I’ve played have some fun aspects to them and maybe some not as enjoyable but at the end of the day soccer is soccer and I just like to play.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09: Kelley O'Hara #5 of United States moves the ball against Aya Miyama #8 of Japan in the second half during the Women's Football gold medal match on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

When she takes the field at Rio 2016 O’Hara will be representing Team USA. Is that any different than representing, and winning, a tournament like the World Cup with the U.S. national team?

“It is different because in the Olympics you are playing for Team USA and all these other athletes are competing and you feel a part of this big athletic movement,” O’Hara explained. “Then for the World Cup it is just purely football and everyone’s focus is just on our one team. It is different in that way but other than that, winning is winning. A gold medal is a gold medal.”

Like most of the U.S. national team, O’Hara is now pretty familiar with winning gold medals at Olympics and World Cups and this summer the entire nation will be hoping her gold rush continues.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09: Hope Solo #1, Shannon Boxx #7 and Christie Rampone #3, Amy LePeilbet #6, Kelley O'Hara #5 of the United States celebrates after defeating Japan by a score of 2-1 to win the Women's Football gold medal match on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.

Judge rules players not guilty in match-fixing case in Spain

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MADRID — The 36 players on trial in Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing case were cleared of wrongdoing on Monday.

A Spanish judge issued the “not guilty” verdict, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the players and others on trial – including former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre.

More than 40 people were accused of match-fixing involving the Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The judge convicted two former Zaragoza officials of fraud – then-president Agapito Iglesias and club director Javier Porquera. They were given a one-year, three-month prison sentence, although they were not likely to face jail time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Those accused were facing two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban.

Among the players on trial were Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Aguirre was Zaragoza’s coach at the time. He was among those who appeared in court to testify.

The investigation began after Spanish league president Javier Tebas denounced the alleged match-fixing, saying a former player told him a result had been fixed.

Prosecutors said there was evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Zaragoza’s squad and later transferred to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to avoid relegation. Deportivo La Coruna was demoted as a result.

Former Zaragoza officials said the money was paid to motivate players, not fix the result of the game.

Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing and there was evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.

The judge said in his ruling “there were was no evidence the money was given to Levante players to lose the match.”

A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is currently in Spain’s top league.

Arsenal overruns West Ham with 3 second half goals

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Who saw that coming?

With three goals in a nine-minute span in the second half, Arsenal overcame a one-goal halftime deficit to comfortably beat West Ham, 3-1, on Monday night at the Olympic Stadium. It was a complete reversal after a second half where Arsenal didn’t attempt a single shot on target in the first half and were second-best in winning duals and second balls.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But it was the Arsenal stars who helped the club when it was effectively on its knee, facing a tenth-straight match without a win. Goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and youngster Gabriel Martinelli secured all three points for Arsenal.

On the other side, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini is in a whole host of trouble. West Ham sits just one point above the relegation zone after 16 league matches, and Pellegrini was expected to take the Hammers to the next level.


Three things we learned

1. Arsenal stars finally step up: With Arsenal on the verge of another demoralizing defeat, the club’s expensive strike force helped turn the tide in the second half. Martinelli, Aubameyang, and Pepe all played a huge role, and their goals, arguably against the run of play, were more than enough to inject some excitement into the club.

2. No Luiz, No Problem: Arsenal may have found its new starting centerback combination. After multiple error-prone performances with Sokratis playing alongside David Luiz, Arsenal boss Freddy Ljunberg went with Calum Chambers to partner Sokratis. The end result was a much more organized backline, and fewer mistakes, leading to fewer allowed goals.

3. Pellegrini on the hot seat: Pellegrini will have a nervous few days ahead of him. Despite a rare win over Chelsea last week, West Ham has now dropped successive defeats, first to Wolves and now Arsenal, leaving West Ham on the edge of relegation. Could Pellegrini last until January?

Man of the Match: Arsenal’s defense deserves credit, but goals win games, so Man of the Match has to go to Nicolas Pepe. The Ivory Coast international absolutely earned his massive transfer fee on Monday, scoring a beautiful curler and then setting up Aubameyang with a chip into the box.


In the run up to kickoff, and even halftime, Arsenal had plenty of obstacles to overcome.

Right back Hector Bellerin was forced out of the starting lineup during pregame warmups, and left back Kieran Tierney couldn’t finish the match, having to be substituted midway through the first half.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Arsenal interim coach Freddie Ljungberg also made some big lineup decisions. Alexandre Lacazette and David Luiz were dropped, with Brazilian teenager Gabriel Martinelli starting up top and Calum Chambers moving inside to centerback. It took 60 minutes, but those moves paid dividends in the end.

However, before then, West Ham controlled the first half, even with less of the ball. The Hammers showed more desire and determination than Arsenal, winning many second balls, and it led to the opening goal. A corner kick in the 38th minute pinballed in and out of the box, with Arsenal twice failing to clear it. Eventually, the ball fell to Pablo Fornals, who chipped a ball into the middle of the box. West Ham centerback Angelo Ogbonna, still up in the box after the corner kick, dashed onto it and though it went off his shoulder, deflected off an Arsenal defender and in for a goal. VAR checked it, as it does with every goal, but the decision stood, and it was well deserved.

West Ham even looked more likely to score a second late in the first half and then early in the second half, as Arsenal couldn’t string many passes together in their own third or the final third.

In the 60th minute, it was like a flip was switched. Suddenly, West Ham provided no pressure on Arsenal’s backline when it had the ball, allowing Arsenal to easily break the lines. After two passes getting through a half-dozen defenders, the ball ended up on the left wing with Aubameyang. Aubameyang crosses into the center and with a first-time finish, suddenly Martinelli put Arsenal level at 1-1.

In the 66th minute, again Arsenal broke through West Ham’s midfield quite easily. Dribbling forward, Mesut Ozil passed into the middle to Aubameyang, who fed Pepe wide. Pepe, who was one-on-one with Aaron Cresswell, cut inside and curled home a beauty to make it 2-1, Arsenal.

Three minutes later, Aubameyang and Pepe teamed up again. Pepe cut inside, but instead of shooting, he slyly chipped a ball into the box. Aubameyang waited for it and as he was inside, scissor kicked the ball in to make it 3-1.

With West Ham shellshocked, Arsenal held on late for a huge win, moving the club back into the top half of the Premier League table.

This story will be updated.