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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.

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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)

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.

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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.

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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.