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Hope Solo’s ban from USWNT about much more than “coward” comments

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On Wednesday the news broke that U.S. Soccer had banned Hope Solo for six months from the USWNT and had terminated her contract as a member of the national team.

In truth, we all saw this coming.

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The official reason given by Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, was that Solo’s comments following the USA’s shock defeat on penalty kicks to Sweden in the quarterfinals at Rio 2016 were “unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players.”

Solo, 35, said that Sweden played like “a bunch of cowards” and argued that “the best team did not win.”

Were the comments out of line? Yes. Were they in the heat of the moment? Yes. Were they worthy of a six-month suspension from the USWNT? No.

Then again, this whole episode is about far more than Solo basically lambasting Sweden for being a long-ball team. This storm has been brewing for some time with multiple incidents of indiscretion leading to this inevitable outcome.

Gulati said as much.

“Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action,” Gulati added in the statement.

Solo is currently locked in a legal battle with a half-sister and nephew over alleged domestic violence — Solo continues to claims she is innocent — from 2014, while there was also the incident in 2015 involving Solo and her husband, Jerramy Stevens.

The latter was arrested and charged with a DUI after he and Solo took a team mini-van from the USWNT hotel in California and drove around the streets before being pulled over outside the team hotel by police with Solo reportedly dragged from the scene kicking and screaming. Solo was banned by U.S. Soccer for 30 days on Jan. 31, 2015 for that incident but was recalled by Jill Ellis for the 2015 World Cup and was a star during the USWNT’s World Cup win.

Those two unsavory incidents coupled with the huge wave of negativity from the people of Brazil at Rio 2016 — home fans booed Solo constantly and chanted “Zika” every time she kicked the ball after she posted several pictures on social media showing her preparing for the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil — were enough for U.S. Soccer to act in this manner when Solo gave them yet another reason to investigate her.

USWNT head coach Ellis flew to Seattle with Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer’s secretary general, to deliver the news of the suspension and although Solo will still be able to play for Seattle Reign FC in the NWSL (U.S. Soccer is reportedly handing her three months severance pay on the contract they terminated which also includes her salary for NWSL play) she will miss two upcoming games for the USWNT in 2016.

Will the USWNT be weaker without Solo? Of course they will but this ban shows they believe they are ready to move on without her. After 16 year and 202 caps with the USWNT, Solo is not indispensable anymore. She has been one of the greatest players in women’s soccer history and probably the greatest-ever goalkeeper. Yet, Gulati and U.S. Soccer had to make a firm stance after giving Solo chance after chance to clean up her act.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 03: Hope Solo #1 of United States looks on during the Women's Group G first round match between the United States and New Zealand during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 3, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

It doesn’t take a master decoder to work out the subliminal message buried in Gulati’s comments in the statement released by U.S. Soccer.

In a nutshell it says: enough is enough. You were on your last chance and you blew it. It is highly likely than since January 2015 Solo has been repeatedly warned that if she steps out of line again there would be severe consequences.

Right now Solo will not be available to play for the U.S. until Feb. 2017 and even then it seems highly unlikely she will return. After a distinguished career on the pitch, Solo’s erratic behavior off it has finally caught up with her.

The lengthy ban for her outspoken rant against Sweden was undoubtedly excessive and there is a big question mark about the notion of free speech here. She spoke her mind vehemently about her distaste towards Sweden’s tactics but it wasn’t like Solo swore or used discriminatory language when speaking about Sweden. She just didn’t agree with their tactics.

Yet, that “coward” rant was likely the final straw in a long line of indiscretions which even Solo, perhaps one day, must admit have painted both herself and U.S. Soccer in a poor light over the past few years. She is outspoken and the passion, as misguided as it was, which fueled these comments is also what has taken her to the top of the game.

Sometimes, though, enough is enough. The punishment from U.S. Soccer for this specific outburst may seem harsh to many but it likely marks the end of Solo’s glittering, controversy filled, USWNT career.

Arsenal players “low on confidence” as slump continues

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Arsenal interim manager Freddie Ljungberg saw his brief tenure turn from meh to worse, as the Gunners followed up their weekend draw with Norwich City by losing at home to Brighton and Hove Albion on Thursday.

The Swedish legend could only point to one thing.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 1-2 Brighton ]

“The players are low on confidence,” he said on NBCSN after the game. “We had a bit of reaction in the second half after our discussion at half, but we need to start the game like that. That’s the biggest disappointment I have. The second half they gave it a crack.”

“We’re in a difficult situation. We’ve got a lot of games and the confidence has gone down. It’s my job to get them to be more aggressive and have more energy.”

Perhaps most depressing is Ljungberg’s description of his players in the first half, via Football.London.

“They looked scared to get the ball and were standing still.”

Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin wouldn’t put any of the blame on the manager.

Bellerin credited Ljungberg for bringing energy to the training pitch this week, and was lost for answers after a poor showing at home.

“I don’t know what to say. I have the feeling that whatever we do it doesn’t come out right. The team gave its best, we created chances, we defended good but it seems like we need so many chances to score and teams score every chance against us. I am lost for words a little bit.”

He said he’s 100 percent sure the results will come Arsenal’s way. The next chance comes Monday at West Ham United.

Wilder laments VAR goal: ‘I don’t know where the game is going’

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Referees these days need to get off Chris Wilder‘s lawn.

The Sheffield United manager, author of an incredible season so far, could not wrap his head around VAR allowing Newcastle United’s second goal of a 2-0 defeat of his Blades at Bramall Lane on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Blades 0-2 Newcastle ]

Jonjo Shelvey kept running onto an Andy Carroll flick despite the linesman’s flag going up, and Stuart Atwell let Shelvey play to the whistle in beating Dean Henderson 1v1.

VAR review showed Carroll onside when he headed the ball, and the goal stood. Wilder says that’s not how he was told VAR would work, and that soccer is ruined because of it.

“The game has changed. This game now is completely different to what I experienced as a 16-year-old lad as an apprentice. This game in a heartbeat has changed. I don’t know where it is going and it is sucking the life out of me and the supporters.”

You can understand his frustration, of course, but really it’s more of a listen Henderson shouldn’t forget. Play it to the whistle, then complain if it ends up in the goal.

Atwell is the referee and has the right to overrule his linesman if he thinks there’s been a mistake. In the light of day, Wilder will understand a bit more. Surely he’ll get a similar call in the future.

Above statement aside, credit Wilder for a well-reasoned approach to why he’s upset with the call (It definitely didn’t help that Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka stood on his head in denying several terrific Blades chances).

“I was told at the start of the season that the linesman would not put his flag up and let it go. He put his flag up and the referee was about to blow his whistle,” he said. “Everyone in the ground stopped. Jonjo Shelvey even nonchalantly went up and took an opportunity. His body language said to me he had seen the linesman had put the flag up and he was going to be offside.”

What do you think? Should Atwell have blown the whistle? We tend to think no, but this is a democracy.

Arsenal skid hits nine in home loss

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Arsenal’s winless run reached nine with a 2-1 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

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Neal Maupay headed an Aaron Mooy cross past Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno with 10 minutes to play.

Alexandre Lacazette found a second half equalizer after Adam Webster put the Seagulls ahead before the break.

Arsenal stays 10th with 19 points, below Sheffield United and above Newcastle United on goal difference. Brighton rises to 13th with 18 points.

The nine-game run is Arsenal’s worst since 1977.


Three things we learned

1. Freddie not the fix: There’s been no new manager bounce for Arsenal, and perhaps that’s as big of an indictment on player recruitment than anything else. Who knows if Freddie Ljungberg is a future genius manager, but the Gunners had little to offer in being outshot for most of the match.

2. Leno would be Best XI on a good team: Arsenal’s goalkeeper is one of the good ones, and the 27-year-old goalkeeper was credited with seven saves at home. Who knows where the Gunners would sit on the table if Leno wasn’t leading the league in saves? I mean, look at the clubs represented around him on the board. This is a bad, bad, bad defense.

https://www.sofascore.com/tournament/football/england/premier-league/17

3. Potter’s men continue to impress: The Seagulls continue on an upward trend, and were the better team on the day inside the home of one of the biggest teams in the league. Their big backs dealt well enough with Arsenal’s talented attack, with midfielder Aaron Mooy the star of their match even before he assisted Maupay’s go-ahead goal.

Man of the Match: It would’ve been Leno, who had no fault on either goal, but Mooy’s assist tips the scales in favor of the Australian.


Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin conceded a free kick on the edge of the box in the 22nd minute, but that came to nothing.

At the other end, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spun an outside-of-the-boot hit wide of the far post.

But Brighton was producing the best chances over the first half-hour, and were rightly on the board first when Webster slotted a shot from the heart of the 18.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Arsenal brought on Nicolas Pepe at halftime, but it was Lacazette who equalized with a looping header off a corner kick.

Brighton didn’t wilt, and Bernd Leno reacted well to Neal Maupay’s disappointing first touch of a loose ball in the six with just under a half hour to play.

The Gunners saw a goal pulled back by VAR after David Luiz was offside when he headed a free kick past Mat Ryan.

Pepe then slid Aubameyang behind the Brighton back line, but the Seagulls limited the damage to a corner kick.

Maupay put the Seagulls ahead when he held his nerve in front of Luiz to head Mooy’s cross home.

Newcastle takes three points at Sheffield United

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Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey scored goals and VAR made its presence felt as Newcastle United toppled Sheffield United 2-0 at Bramall Lane on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Its Newcastle’s fifth result from six following a loss to Chelsea, while Sheffield United sees the end of its seven-match unbeaten run.

The Magpies pull into 11th place with 19 points, two spots below the Blades on goal differential.

Sheffield United meets Norwich City on Sunday, when Newcastle hosts Southampton.


Three things we learned

1. Blades make rookie mistake in VAR era: The linesman’s flag was raised when Andy Carroll flicked a header into the Blades final third, but Shelvey kept running onto the ball and referee Stuart Atwell allowed play to continue into the 1v1 chance between the midfielder and Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Shelvey passed around Henderson and into the goal, the backstop apparently spotting the flag and assuming the call. Big mistake, as VAR negated the linesman’s flag.

2. Bruce rewarded for lineup risk, and ASM breaks down the door: Manager Steve Bruce pulled the plug on big money striker Joelinton‘s automatic spot in the Starting XI, installing veteran center forward and hometown hero Andy Carroll in that spot. Carroll was solid with Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron on his flanks, and won the pivotal assist in the second half.

Saint-Maximin is either the league’s best dribbler or a fixture in the debate, but he’s been unable to find the back of the goal whether through fine saves or misfired shots. Raise your hand if you had 50-50 header for his first Premier League marker. Didn’t think so. If this busts down the door, look out.

3. Magnificent Martin deserves a rest: Newcastle backstop Martin Dubravka was the biggest factor in the result, as the Slovakian national team goalkeeper was at his shot-stopping best. He was stopping all of the Olivers, with fine stops on McBurnie and Norwood in the first half and a well-controlled box in the second 45.

Man of the Match: Dubravka — Respect to Carroll, but the keeper made six saves on the night for a richly-deserved clean sheet.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

A deflection off Miguel Almiron forced Martin Dubravka into a fine reaction stop in the sixth minute.

Newcastle then had the ball for a spell without real threat, as Blades’ Oli McBurnie’s curl wide in the 15th minute was the next moment of danger for either side.

The Magpies scored soon after, Saint-Maximin rising high to thump a header inside the post after Andy Carroll laid off for Javi Manquillo‘s cross.

McBurnie then forced an incredible save out of Dubravka when George Baldock sent a terrific cross into the heart of the box.

Almiron gave away a dangerous free kick in first half stoppage time, but Dubravka was again there for a two-handed parry of Oliver Norwood‘s rip.

VAR made its voice heard in the 71st minute, when it ruled that