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USWNT: Tobin Heath’s time is here with World Cup looming

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Less than a year ago, Tobin Heath lamented that being injured was the “worst thing in the whole entire world.”

Now healthy, the midfielder for the Portland Thorns and the U.S. national team looks like she’s having the time of her life.

[ MORE: Tim Howard part of group that now owns 5th-tier English club ]

“I feel like it’s been nice for me to be out on the field for a while now,” she said. “I always try to get better and better and improve my game. I never feel like I’ve reached it. I’m also in a great place to find my best form here in Portland. I’m supported by amazing people, so I get the freedom to be able to grow and improve as a player because of the people around me.”

Heath and the Thorns host a National Women’s Soccer League semifinal match against the Seattle Reign on Saturday. Portland went 12-6-6 this season to capture second place in the nine-team league, behind the North Carolina Courage.

The other semifinal, between the Courage and the Chicago Red Stars, was originally scheduled for Sunday in Cary, North Carolina, but because of Hurricane Florence it was moved to Tuesday night at Portland’s Providence Park. The championship game is set for Sept. 22 in Portland.

Heath spent the better part of last year dealing with injuries, and in January she had ankle surgery. The timing of the procedure was crucial because the national team needed a healthy Heath for World Cup qualifying this fall.

[ MORE: USMNT beats Mexico on Tyler Adams’ first int’l goal ]

She came back in late April and has since regained her form as one of the top players in the world. She ranks third on the Thorns with seven goals but leads her teammates with seven assists.

“Sometimes I zone out watching what she’s doing on the field and I have to get myself back into it,” said Lindsey Horan, Heath’s teammate on both the national team and the Thorns.

Heath has also had an impact on the national team so far this year as the United States prepares for World Cup qualifying in October and the chance to defend its title next year in France.

Known for her footwork and dribbling skills, Heath was the national team’s Player of the Year and the NWSL’s MVP in 2016.

She had a goal and two assists in the U.S. team’s last game, a 4-0 exhibition victory over Chile in San Jose, California, earlier this month.

Her play drew the praise of former teammate Heather O’Reilly.

Now 30, Heath made her debut with the senior national team in 2008. She’s a three-time Olympian, earning gold medals with the team in 2008 and 2012. If the United States makes the field for the 2019 World Cup in France, it will be her third.

[ MORE: What did we learn about USMNT this international break? ]

The match against Chile was her 138th appearance with the national team. She has 21 career goals and 33 assists. Since working her way back from injury, she has three goals and four assists as well as four straight starts.

Heath has been with her club team, the Thorns, since the NWSL’s first season in 2013. Portland won the league championship in the league’s inaugural year, then again last season.

She’d like to add another.

“I always say we’re a championship team, so we’re built for these types of moments,” she said. “The season has been interesting with all its ebbs and flows and different periods we went through together. But the team is strong and we’re collected. With that, I think there’s anything we can deal with.”

What to expect as U.S. kicks off U-20 World Cup

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Tab Ramos’ United States men’s national team may have a navigable U-20 World Cup group, but it doesn’t set-up nicely.

Not that supporters are ready to make excuses; The U.S. is expected to make a decent run over the next month in Poland.

[ WATCH: The U-20 World Cup on Telemundo ]

Timothy Weah, Paxton Pomykal, and the Baby Yanks meet Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. ET in their Group D debut, hopeful of a run past the quarterfinals. The Americans haven’t played three post-group stage matches since a fourth place finish in 1999.

A group win is imperative with loaded favorites France expected to win Group E and set for a spot on the other side of the knockout bracket.

Aside from Josh Sargent’s call-up to the full USMNT, the Yanks have every reason to be optimistic about their potential. The 21-man player squad breaks down to six players on German sides, 10 American-based players, two from the Netherlands, and one each from Portugal, Spain, and France.

Weah is probably the most exciting one of the bunch, having success at Celtic on loan from PSG and earning high praise from Neymar amongst others, but Pomykal is one of the best MLS products in some time as a center midfielder.

Both Pomykal and Chris Durkin are getting significant minutes at the Major League Soccer level, while Mark McKenzie has nearly 20 with the Philadelphia Union as a senior player.

Beyond that are exciting strikers Sebastian Soto, who debuted for Hannover 96 this season, and Wolfsburg prospect Ulysses Llanez.

But the Yanks will look to Weah for that extra special something, the 19-year-old scoring six goals between PSG and Celtic this season.

Friday’s debut will be followed by a Monday match against Nigeria before Thursday’s tango witj Qatar.

Winning Group D means the third-place team from B, E, or F, while finishing second is a Round of 16 match-up with France, who boasts a number of high-end players already playing regularly at the highest levels of European soccer.

Everton adds keeper depth with Lossl

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Everton has added goalkeeping depth beyond Jordan Pickford.

Danish keeper Jonas Lossl will sign a three-year contract with the Toffees on July 1, staying in the Premier League after his release from Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup rewind ]

Lossl, 30, was initially on loan to the Terriers from Bundesliga outfit Mainz, but the deal was made permanent before last season.

The Dane had an outstanding loan campaign but wasn’t as strong this season as the Terriers were mowed down by Premier League competition and relegated to the Championship.

He was one of five players released by Huddersfield earlier this month.

Pickford also had a rough season between the sticks for Everton, but played all 38 Premier League matches for the club. Maarten Stekelenburg was his backup.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.