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World Cup winner McDonald waits for NWSL to “skyrocket” back

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It’s an incredibly challenging time for all athletes, whether their seasons were disrupted midstream or delayed before they could begin their runs.

Spare a thought, relatively-speaking, for the players of the USWNT and National Women’s Soccer League. Women’s soccer is arguably at its peak worldwide, but their leagues have to rest on its laurels with the knowledge that their brightest players won’t get to shine on the Olympic stage until 2021.

There’s also the ongoing equal pay lawsuit by the USWNT against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has also been delayed five weeks.

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In the case of the NWSL, Opening Day was supposed to start Saturday but of course has been delayed indefinitely. Jessica McDonald and her NC Courage team would be starting their defense of three-consecutive NWSL Shields and two-straight NWSL Championships.

McDonald, instead, is training with one teammate — fellow USWNT star Abby Dahlkemper — and wondering how much the coronavirus pandemic delay will affect her sport. She knows the league can

She says the league was well set-up for this challenge, as much as it could be, but that she can’t help thinking of the “What ifs?”

“We were kinda on this momentum in the U.S. for women’s soccer,” McDonald told ProSoccerTalk on Friday (listen to the entire conversation here).

“I thought that coming into 2020 we were going to (come in) with a bang in the NWSL as a whole organization. I was pretty excited to see what the fan base was going to be like in comparison to last year. For this to cause this delay during this pandemic, we’ll see what kind of fan base there’s going to be because it’s not going to be what I expected.”

NC Courage
(Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

The delay began before the announcement that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would not take place this summer.

That meant the two-time defending World Cup champions would need to wait even longer to avenge their failure to medal at the 2016 Games in Brazil, the first time the USWNT finished off the podium at the Olympics.

For some players, it could be their only shot to compete at the Olympics. Others, their last. And McDonald admitted to thinking beyond soccer when lamenting her possible chance to hit the Olympic pitch.

“It was devastating to all of us athletes,” she said. “We have people who are thinking about retirement after they are done (with the Olympics). Think about gymnasts. They can only go so far with their age before going into their career fields. It’s insane to be a part. Pushing it back, a lot of us were devastated and disappointed but if it’s to secure our health, so-be-it.”

McDonald’s no stranger to disappointment and delays at the international level. After representing the U.S. at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels en route to being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2010 NWS Draft, she tore a patella tendon early in her rookie year and then found out she was pregnant with her son Jeremiah.

She worked at a factory while building back to fitness and didn’t make a full USWNT until 2016.

Suffice it to say that a World Cup celebration in 2019 didn’t seem a possibility.

“Looking back on all of that is mind-blowing,” McDonald said. “I went through the injury. Docs are telling me that physically I won’t be as fast. I wouldn’t measure up to being a full potential athlete. I fully ruptured my patella tendon, found out I was pregnant at the same time.”

“I found my motivation through my kid. Because I’ve been a mom since the NWSL has been the NWSL, day one. Scraping pinnies while trying to juggle motherhood was very challenging. It’s gonna be an inspiring thing for me in the future. I was inspired by him, and I want him to be inspired by me. He’s at an age where he’s going to remember all this. I’m just here to show him how hard your life journey gets some time but if you’re inspired by something, you hold onto that and use that until you reach your goal. Don’t stop until you get there.”

“The two of us are always gonna have that bond. He’s gonna remember that moment and we’re gonna be talking about that in the future. And I cannot wait.”

The celebrations took a turn due to the equal pay law suit the USWNT filed against the federation, and even more so when court documents showed belittling language against the women.

Jessica McDonald
(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

McDonald admits to being stung by the words and says the feelings were universal. Teammate Megan Rapinoe didn’t buy the ensuing apology from USWNT president Carlos Cordeiro, who’s since resigned.

“Obviously we were furious: It was blatantly sexist,” she said. “It was almost like a slap in our face but the bond we have in our team, it is so strong. You saw how powerful this case got. We have people in France, entire stadiums, screaming out equal pay together in a whole other country, here having our backs? This is something historical… It’s so strong and powerful when we do come together, it moves people. We kinda walk with some confidence because we’ve proven ourselves as female athletes. It’s frustrating but we’ll see what the outcome’s gonna be.”

We may have the answer to that before McDonald and the Courage begin their latest title defense, one which will prominently feature the 32-year-old.

“Since we have the core of this team together for five years,” she said. “The advantage is how well we know each others as players and the really cool camaraderie we have in the locker room. It’s one of a kind.”

McDonald is among the more decoated players in the nascent history of the NWSL, having also won the 2016 NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash before the franchise moved to Cary. She’s scored double-digit goals in three markets, and also had success in a brief stint for Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

We wouldn’t bet against her adding to it. When the NWSL does return, McDonald’s and her crew will be ready to help the league quickly regain any lost ground.

“Everybody’s gonna be fueled up,” she said. “Momentum is gonna skyrocket.”

(Listen to the entire conversation with McDonald here).

Actors Reynolds, McElhenney bid to invest in Wrexham AFC

Wrexham AFC
Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Jim Spellman/WireImage
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“The Gang Buys a Football Team?”

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” actor Rob McElhenney and “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds are said to be in talks to buy National League side Wrexham AFC, reports The Guardian.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

The Welsh club, nicknamed the Red Dragons, was founded in 1855 and made it to the European Cup Winners’ Cup eight times between 1972-96.

They’ve since been relegated out of the Football League, dipping out of League Two in 2008.

McElhenney and Reynolds have bid to take over the club, and the Wrexham Supporters Trust says 97.5 percent of their members voted to allow the actors to propose their vision for the club before a second vote.

From wst.org.uk:

As a result, talks with the proposed bidders will now continue and we are in a position to confirm the two people interested in investing in Wrexham AFC.

Rob McElhenney is an American actor, director, producer and screenwriter, best known as the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ryan Reynolds is an award-winning Canadian actor, writer, producer and business entrepreneur whose credits include Marvel’s Deadpool.

It’s gotta get McElhenney’s goat that Reynolds gets the “award-winning” adjective added to his name.

Either way, this is definitely an intriguing club for investment and the potential addition of Reynolds and McElhenney to the fray would only increase the interest in Wrexham AFC.

Deadpool and Mac would be quite a combo in the transfer market.

Arteta drawn into Ozil discussion, reacts to Liverpool doubleheader

Arteta on Ozil
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Mikel Arteta did his best not to give a soundbite that included Mesut Ozil’s name following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Leicester City in League Cup action on Wednesday.

Ozil, 31, has not played since assisting the lone goal in a March 7 win over West Ham and has since only twice even made the bench (June 20 and 25).

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Asked six times about the German, Arteta painted in broad strokes before mentioning Ozil in the second set of questions.

Arteta said that Ozil simply hasn’t warranted a place in an 18. This is how he responded when asked if he understood why there are so many questions about a player who has 44 goals and 77 assists in 254 appearances for the Gunners.

From Football.London:

“Of course I understand and I respect your questions but I have to try to do my job as fair as possible. I try to select the players that are, in my opinion, in better condition.”

Okay then.

As for Wednesday’s win, the Gunners broke through on a Christian Fuchs own goal before sealing the deal on Eddie Nketiah’s marker just before the final whistle.

Arsenal was outshot 15-10 but both teams were decidedly second-string. Now the Gunners get consecutive affairs at Anfield, as Liverpool is the hosts for a Monday meeting in the Premier League and a League Cup fourth round tie days later.

Arteta was asked how big of a test that will be for the Gunners.

“You can imagine, probably the toughest place to go in Europe or the world. That’s the fixtures, we have to go there. Let’s go first on Monday, let’s prepare well and see how it goes.”

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in July to deny the Reds a 100-point season, weeks after the Reds clinched the Premier League title. The Gunners again topped Liverpool in the Community Shield one month later.

The atmosphere and stakes will be high again next week. Surely Arteta can’t go 4-0 against Jurgen Klopp, right? Right?

Leicester City’s Rodgers: Gruesome Ndidi injury could cost him 12 weeks

Ndidi injury
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For every team, there’s an indispensible player and it’s difficult to argue against Leicester City’s player being Wilfred Ndidi.

The groin injury that kept the Nigerian out of Leicester’s 2-0 home loss to Arsenal in the League Cup could require surgery, said Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers after the game.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

One of the game’s top destroyers, Ndidi had played two matches at center back as Leicester opened the season 2-0.

Rodgers could hardly have made the injury sound more painful.

From The Leicester Mercury:

“We’re just waiting to hear more on that but it could be anything between six and 12 weeks,” Rodgers said. “It’s a groin abductor which may have come off the bone, which is quite a nasty one. We’re waiting to see if he needs an operation or not. If he does, it will be at least 12 weeks.”

Leicester missed Ndidi for five-of-six games in early 2020 and went 2D-3L, starting a skid that ended up costing them Champions League football.

The 23-year-old already has 34 caps for Nigeria.

The Foxes have Nampalys Mendy, Hamza Choudhury, and Daniel Amartey amongst their defensive midfield options.

They next face Man City, West Ham, Aston Villa, and Arsenal in Premier League play. Leicester will learn its Europa League group on Oct. 2 before beginning its UEL run the week of Oct. 22.

Champions League: Six-goal thriller in Norway; Marsch’s Salzburg lead

Champions League qualifying
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The UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round is delivering entertainment, with six first legs dotting the European landscape over the past 27 hours.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

American coach Jesse Marsch saw his Red Bull Salzburg take a first leg advantage home from Israel, while U.S. right back Henry Wingo and Molde played the game of the round so far against Hungary’s Ferencvaros.


Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg

The Austrian visitors were heavy favorites, especially with the hosts dealing with positive COVID-19 tests, but Maccabi took a ninth-minute lead through Dan Biton.

But young Dominik Szoboszlai’s Man of the Match showing began with a goal in the 49th minute and Masaya Okugawan gave Salzburg the lead eight minutes later ahead of next week’s second leg in Austria.

Molde 3-3 Ferencvaros

A thriller in Norway saw the hosts erase a 2-0 deficit only to hand a big away goals advantage to the Hungarian visitors with minutes to play.

Ferencvaros scored early in each half through Franck Boli and Myrto Uzuni. Both goals were set up by Endre Botka and Ferencvaros looked set to cruise through the first leg.

Molde snapped awake through former Manchester United, Cardiff City, and Seattle Sounders man Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who set up Leke James in the 55th minute before scoring a classy goal that was started on the right flank by fellow ex-Sounder and American export Henry Wingo.

Martin Ellingsen gave Molde its first lead in the 83rd, but Ihor Kharatin made it 3-3 four minutes later to send Ferencvaros back to Hungary with three away goals. A draw any less insane would be enough for them to head to the group stage.

Elsewhere

Gent 1-2 Dynamo Kiev
Olympiakos 2-0 Omonia Nicosia
Krasnodar 2-1 PAOK
Slavia Prague 0-0 Midtjylland

Second legs

Sept. 29
Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30 
Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv