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USWNT guarding against letdown with Olympic berth on line

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Carson, Calif. — The United States isn’t really motivated by what happened four years ago in the Rio Games as the team heads into an all-important Olympic qualifying match Friday night.

Coming off a World Cup championship in France last summer, the United States just wants to guard against any letdown.

Christen Press said it’s difficult after all the attention that comes in the wake of winning soccer’s premier tournament to transition so quickly to preparation for the Olympics.

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“I think that the mentality the group that was a part of 2015 and 2016 is bringing into this transition is that we have to have a short memory,” she said. “We have to let go of the World Cup and we have to go into this like this is our big tournament for the next three years. And so I think that that’s a good lesson to have learned.”

The United States had also won the World Cup in 2015 and went into the Rio Games brimming with confidence – only to be ousted in the quarterfinals by Sweden. It was the U.S. team’s earliest ever exit from the Olympics.

On Friday, the top-ranked United States will play Mexico in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament with one of the region’s two berths in the Tokyo Games on the line. Canada faces Costa Rica for the other spot.

The U.S. and Canada won the Olympic berths four years ago. The Canadians went on to win their second consecutive bronze medal in Brazil.

Canada is led by captain Christine Sinclair, who surpassed retired U.S. star Abby Wambach’s international goals record in the group stage. Sinclair, who has been on the national team since 2000, has 186 career goals heading into the semifinals. That’s the most among men or women.

Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said it was important that his team avoids complacency during qualifying. And indeed, the team swept group stage play without conceding a goal.

“No matter who we play, we need to play to Canadian standard. It has to be our level of performance that we play to. It’s so easy to play a team that you’re better than, and then drop to their level,” he said.

By winning its group handily, eighth-ranked Canada avoided facing the United States in the semis. Costa Rica, ranked No. 37 in the world, has never made the 12-team field for the Olympics, although Las Ticas did play in the 2015 World Cup.

The Canadians are undefeated in 13 previous meetings with Costa Rica. In the 2016 qualifying tournament, Canada defeated Las Ticas 3-1 in the semifinals.

“It was a close match. It was a match where we made many mistakes, but it is in the past,” Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said. “We’re focusing on right here, right now.”

Mexico, ranked No. 26, made the field for the 2004 Olympics but has not been back since. However, Mexico is on the rise, boosted by a domestic women’s league. The team won its first two group-stage matches before falling 2-0 to Canada.

Like Canada, the United States swept its group stage matches without allowing a goal. Lindsey Horan led the way with five goals and Press added four.

U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle emphasized that the team can’t get ahead of itself.

“I think that we know that what we did in France is kind of meaningless now. It doesn’t dictate how the rest of the year goes or dictate right now what our future is,” she said. “So while last year was so fun, we know that we have to set our sights on new goals. And I think before we even talk about the Olympics, we have to talk about our game versus Mexico and qualifying there.”

Champions League squads changes for four PL teams

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Monday was the deadline for all clubs to submit their final 25-man squads to UEFA for the knockout phase of the Champions League. With all four qualified Premier League teams still in the mix, it’s time to run through each club’s squad and see who made the cut and who was left at home.

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Tottenham sees goalkeeper Hugo Lloris back in the fold after a serious elbow injury forced him to withdraw from the Champions League squad in October.

One significant note, thanks to new UEFA rules instituted during last year’s competition, no players are cup-tied for the knockout phase regardless of what competition they played for in the group stage. This is particularly of note to Liverpool who was able to add winger Takumi Minamino to the list despite the former RB Salzburg player having been deployed for the German club in the group stage before his January move. Spurs also benefitted from the new rule as Steven Bergwijn and Gedson Fernandes both would have previously been cup-tied.

The most notable exclusion comes for Tottenham Hotspur who sees Victor Wanyama left off the squad, having made just one appearance for Spurs since September in a six-minute showing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage finale. Liverpool also left off young defender Sepp van den Berg who was sacrificed for the inclusion of new boy Minamino.

For Manchester City, the injured Leroy Sane was left on the squad with nobody new arriving. The same occurred for Chelsea who saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek still in the group despite his recovery from an Achilles tear.

Liverpool

IN: Takumi Minamino (transfer, RB Salzburg)
OUT: Sepp van den Berg

Full squad: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan, Caoimhim Kelleher*; Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Adam Lewis*; Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones*, Herbie Kane*, Neco Williams*, Yasser Larouci*; Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, Rhian Brewster*.

Manchester City

IN: [none]
OUT: Angelino (loan, RB Leipzig), Ian Poveda (transfer, Leeds United)

Full squad: Ederson, Claudio Bravo Scott Carson; John Stones, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo, Eric Garcia*; Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden*; Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea

IN: [none]
OUT: Marc Guehi (loan, Swansea City), George McEachran (loan, Cambuur)

Full squad: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Willy Caballero, Jamie Cumming*, Nicholas Tie*; Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Kurt Zouma, Cesar Azpilicueta, Fikayo Tomori, Emerson, Reece James*; Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley, Willian, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount*, Callum Hudson-Odoi*, Christian Pulisic, Billy Gilmour*, Tammy Abraham, Pedro, Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi.

Tottenham Hotspur

IN: Steven Bergwijn (transfer, PSV), Hugo Lloris, Gedson Fernandes (loan, Benfica)
OUT: Christian Eriksen (transfer, Inter), Danny Rose (loan, Newcastle), Kyle Walker-Peters (loan, Southampton), Victor Wanyama, Troy Parrott

Full squad: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm, Paulo Gazzaniga, Alfie Whiteman*, Brandon Austin*; Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vergtonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Juan Foyth*, Ben Davies, Ryan Sessegnon, Japhet Tanganga*, Timothy Eyoma*; Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko, Giovani Lo Celso, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele, Gedson Fernandes, Oliver Skipp*, Jamie Bowden*, Harvey White*; Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son, Steven Bergwijn.

*denotes a “List B” player, who must be born on, or after, 1 January 1995 and eligible to play for the club concerned for any uninterrupted period of two years since his 15th birthday. A club can list an unlimited number of List B players, whereas they may only list 25 List A players

FOLLOW, LIVE – USMNT wraps up camp with Costa Rica friendly

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The U.S. men’s national team is set to kick off its 2020 slate of fixtures with a friendly against Costa Rica to wrap up the program’s annual January training camp at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., on Saturday (3:55 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW: USMNT on Twitter for live updates and highlights ]

With an eye toward the semifinals of the CONCACAF Nations League in June, Gregg Berhalter’s side is about to embark upon a very important period with 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign set to begin in August.

Berhalter has opted for a mix of youth and experience with Saturday’s starting lineup, recalling established members like Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman at center back along with Paul Arriola and Sebastian Lletget in midfield, and supplementing them with the likes of Reggie Cannon, Ulysses Llanez, Brenden Aaronson, Jesus Ferreira and Sam Vines.

Hit the link above to follow along with the action this afternoon, and check back on PST for a full recap and analysis after the game.

USWNT hammer Panama in Olympic qualifying

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HOUSTON — Lindsey Horan scored three goals and the U.S. national team downed Panama 8-0 on Friday night in the the group stage of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Panama goalkeeper Yenith Bailey got tangled up with one of her own players and Horan took advantage, scoring in the third minute to give the World Cup-winning Americans the early lead.

Moments later, Bailey knocked heads with Jessica McDonald and spent several moments on the ground. But ultimately Panama’s captain stayed in the game.

Some two minutes after Lynn Williams’ goal in the 16th minute, Horan scored her second of the game. Rose Lavelle got her first goal since the World Cup final to make it 4-0 in the 21st.

Bailey was stretchered off in the 32nd minute. It was unclear if it was because of the earlier collision.

Christen Press scored her third goal in as many games in the 70th minute before McDonald’s goal in the 72nd to make it 6-0. Tobin Heath, who came in as a substitute, added a no-look goal and Horan capped the scoring by completing her hat trick in the 81st.

The crowd at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium was announced at 14,121.

The top-ranked U.S. team also defeated Haiti 4-0 in the group stage opener on Tuesday night. The Americans face Costa Rica in their group final on Monday.

Costa Rica down Haiti 2-0 earlier Friday at for its second win in the group.

Eight teams are playing in the tournament, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semifinals in Carson, California, on Feb. 7.

The top two finishers in the tournament will earn the region’s berths in the Tokyo Games this summer.

The U.S. has qualified for every Olympics since women’s soccer was introduced in 1996. The team has five consecutive titles in the qualifying tournament.

Six teams have already made the field for Tokyo: Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand.

USMNT looks toward Olympic qualifying

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NEW YORK — USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.

Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.

“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.

Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.

“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.

Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.

“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.

If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.

“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.

Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.

On other topics:

-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”

-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”

-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”

-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.