Meghan Klingenberg

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NWSL’s 7th season opens, looks for bump in World Cup year

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The NWSL opens its seventh season this weekend with some lingering questions about its health, but also the encouraging possibility of a “bump” from the World Cup.

The National Women’s Soccer League has already outlasted any of the other previous pro women’s leagues in the United States. With support from the U.S. Soccer Federation, the NWSL has fared better than the earlier attempts.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns going into Year 7 – many of which were there in the sixth season, too. Possible expansion, the stability of some individual clubs, a need for sponsorships and the lack of a TV deal are among the issues faced by the league that hasn’t had a commissioner since Jeff Plush stepped down in March 2017.

Still, the NWSL could get greater exposure starting in June when the World Cup opens in France. NWSL rosters are filled with national team players from around the globe. Teams will have to navigate player absences during the tournament but could win fans for the latter half of the season – much like after the last World Cup in 2015, which the U.S. won.

Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg said she believes the league is still headed in the right direction. But continued success will depend on both investment and the will to see it through.

“The most important thing is investment across the league, in human resources; whether that’s coaching or whether that’s just staff that’s helping out, whether that’s in better fields, whether that’s in better housing, whether that’s in whatever. Making the league better, in the league front office but also the clubs’ front offices, I want that,” she said. “And if we can get that, year after year after year then I think we’ll be in a good place.”

The defending champion North Carolina Courage will open the season Saturday night at home against the Chicago Red Stars, one of four games set for this weekend. The Courage defeated the Thorns 3-0 in the title game in front of a crowd of 21,144 in Portland last fall.

The victory capped a fantastic season for the Courage, who went 18-1-6 overall, won the league’s Supporters’ Shield for best record and never dropped a game on the road.

HOW TO WATCH: The NWSL and A+E Networks terminated their broadcast agreement in February, leaving the league with no TV partner. Last season, a `Game of the Week’ aired on the Lifetime channel. A+E also surrendered its stake in the league, but Lifetime remains a jersey sponsor.

At least for now, the league’s games will be streamed live exclusively on the Yahoo Sports app, or on the Yahoo website.

EXPANSION: The league currently stands at nine teams. Since the Boston Breakers folded just before the start of last season, there have been persistent rumors about whether the team will be revived by a new ownership group. Spanish club Barcelona had expressed interest in fielding an NWSL team, although there has been no movement on that front. Major League Soccer’s LAFC could also jump into the fray, with co-owner Mia Hamm suggesting as recently as last week that it is a priority.

Despite all the chatter, NWSL President Amanda Duffy previously indicated the league likely won’t make any expansion announcements until after this season.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH SKY BLUE? The troubles that plagued New Jersey’s team, Sky Blue, were well documented last year after former player Sam Kerr, now with Chicago, hinted at issues. But improvements have been made.

In February, Sky Blue announced that Tammy Murphy, the wife of part-owner Gov. Phil Murphy, would take a more active role in running the team. And indeed, improvements have been made, with better housing and staff additions. The team will train this season at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey, and have access to the school’s wellness facilities in addition to practice fields.

Tony Novo, who served as team president and general manager, resigned and Alyse LaHue was named interim GM. Novo had been criticized by the Cloud 9 supporters’ group.

SCHEDULE: The league will take a short break during the group stage of the World Cup in France. But a chunk of the league’s players will be away with their national teams for extended periods this season. The NWSL allowed teams to expand rosters to 22 players, in addition to four supplemental players who won’t count against the salary cap.

Teams play a 24-game schedule that wraps up Oct. 12. The championship game is scheduled for Oct. 26.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USWNT topples Germany 2-1 to win SheBelieves Cup

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Alex Morgan and Sam Mewis scored first-half goals to lead the USWNT to a 2-1 win over Germany on Wednesday in Florida, clinching the inaugural SheBelieves Cup for the hosts.

Anja Mittag scored her 40th international goal for Germany, who entered the match with a 2-0 record in the tournament.

[ WATCH: Morgan’s scintillating goal ]

The USWNT opened play with a 751-minute shutout streak and a 8-0 record in 2016. The Yanks had won the first two games of the tournament, both 1-0 wins over England and France.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The streak of zeroes ended at 781 minutes with Mittag’s goal.

Morgan equalized for the States with a gorgeous goal, popping a long diagonal ball from Meghan Klingenberg around defender Saskia Bartusiak and blasting the falling juggle past Almuth Schult.

Early on, it was all USWNT. Carli Lloyd dribbled for more than 50 yards for the first chance of the game, hitting a low shot wide in the second minute.

Christen Press had a good chance on a long ball over the top from Whitney Engen, as the U.S. clearly felt it could exploit Germany’s back line with its speed.

But Germany struck first.

Morgan then equalized with a wonderful goal, and Mewis made it 2-1 with a, well, goal that counts. Her shot from distance deflected and Schult failed to catch the orb on its way into the goal. Whoops.

The U.S. next plays a pair of friendlies April 6 and 10, both against Colombia on U.S. soil.

WATCH: Alex Morgan juggles, volleys USWNT to equalizer vs Germany

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Alex Morgan has scored an absolutely gorgeous goal for the United States women’s national team in Wednesday’s SheBelieves Cup finale in Florida.

[ MORE: Why Jermaine Jones chose Colorado ]

Morgan equalized for the States by popping a long diagonal ball from Megan Klingenberg around a defender and blasting the falling juggle past Almuth Schult.

Sam Mewis added a second, and the U.S. leads 2-1.

Lloyd, Solo among four USWNT players on first FIFPro Women’s World XI

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FIFPro announced the first-ever Women’s World XI on Thursday, a world all-star team selected by players from across the globe. Four players from the United States team which won the 2015 Women’s World Cup title are on the list.

Carli Lloyd, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, made the list, along with U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo and defenders Meghan Klingenberg and Julie Johnston.

France was the next-most represented country with three players: defender Wendie Renard, midfielder Amandine Henry and forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

FIFPro, which is the world union for soccer players, created the concept of a Women’s World XI throughout 2015 as women’s players expressed their interest in seeking the same kind of recognition as men get. FIFA and FIFPro have an official World XI for the men which is honored at the annual Ballon d’Or Gala.

“This is a landmark for the women’s game,” FIFPro General-Secretary Theo van Seggelen said.

FIFPro says that “players of 33 different nationalities spread out over 20 countries participated in this year’s test vote. Players were asked to pick one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards, replicating the same format used in deciding the men’s award.”

“This is a great step forward in terms of equality, respect and recognition for women’s football,” Lloyd said.

“I’d like to thank FIFPro for making this possible. It’s an initiative that will be appreciated by female players all over the world.”

The full list is as follows:

Goalkeeper:

  • Hope Solo (USA, Seattle Reign FC)

Defenders (4):

  • Wendie Renard (France, Lyon)
  • Meghan Klingenberg (USA, Portland Thorns FC)
  • Kadeisha Buchanan (Canada, West Virginia Mountaineers)
  • Julie Johnston (USA, Chicago Red Stars)

Midfielders (3):

  • Carli Lloyd (USA, Houston Dash)
  • Amandine Henry (France, Lyon)
  • Aya Miyama (Japan, Okoyama Yunogo Belle)

Forwards (3):

  • *Celia Sasic (Germany, 1.FFC Frankfurt)
  • Eugenie Le Sommer (France, Lyon)
  • Anja Mittag (Germany, PSG)

*Retired

Voting parties, according to FIFPro:

Four national teams participated: Australia, Cameroon, Finland and Portugal. Australia and Cameroon appeared in the 2015 Women’s World Cup Finals in Canada and reached the final 16.

Participating players from clubs such as Bayern Munich, Chelsea (English champions), Olympique Lyon (French champions), Paris Saint-Germain (Champions League finalists), VfL Wolfsburg (runners-up Germany), FC Rosengard (Swedish champions), Verona, (Italian champions) Atlético Madrid (runners-up Spain), Houston Dash and Portland Thorns.

Men in Blazers podcast special: USWNT’s Klingenberg talks defense, Germany, karate

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Rog talks with the USWNT’s Meghan Klingenberg about the team’s lockdown defense, her karate training, and living with Jeff Van Gundy’s family.

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