Whitney Engen

Meet the US Women’s World Cup team: Defenders

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Four years ago the United States women were on the verge of a third World Cup title in the final against Japan, but twice conceded equalizers before losing in penalty kicks.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the starting defensive unit has changed drastically, including a very recent injection of youth.

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Julie Johnston was opportunistic while filling in for injured teammates this spring and has solidified her spot as a starting center back alongside Becky Sauerbrunn. Meghan Klingenberg is likely to start at left fullback and Ali Krieger will likely start at right back as the only returning regular of the four from 2011 (Johnston and Klingenberg weren’t on the roster, and Sauerbrunn only played in one match after Rachel Van Hollebeke (then Buehler).

Buehler, Amy LePeilbet and Heather Mitts are out of the picture and Kelley O’Hara is a reserve now.

Lori Chalupny

Lori Chalupny is one of the most interesting stories on the United States national team. In 2008 she was widely heralded by her peers as the best left back in the world, helping the U.S. win a second straight Olympic gold medal. But she suffered several concussions and did not gain clearance from U.S. Soccer to play for the national team…until November. Five years later, she returned to the U.S. national team after obtaining medical clearance. Chalupny is versatile, capable of playing outside back, forward or in the middle of the park. In league play for Chicago and in the past professional league for Atlanta, Chalupny is often the best player on the field, regardless of which position she is in.

Whitney Engen

One of a handful of U.S. players to find their form abroad, Whitney Engen credits her first trip to Sweden to play for Tyreso as reason for her still playing the game. She played in a UEFA Champions League final with the team last year and won a league title with Liverpool in between. She’s a tall center back who provides the United States depth. Engen was a large part of three NCAA national championships in her four years at North Carolina and she seamlessly stepped into the professional circuit, helping a world all-start Western New York Flash team win the (now defunct) WPS title in 2010.

Meghan Klingenberg

‘Energy’ is the first word that comes to mind regarding Meghan Klingenberg. She brings it both on and off the field, and it is particularly evident when she scores. She has two career international goals heading into the World Cup and both were highlight-reel stunners. Over the past year, Klingenberg has solidified herself as the starting left fullback, a position the U.S. coach Jill Ellis asks a lot of defensively and in the attack. Klingenberg played with Engen and forward Christen Press at Tyreso. And she has a black belt in Taekwondo, so….watch yourself.

Ali Krieger

Ali Krieger was the best right fullback at the 2011 World Cup and a big reason the U.S. found success in there in Germany, where she played for over five years in the Frauen-Bundesliga for Frankfurt, where she won a UEFA Champions League title. She missed the 2012 Olympics after tearing her ACL in qualifying (in Vancouver, where the U.S. will play in the group stage; it’s also the site of the final). She has slowly worked her way back to form and she is healthy despite and early April concussion. Krieger now wears protective head gear made of the same material as bulletproof vests.

Julie Johnston

Julie Johnston is something of an anomaly for the U.S. women, who generally have a tough lineup to crack. Johnston was left off the World Cup qualifying roster in October but was soon re-added after an injury to Crystal Dunn. Johnston didn’t play at qualifying and only started earning more minutes in March at the Algarve Cup. Veteran Christie Rampone, the team’s longtime captain who turns 40 this month, was injured through much of the winter and spring. A hamstring injury to Engen then meant it was Johnston’s time to step up and she did exactly that, scoring in an Algarve Cup final win over France to start a three-game scoring streak. Johnston captained the U-20 team to a World Cup title in 2012 and she was named NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2014.

Kelley O’Hara

Once the NCAA’s leading scorer and record-breaking forward at Stanford, Kelley O’Hara is now a defender, although her versatility could also see her push into a higher role at times. O’Hara won the MAC Hermann trophy as college soccer’s best player in 2009, tallying 26 goals and 13 assists. She played every minute at the 2012 Olympics for now Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, but O’Hara’s time on the field with Jill Ellis in charge has been more limited as Meghan Klingenberg has locked down the left fullback spot. Ellis has talked about rotating her outside backs throughout the tournament, which should see O’Hara earn minutes.

Christie Rampone

Christie Rampone turns 40 years old during the tournament and she is the last remaining link to the 1999 team, the last U.S. squad to win the World Cup. Rampone has appeared for her country over 300 times, most among active players in the world and second only to former teammate, Kristine Lilly. Rampone, the team’s longtime captain, had been seemingly ageless throughout the past four years, but a back injury followed by an MCL sprain this winter and spring limited her pre-World Cup minutes to just 75 minutes. Johnston emerged as Rampone’s immediate and seemingly long-term successor in in the veteran’s absence. Expect Rampone to still play a vital role in this World Cup on and off the field. (Buehler’s red card in the quarterfinals in 2011 serving as a prime example of the need for several good center backs.)

Becky Sauerbrunn

Two-time reigning NWSL defender of the year, Becky Sauerbrunn over the past couple of years has gained backing from many as the world’s best defender. Her abilities to read the game and make intelligent decisions – on the ball and off – are second to none and she is sneakily dangerous going forward, known to make long adventurous runs at times, a common trait historically among American center backs. The success of the United States’ defense will largely be dictated by this general, who turns 30 on the opening day of the tournament.

Two Yanks help Liverpool to second straight Women’s Super League title

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Liverpool LFC won its second straight Women’s Super League title, with two Americans on the squad helping a title defense that unfolded in unlikely fashion.

Entering the season’s final day with the third-best hopes of winning the championship, Liverpool had everything break their way.

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First, they beat Bristol Academy 3-0. Then, they waited as the unlikelihood happened.

From the Liverpool web site:

Matt Beard’s side kicked off in Widnes as the outsiders in a three-team battle for the championship with Chelsea Ladies and Birmingham City, requiring a win of their own and both rivals to falter against Manchester City and Notts County respectively.

Incredibly, it unfolded just that way. Natasha Dowie, Lucy Bronze and Fara Williams struck the goals to achieve the Ladies’ objective before results filtered in from elsewhere – amid jubilant scenes at the Select Security Stadium – to confirm that Chelsea had lost, Birmingham had drawn and the trophy was staying on Merseyside.

No more goals were required as attention switched to other scorelines and, following a tense few moments once their own game had ended, it was confirmed: the Ladies were top of the table on goal difference and they could celebrate for a second season running.

Bronze is a former UNC player, but that’s hardly the only American connection on a team that boasted USWNT defender Whitney Engen for the first title.

American midfielder Amanda DaCosta played in the WPSL before coming to Merseyside, while starting goalkeeper Libby Stout joined the club after a record-setting career at Western Kentucky. And Gemma Davison played with the Western New York Flash and Sky Blue FC.

Watch Live: USWNT vs. China PR (Lineups and Discuss)

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As we laid out earlier in our match preview, the buzz surrounding a mid-April friendly between the United States women’s national team and a China PR team they’ve routinely beaten is anything but ordinary (Watch live from California at 11pm ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

After beating tonight’s opponents 2-0 on Sunday — but truly controlling everything but their finishing — the USWNT underwent a major shakeup later that night, as US Soccer fired head coach Tom Sermanni after just 15 months on the job.

Jill Ellis is back at the helm for her second interim stint in the last year-and-a-half. During her last go at the gig, she finished unbeaten at 5-0-2.

Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe scored for the States in Sunday’s win.

There are two changes to the Starting XI from Sunday, with Whitney Engen and Christen Press departing from the lineup in favor of veterans Megan Rapinoe and Rachel Van Hollebeke (Buehler).

The match is Hope Solo’s 150th cap.

WATCH LIVE ON NBCSN AND ONLINE AT 11PM ET VIA LIVE EXTRA

LINEUPS

United States: Solo; Krieger, Van Hollebeke, Sauerbrunn-C, Klingenberg; Brian, Lloyd, Rapinoe; O’Reilly, Holiday, Leroux

Subs: O’Hara, Engen, Rodriguez, Heath, Naeher, Wambach, Press

China PR: Zhang Yue; Wang Lingling, Zeng Ying, Li Dongna, Liu Shanshan; Wang Shanshan, Ren Guixin, Zhang Rui, Zhang Xin; Li Ying, Yang Li

Subs: Wang Yun; Xu Yanlu, Huang Yini, Gao Qi, Wan Chen, Li Xiangli, Han Peng, Zhou Feifei, Wang Lisi, Lou Jiahui, Song Duan

US women make it 15 goals in two matches with 8-0 defeat of Russia

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After crushing Russia in last Saturday’s friendly in Florida by seven goals, how would the United States respond in the Georgia Dome on Wednesday against the same opponent? Perhaps more interesting, how would the Olympic host nation fare in the rematch?

Well… worse. It was hard to watch. The United States again poured forth goals on their Russian visitors, using two own goals and six different scorers to win 8-0 in Atlanta.

The Russians came out ready to withstand the massive American pressure and held off the hard-pressing Yanks in the first half with the exception of an own goal — Whitney Engen’s shot hit the post and then Elena Terekhova before entering the goal — but the second half was all U.S.A.

The second goal was also an OG as Megan Rapinoe’s cross went in off of Valentina Orlova’s knee.

Heather O’Reilly sent in a strong cross from the right flank that Rodriguez cheekily struck home in the 52nd minute to make it 3-0. It was a good-looking goal, and the floodgates appeared open. Wambach scored her 165th USWNT goal moments later from a position that appeared offsides from a few angles, but stood to make it 4-0. Rapinoe hit the cross on the goal that made it three goals in five minutes for the States.

Morgan Brian scored from about 25 yards out on a left-footed shot in the 65th minute for the States’ fifth goal and the second of her international career. Lauren Holiday later won a penalty kick that she converted in the 81st minute to make it 6-0.

O’Reilly made a backpost run to meet a flicked-on header from Christen Press to score the game’s seventh goal. Kristie Mewis sent the cross that started the play.

Press then moved freely across the box and hammered home the match’s eighth in the 86th minute, her third in the series.

Playing near her home town, Kelley O’Hara played her first match in eight months and lasted a planned half-hour. Goalkeeper Jillian Loyden came on for Hope Solo at the half.

Sydney Leroux does it again as US Women grind out 1-0 win over Canada

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Sydney Leroux continues to infuriate her country of birth.

The Canadian-born 23-year-old scored against the US neighbors as the USWNT defeated Canada 1-0 to extended their home winning streak to 78 matches, dating back to 2004. They haven’t lost since 2012, running their streak to 40 games.

A gritty performance in Frisco, Texas was rewarded in the 77th minute when an off-balance Leroux touched home the winner after Becky Sauerbrunn did most of the work.

Sauerbrunn made a run into the box and found Christen Press, who played a perfect one-two back to Sauerbrunn who sent the ball across the face of goal.  Leroux was falling backwards, but managed to maintain her balance and get her leg to the bouncing ball to touch it past goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who was out of position.

“That’s kind of how we play, and we push to the very last second. I’m just happy that we came out on top of the game 1-0. It was a good game. It was physical and I’m glad we came out on top,” Leroux said.

It was a just reward for an otherwise wasteful United States, who capped a few good chances – mostly in the first half – with weak shots on Canada’s net.

There was one other good chance for the United States earlier in the match, but defender Whitney Engen had a goal correctly ruled out for offsides, despite the close nature of the call.  Moments later Canada’s Josée Bélanger should have scored but instead dragged a shot across the face of the net.

The visitors had one good chance to draw back level following Leroux’s goal, a late one in the 87th minute, but Jonelle Filigno shot directly at Hope Solo who made a comfortable save.

Despite the struggles at the attack, the US defense was as strong as ever, showing their .67 goals-per-match mark from 2013 was no fluke.  Canada barely had a sniff on net, with build-up play often halted in the middle third.

The start is a promising one as the Americans look to bring their strong 2013 with them into CONCACAF qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, which will be hosted by Canada.