Morgan Strikes Early as U.S. Crush Costa Rica
Morgan Strikes Early as U.S. Crush Costa Rica avatar

Alex Morgan scored early, the U.S. WNT scored often and when it was over the Americans had kicked off its World Cup Qualifying run with a 5-0 win over Costa Rica.

Morgan got on the scoresheet early. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan got on the scoresheet early. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan scored 12 seconds from the opening whistle, latching onto Carli Lloyd’s headed pass and finishing for what is probably the fastest goal in U.S. WNT history.

The Americans had never lost a match at the CONCACAF Championships and they had never lost to the Ticas either, two streaks that were never in jeopardy tonight in Frisco, Texas.

Neither were the Americans put off by the battle raging with its own association, no, not even being sued by U.S. Soccer could slow the defending World Cup Champions.

Crystal Dunn got a pk for her team. (ISI Photos.Brad Smith)

Crystal Dunn got a pk for her team. (ISI Photos.Brad Smith)

In the ninth minute Crystal Dunn was fouled just outside the 18-yard box but the speed and quickness that beat her marker also may have put off the referee, who incorrectly pointed to the spot.

Of course, Carli Lloyd banged home the pk and for all intents and purposes, this match was done. Dunn would add a goal of her own, Morgan collected a second and Christen Press added a late capper to send the Americans into Saturday’s match versus Mexico on a positive note.

Mexico will also be feeling good about itself after earning a 4-0 win over Puerto Rico behind a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez earlier in the evening.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis will be happy with the win and with the way her newcomers meshed with the World Cup holdovers. Dunn and Lindsey Horan justified their starting roles and 17-year-old Mallory Pugh looked the part when she checked into the match.

The U.S. will be happy with their performance. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. will be happy with their performance. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Just two teams will advance from this tournament, making the U.S. Mexico match a big one on Saturday.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 2 5
CRC 0 0 0

USA – Alex Morgan (Carli Lloyd) 1st minute
USA – Carli Lloyd (penalty) 9
USA – Crystal Dunn 15
USA – Alex Morgan (Carli Lloyd) 62
USA – Christen Press (Tobin Heath) 83

Lineups:
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger (19-Jaelene Hinkle, 68), 8-Julie Johnston (12-Christen Press, 74), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg; 14-Morgan Brian, 9-Lindsey Horan, 16-Crystal Dunn (2-Mallory Pugh, 68), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 17-Tobin Heath; 13-Alex Morgan
Subs Not Used: 3-Samantha Mewis, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 6-Emily Sonnett, 15-Stephanie McCaffrey, 18-Ashlyn Harris, 20-Alyssa Naeher
Head coach: Jill Ellis

CRC: 1-Dinnia Diaz, 5-Diana Saénz, 6-Carol Sanchez, 7-Melissa Herrera (17-Karla Villalobos, 69), 8-Daniela Cruz, 9-Carolina Venegas, 10-Shirley Cruz (capt.) (3-Gloriana Villalobos, 80), 11-Raquel Rodríguez, 14-María Barrantes, 16-Katherine Alvarado (15-Cristin Granados, 46), 20-Wendy Acosta
Subs Not Used: 2-Gabriela Guillén, 4-María Benavides, 12-Lixy Rodríguez, 13-Yalitza Sánchez, 19-Fabiola Sánchez
Head coach: Amelia Valverde

Stats Summary: USA / CRC
Shots: 23 / 2
Shots on Goal: 12 / 2
Saves: 2 / 7
Corner Kicks: 9 / 1
Fouls: 9 / 7
Offside: 2 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
CRC – Dinnia Diaz (caution) 15th minute
CRC – Katherine Alvarado (caution) 29
USA – Julie Johnston (caution) 31

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U.S. Women Begin Olympic Quest
U.S. Women Begin Olympic Quest avatar

With a third consecutive Gold Medal on its collective mind, the U.S. Women’s National Team begin Olympic Qualifiers Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas against the Ticas of Costa Rica.

Ellis will be looking to lead her team t another gold medal.  (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Ellis will be looking to lead her team t another gold medal. (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

History is there for the making for this group and anything less than an Olympic berth would be not only shocking but humiliating for coach Jill Ellis and her charges.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers. The U.S. WNT enter the CONCACAF Championships/Olympic Qualifiers having won this event on three consecutive occasions without ever having lost a game. The Americans have also returned from three straight Olympic Games with Gold Medals dangling from their necks and have won the Olympic tournament four times in total.

And, of course, the World Cup Champs are attempting to become the first team to win the World Cup and Olympic Gold in consecutive years, all this and the CONCACAF tournament is being played on home soil for the Yanks.

Wambach last game for the U.S.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Wambach last game for the U.S.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Opponents and the upset-minded can point to China’s win over the U.S. on December 16 in New Orleans in the final game of the “Victory” Tour, a game that more significantly also served as the legendary Abby Wambach’s swansong. China defeated the Americans 1-0 that night at the Superdome to end a U.S. unbeaten streak of 104 games over 11 years at home. So, it can be done.

Perhaps a bigger threat to continued U.S. WNT hegemony in the region is the recent lawsuit filed by U.S. Soccer against the very players who will be expected to dominate this event and advance to Rio.

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The dispute shouldn’t be enough to derail the favorites but just two nations will qualify for the Summer Games from this event so it will be up to team leaders like new captain’s Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn to see that this somewhat transitional group maintains focus beginning tomorrow night against Costa Rica.

Ellis used the Victory Tour to integrate new members into the squad but it should not be overlooked that 10 players from the World Cup-winning squad are not with this team. Stars like Wambach and Lauren Holiday have retired, Megan Rapinoe is recovering from a serious knee injury and Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are both pregnant and will be unavailable.

Seven newcomers include NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan the former Paris Saint-Germain striker, and new Portland Thorns signing, who will be expected to fill a crucial role as Holiday’s replacement as a central, defense first midfielder.

Dunn has continued to shine for the women's team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Dunn has continued to shine for the women’s team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Both Dunn and Horan exemplify the versatile makeup of this group as explained to U.S. Soccer.com by coach Ellis. “With only 17 field players allowed on the roster, and minimal time in between matches, I think we have one of the most versatile rosters ever for a qualifying tournament,” Ellis said. “Most of the field players are capable of playing at least two positions and as CONCACAF competitions generally present teams that will sit low and get numbers behind the ball, it is important to have players that can individually and collectively break teams down to create chances.”

Assuming good health and allowing for squad some rotation Ellis’s first choice 11 should look something like this.

Hope Solo
Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg.
Crystal Dunn, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath.
Carli Lloyd.
Alex Morgan.

Ellis could opt for a little more offense from the right back spot and start Kelley O’Hara over Krieger, I would, and the formation could be a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 or a true 4-4-2 with Lloyd alongside Morgan, but this is the 11 I expect to see.

*U.S. WNT 2016 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Schedule (all times CT):

Feb. 10

USA vs. Costa Rica

7:30 p.m. | NBC Live Extra

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Feb. 13

USA vs. Mexico

3 p.m. | NBC Live Extra

8:30 p.m. Replay | NBCSN

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Feb. 15

USA vs. Puerto Rico

7:30 p.m. | NBCSN & NBC Live Extra

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Should the U.S. WNT advance to the semifinal match on Feb. 19 in Houston, the match will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. CT. The tournament’s two semifinal winners will advance to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio. The tournament final on Feb. 21 will be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra at 4 p.m. CT with a replay to follow on television at 10 p.m. CT on NBCSN.

Additionally, all 15 matches will be streamed with Spanish language commentary on NBC En Vivo Extra with the USA’s Group A game against Mexico, both semifinals and the tournament final broadcast on NBC Universo.

For updates throughout the tournament as well as in-game coverage, follow the U.S. Women’s National Team on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @ussoccer_wnt, @ussoccer_esp and Snapchat (ussoccer_wnt).

*All scheduling information via USSoccer.com

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (7): Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash)

FORWARDS (5): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

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U.S. Men Edge Past Canada
U.S. Men Edge Past Canada avatar

An 89th-minute goal from Jozy Altidore was enough to prevent a fourth straight 0-0 tie between the U.S. MNT and Canada while giving the hosts a 1-0 win Friday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Altidore scoring the winning goal for the U.S. (Getty Images)

Altidore scoring the winning goal for the U.S. (Getty Images)

The win, while far from impressive, gives the U.S. MNT a 2-0 start to 2016 after last Sunday’s 3-2 triumph over Iceland at the same venue.

Coming at the end of the January training camp U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was selecting from a somewhat diminished roster with several players having been released to their club’s but even that could not explain the decision to start Jermaine Jones at center back while DC United central defender Steve Birnbaum toiled gamely at right fullback.

Klinsmann also gave starts to Mix Diskerud and Lee Nguyen in the midfield and Jordan Morris up top, with Gyasi Zardes dropping into a wide midfield role to accommodate Morris.

Morris is becoming a regular for the U.S. senior team. (Getty Images)

Morris is becoming a regular for the U.S. senior team. (Getty Images)

The first half was a tepid affair, although Morris and Altidore came close. The home team was far the better side after the intermission with late subs Darlington Nagbe and U23 star Jerome Kiesewetter making some noise.

But it would be an even later sub, Columbus Crew winger Ethan Finlay who would make the biggest impact. Despite dominating throughout the second half, the Americans looked ready to send the sparse StubHub Center crowd home with a 0-0 tie to tell their friends about before Finlay changed the conversation.

The play began, as plays on this U.S. team so often do, with Michael Bradley. Sitting deep, Bradley picked out Finlay on the left wing. Finlay broke some Canadian ankles before hitting a perfect cross that Altidore powered home, a rare headed goal by the Toronto striker.

Altidore has looked much sharper in the last two games. (John Dorton)

Altidore has looked much sharper in the last two games. (John Dorton)

Altidore’s goal won the game for the Americans and kept the U.S. win streak alive at 8-0-10 against Canada. The goal also put an exclamation point on a fine camp for Altidore whose new, slimmer physique seems to have had the desired effect of improving the strikers quickness.

In a match where Canada exhibited virtually zero offensive intent the U.S. back four looked less shaky than in last week’s unconvincing outing against Iceland, but then they had little to do.

After impressing versus Iceland, Lee Nguyen was given a start against Canada, but while the New England midfielder provided a few memorable moments his impact on the match waxed and waned.

One sensed that midfielder Mix Diskerud needed a good effort to keep earning call-ups from Klinsmann after a disappointing 2015 and while the New York City FC man was a bundle of industry early, like Nguyen his influence faded as the game continued.

Brandon Vincent (Getty Images)

Brandon Vincent was Klinsmann’s first sub of the night.  (Getty Images)

Congratulations are due to fullback Brandon Vincent who had a solid second half in his U.S. MNT debut. Morris’ Stanford teammate was called into U.S. camp even before he was selected by the Chicago Fire with the fourth pick of the SuperDraft and the former Cardinal did well when he got his chance.

Up next for the Americans is a home and away series World Cup Qualifying doubleheader against Guatemala in March.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
CAN 0 0 0

USA – Jozy Altidore (Ethan Finlay) 89th minute

Lineups:
USA: 22-David Bingham; 15-Steve Birnbaum, 13-Jermaine Jones, 5-Matt Besler, 14-Kellyn Acosta (21-Brandon Vincent, 46); 9-Gyasi Zardes (18-Jerome Kiesewetter, 61), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 10-Mix Diskerud (20-Wil Trapp, 77), 16-Lee Nguyen (6-Darlington Nagbe, 61); 8-Jordan Morris (7-Ethan Finlay, 88), 17-Jozy Altidore (23-Perry Kitchen, 90+2)
Subs Not Used:1-Sean Johnson, 2-Eric Miller, 11-Khiry Shelton, 12-Luis Robles, 24-Matt Polster, 25-Tony Tchani, 26-Tim Parker
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

CAN: 1-Maxime Crepeau; 2-Nik Ledgerwood, (5-Doneil Henry, 46), 4-Adam Straith, 6-Julian de Guzman (capt.), 8-Will Johnson, 9-Cyle Larin (3-Samuel Adekugbe, 78), 12-Wandrille Lefevre (10-Kyle Bekker, 46), 15-Steven Vitoria, 16-Kianz Froese (11-Issey Nakajima-Farran, 46), 17-Marcel De Jong (13-Jamar Dixon, 85), 23-Tesho Akindele (7-Iain Hume, 72)
Subs Not Used: 14-Marco Bustos, 18-Tyson Farago, 19-Caleb Clarke, 20-Karl Ouimette, 21-Mallan Roberts, 22-Callum Irving
Head coach: Benito Floro

Stats Summary: USA / CAN
Shots: 17 / 4
Shots on Goal: 8 / 0
Saves: 0 / 7
Corner Kicks: 4 / 4
Fouls: 15 / 14
Offside: 1 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 42nd minute
CAN – Doneil Henry (caution) 79

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U.S. MNT Take on Canada
U.S. MNT Take on Canada avatar

One of the fiercest sporting rivalries in North American sports continues tonight in California when the United States faces off against Canada.

No quarter will be given, nor will any be asked when… oh wait that’s hockey. Let’s begin again.

The U.S. were expected to win this game comfortable. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The U.S. will be expected to win this game. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Tonight at the StubHub Center in Carson, California the United States Men’s National Soccer Team closes out its January camp with a second friendly, taking on northern neighbors Canada.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is coming off of a 3-2 win over Iceland at the same venue last week and will be hoping to add a second consecutive victory to start the year.

Klinsmann will be looking to sort out the organizational issues that left the U.S. defense in a near panic anytime an Icelandic attacker approached the American 18-yard box last Sunday.

With that in mind Klinsmann and his defenders should be happy to see Canada come to call because well, Canada doesn’t score very often.

They also don’t beat the Americans, not since a 2-0 friendly win back in 1985. In 16 games between the teams since then, the Yanks are undefeated, although that is a bit misleading.

Steve Birnbaum was the hero of the last match.(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Steve Birnbaum was the hero of the last match.(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Eight of those matches finished level, including the last two, a pair of dour 0-0 draws. And for what it is worth Canada had a hand in the Americans ignominious failure to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, beating the U.S. 2-0 ensuring that Caleb Porter’s side was eliminated following a 3-3 tie with El Salvador.

But if it sounds like the U.S. should be expected to run away with the game tonight in California, consider this, Canada’s record in 2015 was 8 wins – 1 loss and 6 ties. Canada conceded just three goals in those matches but of the 16 goals coach Benito Flores’ side scored in those 15 games, 13 came against CONCACAF minnows Belize, Dominica, and Puerto Rico.

Flores has built this team into a tight defensive unit that operates for the most part out of a 4-5-1 formation, with 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin as a the lone forward.

MLS fans will know what the Orlando striker is capable of if he gets some chances, meaning that U.S. defense will need to sort out those aforementioned organizational issues.

Neither team will be fielding a first-choice selection at the StubHub Center this evening but the players on hand will be looking to impress. Like the U.S. Canada will have a healthy MLS contingent. Larin leads a group that includes Will Johnson (Toronto), Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas), and young Vancouver Whitecaps midfield duo Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese.

Both teams are prepping for upcoming World Cup Qualifiers in March, with the U.S. getting ready for a two-game set vs. Guatemala while Canada has a showdown with Mexico looming.

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U.S. Soccer Sues WNT Players
U.S. Soccer Sues WNT Players avatar

The simmering discontent between the U.S. Women’s National Team and U.S. Soccer came to a head Wednesday when the U.S. Soccer filed suit in federal court in Chicago seeking to force the Players Union to honor the current labor agreement.

And that is where it gets tricky. The previous Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expired in 2012 and the sides have been operating ever since under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU).

The U.S. women are current World and Olympic Champions. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. women are current World and Olympic Champions. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The crux of this dispute is whether or not that MOU carries the same weight as a full-fledged CBA. U.S. Soccer believes that it does and has sued “to confirm the existence of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that has been in place since 2013 and is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016,” according to a statement released by U.S. Soccer.

According to that same statement, “U.S. Soccer felt it necessary to take this course of action after Richard Nichols, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Women’s National Team Players Association, notified U.S. Soccer that he does not believe there to be a current CBA, a position which would allow the team to take labor actions on and after February 24 – a view inconsistent with the negotiating history and directly contrary to the position of the prior Executive Director who actually negotiated the current agreement.”

. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

U.S. Soccer states that Nochols refused assurance that the players would not strike. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

The U.S. Soccer statement goes on to say that Nichols refused to give assurances that the players would not strike. For his part, Nichols told the Guardian that he made no strike threat and that, “the players are committed to the U.S. team and they just want to be treated fairly.”

He added, “I did not issue any threat about any action that we would take at all. All I did do was I made it quite clear that we are going to preserve our legal rights in this collective bargaining negotiation. I don’t threaten.”

Relations between the World Cup winning players and the governing body have not been good in recent months, a situation that came into public view with the cancelled game at Aloha Stadium, Hawaii during the team’s Victory Tour. The match scheduled for December 6 was cancelled after the American players essentially refused to play on what they considered a subpar and dangerous field.

The players seemed to have made their point and all currently scheduled WNT games are set to be played on natural grass fields.

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Exactly what the players are looking for from a new contract is not known but fairness in relation to the U.S. MNT, financial and otherwise would seem to be on the agenda of the defending Olympic and World Cup Champions.

2016 is a busy year or the WNT, who begin CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers next Wednesday, February 10 in Frisco, Texas.

Also, on tap is the She Believes Tournament featuring top sides Germany, France, England, and the U.S set for March, and of course the Olympics this summer. And the NWSL season could also be affected.

For now, it is in the hands of the court who will decide if the MOU binds the players until the end of 2016. If the court rules against U.S. Soccer the sides could find themselves in a race against time to sign a new deal.

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

MLS preseason is underway, the January transfer window is shut and we are back with a brand new MLS Big – 5.

1) Who’s In?

For now, let’s just stick with the new look L.A. Galaxy. Bruce Arena lost a pair of Galaxy stalwarts when Omar Gonzalez and Juninho decamped to Mexico but the acerbic coach wasted little time in restocking.

Replacements start with Dutch hardman Nigel De Jong, infamous for his kung fu kick in the 2010 World Cup Final on a free from AC Milan.

Ashley Cole (R ) in action for Roma in August 2015. (Getty Images)

Ashley Cole (R ) in action for Roma in August 2015. (Getty Images)

Then there is Ashley Cole, late of Chelsea, Arsenal, England, and Roma, where he hasn’t played in ages while Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme and Emmanuel Boateng complete L.A.’s foreign shopping spree.

Arena also bought domestic, bringing Mike Magee back from Chicago along with Jeff Larentowicz while ex- Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy returns to the StubHub Center from Houston to solve the Galaxy’s netminding issues.

2) Who’s Out?

Of course, Matt Miazga’s move to Chelsea was league’s biggest move in the other direction and we will all wait and see how that one works out.

But Miazga was not the only MLS Homegrown center back to make a bold move in the January window, Sporting Kansas City’s 18-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown recently completed a one-year loan move to Porto.

Erik Palmer-Brown (L) (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

Erik Palmer-Brown (L) went on loan to Porto. (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

The Portuguese power is well known for developing talented players, whom they then sell on to big European sides.

Italian giants Juventus previously made multiple offers for the Missouri prospect who has just 10 MLS games to his credit.

3) Is MLS Playing the Tortoise to China’s Hare?

Does MLS have a China problem? Consider this. While MLS continues with its slow and steady policy complete with anti-competitive regulations like the salary cap and the discovery claim rule that is alleged to be keeping Orlando from bidding against DC United for AC Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino, the Chinese Super League is spending like the proverbial drunken sailor on shore leave.

Jackson Martinez (Getty Images)

Jackson Martinez is one of many big signings that has moved to the Chinese Super League. (Getty Images)

Guangzhou Evergrande just signed Colombian attacker Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid for a record, for now, $45.8 million, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua signed Martinez’ countryman Fredy Guarin from Inter Milan for a reported $14 million and one senses this is just the beginning with Ya Ya Toure said to be next at a possible salary of close to $45 million a year!

None of this is liable to get MLS to upend a fiscal policy 20 years in the making but if the North American domestic league isn’t careful the hare may outpace the diligent tortoise.

4) MLS and the Nats

If Jurgen Klinsmann’s relationship with MLS sometimes brings to mind the childhood game he loves me, he loves me not, then this week the final pedal the coach pulled was all about the love.

With the traditional MLS-heavy January camp winding down the Americans edged Iceland 3-2 to begin 2016 on an up note.

The camp has long served to give MLS based players a look in with the national team but the vibe was much better this year than last.

Klinsmann (ISI Photos/Celso Bayo)

Klinsmann has previously criticised his players’ fitness.  (ISI Photos/Celso Bayo)

Last year Klinsmann called out his campers for a lack of fitness, confusing given that the MLS players were in offseason mode. Sporting KC defender Matt Besler spoke out and was quickly sent to Coventry, no not the League One English side- google it.

All seemed well this year and Klinsmann dwelt on the positives after the Iceland match. The haphazard U.S. defense was down to the time of year and MLS veteran Lee Nguyen was the recipient of excellent reviews from the coach, who called the New England Revolution creator “one of the winners,” of the training camp.

Next up is for the U.S. MNT is Canada on Friday night as this game of he loves, he loves me not continues.

5) Stadium News

For the second year running Toronto FC will begin the season with an extended road trip as renovations on BMO Field are completed.

Last season TFC spent the first seven games living out of a suitcase and this season the team will go one better, playing as the visitors for eight straight before finally opening at home on May 7 against FC Dallas.

photo1This second construction phase will see a canopy erected over the seats at the City of Toronto owned Stadium, which TFC will share with the Canadian Football League Argonauts for the first time this year.

Meanwhile a bit further south, signs are pointing toward progress in New York City FC’s search for a permanent home. Mind you, these are just signs.

Antenna were first raised when the New York Yankees, very much a minor partner to Manchester City in this project, increased the amount of money it could borrow, fueling speculation. Then NYCFC sent a stadium wish list survey out to fans and the buzz only got louder.

It is all very much in the rumor stage but after months of no news at all, it will have to do for now.

Big 5 Bonus Item – Stuart Holden Retires

The long and seemingly never ending Stuart Holden comeback has finally came to a close today with an announcement from the former U.S. MNT midfielder that there would be no more comeback attempts.

Prior to his injury - Holden had looked back to his old self and brought a lot of excitement to the U.S.  fans(ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Prior to his injury – Holden had looked back to his old self and brought a lot of excitement to the U.S. fans(ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

A star for the Houston Dynamo, the tireless Scottish-born midfielder was making his way at Bolton, where he was voted Player of the Year despite missing the final two months of the 2010-2011 season with a knee injury.

Thus began a torturous merry go round of injury, rehab, injury and rehab again for Holden, who made it all the way back to the U.S. MNT for the 2013 Gold Cup where unbelievably, he tore his ACL.

The always classy Holden was easy to root for across the years as he battled on for one more last chance and he looks well set for life after soccer with a burgeoning television career and a new family to boot.

GotSoccer can only add to the many good wishes that Holden has already received as he heads into that future.

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Birnbaum’s Late Heroics Leads U.S. to Victory
Birnbaum’s Late Heroics Leads U.S. to Victory avatar

DC United center back Steve Birnbaum was the hero with a 90th-minute header to give the U.S. MNT a 3-2 win over Iceland allowing the Americans to open the year on a positive note at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Steve Birnbaum (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Steve Birnbaum (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

The home team erased a pair of deficits on goals from Jozy Altidore and Michael Orozco to set the stage for Birnbaum’s late heroics.

With almost all of the players on both sides out of season, the match had something of the feel of a preseason friendly, which of course it was.

The U.S. opened strong but Iceland was first on the board when Kristina Steindorsson took advantage of a weak defensive header from Matt Besler and some ball watching by his teammates to beat Luis Robles with a deflected shot in the13th minute.

Altidore celebrates his goal with Bradley the provider. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Altidore celebrates his goal with Bradley the provider. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

A slimmer looking Jozy Altidore finished nicely from Michael Bradley seven minutes later to level. Altidore looked lively throughout his 75-minute shift, with his much-discussed offseason training regimen earning good early reviews.

Jurgen Klinsmann handed national team debuts to Columbus Crew winger Ethan Finlay and 20-year-old FC Dallas midfielder/defender Kellyn Acosta from the start and Tony Tchani who debuted off the bench. Acosta started at fullback today and after a sometimes shaky opening 45, the U.S. U20 star showed well in the second half.

The biggest negative on the day was a disjointed effort by the U.S. back four, especially in the second half. Fullback Brad Evans picked up a slight knock was replaced by Birnbaum at the half with Michael Orozco moving wide and the DC man slotting in beside Matt Besler.

That trio never clicked with Iceland doing plenty of second half damage down Orozco’s flank and through the middle. With most of the U.S. defense standing and watching Michael Bradey argue a call with the referee Iceland made it 2-1 in the 48th minute on a gem from impressive debutante, Aron Sigurdarson and only subsequent poor finishing by the visitors kept the Yanks in the match.

Defenders Orozco and Birnbaum did contribute on the offensive side with Orozco equalizing in the 59th minute from a Birnbaum header and, of course, Birnbaum went on to score the winner.

Nguyen was impressive in attack for the U.S. (Getty Images)

Nguyen was impressive in attack for the U.S. (Getty Images)

It can be hard to read a lot into games like this but players that impressed included Lee Nguyen, who brought some badly needed creativity to the attack. Altidore showed good movement and Michael Bradley was clearly the best U.S. player on the day while a pair of late substitutes also made their mark.

Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe came into the match as a wide player but he spent much of his stint drifting inside where he did some damage.

Most impressive was Olympic hopeful Jerome Kiesewetter who entered the game along with fellow U23 striker Jordan Morris. In 15 minutes of action, the Stuttgart II man caught the eye with some dangerous runs, at one point delivering a fine cross that Nagbe might have finished.

It wasn’t a great performance by the U.S. but it is always nice to start the year off with a win. Next up is Canada on February 5th with Klinsmann likely to give some time to players who didn’t see the field today as the U.S. MNT continue to build for the year to come.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 2 3
ISL 1 1 2

ISL – Kristinn Steindorsson 13th minute
USA – Jozy Altidore (Michael Bradley) 20
ISL – Aron Sigurdarson 48
USA – Michael Orozco (Steve Birnbaum) 59
USA – Steve Birnbaum (Michael Bradley) 90

Lineups:
USA: 12-Luis Robles; 3-Brad Evans (15-Steve Birnbaum, 46), 19-Michael Orozco, 5-Matt Besler, 14-Kellyn Acosta; 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones (25-Tony Tchani, 71), 7-Ethan Finlay (6-Darlington Nagbe, 61), 16-Lee Nguyen; 9-Gyasi Zardes (18-Jerome Kiesewetter, 75), 17-Jozy Altidore (8-Jordan Morris, 75)
Subs Not Used: 22-David Bingham, 2-Eric Miller, 10-Mix Diskerud, 20-Wil Trapp, 23-Perry Kitchen
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

ISL: 1-Ogmundur Kristinsson; 2-Birkir Mar Saevarsson, 3-Hallgrimur Jonasson (4-Hjortur Hermannsson, 46), 5-Jon Gudni Fjoluson, 23-Ari Freyr Skulason (18-Aevar Ingi Johannesson, 84); 7-Aron Sigurdarson, 6-Gudmundur Thorarinsson (14-Diego Johannesson, 46), 8-Runar Mar Sigurjonsson, 17-Kristinn Steindorsson (15-Aron Elis Thrandarson, 46); 10-Arnor Smarason, 22-Eidur Smari Gudjohnsen (capt.) (11-Kjartan Henry Finnbogason, 71)
Subs Not Used: 12-Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson, 9-Gardar Gunnlaugsson
Head coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback

Stats Summary: USA / ISL
Shots: 16 / 6
Shots on Goal: 5 / 3
Saves: 1 / 1
Corner Kicks: 8 / 2
Fouls: 7 / 8
Offside: 3 / 2

Misconduct Summary:
ISL – Jon Gudni Fjoluson (caution) 45th minute
USA – Darlington Nagbe (caution) 72

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U.S. MNT Kick off 2016 Sunday Against Iceland
U.S. MNT Kick off 2016 Sunday Against Iceland avatar

Klinsmann had a tough year and came under a lot of criticism. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Klinsmann had a tough year and came under a lot of criticism. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

After the brutal disappointments of 2015, the U.S. MNT will be looking to start off on a positive note when it faces Iceland Sunday afternoon in its first match of the new year.

The game comes at the end of the team’s traditional January camp, although this year’s edition was far from the norm with Jurgen Klinsmann selecting a number younger players with an eye on Olympic qualification.

The nine U23 players are in camp specifically to prepare for a home and home showdown with Colombia coming in March that is the last chance for the two countries to book a place at the Rio Games this summer.

Klinsmann has to prepare his senior side for a pair of World Cup Qualifiers versus Guatemala, also in March while keeping an eye on preparations for the historic Copa America Centenario which U.S. Soccer is hosting in June.

With all that in the mix, it will be interesting to see how the coach selects his team on Sunday and in a subsequent game against Canada on February 5. Both matches will be at the StubHub Center in Carson, California where the U.S. MNT have been holding training camp.

Klinsmann could opt for a veteran-laden squad or a more youthful side, or he could mix and match. There is also the option of relying on the vets in game one before letting youth have its day against Canada or vice versa.

Jermaine Jones (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Jermaine Jones is currently unattached. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Aside from a pair of players, Jermaine Jones, and Perry Kitchen, listed as unattached, Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart), and Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana) are the only players on the roster not on the books for an MLS club.

The most notable absentee is Clint Dempsey, who decided to prepare for the upcoming season on his own, apparently with Klinsmann’s blessing. Dempsey was left off of the U.S. roster for the November World Cup Qualifiers versus St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a move that seemed questionable when the Yanks drew at T&T, a match that might have been winnable had Dempsey been available.

Also out of the picture for the moment is young center back Matt Miazga who left camp on Tuesday to jet to London to sign with Premier League side Chelsea. That move has yet to be completed but it sounded as good as done when Blues manager Guus Hiddink said today that Miazga will not be sent on loan, rather the soon to be former New York Red Bull will be a Chelsea squad player and will be evaluated throughout the rest of the season.

Bradley has not shied away from responsibility or leadership.  (ISI Photos/Thomas Eisenhuth)

Bradley has not shied away from responsibility or leadership. (ISI Photos/Thomas Eisenhuth)

Veterans Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Jones, and Jozy Altidore will be looked at to lead the squad while a lot of eyes will be trained on new Seattle Sounder forward Jordan Morris and Portland Timbers Darlington Nagbe, an attacking midfielder who impressed in November, and who many hope can provide some much-needed creativity in the center of the park.

Like the U.S., Sunday’s opponent, Iceland will field a domestic-based squad. Iceland’s players will be pushing for places in the countries roster for the 2016 Euro’s to be held this summer in France.

This is the first major international tournament Iceland has qualified for, so the U.S. can expect a motivated opponent on Sunday.

International Friendlies:
Sunday, 1/31
U.S.A. vs. Iceland
StubHub Center, Carson, California. 3:45 ET

Friday, 2/5
U.S.A. vs. Canada
StubHub Center, Carson, California. 7:15

GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

DEFENDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Perry Kitchen (unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

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Ellis Names 20 Player Roster for Olympic Qualifiers
Ellis Names 20 Player Roster for Olympic Qualifiers avatar

Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer today released the 20 player roster that will represent the U.S. at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship next month Frisco and Houston, Texas.

Pugh (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pugh is the younger player ever to be named to a U.S. Olympic qualifying roster. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The roster is a mix of newcomers and experience with 17-year-old Mallory Pugh leading the youth brigade. Pugh is not only the youngest player on the panel, the UCLA-bound forward is the youngest player ever named to a U.S. Olympic qualifying roster.

Left off the team were former longtime captain Christie Rampone and veteran winger Heather O’Reilly. 40-year-old Rampone has been hindered by injury since before the World Cup and has been overtaken at center back by Julie Johnston while Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn have assumed the captaincy.

Like Rampone O’Reilly was something of a peripheral figure at the World Cup and Ellis may have chosen Stephanie McCaffrey, a younger player with similar skills over the veteran.

Stephanie McCaffrey is another young player to be selected. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Stephanie McCaffrey is another young player to be selected. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pugh, McCaffrey and the other newer players on the roster will have plenty of experienced players to turn to if the going gets tough, led by a trio of players looking to qualify for a third consecutive Olympic Games.

That troika, goalkeeper Hope Solo, FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd and playmaking midfielder Tobin Heath will be among the leaders as the defending Champions look to qualify for the Olympics for the sixth straight time.

In a statement released by U.S. Soccer Ellis conceded,“this was an exceptionally challenging roster to select. The players all worked and competed very hard in the January camp and that made the final decisions extremely difficult.”

Ellis provided a window into her selection process explaining, “with only 17 field players allowed on the roster, and minimal time in between matches, I think we have one of the most versatile rosters ever for a qualifying tournament. Most of the field players are capable of playing at least two positions and as CONCACAF competitions generally present teams that will sit low and get numbers behind the ball, it is important to have players that can individually and collectively break teams down to create chances.”

Ellis fortunately will be spoilt with choice.  (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Ellis fortunately will be spoilt with choice. (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

As tough as this roster was for Ellis to select the coach will have to winnow it down by two more, should the Americans, as expected, qualify as one of the two top finishers, and advance to Brazil to represent CONCACAF this summer in Brazil.

19 of the 20 players on the U.S. WNT World Cup Qualifying squad come from NWSL clubs, a promising sign of growth for the league as it prepares for its fourth season.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (7): Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash)

FORWARDS (5): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

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Leroux to Miss Olympics
Leroux to Miss Olympics avatar

Sydney Leroux and her husband Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer announced today that the U.S. WNT striker is pregnant and will miss not only the upcoming Rio Olympics but the 2016 NWSL season as well.

Leroux celebrating with husband Dwyer after winning the 2015 World Cup. (Getty Images)

Leroux celebrating with husband Dwyer after winning the 2015 World Cup. (Getty Images)

Leroux has been struggling with injuries, most recently a troublesome ankle and was far from a certainty to make the 18 player Olympic roster.

Leroux joins Amy Rodriguez as the second U.S. and FCKC striker set to miss the upcoming season due to a pregnancy, leaving the Kansas City brain trust of coach Vlatko Andonovski and Director of Soccer Operations Huw Williams with work to do as the defending NWSL Champions prepare for the upcoming campaign.

It was just over a month ago that Leroux came to FCKC in a trade from the Western New York Flash and Leroux couldn’t have been happier, saying via a statement released by the club, “I’m thrilled to be playing in Kansas City, a place that my husband and I call home.”

Leroux has struggled lately with injury. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Leroux has struggled lately with injury. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

“FC Kansas City is an organization with a history of excellence and fans who are passionate and loyal,” Leroux continued, adding, “I couldn’t be more excited to join FCKC as we work towards a third consecutive NWSL championship.”

Also through the team, Andonovski expressed his delight at Leroux’ arrival in Kansas City. “I’m really happy to have Sydney on the team,” the coach said. “She is a proven goal scorer that every coach would love to have on the team. Her persistence and determination are on a whole different level. I feel blessed for the opportunity to work with her.”

Leroux has battled injuries the past two season’s limiting her effectiveness at both the international and club level. After finishing second in the NWSL with 11 goals for the Boston Breakers in 2013, Leroux slumped to five goals the following year for the Seattle Reign, and one in just three games for the Flash in 2015.

Still, FCKC were counting on a bounceback year from Leroux, if she could get healthy. Instead, Leroux is added to the list of players Andonovski and Williams will have to replace.

Retiree Lauren Holiday leads that list with Rodriguez and former U.S. WNT defender Amy Lepeilbet. Defensive standout Becky Sauerbrunn was recently named captain of the U.S. WNT along with Carli Lloyd, so she will be unavailable to FCKC for much of the season while Heather O’Reilly is also battling for a spot on the Olympic roster.

Dwyer and Leroux during the finals of the US Open Cup. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Dwyer and Leroux during the finals of the US Open Cup. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

But the Olympics can wait now as Soccer super couple Sydney Leroux and Dom Dwyer prepare for the birth of their first child, who incidentally will be eligible to play for the U.S., Canada, where Leroux was born, and England, Dwyer’s birthplace.

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Morris Declines Werder Bremen to Stay Home in Seattle
Morris Declines Werder Bremen to Stay Home in Seattle avatar

It is done, after days of intrigue Jordan Morris has put pen to paper and signed what is said to be the largest Homegrown Player contract yet, spurning a contract offer from Bundesliga club Werder Bremen to sign with the Seattle Sounders.

Jordan Morris in action for Stanford. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Jordan Morris in action for Stanford. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The 21-year-old forward was offered a contract by the German side after impressing during a training stint with the club in Turkey during the Bundesliga’s winter break.

Bremen GM Thomas Eichen praised Morris on more than one occasion during the trial, making it clear that Bremen were keen to sign the MAC Hermann Trophy winner.

When Morris’ stay at Bremen was extended it began to look like the Green-Whites would get its man but ultimately Morris opted to sign with the Sounders where his father is the team physician.

Jordan Morris shone for the senior team. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Jordan Morris shone for the senior team. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Morris was something of a curiosity when Jurgen Klinsmann first called him into the full U.S. MNT, making the speedster the first collegian to suit up of for the full team since Chris Albright in 1999, when he took the field versus Ireland in a 4-1 loss November 2014.

Morris displayed a sense of occasion scoring his first, and so far only goal, for the full national team in April against Mexico in a 2-0 victory.

Morris has long resisted the temptation to go pro, yielding at last after his Stanford side lifted the College Cup and he claimed the MAC Hermann award, as the best college player in the country.

Then came the tug of war between Werder Bremen and Seattle, with Morris coming in for criticism in some quarters for choosing what some are calling the safe route.

U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann might have been expected to be in that camp but the national team boss sounded a positive note in this statement to ESPN FC.

Klinsmann seemed happy that the MLS were able to hold onto Morris. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann seemed happy that the MLS were able to hold onto Morris. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

“I’m thrilled that Jordan decided to go pro, this is the really important decision. “And,” Klinsmann continued somewhat unexpectedly, “I’m thrilled with the Sounders, that he goes into an environment that he knows, that he feels comfortable with, and that he feels now that, ‘At this specific point in time, this is the best move for me.”

Werder Bremen has said that it plans to keep an eye on Morris’s progress but if the Washington native can fulfill his potential alongside fellow Seattle attackers Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, Bremen might find that it has missed its chance if Morris eventually decides to move on.

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“Invincible” Vieira Introduced as New York City FC Coach
“Invincible” Vieira Introduced as New York City FC Coach avatar

Bronx, N.Y. – “I’m quite a really positive person and I’m really ambitious,” Patrick Vieira said when asked why he felt he would succeed in his new role as coach of the New York City Football Club despite his unfamiliarity with the league and the sometimes byzantine nature of the MLS rulebook.

As expected Viera has been named as NYCFC's new coach. (ISI Photos/Paul Greenwood)

Viera seems confident in his role as NYCFC’s  coach. (ISI Photos/Paul Greenwood)

Deep in the bowels of Yankee Stadium Wednesday afternoon, Vieira looked with confidence to Claudio Reyna in the seat next to him and said, “I am not going to have anyone better than Claudio to help me and support me during the season.”

Despite an impeccable resume as a player, notably as captain of Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2003-04, and as a member of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, Vieira figures to need that help and support.

Vieira inherits a team that missed out on the playoffs in its first season costing MLS lifer Jason Kreis his job. Reyna indicated that although, “we both want to succeed as soon as possible,” the Senegal-born coach would be given more rope than his predecessor.

“We also are aware,” the NYCFC Director of Football Operations said, “that there is a lot of work to be done.” “We don’t want to come out and make any crazy, bold predictions,” Reyna added, “but we’re confident that with the team we have there’ll be an improvement.”

For his part, the new NYCFC coach is under no illusions. “We are in the industry where results matter and that’s why I strongly believe that if we work hard, if we get the results everybody will be really happy and it will be really important to us to win games, to win trophies because it is important because people judge you by what you’ve won.”

Vieira also added that he wants to see his team develop a style of play saying, “we want to win and we want to win trophies by playing the right way.”

NYC FC's players did not do as well as most had anticipated. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

NYC FC’s players did not do as well as most had anticipated. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

With that in mind, GotSoccer asked Vieira whether he had a style of play or a particular formation in mind, eliciting an interesting response from the former Manchester City youth manager.

For now, the coach indicated that he would hold off on tactical specifics, instead emphasizing an overall philosophy. “What would be really important for me is to give an appropriate identity to the team.”

“I would like,” Vieira stated, “to see the team reflecting what New York is all about.” “I’m really passionate about the city,” Vieira explained, adding, “it is full of energy in this city and I would like my team to reflect what New York is all about.”

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Former U.S WNT Coach Sermanni Happy to be Back
Former U.S WNT Coach Sermanni Happy to be Back avatar

Baltimore, Md. – Tom Sermanni was all smiles as he posed for the obligatory “scarf pictures” with Sam Whiteman, the Orlando Pride’s first ever college draft choice Friday morning in Baltimore.

The diminutive Scot joked that he enjoyed standing beside a player who is shorter than he is and his new defender gamely played along suggesting her new coach try on her heels.

Setmanni looked (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Setmanni is very happy to be back in the thick of things. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

It was a light-hearted moment for the ex – U.S. WNT coach and it was easy to discern that Sermanni’s smile was not for show. No, Orlando’s new leader was clearly happy to be back in the thick of things as he prepares the Pride for its inaugural season in the National Women’s Soccer League.

As the photo shoot continued without him GotSoccer was able to steal a few minutes with Sermanni, who kept active working as an assistant coach on Canada’s WNT after being dismissed in April 2014 by U.S. Soccer.

Sermanni, who is credited with building Australia’s women’s soccer team from the ground up, hasn’t played second banana in some time, and he sounded excited to be at the helm of this challenge with the Pride.

“It’s good,” the coach said of starting from scratch. “There is always a sense of extra energy when you bring a new group together and that helps.”

Sermanni noted, “it gives you a chance to embed your philosophy and how you want the team to play, how you want them to be on the field, off the field, just to try and build up a culture within the team.”

“That,” Sermanni summed up, “is the real positive stuff about coming in at the beginning.”

Sam Witteman was Orlando's 1st ever college pick. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Sam Witteman was Orlando’s 1st ever college pick. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

It is a big job but Sermanni believes it is one made easier by the Pride’s owners, Major League Soccer’s Orlando Lions SC.

“Huge, huge, huge,” Sermanni answered when asked how important this set up is to the Pride’s success. “We’ve got great people right in place,” Sermanni explained, “it makes the job so much easier.”

He continued, “the staff is in place, they treat the women’s team exactly the same way as the men’s and those people behind you make such a big difference.” Sermanni agreed with MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who has called for more of the league’s clubs to take ownership positions with NWSL teams.

“Yes 100%,” Sermanni answered when GotSoccer asked about Garber’s remarks. Sermanni reminded, “when the league started and I was the national team coach and that was one of the things that I brought up at the time, the affiliation with the MLS team is beneficial for everyone.”

Although he was in Baltimore to talk Orlando Pride, the question had to be asked, was it hard to watch his former team, led by his former assistant, Jill Ellis raise the World Cup Trophy in Canada last summer?

“That wasn’t difficult,” Sermanni answered immediately, adding, “it’s like anywhere, it’s a difficult time when you lose a job.”

Sermanni clearly holds no grudges and relayed his joy at the U.S. women's success. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Sermanni clearly holds no grudges and relayed his joy at the U.S. women’s success. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

“But,” Sermanni explained, “those were the players that I worked with, the staff that I worked with, so on that level I was delighted to see them be successful because they weren’t the people that sacked me,” Sermanni concluded with a hearty laugh.

But that chapter is behind him now and for Sermanni it is, “good to be back in the game, it’s good to be at the club I’m at, and it is good to be back involved in club soccer again.”

With two stints in charge of Australia’s Matildas leading to his time with the U.S. WNT, Sermanni last took charge of a club team back in 2003 when he led the New York Power of the WUSA as well as Malaysian club Sarawak.

So Sermanni can’t be quite sure what to expect from his brand new team in 2016. “I don’t know,” the youthful 61-year-old answered when we asked for his year one prediction.

“I mean obviously, we want to do our best and get into the top four but I really don’t know because you have a whole new group of players.”

Sermanni likes his group but says, “at the same time you’re not sure how it’s all going to play out. Initially, it might go great and obviously,” the coach points out, “there are going to be some rough spots.”

Morgan will be missing for large parts of the season due to national team commitments. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan will be missing for large parts of the season due to national team commitments. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Sermanni knows that it is an Olympic year, and the Pride will likely lose star acquisition Alex Morgan to Rio, just one of many factors in coaching at the club level.

Friday morning with the draft floor calling Sermanni had to run, leaving us with this, “we’re not just going in to make up the numbers,” and “thank you, it’s good to be back.”

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Trades Dominate NWSL Draft
Trades Dominate NWSL Draft avatar

The fourth edition of the National Women’s Soccer League draft came to Maryland today and signs of progress were readily apparent even before the 2016 NWSL Draft kicked off this morning at the Baltimore Convention Center.

In stark contrast to previous editions when the league booked rooms that proved too small for its showcase event, this year’s model was held in the same space that had hosted the MLS SuperDraft one day previous.

NWSL fans created a lively atmosphere for the draft. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

NWSL fans created a lively atmosphere for the draft. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Fans filled that hall today and the Washington Spirit’s supporters certainly brought the, um spirit, supplying the women’s draft with a raucous cheering section, a first at the draft for the growing league.

The media contingent continues to grow too and if things didn’t run quite as smoothly as at the SuperDraft, the opening five-minute delay was a forgivable glitch.

In an echo of the men’s event trades took center stage, with the Portland Thorns swapping the second pick in the draft for SkyBlue FC’s third selection hours before the draft got underway.

Portland received striker Nadia Nadeem in return, and the Thorns parted with next year’s natural first round pick as well as a conditional fourth rounder in return.

Emily Sonnett went first in the NWSL draft. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Emily Sonnett went first in the NWSL draft. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

When the draft finally began the Thorns opened by making Emily Sonnett the second consecutive University of Virginia Cavalier to be chosen number one after the Houston Dash claimed Morgan Brian in that spot in 2015.

Sonnett, like Brian, is a U.S. WNT player and with Olympic places up for grabs the center back was with the national team and unable to attend.

Sky Blue made use of the second pick by eagerly snapping up Penn State and Costa Rica midfielder Raquel Rodriguez.

Raquel Rodriguez was the second pick overall. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Raquel Rodriguez was the second pick overall. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The adjustment period from college to the pro’s should be easier for “Rocky” than most, after all, Rodriguez has already played in a senior Women’s World Cup. And the former Nittany Lion was no passenger, Rodriguez scored the Ticas first ever World Cup goal in a 1-1 draw with Spain.

Rodriquez is a good get for the league, there was speculation that the midfielder/forward would begin her career in Europe.

Portland clearly came to Charm City ready to wheel and deal, quickly flipping the third pick that they acquired in the deal with Sky Blue FC for the number one position in the league’s Allocation Ranking Order.

The system is a new one announced by the league just before the draft that deals with unattached subsidized players (USI) formerly known as allocated players.

If the player’s right are not controlled by the club they can be claimed with the order determined by how the teams finished the previous season, playoffs included.

Mallory Pugh is rumored to be joining Portland. (ISI Photos/John Ulan)

Mallory Pugh is rumored to be joining Portland. (ISI Photos/John Ulan)

Portland is thought to be lining up 17-year-old Mallory Pugh with that pick, meaning that the U.S. U20 star, now in camp with the full U.S. WNT, would forego college to begin her pro career in Portland.

Also making a big splash today was the Houston Dash with three first round picks. Houston coach Randy Waldrum grabbed Notre Dame central defender Cari Roccaro with the fifth overall pick, followed that by taking Rachel Daly, out of St. John’s University by way of England at six, and finally Janine Beckie, a Canadian forward from Texas Tech, with the eight selection.

Afterward, the coach said, “I couldn’t be happier, I mean I’m ecstatic about the choices.” Waldrum felt comfortable using such a high pick on the injured Roccaro because he knows her so well from his time coaching the former U.S. U20 captain at Notre Dame.

The coach said that Roccaro had surgery on her hip to repair a torn labrum and will be out for four to six months. Waldrum is targeting a May or June return for the versatile Roccaro and he is confident in the pick.

Roccaro got selected despite her just having surgery. (ISI Photos/BradSmith)

Daly was Houston’s 2nd pick and 6ht overall.. (ISI Photos/BradSmith)

“We just felt she was good enough to take her,” Waldrum said, “even if for some reason you didn’t have her for the full six months.” “I think,” the coach said matter of factly, “in the long run she is the kind of player that we want to build our team around.”

This year’s draft takes on added importance with many teams set to lose top players to the Olympics. Waldrum was not the only coach thinking along those lines but the coach of the Trinidad and Tobago national team, who won’t be going to the Olympics, admitted that he chose Daly at least in part as cover for Beckie, who is expected to make Canada’s Olympic team.

– Round 1 –

No. 1 – Emily Sonnett – UVA (Portland Thorns FC)

No. 2 – Raquel Rodriguez – Penn State (Sky Blue FC)#

No. 3 – Christen Westphal – U. of Florida (Boston Breakers)*

No. 4 - Carson Pickett – Florida State (Seattle Reign FC)

No. 5 – Cari Roccaro – Notre Dame (Houston Dash)

No. 6 – Rachel Daly – St. John’s Univ. (Houston Dash)

No. 7 – Cheyna Williams – FSU (Washington Spirit)

No. 8 – Janine Beckie – Texas Tech. (Houston Dash)

No. 9 – Michaela Hahn – Florida State University (WNY Flash)

No. 10 – Sam Witteman – UC Berkeley (Orlando Pride)

– Round 2 –

No. 11 – Makenzy Doniak – UVA (WNY Flash)

No. 12 – Cali Farquharson – ASU (Washington Spirit)

No. 13 – Leah Galton – Hofstra (Sky blue FC)

No. 14 – Mallory Weber – Penn State (WNY Flash)

No. 15 – Christina Burkenroad – Cal State Fullerton (Orlando Pride)

No. 16 – Katie Bowen – UNC (FC Kansas City)

No. 17 – Brittany Ratcliffe – UVA (Boston Breakers)

No. 18 – Brianne Reed – Rutgers (FC Kansas City)

No. 19 – Katie Naughton – Notre Dame (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 20 – Alli Murphy – Texas Tech (Washington Spirit)

– Round 3 –

No. 21 – McKenzie Beryhill – ASU (Portland Thorns FC)

No. 22 – Sarah Gorden – DePaul (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 23 – Erica Skroski – Rutgers (Sky Blue FC)

No. 24 – Laura Liedle – Stanford (WNY Flash)

No. 25 – Paige Nielson – UNC (Seattle Reign FC)

No. 26 – Britt Eckerstrom – Penn State (WNY Flash)

No. 27 – Abby Smith – Texas (Boston Breakers)&

No. 28 – Alexa Newfield – UNC (FC Kansas City)

No. 29 – Caroline Casey – William & Mary (Sky Blue FC)@

No. 30 – Summer Green – UNC (Seattle Reign FC)

– Round 4 –

No. 31 – Dani Weatherholt – Santa Clara (Orlando Pride)

No. 32 – Courtney Raetzman – Kentucky (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 33 – Janelle Flaws – Illinois (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 34 – Madalyn Schiffel – San Francisco (Washington Spirit)

No. 35 – Adrienne Jordan – No. Colorado (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 36 – Candace Johnson – Univ. of Missouri (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 37 – Kara Wilson – Duke (Washington Spirit)

No. 38 – Alex Arlitt – LSU (FC Kansas City)

No. 39 – Ashleigh Ellenwood – Arkansas (Chicago Red Stars)

No. 40 – Lindsey Luke – Utah (Seattle Reign FC)

Trades:

* = Portland Thorns FC traded the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft, No. 4 spot in the Allocation Ranking Order and future considerations to the Boston Breakers in exchange for the No. 1 spot in the Allocation Ranking Order.

# = Sky Blue FC acquired the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 NWSL Draft from Portland as well as a natural first-round and conditional fourth-round selection in the 2017 NWSL Draft. In exchange, Portland received the rights to Nadia Nadim and No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft and a natural second-round pick in the 2017 NWSL Draft

& = Chicago Red Stars have acquired the No. 32 and No. 35 overall picks in the 2016 NWSL Draft. In exchange, the Boston Breakers have acquired No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft.

@ = Chicago Red Stars acquired No. 33 and No. 36 overall picks in the 2016 NWSL Draft. In exchange, Sky blue FC received the No. 29 overall pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft

 

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