MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

The Dog Days of Summer are upon us, witness New York City FC’s sluggish performance in a 3-1 loss at Kansas City on Sunday.

Which brings us to our first Big 5 topic:

1) Summertime and the Livin’ Ain’t Easy

Not when your team has to play midweek games in MLS, it isn’t. This is not to attack the league on its schedule, it is a challenge fitting in all of these matches around international games, the Open Cup, etc.

But that doesn’t make it any easier on the players. 12 clubs will be in action across the country tonight, Wednesday, July 12, with some having played as recently as three days ago and they are all back at it again on either July 16th or 17th.

Vieira (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Vieira (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Take NYC for instance. Patrick Vieira’s side came out after the Copa break with a four-game winning streak, the last three of which were shutouts. That run propelled the Bronx boys to the top of the Eastern Conference but with Vieira declining to rotate his veteran squad NYC were decidedly leggy as they fell to SKC on a mandatory water break night in Kansas.

NYC has played five games in 27 days, or a game almost every five days. That’s tough going in the July heat, and August is on deck.

2) Groundbreaking in Kansas

A plan to provide U.S. Soccer with a possible new home got underway yesterday when final approval was granted to build a soccer mega site on 174 acres in Kansas City, Kansas. The plan is for the facility to become the base of operations for U.S. Soccer and its national teams, although U.S. Soccer has given no indication that it plans to abandon its current HQ in Carson, California.

No indication that the U.S. will leave their Californian base. (ISI Photo/Michael Janosz)

No indication that the U.S. will leave their Californian base. (ISI Photo/Michael Janosz)

The project, slated to cost $62 million, will take shape just minutes from Sporting K.C.’s home stadium, Children’s Mercy Park, and would seem to have just about any amenity a team could need, including youth and senior U.S. national teams if and when they see fit to use the complex.

As reported in the Kansas City Star the project will include a training center, said to include the “equivalent” of 4 to 6 professional outdoor soccer fields, an indoor complex housing sports medicine and nutrition labs, training facilities and education spaces for coaches, as well as some other items that have not yet been finalized. There will also be at least one climate-controlled indoor field.

Youth soccer teams will benefit from 12 outdoor fields and 10 futsal courts will also be part of the facility.

According to Sporting KC CEO Rob Heineman U.S. Soccer has signed a 20-year lease, and the facility is set for completion in 2017.

3) Fields – But No Stadium News in New York

So this showed up in the inbox of New York soccer media types on Tuesday : MAYOR DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY FC, US SOCCER FOUNDATION AND ADIDAS TO MAKE ANNOUNCEMENT ON NEW COMMUNITY INITIATIVE.

It didn’t really sound like a stadium for the New York City Football Club, did it? Alas, it did not, and was not, but it did have to do with building soccer fields in New York City.

Reyna was present at the  (Getty Images)

Reyna has no news on the long-term home for the club. (Getty Images)

The quartet has formed a public-private partnership to build 50 soccer fields in underserved neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs over the next five years. And even though NYCFC Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna had no news on a long-term home for the club, this new initiative can only be seen as a positive step for soccer in the Big Apple.

4) Homegrown Game Coach Landon Donovan Names His Team

As part of the festivities surrounding the MLS All-Star Game July 28, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, the league’s Homegrown players will take on a Mexico U20 selection the night before the main attraction. The Homegrown Player Rule is an MLS program that allows clubs to sign local players from their own development academies directly to MLS first team rosters.

Donovan (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Donovan is in his second year of catching the up and coming players.  (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

This is the third year that the homegrown side has competed during All-Star week and the second year in a row that Donovan has coached the up and comers. Seattle Sounders and U.S. MNT striker Jordan Morris is the standout in this group announced on Tuesday.

Here is the MLS Homegrown roster:

GK CREPEAU, Maxime Montreal Impact
GK GONZALEZ, Jesse FC Dallas
D ACOSTA, Danilo Real Salt Lake
D GLAD, Justen Real Salt Lake
D GUILLEN, Aaron FC Dallas
D KAVITA, Phanuel Real Salt Lake
D ROBINSON, Jalen D.C. United
D TURNER, Tyler Orlando City SC
M ADAMS, Tyler New York Red Bulls
M ALLEN, Jordan Real Salt Lake
M CHAPMAN, Jay Toronto FC
M CRAFT, Coy FC Dallas
M HEATH, Harrison Orlando City SC
M KOVAR, Aaron Seattle Sounders
M MENDIOLA, Raul LA Galaxy
M THOMPSON, Tommy San Jose Earthquakes
F CALISTRI, Joey Chicago Fire
F HAMILTON, Jordan Toronto FC
F MCBEAN, Jack LA Galaxy
F MORRIS, Jordan Seattle Sounders

5) Sacre Bleu! A French All Star Game!

Looking to capitalize on a successful Euro16 the French Football League (LFP), French soccer’s governing body is considering a number of moves to bolster the game’s popularity in France, among them an American style All-Star Game.

Besler (Getty Images)

Tottenham competed in the 2015 MLS All Star Game. (Getty Images)

LFP Executive Director Didier Quillot confirmed to French publication L’Equipe that the league is moving ahead with plans for its own All-Star match. “The principle of a project such as an All-Star Game was adopted,” Quillot told L’Equipe. “The date, the place and the broadcaster are still to be clarified.”

The LFP boss added, “the LFP’s administrative council has given the go-ahead to look into launching two innovative projects: the French e-sport Championship and the All-Star game, intended to bring Ligue 1′s best players together, although a format has not been announced.

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Ellis Talks After Naming Olympic Roster
Ellis Talks After Naming Olympic Roster avatar

Sounding relaxed and confident U.S. WNT coach Jill Ellis spoke to the media via a conference call today just hours after naming her 18 player Olympic roster.

Ellis seems confident about her selection. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis seems confident about her selection. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Even with the inclusion of 18-year-old Mallory Pugh and late-blooming international Allie Long, there were no real surprises in this group that will try to become the first team to win the Olympics back to back with the World Cup.

Ellis addressed that issue today. “One of the things I really looked into,” Ellis said, “is why has a repeat never been done?” “Was it a change of personnel,” Ellis wondered? How about complacency? – or maybe it was timing?

In meeting with her players recently Ellis put it to them. “Are you as hungry?” the coach said she asked the prospective Olympians. “Do you feel as focused?” “The resounding response,” Ellis relayed, “was yes.” The players Ellis said, “want to make history, want to try to be the first to go back to back.”

Brian and Rapinoe (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Brian and Rapinoe will hopefully be match fit for Brazil. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Where Ellis has gambled is in relying on Megan Rapinoe and Morgan Brian to be healthy enough to contribute enough in Brazil to warrant one of the 18 precious roster spots.

Ellis sounded certain that Carli Lloyd would be up to the task, despite having just played her first game in several weeks in Sunday’s 1-0 over South Africa. The coach was happy that both Lloyd and Rapinoe had experienced full contact, had taken some tackles and emerged unscathed.

Lloyd, Ellis explained, “played 100% at our training, her fitness is great, she’s going full into tackles,” so no injury worries it seems concerning the team’s World Cup hero.

The odds are bit longer on Rapinoe and Brian, though Ellis makes it clear that both players are worth the risk, saying that “Megan does have an “it” factor.” Ellis cited her set pieces, and called the winger “one of the best crossers in the world.”

Alex Morgan (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Alex Morgan was able to play a role in her team at the World Cup.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

“The plan for Megan,” Ellis revealed, “is we’ve got to build her in this tournament, much like we did with Alex (Morgan).” Morgan sat out the first game of last year’s World Cup and then struggled in the early rounds and while the star striker never hit peak form in Canada her contributions helped the U.S. win its first Women’s World Cup since 1999.

“Is she (Rapinoe) going to be able to play 90 minutes in six games? the coach asked before answering her own question. “Of course not but I think her special qualities, also what she brings in terms of personality, her leadership off the field; it was a tough decision in terms of would she be back in time to contact” Ellis said, “but once I saw her in contact it wasn’t a hard decision.”

Ellis also referred to “building” when asked about Brian, who “is on the mend for sure,” according to the coach.

Ellis’ comfort level in bringing these potentially iffy players is raised by a solid foursome of alternates at the ready. Ellis noted that “many, many years ago” alternates did not travel with the team. Now, in the event of injury Ellis can turn to goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, defender Emily Sonnet, or one of two midfielders in Heather O’Reilly and Sam Mewis.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about today’s roster announcement was the utter lack of a surprise that the inclusion of 18-year-old Mallory Pugh generated.

Remember that it was only on January 23, 2016, that the then 17-year-old attacker made her full national team debut, scoring a goal in the U.S. WNT’s 5-0 win over the Republic of Ireland, less than a month after leading the U20 nats to the CONCACAF Championship.

Pugh has linked up well with Morgan and made it very clear that she is ready. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pugh has linked up well with Morgan and made it very clear that she is ready. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The teenager was mentioned by Ellis as a factor in the veteran O’Reilly’s failure to make the roster and would seem to have bypassed Cristian Press on her way to a starting berth on the U.S. Olympic team.

Ellis says that success at such a young age is a combination of “soccer ability and their psychological profile.” The coach says that Pugh has “ice in her veins, she doesn’t get rattled, she’s very competitive, always has a big smile on her face and,” Ellis says, “she’s having fun, and she’s enjoying it.”

2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team Roster by Position:

GOALKEEPERS (2): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (6): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), 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)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

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League Embarrassed in Playing Field Debacle
League Embarrassed in Playing Field Debacle avatar

There were some games of interest in NWSL play over the weekend, Portland losing for the first time for example. But the big story in the National Women’s Soccer League wasn’t on the field, no the weekend’s main talking point was the field itself. The field at Pioneer Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. that is, where the Western N.Y. Flash defeated the Seattle Reign 3-2 on Saturday night.

photo1Pioneer Field is a baseball stadium and not the normal home field for the Flash who generally play at Rhinos Stadium. That venue was booked, however, for a concert and Pioneer Field was selected as the alternative. The blowback was immediate with Seattle Reign coach turning to twitter to give her views on the debacle.

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush quickly released a statement of his own. “Earlier this evening, the Western New York Flash hosted a home match at a different venue due to Rhinos Stadium not being available.

The field dimensions were not up to our standards, but due to various factors, the league office made the decision to grant an exception for this evening’s match. In retrospect, we made the wrong decision.

As a professional league, we need to ensure that the integrity of the game is always respected both on and off the field. We did not do that tonight and we apologize to the NWSL players, coaches and fans. In the future, we will ensure that every NWSL match meets our standards.”

photo1Harvey was immediately supported by several prominent U.S. WNT players also via social media.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 20.51.41

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 05.50.27Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 05.56.09

 

For a league that is still trying to find a foothold in the always competitive American sports landscape an event like this an an embarrassment that gives lie to the old trope that maintains that all publicity is good publicity.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of all of this is that it could have and should have been avoided. If no suitable field was available, reschedule. The league would have drawn some heat in that instance but it surely would have been preferable to this mess.

 

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U.S. WNT Face South Africa with Olympic Fast Approaching
U.S. WNT Face South Africa with Olympic Fast Approaching avatar

When the U.S. WNT take to the Soldier Field pitch in Chicago Saturday afternoon against South Africa in the team’s penultimate pre-Olympic warm-up match it will immediately be clear that all is not well between the American players and the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The New York Times has reported, backed up by the players on social media, that the players will wear tee-shirts and temporary tattoos bearing the message “Equal Play Equal Pay.” That message will also be trumpeted by the players on social media, for example on twitter under the handle #equalplayforequalpay.

Morgan and Solo are two of the players (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan and Solo are two of the players who are using social media to fight their campaign.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement running through the end of 2016 the social media campaign is the only real protest option available to the players following a court ruling last month that the players could not go on strike. Now as Rio approaches it will be up to coach Jill Ellis and the team’s leaders to keep the group focused as it chases Gold for the third time in a row.

Historically the U.S. WNT has demonstrated a remarkable ability to block out distractions, think Hope Solo’s legal troubles prior to the 2015 World Cup, but when the Yanks coughed up a late lead in a 3-3 tie with a young Japanese side on June 2nd that ability to focus was called into question.

Three days later the Americans righted the ship with a 2-0 win calming nerves ahead of this two-game set, with Costa Rica up next on July 22, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Ellis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis is spoilt for choice and will have a very strong 18 squad.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis has her work cut out for her as she trims this roster from the 24 players invited to camp down to the Olympic roster limit of 18. Only two goalkeepers will make the 18, and Ellis recently expressed her confidence that either Ashlyn Harris or Alyssa Naeher would do the job should Solo find herself unavailable.

Co-Captain and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd is back from her recent injury and ready to go but Megan Rapinoe is just in camp to be evaluated. Ellis is clearly hoping that the dangerous winger can show that she is healthy enough to claim a precious Olympic roster spot.

With the four forwards on the 24 player roster expected to travel, Ellis will drop either Harris or Naeher and five more players from the nine defenders and eight midfielders in the group.

Defenders on the bubble are Whitney Engen, Emily Sonnett, Jaelene Hinkle, and Gina Lewandowski. Rapinoe is on the team if she is healthy, or relatively close, if not there is one more position available for Heather O’Reilly, Allie Long, and Samantha Mewis to battle over.

Ellis’ head may be turned by a big effort in these last two matches, or even in training and she also may have called some players in for cover in case of injury.

Hinkle and Lewandowski (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Hinkle and Lewandowski  could make the squad. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Hinkle and Lewandowski look to be contesting one fullback spot, as Engen and Sonnett vie to backup Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston at central defense. In the midfield, Long and Mewis could be an either or, but not both, proposition while Heather O’Reilly seems to be on the outside looking in.

The one sure thing about this group is that Ellis will disappoint some very talented players while still bringing a packed squad to Rio.

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster

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

DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

When you think of the Orlando City Lions you think of Adrian Heath, and that is why we lead this edition of the MLS Big – 5 with the news that the former Everton star has gotten the sack from the second-year MLS club.

1) Heath Out

When Phil Rawlins founded the Austin Aztex in 2009 he brought Heath in to manage the USL side and the former Toffees goalscorer was at the helm as the franchise moved from Texas to Orlando, from USL-1 to USL-PRO, finally leading the club into Major League Soccer for the 2015 season.

Heath (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Heath (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Under Heath Orlando City ranked second in MLS attendance, averaging almost 33,000 per game and trailing only Seattle. Orlando came up just short of a playoff berth in its inaugural season but unlike fellow expansion coach Jason Kreis, who was fired by New York City FC, Heath’s job was safe.

But things soured in year two and NYCFC’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings can’t have helped Heath’s prospects. With Orlando currently, one place out of a playoff position Rawlins and majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva likely acted now, with 18 games remaining in the season, in hopes of salvaging a playoff spot.

It is a harsh reward for a man who has been such a big part of the Orlando story, but coaches are hired to be fired, a fact that Heath certainly knew.

Who is next for Orlando? For now assistant coach Bobby Murphy and Orlando City B coach Anthony Pulis will fill in. Heath assistant and former San Jose Earthquakes boss Mark Watson was also released.

Neither of the interim managers should get too comfortable, expect Orlando’s Brazilian owner da Silva to look for a bigger name coach, quite possibly one of his countrymen to take over for Heath.

2) A Tale of Two (Expansion) Cities

As alluded to above, while Orlando City’s fortunes have foundered, so too have New York City’s been on the rise. In fact, it was hard not to make that connection given that the Heath news broke during NYC’s 1-0 road win over New England Wednesday night.

Vieira (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Vieira struggled earlier on in the MLS. (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

When Patrick Vieira was hired to replace Jason Kreis after NYC’s inaugural season many critics, this one included wondered if Kreis had been treated fairly and whether a neophyte coach in a league famously unkind to foreign coaches would do any better than the former MLS Cup winning manager had with the Manchester City sister club.

Just past the halfway point of his first campaign in charge of a senior team, the answer on Vieira has to be considered a solid yes. Vieira struggled early to find wins in the cozy confines of NYC’s narrow Yankee Stadium home pitch and the rookie manager’s lineup tinkering was more interesting than effective.

But the former Arsenal Invincible stuck to his philosophy of playing from the back and as Jack Harrison and Frank Lampard (finally) got healthy things have come together for NYCFC.

Even a 7-0 embarrassment at home to rival New York Red Bulls has been put aside by that rise to first place, partly fueled by a 2-0 NYCFC win in the Bronx on July 3rd.

New York City FC may not end the year atop the Eastern Conference but the playoffs are certainly attainable, a goal that seemed unlikely even a few weeks ago.

3) Zendejas to Chivas – Gives Up on U.S.

When U.S. youth star Alex Zendejas was transferred from FC Dallas to Mexican club Chivas in late June the first thought for U.S. followers was what the move meant for the 18-year old’s international future.

Zendejas (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Zendejas will not be open for selection for the U.S.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Guadalajara giants have a well-known policy of signing only players loyal to Mexico, so it was no surprise when Chivas announced that, Zendejas, who represented the U.S. at the 2015 U17 World Cup, would no longer accept call-ups from U.S. Soccer.

El Paso born to Mexican parents, Zendejas signed a Homegrown contract with Dallas after coming through the club’s youth system and has amassed 37 caps for the U.S. at the U15 and U17 level.

All of which made it quite a surprise when Chivas claimed that the exciting winger was actually born in Mexico!

4) Mid Season Friendlies?!

With the summer heat upon us and the MLS schedule as unrelenting as ever, the last thing players need is an extra game. Particularly a meaningless extra game. So why would MLS schedule games like Seattle vs West Ham and New York Red Bulls vs. Club America?

Seattle (ISI Photos/Joshua Weinberg)

Seattle’s friendly games are proving to be popular with the fans. (ISI Photos/Joshua Weinberg)

Well, the Sounders announced a crowd of 38,585 for Tuesday’s match against the Hammers and 20,000 plus bought tickets to the Red Bulls/America game last night.

So, money then. Got it.

5) Jordan Morris

Jordan Morris scored twice in Seattle’s 3-0 friendly win on Tuesday but more import, the brace was further evidence that the former Stanford product has found his footing as a professional.

Morris (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Morris should hopefully benefit from having Dempsey back.  (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Morris now has six league goals on his rookie resume and with Clint Dempsey back in Rave Green after Copa America duties more can be expected from both Morris and the Sounders.

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NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

The National Women’s Soccer League celebrated the July 4th weekend with a four-game schedule that got underway Friday night in Rochester with a comprehensive 2-0 victory for the home Western New York Flash over the Chicago Red Stars.

So, let’s get to the NWSL Roundup. (Home teams listed first)

Western New York Flash 2-0 vs. Chicago Red Stars

It didn’t take long for new Flash signing Lianne Sanderson to make herself at home with the high scoring Flash, no the former Orlando Pride star scored just 38 minutes into her Western New York debut, and it proved to be the game-winner for the second place Flash.

Lianne Sanderon (ISI Photos/Mark Howard)

Lianne Sanderon to off to a flying start for The Flash. (ISI Photos/Mark Howard)

The Flash acquired the 28-year-old English woman for an international player spot (the Pride has through 2018 to use the slot) and the 2015 World Cup veteran looks a good fit.

An adept playmaker who scored two goals in eight games for Orlando, Sanderson joins the league’s highest scoring team and showed immediate signs of gelling with the league’s top two goalscorers, Lynn Williams, 6 goals, (who scored WNY’s second goal on Friday), and Jessica McDonald, who has notched five goals.

Portland Thorns 2-1 vs. Sky Blue FC

In front of 14,287 fans at Providence Park, the Portland Thorns extended its unbeaten run to all 12 games so far in the 2016 NWSL season, defeating Sky Blue FC Saturday night.

The Thorns spotted the visitors the lead on a 30th minute Tasha Kai tally before answering back with a brace to take its record to seven wins, five ties, and zero losses, good for first place in the fourth year professional league.

Nadim (L) was involved in both of Portland's goals. (ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Nadim (L) was involved in both of Portland’s goals. (ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Sky Blue could hold its lead for just eight minutes before Dagny Brynjarsdottir headed home from a perfectly placed Nadia Nadim corner kick.

Portland maintained that slim advantage into the break but managed to double just past the hour mark when Nadim converted from the spot after Hayley Raso secured the penalty kick.

With 12 of their 18 regular season matches already in the books and nothing in the L column is it officially time to begin the Unbeatables watch in Portland?

Washington Spirit 2-0 vs Kansas City FC

The good times continued at the Maryland Soccerplex for the Washington Spirit who defeated Kansas City FC 2-0 on Saturday while running its home record to 5-1-1.

KC has suffered all season since losing a number of key players in the offseason, led by U.S. international Lauren Holiday, and the club has been further hampered by the loss of U.S. WNT-ers Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly.

All the league’s clubs are affected of course by the upcoming Olympics but FCKC’s poor start only heightens the situation.

Lohman is having an outstanding season for Washington. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Lohman is having an outstanding season for Washington. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The Spirit needed two late goals to claim the points and Joanna Lohman was involved in both. The Spirit scores came off deflections from shots by the Spirit midfielder.

Substitute Francisca Ortega drilled a low blast through the KC defense in the 79th minute before Tori Huster beat Nicole Barnhart with a beautifully struck volley to seal the deal.

Seattle Reign 2-0 vs. Boston Breakers

With two goals on Saturday Nahomi “Naho” Kawasumi was the star on her return to Seattle, leading the Reign past the Boston Breakers in her first match for the club since 2014.

Fishlock celebrates Kawasumi's goal. (ISI Photos/ Jane Gershovich)

Fishlock celebrates Kawasumi’s goal. (ISI Photos/ Jane Gershovich)

Naho chipped in with a goal in each half and Seattle’s defense held firm to post a remarkable fifth consecutive clean sheet and the Reign will get a further boost next week with the addition of Japanese international Rumi Utsugi.

With a record of 1 win, 9 losses and, 1 draw the Breakers lost season continues. Boston hopes to get a boost from the signing of 21-year French midfielder Ghoutia Karchouni.

Karchouni played most recently for Paris St. Germain in France’s top-flight Feminine Division 1. The Lyon, France native made 14 appearances this season at PSG.

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U.S. Soccer Girls’ Academy Announces Clubs
U.S. Soccer Girls’ Academy Announces Clubs avatar

The first 25 member clubs in the new U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy were announced on Thursday, with the program modeled on the Development Academy Program for boys which got its start in 2007 and has since grown to include 152 clubs in five age groups.

The boys academy has come under a lot of criticism. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

The boys academy has come under a lot of criticism. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

The success of the boys academy is a near continual source of debate among the U.S. public but the organization is confident in the model, saying in remarks released in February that, “U.S. Soccer Development Academy has served as the elite male youth player development model for the country and has significantly improved the everyday environment for players, coaches, referees, and clubs.”

The program, again via U.S. Soccer, “will focus on positively impacting everyday club environments to maximize elite female youth player development. Increasing the training to game ratio, playing fewer but more meaningful games and providing assistance for coaching education and development are just some of the standards and best practices the program will promote.”

Heinrich (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Heinrich explained the clear goals for the program. (ISI Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April Heinrichs explained the program’s goals in that same February announcement. “In support of U.S. Soccer’s long-term plan for player and coach development, launching a Girls’ Development Academy is part of an unprecedented commitment to elevating the women’s game.” Heinrichs continued, “This program will directly impact the everyday environment for clubs and further connect players and coaches to our National Teams. From a program perspective, we will educate both players and coaches on position-specific roles, physical and psychosocial planning and preparation, current coaching methodologies and the use of sport science and technology.”

Six clubs from the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will be part of the initial 25 members of the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy. The six are the Boston Breakers, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit.

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said in a statement released by the league, “we are very excited to have six clubs as a part of the initial group designated to participate in the Girls Development Academy.” “It is important,” Plush went on, “for us to be supportive of our clubs throughout this ongoing process of establishing a setting for the development of world-class female players.”

The league’s four remaining clubs have the option of joining the Academy in the future if they decide to do so.

(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The GDA will begin in the fall of 2017.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The GDA will begin play in the fall of 2017 in three combined age groups: U14/15, U16/17, and, U18/19. According to U.S. Soccer, “clubs will be expected to train a minimum of four times a week. The use of combined age groups will require clubs to form teams with a balanced roster of players from two distinct birth years.” The statement adds that, “the games will be scouted by U.S. Soccer and the program will serve as the primary pathway to the Youth National Teams.”

Here are the original 25 members of the Girls’ Development Academy. More announcements are expected soon.

Beach SC (Calif.)
Boston Breakers (Mass.)
CASL (N.C.)
Cincinnati Development Academy (Kings Hammer/CUP) (Ohio)
Colorado Rush (Colo.)
Concorde Fire (Ga.)
Crossfire (Wash.)
De Anza Force (Calif.)
FC Dallas (Texas)
LAFC Slammers (Calif.)
Lamorinda (Calif.)
Michigan Hawks (Mich.)
Mustang (Calif.)
Tophat NTH (Ga.)
Orlando Pride (Fla.)
Penn Fusion SA (Penn.)
Portland Thorns (Ore.)
Real Colorado (Colo.)
San Diego Surf (Calif.)
Seattle Reign (Wash.)
Sky Blue – PDA (N.J.)
So Cal Blues (Calif.)
Sockers FC (Ill.)
Solar Chelsea SC (Texas)
Washington Spirit Academy (Md.)

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

The MLS is back from its break, its players are back from Copa America Centenario, and a couple from Euro 2016, I’m back from chasing those Copa players from coast to coast and back again, so here is the latest Big – 5.

Welcome Back!

To the horde of MLS players that participated in Copa America Centenario, many for the Copa semi finalist’s U.S.A. Costa Rica and Jamaica had the second and third most MLS representatives and both nations bowed out at the group stage.

Dempsey celebrating his goal against Ecuador. (ISI Photos//Maciek Gudrymowicz)

Dempsey celebrating his goal against Ecuador. (ISI Photos//Maciek Gudrymowicz)

As for the American MLS players, the Seattle Sounders Clint Dempsey was at his goal scoring best proving that returning to the league needn’t diminish your skills, a hot topic in light the turnover-fueled struggles of Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley.

MLS was repped in Europe by the L.A. Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, the Colorado Rapids Shkelzen Gashi, and Laurent Ciman. All told it hasn’t gone well in the old world for the MLS trio.

Keane barely played for the Irish, Gashi flubbed his chance to be the hero in Albania’s opener when he failed to finish a 1v1 chance in the 87th minute with his team trailing 1-0.

It would be Gashi’s only involvement in the tourney. Ciman started Belgium’s opener, a 2-0 loss vs. Italy. The Impact center back played well at fullback but he hasn’t played since.

Belgium hasn’t lost since and faces Wales on Friday, so Ciman is still alive at the Euro.

2) Tim Howard Lands in Colorado

Howard will be hoping to make an impact on the league.(Getty Images)

Howard will be hoping to make an impact on the league.(Getty Images)

And welcome back too, to goalkeeper Tim Howard. It has been a long time coming. Howard, of course, left the MetroStars, now the New York Red Bulls, for Manchester United in 2004, before carving out an impressive career with Everton.

The 109 times capped U.S. MNT keeper backed up Brad Guzan at the Copa but he impressed in his one start, a 1-0 loss to Colombia in the third place game.

Now it is on to Colorado, where the Rapids are in first place behind Zac MacMath. Switching goalies on a first place team could be an unnecessary disruption but Howard is still clearly a better keeper than the 24-year-old incumbent and his wealth of experience should be a boost to the Rapids as they head into the meat of the MLS season.

3) Ft. Lauderdale Prevents MLS Sweep of U.S. Open Cup

Each year the U.S. Open Cup seems to make incremental steps into the U.S. soccer fans collective conscience, it’s just that the increments are not very large.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers are the only non MLS team left. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Fort Lauderdale Strikers are the only non MLS team left. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

For two years in a row now the New York Cosmos have defeated MLS neighbors New York City FC, receiving a measure recognition for the Cup.

The U.S. Open Cup has been contested since 1914 making it the oldest cup competition in the United States soccer, so what would it take for the old gal to really capture some widespread attention?

How about a title win by a lower league side, an NASL or USL team. Not since the 1999 Rochester Rhinos has a non-MLS club won the Cup. Or, if not a title, how about a deep run from a tier 2 or three side?

Last night in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale beat MLS second year team Orlando City SC and with the Cosmos loss by the same score to the New England Revolution, the Strikers become the last non-MLS club to survive into the quarterfinals.

Up next for Ft. Lauderdale is the Chicago Fire at a date to be determined. A victory for the Strikers might make some people sit up and take notice.

4) NYCFC Cash in on Fan Favorite, Poku

Kwadwo Poku has failed to make his mark at NYC FC. (ISI Photos/Mark Lawrence)

Kwadwo Poku has failed to make his mark at NYC FC. (ISI Photos/Mark Lawrence)

Another approach for a team or a league trying to get our attention is to splash the cash. That would seem to be the plan at NASL club Miami FC who just laid out $500,000 to $750,000 to spring Kwadwo Poku from NYCFC bench. A year ago Poku was so highly regarded that articles were written wondering if the Ghanaian could get his paperwork to play for the U.S. MNT. He did receive a nonbinding call up with Ghana but a coaching change in New York saw the fan favorite pinned to the bench, so this seems like a decent move for Poku, an excellent move for NYC, and an expensive move for Miami.

5) We’re number 9!

Hardly a chant likely to be heard ringing around a sports stadium near you, and certainly not from the rafters of CenturyLink Field in Seattle or at Crew, oops, MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.

But one spot above the bottom feeders is where you will find the 2015 MLS Cup Finalists Columbus Crew; Eastern Conference; and the Seattle Sounders; Western; in today’s MLS Standings.

Columbus Crew have struggled this season but their fans are still upbeat. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

Columbus Crew have struggled this season but their fans are still upbeat. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

The silver lining for the Crew? They are in the Eastern Conference and sit just four points back of Orlando and DC, respectively the sixth and fifth place sides in the conference.

Seattle has it a bit tougher out west, where playoff line hugging L.A. sports a seven-point advantage on the Sounders. Seattle got a morale boosting pk shootout win over Real Salt Lake last night led by backup keeper Tyler Miller, who shone in regulation and in the shootout, where the U23 USMNT keeper saved two penos.

Stefan Frei is probably not the problem in Seattle but embattled coach Sigi Schmid might consider sitting the veteran and going with the hot hand.

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Chile Top Argentina as Messi Calls it Quits
Chile Top Argentina as Messi Calls it Quits avatar

East Rutherford, N.J.- Chile retained the Copa America title that it won last year with a second consecutive penalty kick shootout victory over Argentina in front of over 82,000 fans Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, a victory that would be overshadowed by Lionel Messi’s postgame announcement that he had decided to end his international career.

Messi has failed to lead Argentina to the greatness that they experienced with Maradona. (ISI Photos/Javier Gonzalez)

Messi has failed to lead Argentina to the greatness that they experienced with Maradona. (ISI Photos/Javier Gonzalez)

“In the locker room, I thought that the national team was finished for me, that it’s not for me,” Messi told Argentine television. “It’s what I feel right now. It’s a great sadness that it happened to me, that I missed penalty kick that was very important. It’s for the good of everybody. It’s not enough to just get to the final and not win.”

Like last year when Chile hosted the Championship Match neither of these high powered sides could find a goal in the regulation 90 minutes or in the two 15 minute extra time periods, extra time was played only in the Copa America Final this year, with previous rounds going directly to pks after 90.

The home of the New York Giants and New York Jets of the NFL attracted the biggest crowd to ever see a soccer match in New Jersey and with the Manhattan skyline glittering in the background a classic was hoped for when the Chile and Argentina rematch became a reality.

Chile were never going to concede their crown easily. (ISI Photos/OSVALDO AGUILAR)

Chile were never going to concede their crown easily. (ISI Photos/OSVALDO AGUILAR)

Conversely, the possibility of an ugly match between two bitter, evenly matched rivals was another possibility, and unfortunately that, for the most part, is what these two talent-rich teams produced.

A combined eight yellow and two red cards were handed out on the night and even if referee Herber Lopes seemed out of his depth at times, it was that kind of match.

The sides picked up eight yellows between them, the same number of shots on goal the teams combined for on the night. Argentina had the better scoring chances on the night with the miss of the game coming from Gonzalo Higuain in the first half.

Higuain continued his unfortunate habit of falling down on the big occasion for La Albiceleste, when Chile’s defensive rock Gary Medel surprisingly coughed up possession in his own half, sending Higuain in alone on Claudio Bravo.

Bravo would prove heroic later in the night but on this occasion, Higuain, who led Serie A in goals this season by almost double his nearest competitor, scuffed his shot, a miss that would haunt Argentina all night and for some time to come.

Still, Argentina’s path to a first major title since the 1990’s looked clear when Lopes sent Marcelo Diaz to the showers for a second yellow card, with both indiscretions coming against Messi.

The first was a violent, high boot, slide tackle that was an easy call, the second was not as clear. Diaz did cut off Messi’s space on the second foul but Messi seemed intent on running into the defender and uncharacteristically brandished an imaginary yellow card for Lopes to see.

Messi stepped out of character again just three minutes later when he went down in the box after minimal contact, looking to sell a penalty call. Lopes wasn’t buying, however, and Messi earned a yellow card.

Rojo was shown a straight red for his tackle. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Rojo was shown a straight red for his tackle. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Referee Lopes would even the match at 10 a side in the 43rd minute, sending Marcos Rojo to the dressing room, erroneously as it happened, for a hard tackle on Arturo Villa.

To be fair to the official Rojo went in hard and Vidal’s leg bent back violently under his body. Replays, though, showed that the Bayern Munich man rolled over the ball and that Rojo made less contact than appeared.

The second half was somewhat less frenetic, if just somewhat. Chile’s best scoring chance was denied by Ramiro Funes Mori, whose perfectly timed and executed tackle denied Alexis Sanchez what looked to be a sure scoring chance.

A match winner would have been just reward for Alexis, who had to settle for the Copa America Centenario Golden Boot, awarded in postgame ceremonies. Higuain replacement Sergio Aguero had Argentina’s two best second half chances, he shot very high on the first and was then denied by in fantastic fashion by Bravo when his header was ticketed for the upper 90.

So it would take penalty kicks to separate these rivals for the second year running and again it would be La Roja that would maintain its nerve. After Sergio Romero denied Arturo Vidal on Chile’s first spot kick Messi sent his shot well high of Bravo’s net.

Chile walked away deserved winners and looked ecstatic to retain their crown. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Chile walked away deserved winners and looked ecstatic to retain their crown. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Bravo would save from Lucas Biglia, leaving it to Francisco Silva to win it. Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, himself an Argentine, had subbed out his two best goal scorers, Alexis and Eduardo Vargas, but Silva proved up to the task and Chile retained the title it won over Argentina just one year ago.

The final was exciting, even if the championship stakes provided for a spectacle that doled out its excitement in crunching tackles more so than with brilliant skills.

It is a shame that Messi chose to make his announcement postgame, an act that can be seen as an affront to Chile, worthy champions.

The dysfunction within Argentine soccer’s ruling body played a role in Messi’s decision and is so ingrained that on Friday FIFA announced that it had taken control of Argentina’s soccer federation from the current leadership and will help pick an emergency panel to manage its affairs.

Messi has long been said to be unhappy with the situation and that dissatisfaction, but at just 29 year’s old the superstar will hopefully reconsider, especially with the World Cup just two years away.

Several of Messi’s teammates were reportedly set to follow their captain into the international sunset with Aguero, Higuain, Sergio Aguero, and Javier Mascherano said to be considering their futures.

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U.S. Fall to Colombia and Settle for 4th
U.S. Fall to Colombia and Settle for 4th avatar

In a scrappy affair, Colombia defeated the U.S. 1-0 to claim third place in the Copa America Centenario tonight in Glendale, Arizona, relegating the tournament hosts to fourth place.

With the Americans seemingly intent on fulfilling Jurgen Klinsmann’s directive to play meaner, to step on some toes as Klinsmann says, the Yanks played aggressively from the start in a match that ended up 10v10 when Michael Orozco and Colombia’s Santiago Arias earned late ejections.

Tim Howard in action against Colombia, (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Tim Howard in action against Colombia, (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Klinsmann handed Tim Howard a start in goal and replaced the left side of his back four while reinstating the three suspended regulars, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood, who had all sat out versus Argentina.

Matt Besler stepped in for John Brooks and the Kansas City veteran gave a very good accounting of himself, although Orozco, operating in Fabian Johnson’s stead, did not fare as well.

Orozco ended up collecting that late red card with a moment of ill-discipline after he had earned a free kick in sight of Colombia’s goal. But that wasn’t all, Orozco was just not good versus Colombia, continually caught out of position, the second of Klinsmann’s surprise roster inclusions to let the side down in recent games after Chris Wondolowski’s giveaway and foul set up Lionel Messi’s free kick golazo in the Copa semifinal.

Carlos Bacca scored the only goal of the game. (ISI Photos/VICTOR POSADAS)

Carlos Bacca scored the only goal of the game. (ISI Photos/VICTOR POSADAS)

Carlos Bacca scored a gem of a team goal for Colombia in the 32nd minute with Real Madrid star James Rodriguez instrumental. James battled through a shoulder injury that we are told will require surgery and his teammates were no doubt inspired by his decision to play in this Third Place match.

Bravery aside, James brought a level of class to the proceedings that the U.S. simply do not have its disposal. That difference showed as the Americans struggled to convert some good chances and half chances, although Bobby Wood was unfortunate to hit the post after a great effort and Dempsey was denied a Messi moment when his free-kick was brilliantly saved by David Ospina.

Klinsmann waited until the 74th minute to spring Christian Pulisic from the bench to replace Michael Bradley, who had struggled after picking up a first-half knock. Darlington Nagbe followed five minutes later as Alejandro Bedoya limped off and the two subs did well in the limited they were given.

That could serve as a summation of the pairs Copa America Centenario. Used in the Copa opener versus Colombia the pair languished after with Klinsmann turning to more experienced international heads after that first match.

This second loss to Colombia ends The Copa America Centenario as a qualified success for the U.S. MNT. Making the semifinals and winning Group A certainly go down as positives for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team, and a stable starting unit has emerged led by a strong back four.

Bobby Wood has been one of the bright sparks for the U.S. in this tournament. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Bobby Wood has been one of the bright sparks for the U.S. in this tournament. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Bobby Wood continues to develop as a partner for Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes showed growth and veterans Dempsey and Jermaine Jones made it clear that they have plenty left to contribute.

But questions remain with the U.S. badly outmatched by Argentina and to a lesser extent, Colombia in that first game. Captain Michael Bradley continues to be plagued by turnover troubles and Dempsey continues to carry the scoring load, although Wood has begun to step up.

Next up for the U.S. is a pair of September World Cup Qualifiers. First, the Americans travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a September 2nd showdown with St. V&G before hosting Trinidad and Tobago in Jacksonville, Florida, four days later.

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

COL – Carlos Bacca (Santiago Arias) 31st minute

Lineups:
USA: 12-Tim Howard; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 20-Geoff Cameron, 5-Matt Besler, 14-Michael Orozco; 4-Michael Bradley (capt.) (10-Darlington Nagbe, 79), 13-Jermaine Jones, 11-Alejandro Bedoya (17-Christian Pulisic, 74); 9-Gyasi Zardes, 8-Clint Dempsey, 7-Bobby Wood
Subs not used: 1-Brad Guzan, 3-Steve Birnbaum, 6-John Brooks, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 16-Perry Kitchen, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 19-Graham Zusi, 21-Edgar Castillo, 22-Ethan Horvath, 23-Fabian Johnson
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

COL: 1-David Ospina; 18-Frank Fabra, 22-Jeison Murillo, 2-Cristian Zapata, 4-Santiago Arias; 5-Guillermo Celis (15-Stegan Medina, 86), 16-Daniel Torres, 10-James Rodriguez, 8-Edwin Cardona, 11-Juan Cuadrado (21-Marlos Moreno, 74); 7-Carlos Bacca (9-Roger Martinez, 79)
Subs not used: 3-Yerry Mina, 6-Carlos Sanchez, 12-Robinson Zapata, 13-Sebastian Perez, 14-Felipe Aguilar, 17-Dayro Moreno, 19-Farid Diaz, 20-Andres Felipe Roa,23-Cristian Bonilla
Head coach: Jose Pekerman

Stats Summary: USA / COL
Shots: 10 / 10
Shots on Goal: 3 / 3
Saves: 2 / 3
Corner Kicks: 4 / 8
Fouls: 14 / 13
Offside: 1 / 5

Misconduct Summary:
COL – Jeison Murillo (caution) 13th minute
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 22
COL – Juan Cuadrado (caution) 73
USA – Michael Orozco (caution) 87
COL – Santiago Arias (caution) 90+5
COL – Santiago Arias (sent off) 90+5
USA – Michael Orozco (sent off) 90+5

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Ellis Names Roster for South Africa Friendly as Olympics Near
Ellis Names Roster for South Africa Friendly as Olympics Near avatar

The talk in American soccer circles this month has been all about the U.S. Men’s National Team and its run to the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario where Jurgen Klinsmann’s side went down rather meekly to a tremendously talented Argentina team led, of course, by the magnificent Lionel Messi.

Ellis will be looking closely at all her players for the final selection. (ISI Photos/Brad Smoth)

Ellis will be looking closely at all her players for the final selection. (ISI Photos/Brad Smoth)

With South America’s finest teams crisscrossing the country throughout the month of June it is no surprise that we haven’t heard much about the women’s team of late but the two time defending Olympic Champions are back in the news with the release of a 24 player roster for the July 9th match with South Africa at Chicago’s Soldiers Field at 12 p.m. CT, which can also be seen on FS1.

The big news in this 24 player group is the return of stars Carli Lloyd, the biggest star in the women’s game at the moment, and Megan Rapinoe. U.S. Soccer’s release says that Lloyd is fit and will be available for selection but that Rapinoe will not play and is in camp to train and be evaluated.

Rapinoe tore her ACL in early December as the U.S. trained for A Victory Tour match that was later canceled when the players voiced concerns over the condition of the artificial surface at the Aloha Bowl. “Pinoe” was not injured at the Aloha Bowl, sustaining her injury while training at a different location although there were grumblings from the players concerning the practice facility.

(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Rapinoe will be hoping to make it back in time.(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

With the Women’s Soccer Tournament at the Olympic Games set to get underway on August 3rd, the gifted winger is still thought to be in a race against the clock to get back into tournament level fitness.

With the Women’s Soccer Tournament at the Olympic Games set to get underway on August The talk in American soccer circles this month has been all about the U.S. Men’s National Team and its run to the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario where Jurgen Klinsmann’s side went down rather meekly to a tremendously talented Argentina team led, of course, by the magnificent Lionel Messi.

The Americans last match before traveling to Rio will be against Costa Rica on July 22nd at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas at 8 p.m. CT. That match will be televised on ESPN..

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

DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

 

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Holders Beat Colombia to Set Up Final Against Argentina
Holders Beat Colombia to Set Up Final Against Argentina avatar

In one of the oddest tournament knockout matches in memory Chile outlasted Colombia and a two-hour-plus weather delay to win 2-0 Wednesday night in Chicago to set up a dream Copa America Centenario Final versus Argentina Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Chile were determined not to surrender their title. (ISI Photos/Jorge Martinez)

Chile were determined not to surrender their title. (ISI Photos/Jorge Martinez)

Chile entered this special 100th-anniversary celebration of the CONMEBOL, or South American, Championship with a bit of a collective chip on its shoulder at the idea of having to defend a title that it won just a year ago.

La Roja defeated Argentina on penalty kicks in last year’s regularly scheduled Copa America but the defending champions came into the Copa 100 a bit under the radar, with most of the spotlight focused on Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States as the host nation.

But Chile made the world sit up and take notice last Saturday when they demolished Mexico 7-0 in Santa Clara, and against Colombia on Wednesday night, La Roja picked up right where it left off against El Tri.

The same swarming style that was too much for Mexico had Colombia down by two goals 11 minutes into Saturday’s Copa semifinals.

Sanchez and Aránguiz celebrating his goal. (ISI Photos/David Leah)

Sanchez and Aránguiz celebrating his goal. (ISI Photos/David Leah)

Charles Aránguiz opened the scoring in the seventh minute aided by a poorly directed defensive header by Colombian attacker Juan Cuadrado. Less than four minutes  later José Fuenzalida pounced on a rebounded Alexis Sanchez shot to complete the night’s scoring.

The game started under storm warnings and the weatherman was proved correct during the halftime interval as the Illinois skies were illuminated with brilliant but frightening lightning strikes. Soon the stands at the Chicago Bears famous home were empty as fans heeded the scoreboards ominous warning to seek immediate shelter.

After a two and one-half hour storm delay, the players finally returned to the field while the fans had repopulated the stands, in good spirits despite the long break.

Despite the best efforts of the squeegee crew, the field was still a sodden mess leaving the players to splash and slide through the final 45 minutes with a place in the Copa America final at stake.

It is often said that if a referee goes unnoticed then he has probably done a good job, this was not the case for Joel Aguilar last night as the lead official commanded the spotlight in the opening stages of the second half.

First, Aguilar waved play on when Colombia’s Daniel Torres looked to have earned a penalty kick on a takedown by La Roja defender Gonzalo Jara. Then in the 57th minute, Aguilar presented a second yellow card to Los Cafeteros midfielder Carlos Sanchez, a judgment that seemed unduly harsh.

Despite the field conditions and the numerical disadvantage Colombia battled to the end but Chile and keeper Claudio Bravo maintained the clean sheet. It was another impressive performance by Chile, its fourth consecutive win since opening the Copa with a 2-1 loss to finals opponent Argentina.

Colombia missed striker Carlos Bacca, who came on late due to injury worries but Chile impressed as they shrugged off the absences of midfielders Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Diaz, as well as a first half injury to yet another midfielder, Pedro Pablo Hernandez, who did not return.

Hopefully the U.S. will put in a better performance this time round. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Hopefully the U.S. will put in a better performance this time round. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Colombia now moves on to the Copa America Third Place game, a rematch of its 2-0 Copa opening win over the United States this Saturday in Glendale, Arizona while Chile prepares to defend its Copa crown against Argentina and fan favorite Lionel Messi.

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USA Outclassed by Argentina
USA Outclassed by Argentina avatar

Houston, TX. – It didn’t take long to realise that Tuesday night was not going to be one of those nights that would see the U.S. MNT produce a historic upset along the lines of the 2009 Confederations Cup win over Spain, in fact, it took just three minutes to find out.

Ezequiel Lavezzi scored the game opener for Argentina. (ISI Phoso/Javier Gonzalez)

Ezequiel Lavezzi scored the game opener for Argentina. (ISI Phoso/Javier Gonzalez)

Three minutes for an unmarked Ezequiel Lavezzi to ruin that notion when he converted a sublime Lionel Messi chip over an indecisive Brad Guzan setting the stage for an impressive if routine 4-0 Argentina victory.

83 minutes remained to be played but after the game, with the disappointment of losing still fresh, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said: “it was very difficult, especially after three minutes being one nil down, it was quite a knock.”

It would prove to a knock the Copa America Centenario hosts would not recover from. Klinsmann noted that “we couldn’t compensate for the fact that we missed those three guys,” the three being Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood.

Klinsmann was right in that those losses were too much for the U.S. to absorb, and while it was always going to be a challenge, the coach who had gotten most everything right up until now in this Copa100, got his subs wrong on the night.

Wondolowski's selection seemed a strange one. (ISI PhotoS/Will Thorne)

Wondolowski’s selection seemed a strange one. (ISI PhotoS/Will Thorne)

Which is not to say that any 11 men available to the U.S. tonight were liable to give this Argentina side a game. Still, playing Chris Wondolowski was a curious decision, given the availability of Gyasi Zardes.

The Wondo move backfired when the San Jose Earthquake forward fouled Lionel Messi after his turnover had gifted the ball to the best player in the world.

Even Wondo’s inclusion on this roster was controversial with many clamoring for Jordan Morris instead but Klinsmann trusts and respects the 33-year-old who stopped to answer a question or two from GotSoccer after the loss.

Argentina gave the U.S. no time on the ball. (ISI Photos/)OSVALDO AGUILAR

Argentina gave the U.S. no time on the ball. (ISI Photos/)OSVALDO AGUILAR

Argentina is known for its offensive prowess but much like Messi’s club team Barcelona, La Albiceleste should also be feared for its swarming, choking defense, a defense that Wondolowski said the Americans had prepared for. “Yeah, we’ve scouted them in depth and we knew their characteristics but sometimes it’s very difficult to execute.”

That defense had its role in forcing a host of U.S. turnovers, including the Wondolowski giveaway that led to his fouling Messi just 25 yards from Brad Guzan’s goal.

Wondolowski admitted to a sinking feeling when the referee whistled him for that infringement. “Definitely, it’s one of those things when you wish you could take it back but it was on the break and I was just hoping to get some of the ball.”

That said, in a tournament that has been justly criticized over its high ticket prices, Messi’s goal was well worth the price of admission, whichever team you were rooting for.

The U.S. found it hard to handle Messi and Co. (Getty Images)

The U.S. found it hard to handle Messi and Co. (Getty Images)

While acknowledging Argentina’s obvious ability, Klinsmann felt, “we gave them far too much respect.” Center back Geoff Cameron agreed with his coach and gave a neat summation of the match.

“You can’t take anything away from them, they’re a very good team,” the Stoke City man began. “They’re clinical, make a mistake, one or two opportunities and they put the ball in the back of the net and that,” Cameron said, “is the difference.”

As for his own team? “We had some good spots where we showed some promise but nothing really came out of it. We let them dictate the pace of the game, we let them get the flow, we weren’t physical enough. “I think,” Cameron said, echoing his manager, “we respected them too much.”

To Cameron’s point, this was a game where the Americans needed to play mistake-free soccer, and mistakes led to all four Argentina goals. Poor marking and Guzan’s hesitation on the first, Wondolowski’s turnover and foul on the second, inattentiveness by John Brooks on the third and a terrible decision to play a dummy 20 yards from his own goal by substitute Steve Birnbaum ,which led to the final tally.

Although it felt like the end for the U.S. the home team still has the third place match to play Saturday in Phoenix. The Yanks will need to shake off this disappointment quickly with either Chile or Colombia up next.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati was on hand and when GotSoccer asked the President if he felt better about the team than he a couple of weeks ago Gulati indulged in a touch of gallows humor. “Well, I felt better about the team three hours ago,” Gulati said. “Listen, we just lost a game where we weren’t really in the game after the first few minutes, so it’s hard to ask me about feelings. Today’s a disappointment; that it wasn’t a more competitive game but overall the performance of the team to get here, obviously that’s a positive.”

Klinsmann looked on as his team were totally outplayed and outclassed. (ISI Photos/Will Thorne)

Klinsmann looked on as his team were totally outplayed and outclassed. (ISI Photos/Will Thorne)

Klinsmann too felt that the experience had been a good one for the growth of the U.S. team but when he was asked when his team might narrow the gap with Argentina, the normally loquacious coach was stumped. “Oh, that’s a tough one,” a tired-sounding Klinsmann offered honestly, before concluding,”I don’t have that answer right now.”

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
ECU 2 2 4

ARG – Ezequiel Lavezzi (Lionel Messi) 3rd minute
ARG – Lionel Messi 32
ARG – Gonzalo Higuain 50
ARG – Gonzalo Higuain (Lionel Messi) 86

Lineups:
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 20-Geoff Cameron, 6-John Brooks, 23-Fabian Johnson; 19-Graham Zusi, 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 15-Kyle Beckerman (3-Steve Birnbaum, 60), 9-Gyasi Zardes; 8-Clint Dempsey (10-Darlington Nagbe, 78), 18-Chris Wondolowski (17-Christian Pulisic, 46)
Subs not used: 5-Matt Besler, 12-Tim Howard, 14-Michael Orozco, 16-Perry Kitchen, 21-Edgar Castillo, 22-Ethan Horvath
Not available: 7-Bobby Wood, 11-Alejandro Bedoya , 13-Jermaine Jones
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

ARG: 1-Sergio Romero; 16-Marcos Rojo (15-Victor Cuesta, 84), 13-Ramiro Funes-Mori, 17-Nicolas Otamendi, 4-Gabriel Mercado; 8-Augusto Fernandez (6-Lucas Biglia, 59), 14-Javier Mascherano, 19-Ever Banega; 22-Ezequiel Lavezzi (18-Erik Lamela, 67), 9-Gonzalo Higuain, 10-Lionel Messi (capt.)
Subs not used: 2-Jonathan Maidana, 3-Facundo Roncaglia, 5-Matias Kranevitter, 7-Angel Di Maria, 11-Sergio Aguero, 12-Nahuel Guzman, 21-Javier Pastore, 23-Mariano Andujar
Not Available: 20-Nicolas Gaitan
Head Coach: Gerardo Martino

Stats Summary: USA / ARG
Shots: 0 / 14
Shots on Goal: 0 / 9
Saves: 5 / 0
Corner Kicks: 1 / 4
Fouls: 12 / 7
Offside: 2 / 9

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Chris Wondolowski (caution) 31st minute

 

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The Americanization of Jurgen Klinsmann
The Americanization of Jurgen Klinsmann avatar

Houston, TX – “ I Believe That We Will Win.” It was the chant that captivated the soccer world as the red, white, and blue-clad U.S.A. supporters followed their team all over Brazil encouraging the U.S. MNT on to the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup and building a rep for themselves as among the best fans in the world.

Klinsmann (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann has gained the American Spirit.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

This all came after the team’s coach, Jurgen Klinsmann said that he did not believe, telling Sam Borden of the New York Times, “it is not possible” for the U.S. to win the World Cup. It didn’t go over well. It wasn’t that the American soccer public expected to win the World Cup, but it was not an outlook that public embraced from its team’s leader before a ball had been kicked in anger.

Fast forward two years and the Copa America Centenario has come to the United States and Klinsmann has displayed a different, dare I say more “American” attitude. In the Copa build up the U.S. Coach and Technical Director revealed that he expected to reach the semifinals, now that he and his team has done just that, not even the specter of Argentina and Lionel Messi can temper Klinsmann’s confidence.

“There’s no reason at all why we can’t win Copa America,” the coach said on Sunday. “We traveled the world the last few years to very difficult friendly games all over Europe and in Mexico and we came away with wins. We surprised a lot of people; no one gave us a chance to get out of the group in Brazil. We left Portugal behind, we left Ghana behind.”

Yes, this is still the coach that castigated the American soccer media, critical of the team’s performance after the opening round loss to Colombia saying, “the result, in this country that’s all that matters to a lot of people.”

Given that the Copa America is an official competition and not a series of friendlies and recalling that U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati told a small group of reporters following that loss to Colombia that, “results are what matter, everyone understands that.” And this, “the results over the last 18 months, overall, have not been what we would’ve hoped for, especially in the official competitions.”

The US MNT train in preparation for the Copa America Semis. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The US MNT train in preparation for the Copa America Semis. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Winners get to write the history and to that end, Klinsmann riding a three-game winning streak, said yesterday, “the only down period we had was last year’s Gold Cup, for several reasons.” Forgetting perhaps that he himself had told USSoccer.com that winning the Gold Cup was “very, very important to us,” the coach says now, “we wanted to bring some youngsters through and maybe payback now, because they had that growing time last year,” reducing the CONCACAF Championship to something akin to a January camp.

When Sunil Gulati finally reeled in Jurgen Klinsmann to coach the United States National Team back in 2011, one of the primary selling points was that Klinsmann lived in California, and therefore, the theory went, understood America and Americans.

It was an enticing combination, an international star who could command respect on the world stage but who also “got” the American soccer community.

Two years removed from telling America that its team could not win the World Cup has Klinsmann learned about his adopted country’s mindset? Consider these remarks. “Anything is possible in knockout games. You’re 50-50 with whoever you play against,” Klinsmann said. “Dream big; why not? This is about two more games.”

From “it’s not possible,” to “anything is possible,” in just two years. Sounds pretty American to me.

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