U.S. MNT Face Jamaica as U17 World Cup Journey Begins
U.S. MNT Face Jamaica as U17 World Cup Journey Begins avatar

The CONCACAF U17 Championship got underway Friday in Panama with Group A taking the spotlight. Host nation Panama topped Honduras 4-2 following the tournament curtain raiser that saw Curacao defeat Haiti by a 1-0 scoreline.

It was Group B’s turn on Saturday with Costa Rica edging Canada 2-1 in the Main Event while Cuba and Suriname battled to a 1-1 tie on the undercard.

The U1’s will take on Jamaica. (ISI Photos/Casey Brooke Lawson)

Sunday sees Group C take to the field with the U.S.A. going up against Jamaica at 1:30 while El Salvador challenge Mexico in the late match at 3:00.

12 nations make up the CONCACAF event with four earning a trip to U17 World Cup in India in October. The top two finishers from each of the three four-team groups will advance to the Classification stage with the first and second finishers in each of the two Classification groups making the trip to India this fall.

Mexico has been the dominant team in this age group, winning six CONCACAF titles. The U.S. has claimed the spoils three times and more importantly has failed to qualify for the U17 World Cup (or its equivalent) just once since 1985, although that failure was a recent one, back in 2013.

Coach John Hackworth brings a highly regarded U.S. team to Panama featuring four players who have signed Homegrown player contracts with Major League Soccer in 2016: midfielders Chris Durkin (D.C. United) and Chris Goslin (Atlanta United FC), and forwards Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United F.C.) and Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas).

Two players on Hackworth’s roster are based in Europe. Timothy Weah, son of Liberian and African soccer legend George Weah, is part of French club Paris Saint-Germain and Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos, who is with Portuguese side Benfica.

Center back James Sands impressed Patrick Vieira during New York City FC pre-season while playing as a defensive midfielder and will bear watching while the U.S. squad packs plenty of punch up front where Ayomide Akinola and Joshua Sargent will supplement Carleton, Reynolds, and Weah.

23 April 2017
1:30 ET
Jamaica v United States
Estadio Maracaná, Panama City
The U.S. match can be seen via livestream on the official CONCACAF Facebook page at 1:30 p.m. ET. Fans can also follow all the matches of the U.S. U-17 MNT on Twitter @ussoccer_ynt.

23 April 2017
15:00 ET
Mexico v El Salvador
Estadio Maracaná, Panama City

GOALKEEPERS (2): Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos (Benfica; Philadelphia, Pa.), Justin Garces (Kendall SC; Miami, Fla.)

DEFENDERS (5): Christopher Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.), James Sands (New York City FC; Rye, N.Y.), Arturo Vasquez (FC Golden State; Mira Loma, Calif.), Akil Watts (IMG Academy; Fort Wayne, Ind.)

MIDFIELDERS (7): George Acosta (Weston FC; Hollywood, Fla.), Taylor Booth (Real Salt Lake AZ; Eden, Utah), Christopher Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.), Blaine Ferri (Solar Chelsea SC; Southlake, Texas), Christopher Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Locust Grove, Ga.), Indiana Vassilev (IMG Academy; Savannah, Ga.), Adrian Villegas (Portland Timbers; Hood River, Ore.)

FORWARDS (6): Ayomide Akinola (Toronto FC; Brampton, Ont.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Zyen Jones (Atlanta United FC; Clarkston, Ga.), Bryan Reynolds, Jr. (FC Dallas; Little Elm, Texas), Joshua Sargent (Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallen, Mo.) Timothy Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; Rosedale, N.Y.)

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

In another busy week of MLS action the Tim Howard incident goes straight to the top of this week’s MLS Big – 5.

1) Howard Banned

U.S. MNT legend Tim Howard lost his cool during and after Colorado’s 3-1 loss at Kansas City, resulting in a three-game suspension for the Rapids keeper. Howard was seen and heard on camera cursing out a couple of “fans” and also allegedly grabbed another by the arm afterward.

There is no video of the alleged grabbing and the MLS Player’s Association issued the following statement on Howard’s behalf earlier this week.

Howard has been issued a 3 match suspension.(ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

“We are disappointed with the league’s handling of the situation involving the Kansas City fans and Tim Howard,” the statement said. “Following the incidents, which involved a verbal exchange with a fan, as well as an altercation after the game, Tim acknowledged his culpability and responsibility for his role. However, he is the only one involved to do so.

“Although the Players Union and Tim acknowledge that his conduct was inappropriate, there is further context that should not be lost.

“MLS has a detailed Fan Code of Conduct in place under which fans are expected to be respectful to each other and to players, and are prohibited from engaging in disorderly behavior, including obscene or abusive language.

“The fans involved repeatedly, routinely and openly violated that Code of Conduct, without any repercussions. It is thus not surprising that there was a reaction from the player.”

Howard sat out the first game of his suspension Saturday night, a 2-1 home loss to Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake.

2) Viva Villa!

The reigning MLS MVP made a bid for Goal of the Year with an audacious goal from 50 plus yards in New York City FC’s 2-0 win over winless Philadelphia.

Jack Harrison had already shot NYC into the lead with a 52nd-minute strike and the toothless hosts’ weren’t much of a threat but, still. Brilliant stuff from Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer.

3) A Pair with a Brace

First to Vancouver where one time Seattle golden boy Freddy Montero returned to haunt his former fans and employers with a pair of headed goals in Friday night’s 2-1 victory at Montero’s new home.

The Colombian striker left Seattle for Sporting Club Portugal in 2013 before hopping on the money train to China. Montero is on loan with the Whitecaps. With three goals in the young season, Montero’s return to Cascadia seems to be going as planned.

Nemanja Nikolic celebrating one of his goals. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

Our second brace of the MLS week comes from Chicago striker Nemanja Nikolic who was brought to the Windy City, well its suburbs, to score goals and with four in six games the Hungarian international DP is earning his keep for a Chicago team that looks to be on the rise.

4) Real Madrid is Coming!

Bayern Munich couldn’t handle them so what chance do the MLS All-Stars have? We’ll find out on August 2, when Ronaldo and co. face the All-Stars at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Real Madrid taking on Bayern Munich in New York in 2016. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Recent results have not been bad for the North Americans, who surprised Bayern by a 2-1 scoreline in 2014 and Tottenham a year later by the same margin before succumbing to Arsenal last year by, you guessed it, a 2-1 score in San Jose.

Soldier Field’s 60,000 plus capacity could be tested for the star-studded Madridistas, especially if Real can go on and claim the 2017 Champions League.

5) The Future’s So Bright MLS has Gotta Wear Shades

Well, that may be a slight exaggeration but results from MLS Academies playing at the recent Dallas Cup certainly give reason for optimism.

Courtesy of FC Dallas Twitter

First, FC Dallas’ much-praised youth set up became the first MLS Academy side to claim the prestigious U18 Gordon Jago Super Group Championship knocking off Mexico’s Monterrey 2-1 to do it.

Dallas was led by a trio of Homegrown professionals in Paxton Pomykal, Reggie Cannon, and Jesus Ferreira.

Third year MLS club NYCFC also got in on the action with its U16 team claiming the first piece of silverware in the club’s brief history, taking first place in the Generation adidas Cup Premier Division.

One of NYC’s most prominent performers throughout the tournament was Gio Reyna. If that name is familiar to you, it should be. Claudio Reyna is Gio’s father and the parent club’s Director of Football Operations. The senior Reyna was also one of the U.S. MNT’s best ever players and longtime captain.

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Teen Sensation Mallory Pugh Turns Pro
Teen Sensation Mallory Pugh Turns Pro avatar

Without ever having played an official game at UCLA U.S. WNT star Mallory Pugh has decided to turn pro with Sport’s Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reporting that Pugh has signed with agent Richard Motzkin and will be meeting soon with Adidas and Nike.

Pugh joins Horan by forfeiting college for the professional game. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

“This decision was certainly not easy for me to make,” Pugh said in a statement on the UCLA website. “UCLA is such a special place, and being a Bruin was an incredible thing. UCLA Soccer brought amazing things to my life, and chasing after a national championship with my friends and teammates would’ve been special, but I could not turn down this opportunity. I want to thank my teammates, coaches, UCLA Athletics, and everyone else for the support I have behind me. I may have been here for a short time, but UCLA will always have a special place in my heart, and I will always be a Bruin.”

The 18-year-old attacker, who has already represented her country at the 2016 Olympics, previously flirted with signing on with the Portland Thorns before enrolling at UCLA in January. Pugh was expected to line out with the Bruins this fall but has instead elected to join the paid ranks.

The question is, what next for this dynamic young talent?

So who will Pugh end up playing for? (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The Washington Spirit own the NWSL allocation rights to Pugh, having acquired those rights from Portland as part of the trade for Ali Krieger but Wahl has reported that Pugh has no interest in playing for the Spirit.

No big surprise there with the Spirit a club in disarray after an offseason that saw Crystal Dunn join Krieger as just two stars to depart from the 2016 NWSL runners-up in the offseason. Washington could trade Pugh’s rights Portland or another NWSL team or Pugh could join the U.S. WNT European exodus spearheaded by Dunn (Chelsea), Alex Morgan (Lyon), and Carli Lloyd (Manchester City).

SI pinpoints French clubs Lyon and PSG as possible landing spots for the gifted teenager.

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NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

Five years on and still standing, NWSL entered that fifth season this weekend armed with a new national game of the week on Lifetime, a streaming deal with go90 and a relocated champion as the Western New York Flash has become the North Carolina Courage.

Portland Thorns 2-0 vs. Orlando Pride
(Home teams listed first)

Lifetime and the league wisely selected Portland for the site of its inaugural GOTW and the Rose City did not disappoint, easily topping the league in attendance as 16,145 fans showed up to make the Thorns and the league look good on the big stage.

Christine Sinclair was on the scoresheet for Portland. (ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

The Thorns also represented on the field with a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride with goals coming from Canadian legend Christine Sinclair and Nadia Nadim. Nadim opened the scoring from the spot in the 32nd minute before Sinclair capped the afternoon with a fine finish after spectacular work from U.S. international Allie Long. Long bullied an Orlando defender off the ball before placing an exquisite pass just beyond her U.S. WNT teammate Ali Krieger where only Sinclair could reach it and it was game over

Houston Dash 2-0 vs. Chicago Red Stars

With Carli Lloyd experiencing her European adventure, and why not, she’s earned the right, Houston took care of business, topping 2016 playoff side Chicago on goals from Kelia Ohai and Rachel Daly on a sweltering Texas afternoon.

For Ohai, it was a case of normal service resumed for a player that tied Lynn Williams (Western NY Flash) for the league goal scoring lead with 11 last season. Ohai’s 15th-minute strike gave the home team the edge and England international Rachel Daly provided the insurance with an 80th-minute beauty.

Washington Spirit 0-1 North Carolina Courage

The league’s 2016 NWSL Finalists and biggest offseason newsmakers faced off at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland when the relocated 2016 Champions defeated a Washington team that had been stripped bare after pushing Western New York/NC Courage to extra time in that 2016 NWSL Championship game.

It is difficult to imagine a team benefitting from shipping away the likes of Ali Krieger, Diana Matheson, Christine Nairn, and Megan Oyster but coach Jim Gabarra will work with what he has and on Saturday his goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe did all she could to keep the Spirit in its season five opener.

McCall Zerboni (L) scored the only goal on the match. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The Canadian international frustrated North Carolina’s vaunted strike duo of Lynn Williams, the 2016 league MVP, and Jessica McDonald but was unable to keep a McCall Zebroni shot out of her net in the 18th minute.

Seattle Reign 1-1 vs. Sky Blue FC

A pair of second-half penalty kicks seven minutes apart accounted for all of the scoring at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium in Saturday’s season opener between the Reign and Sky Blue.

Rapinoe celebrate’s her goal against Sky Blue. (ISI Photos/Jane Gershovich)

A pair of U.S. internationals were involved in the goals with Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe converting from the spot in the 56th minute after earning the penalty herself, only to see Sarah Killion equalize in the 62nd minute after Rapinoe’s national team running mate Kelley O’Hara drew the foul.

The versatile O’Hara, normally a fullback or a wide midfielder with the U.S. WNT, reverted to her Stanford days and lined out up top Saturday for New Jersey-based Sky Blue.

Easter Sunday featured just one NWSL match with FC Kansas City hosting the Boston Breakers at Children’s Mercy Victory Field.

FC Kansas City 2-0 vs. Boston Breakers.

FCKC welcomed back a lethal forward duo Sunday as Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux both returned after taking 2016 out to have babies and the pair wasted no time proving that they had been missed.

Leroux celebrates with her team. (ISI Photos/Amy Kontras)

It took just seven minutes for Leroux to open the scoring when she ran onto a perfectly placed long pass from U.S. WNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and finished with a superb first-time effort.

It made for a very nice weekend for the Leroux/Dwyer family, what with Leroux’ husband Dom Dwyer scoring the lone goal in Sporting KC’s 1-0 win at Portland.

ARod added a second FCKC tally finishing off of a superb 1-2 with KC’s third forward Shea Groom in the 48th minute, unfortunately the good feelings did not last as Rodriguez soon departed with what looked like a knee injury.

“She left the game, we don’t know what it is we’re just hoping it’s not as bad as the first impression was,” said FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the match in a team press release.

And finally, that new streaming service, Go90 had a few hiccups, which the league was quick to acknowledge and apologize for.

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Drogba Breaking New Ground as Player Owner of Phoenix USL Club
Drogba Breaking New Ground as Player Owner of Phoenix USL Club avatar

Former Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba has broken new ground with his new position as a player and part owner Phoenix Rising FC of the second division U.S.L.

Drogba hasn’t played since the end of the 2016 season. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Drogba hasn’t played since the end of the 2016 MLS season with the Montreal Impact. Although he scored 23 goals in 41 matches for Montreal, Drogba’s tenure with the Impact ended on down note with the powerful striker finishing his MLS playing days as a reserve after losing a power struggle with coach Mauro Biello.

The Arizona club is one of 12 clubs/cities vying for a place in Major League Soccer and is no doubt hoping that the addition of Drogba to its eclectic ownership group will raise its profile and boost the group’s chances of landing one of four remaining franchises in Don Garber’s Expansion extravaganza, five if Miami’s oft-delayed bid falls through.

Drogba joins celebs Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy fame, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy, and DJ Diplo as minority partners in the ambitious ownership group. Drogba will link up on the playing field with Shaun Wright-Phillips, another former Premier League vet who played most recently for the New York Red Bulls and longtime Mexican international Omar Bravo.

“I have taken my time in deciding what I wanted to do next and am really excited about the opportunity at Phoenix Rising FC,” Drogba said in a statement released by the club.

Drogba believes he can help the organiszation off an on the pitch.  (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

“After seeing first-hand the potential for expansion of the sport in North America and getting to know the ownership group in Phoenix, I am convinced that I can help them develop their organization on and off the pitch,” Drogba said in that same release. “I look forward to their continued success in the USL, and no city is better positioned than Phoenix for expansion into the MLS.”

If Drogba can help deliver Major League Soccer to the desert he just might beat fellow ex-Premier League and Major League Soccer star, David Beckham to the punch.

 

 

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U.S. Soccer Joins With Mexico and Canada in 2026 World Cup Bid
U.S. Soccer Joins With Mexico and Canada in 2026 World Cup Bid avatar

New York, New York – “We have the full support of the United States government in this project, the President of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid. He is especially pleased that Mexico is part of this bid.”

United States, Canada and Mexico announce their intentions to bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

With that sentence, delivered just over two minutes into his opening remarks to the world soccer media gathered high above New York City on a sunny Monday afternoon, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati addressed the elephant in the room in an attempt to diffuse what may be the one issue that could prevent the World Cup from coming to the United States, Canada, and Mexico in 2026.

Gulati, CONCACAF and Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, and Federación Mexicana de Fútbol president Decio de Maria came together Monday afternoon at One World Observatory, a hugely symbolic space high above New York City, on the 102nd and top floor of the One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

With the Statue of Liberty raising her torch to the south and sweeping vistas west along the Hudson River and north to the Empire State Building, as the 9/11 Memorial sat approximately 1,300 feet below, it was impossible to miss the symbolic importance of this venue.

Gulati’s Mexican counterpart de Maria was less bold, preferring to keep it to soccer, or football, saying, “saying through a translator that “this is not the forum,” to discuss politics, border walls, etc.

Gulati had previously made his dissatisfaction known when U.S. Soccer was surprisingly left at the altar in favor of Qatar when the 2022 World Cup was awarded and this joint bid can certainly be seen as a strategy to avoid a similar disappointment in this latest round of bidding.

It was less than two years ago that Canada hosted an all synthetic turf Women’s World Cup over the objections of many of the top female players, so GotSoccer asked Montagliani if we could expect to see a first in 2026, a men’s World Cup match played on something other than real grass.

The CONCACAF and Canadian supremo laid the 2015 decision at the FIFA’s door, saying, “after we actually got the bid FIFA made the decision.” Montagliani added, “we changed a couple of fields to meet that, we invested in training facilities and so the decision was made by FIFA.”

Montagliani noted that FIFA would again determine the playing surface but also observed, “that every World Cup, men’s World Cup has been played on grass, I assume this would be the same.”

Montagliani, Gulati and de Maria made it official. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

On Monday Gulati was seated centrally on the dais with Montagliani, nominally the most powerful man in CONCACAF on his right, and de Maria on his left but when the details of the three-nation World Cup were revealed it was clear that Gulati and U.S. Soccer was the axis on which this bid turned.

Under the deal worked out by the three federations 60 of the 80 matches at the 48 nation 2026 World Cup would be played in the United States, including all of the games from the quarterfinals onward.

Mexico and Canada would have 10 games each in the negotiated agreement, which all three federation Presidents signed at the end of Monday’s ceremony.

Speaking to a cluster of reporters after the official program Gulati indicated the U.S. had the upper hand in negotiations with their new partners, saying, “if we went alone we had the strongest bid.” The U.S. Soccer President admitted that “we considered bidding alone until very, very recently, even until about a month ago.”

So, who might challenge the North American alliance for the right to host the 2016 World Cup? Here is Gulati: “by the rules, Africa can bid, South American can bid,” although Gulati expects his southern neighbors to hold off until the 2030 Mundial.

The U.S. supremo mentioned Morocco as another potential rival but sounded supremely confident in the power of the Yankee dollar.

“A World Cup in North America with 60 games in the United States will be by far the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA in terms of economics.”

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U.S. Top Russia as Crystal Dunn Scores Twice
U.S. Top Russia as Crystal Dunn Scores Twice avatar

It will be some time yet before the stench of the last place finish by the U.S. WNT at the SheBelieves Cup is erased, still the team’s Get Well Tour continued through Texas today as the Americans easily dispatched a game but overmatched Russia team by a 5-1 score in Houston, Texas.

Dunn was on the scoresheet again for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Crystal Dunn had another brace, youngsters Rose Lavelle, with her first international goal, and Mallory Pugh, with two assists, impressed again as the U.S. continues to rebuild its confidence following last month’s nightmare performance in the SheBelieves Cup.

Coach Jill Ellis didn’t make too many changes to the starting lineup after Thursday night’s 4-0 win over this same opponent in Dallas. The battle to replace Hope Solo in the net continued with Ashlyn Harris between the pipes after Alyssa Naeher had taken her turn in game one. Ellis widened the goalkeeper search with the second half introduction of Jane Campbell for Harris, even if none of the three had much to do.

Ellis continued today with the 4-4-2 formation after staying loyal to the three back set during the SheBelieves Cup and once again the Americans seemed much more at ease. The opposition was different, of course, but Ellis will have to decide what role, if any, the three back set has with this team going forward.

GOALKEEPERS (3): 18- Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), 1- Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), 24- Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride)

DEFENDERS (6): 7- Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), 11- Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), 5- Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), 22- Megan Oyster (Boston Breakers), 4- Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), 7- Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 25- Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado), 16- Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), 10- Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/Manchester City), 20- Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), 3- Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), 15- Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)

FORWARDS (8): 19- Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), 13- Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/Olympique Lyonnais), 21-Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), 23- Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 2- Mallory Pugh (UCLA), 8- Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), 26- Sophia Smith (Real Colorado), 12- Lynn Williams (NC Courage

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Marta Signs With Orlando!
Marta Signs With Orlando! avatar

Hot on the heels of what is being hailed as an NWSL friendly Collective Bargaining Agreement between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT Players Association the league got another bit of good news today when Brazilian legend Marta signed a two-year contract with the Orlando Pride.

Marta returns to the U.S. to play club soccer. (Brad Smith)

With a Brazilian owner in Flavio Augusto de Silva Orlando is a natural landing spot for the five-time World Player of the Year, who joins the Pride after her Swedish club Rosengard were eliminated from the Women’s Champions League last week by Barcelona.

Marta will be paid the league maximum for foreign players, which is just $41,700 but with the bulk of her earnings coming from endorsement deals the move to the U.S. should be a lucrative one for the superstar.

With U.S. star and fan favorite Alex Morgan due to return from a six-month stint in France with Lyon, Orlando immediately becomes one of the hottest tickets in the NWSL both at the stadium and over the Lifetime airwaves.

The 31-year-old, whose real name is Marta Vieira de Silva, has previously played in the United States in the defunct WPS for the L.A. Sol, FC Gold Pride, and the WNY Flash.

Sermanni was delighted by the prospect of coaching Marta. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pride coach Tom Sermanni was understandably thrilled with the move, calling the acquisition “a statement of intent,” in an interview on the club’s website.

The former U.S. WNT boss said of Marta, “ she’s not the kind of player you really have to coach,” describing the pickup as “very, very exciting, fantastic for me as a coach, fantastic for the players, and fantastic for the club.”

Sermanni might have added that bring Marta to the league is fantastic for the National Women’s Soccer League too, but the genial Scot likely assumed we knew that.

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Lavelle Sparks U.S. WNT to Victory Over Russia
Lavelle Sparks U.S. WNT to Victory Over Russia avatar

It was the Rose Lavelle Show Thursday night as the U.S. WNT romped past Russia 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 15,191 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Lavelle put on a star performance.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The 21-year-old Boston Breakers rookie shows up on the scoresheet just once with an assist from a corner kick on the first of Allie Long’s two goals but Lavelle’s exuberant play was the talking point on a feel-good night for a U.S Women’s National Team in need of a pick me up following last month’s deflating last-place performance at the SheBelieves Cup.

With a new contract in place with U.S. Soccer and unburdened from the mysteries of the three back system, and the number one position in the FIFA rankings, the Americans outclassed the overmatched Russians from the start Thursday night with Crystal Dunn and Allie Long sharing the goal scoring duties evenly.

Long looked delighted to be sprung from the central defense role that she had been playing, operating far more effectively in her more familiar midfield role.

The U.S. can take many positives from the game. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Mallory Pugh and Kelley O’Hara were others to shine on the night, their pace and creativity bedeviling the Russians all night long. Goals from Dunn in the 10th minute and Long eight minutes later, effectively ended this match as a contest and if not for Dunn’s penchant for wandering offside the U.S. output might well have been doubled.

These same two sides travel south to Houston for a Sunday afternoon rematch at BBVA Compass Stadium as the U.S. recovery tour continues.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 1 4
RUS 0 0 0

USA – Crystal Dunn (Carli Lloyd) 10th minute
USA – Allie Long (Rose Lavelle) 18
USA – Crystal Dunn 41
USA – Allie Long (Mallory Pugh) 70

Lineups:
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher, 2-Mallory Pugh (8-Amy Rodriguez, 80), 3-Samantha Mewis, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 5-Kelley O’Hara (22-Megan Oyster, 68), 7-Meghan Klingenberg (11-Ali Krieger, 46), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.)(13-Alex Morgan, 46), 14-Casey Short, 16-Rose Lavelle (15-Megan Rapinoe, 80), 19-Crystal Dunn (23-Christen Press, 64), 20-Allie Long
Subs not used: 24-Ashlyn Harris
Head coach: Jill Ellis

RUS: 12-Alena Belyaeva; 4-Tatiana Sheikina (22-Ksenia Kovalenko, 72), 6-Nadeshda Karpova, 8-Daria Makarenko, 9-Anna Cholovyaga, 10-Elena Terekhova (capt.)(17-Ekaterina Pantiukhina, 46), 11-Ekaterina Sochneva, 13-Anna Belomyttseva, 18-Elvira Ziiastinova, 20-Margarita Chernomyrdina, 23-Elena Morozova (15-Elena Danilova, 16)
Subs: 1-Tatiana Shcerbak, 2-Nelli Korovkina, 5-Ekaterina Lazareva, 16-Anastasiia Pozdeeva, 19-Ekaterina Morozova
Head coach: Elena Fomina

Stats Summary: USA / RUS
Shots: 33 / 5
Shots on Goal: 7 / 1
Saves: 2 / 3
Corner Kicks: 16 / 2
Fouls: 10 / 19
Offside: 9 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
RUS – Elena Danilova (caution) 55th minute
RUS – Tatiana Sheikina (caution) 66
RUS – Anna Cholovyaga (caution) 74
USA – Christen Press (caution) 90

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Bitter Battle Ends as U.S.Soccer and U.S. WNT Players Make a Deal
Bitter Battle Ends as U.S.Soccer and U.S. WNT Players Make a Deal avatar

The long and often bitter battle between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. WNT Players Association has finally been settled with the two sides announcing a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement in a statement released today.

The acrimony between the parties had led to U.S. Soccer to sue its own players to continue to honor a memorandum of agreement in lieu of the expired CBA, fearing that the players would strike.

Ellis will be happy that the deal has been settled and they can now focus on upcoming competition.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The players had made no such threat but did respond by filing a wage discrimination suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both sides appeared happy to put the discord behind them, releasing this joint statement:

“We are pleased to announce that U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement which will continue to build the women’s program in the U.S, grow the game of soccer worldwide, and improve the professional lives of players on and off the field. We are proud of the hard work and commitment to thoughtful dialogue reflected through this process, and look forward to strengthening our partnership moving forward.”

The statement is short on specifics although the New York Times is reporting that the players will receive significant increases in salaries and bonuses, as well as improvements in working conditions, an important issue for the U.S. WNT team players who have long felt undervalued in comparison to their far less accomplished male counterparts.

Again, via the Times, the women’s national team players will receive a per diem raise to bring them level with the men and will also have more financial control over the use of their images.

U.S. Soccer have committed to give better support the NWSL (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

U.S. Soccer has reportedly also pledged to better support the National Women’s Soccer League, the U.S. professional league, vowing to improve playing conditions for the non-national team players as well as the internationals.

This new CBA comes after the players dismissed negotiator Rich Nichols who had pressed the Federation for equal pay and who was seen as a hardliner. Nichols had an ally in dismissed U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo but with Solo out of the picture, Nichols was terminated by the USWNTPA.

The players were no doubt happy to put this long-running drama behind them with FIFA World Player of the year and U.S. WNT captain Carli Lloyd tweeting:

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St. Louis Votes No on MLS
St. Louis Votes No on MLS avatar

The citizens the City of St. Louis said no to Proposition 2 yesterday likely ending the city’s chance of joining Major League Soccer.

Proposition 1 passed, raising $60 million but voters rejected Prop 2, which would have set aside most of those funds to partially finance a 22,000 seat soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis.

MLS Executive VP of Communications took to twitter with the league’s reaction.

Prior to yesterday’s vote MLS Commissioner Don Garber had said that without a yes vote for Propositions 1 and 2 there would be no MLS team in St. Louis.

11 other cities remain in the running to become franchises 24-28 as the league’s expansion process continues. The groups have all pledged to meet the league’s $150 million expansion fee and will also have to come up with a stadium plan that meets league approval.

Don Garber said there would be no MLS team in St Louis. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

It remains to be seen if yesterday’s vote by the people of the City of St. Louis to say no to public money to help billionaire owners fund their stadiums is a once off or if it signifies a new era in the relationship between professional sports franchises and the citizens they purport to represent.

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Jill Ellis Names Roster for Russia Friendlies
Jill Ellis Names Roster for Russia Friendlies avatar

For the first time in almost two years, the U.S. WNT will not hold the number one FIFA World Ranking when it steps onto the field to face Russia Thursday night at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

The U.S. finished bottom of the group. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

An alarmingly poor performance by the Americans at last month’s SheBelieves Cup cost Jill Ellis’ side the top spot that the Americans had held since July 2015 despite a fourth place finish at the 2016 Olympics.

Ellis used the SheBelieves Cup as a testing ground for the team’s new three at the back formation and after some early positive results, it was a test the Americans proved woefully unprepared for.

A 1-0 win over the now number one Germans was an encouraging start for the new setup but the U.S. goal by Lynn Williams would prove to be the only goal the home team would score in the three-match tournament, shocking given the attacking talent at Ellis disposal and the perceived attacking nature of the new formation.

The formation held up well enough defensively in the added time loss to England in game two but was torn asunder in a 3-0 loss in the finale. Matches one and three featured a back line led by converted midfielder Allie Long, playing between Casey Short and Becky Sauerbrunn.

Julie Johnston started against England. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Ellis shuffled the deck in game two, sending Julie Johnston out flanked by Ali Krieger and Sauerbrunn. With a chance to claim the SheBelieves title Ellis reverted to her game one backline, with disastrous consequences.

The speedy and clever French forwards exposed both Long’s defensive inexperience and Sauerbrunn’s relative lack of pace, a problem exacerbated by Ellis’ lineup which left the back three unprotected by either traditional fullbacks or even slightly more adventurous wingbacks.

The next major tournament on the schedule is the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, so Ellis picked the right time to experiment but it may prove instructive to see how Ellis sends her team out in this two-game set versus Russia.

Most of the SheBelieves roster has returned for the U.S. WNT, although there are a few changes. Megan Rapinoe is back: will the creative and controversial midfielder test U.S. Soccer’s new mandate that all players must stand for the national anthem?

Kealia Ohai in action against Romania in November 2016. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Julie Johnston is unavailable, she’s off getting married. Congratulations. And veterans Meghan Klingenberg and Amy Rodriguez have been recalled after just missing out on making the SheBelieves roster while newcomers Kealia Ohai (three caps) and Boston Breakers defender Megan Oyster (zero caps) also make the squad.

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position – Texas Friendlies
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

DEFENDERS (6): Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Megan Oyster (Boston Breakers), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)

FORWARDS (7): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/Olympique Lyonnais, FRA), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)

April 6, 2017: 7:30 PM CT
WNT vs Russia @Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas
FS1 (Pre-game show at 7pm CT)

April 9, 2017: 1 PM CT
WNT vs Russia @BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas
ESPN

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

In a week dominated by the international break, and with the U.S. MNT picking up four points to revive its World Cup Qualification campaign there was still plenty of fodder for our latest MLS Big 5.

1) Worse than World Baseball Classic

For baseball managers who haven’t quite adjusted to the concept of sending players off to international games and seeing them return in casts, slings etc. my advice is to call a soccer coach, there are plenty of MLS bosses in the same boat and just a local call away!

National teamers were dropping like flies these past few days and we needed to look no further than the U.S. MNT for examples of this disturbing phenomenon.

Sebastian picked up his injury early in the first half against Honduras. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

MLS managers watched their U.S. internationals falling in battle, like Sebastian Lletget, whose foot injury will cost the Galaxy the services of their versatile midfielder for four to six months! Jordan Morris joined his U.S. teammates but an injury picked up before the break kept the Seattle Sounders striker sidelined and eventually saw the speedster sent back to Seattle.

The U.S. MNT was also cursed by injuries to some of its foreign legion, with Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), and Michael Orozco (Tijuana) all giving their club managers selection headaches following injuries picked up while competing for the U.S.

Of course, it wasn’t only American stars that were felled. Other MLS managers are also hurting as the MLS resumes regularly scheduled programming.

Atlanta has been the talk of the league early this season and a prime reason for the expansion club’s success has been early Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez but the Venezuelan picked up a knock versus Peru and will miss four to six weeks. Houston has been a pleasant surprise in the opening stages of the 2017 MLS campaign but Oscar Pareja must have winced when he saw Romel Quintero helped off the pitch with a separated shoulder in Honduras’ brutal 6-0 beat down versus the U.S. MNT last Friday night. Quintero will be out two to four weeks.

Montreal’s Belgian defender Laurent Ciman also came back from international duty at less than 100%

2) Petke Lands in Real Salt Lake

After spending two years away from the coaching profession ex-New York Red Bulls Mike Petke was hired prior to this season to lead RSL’s USL team, the Royal Monarch’s.

Petke during his time at the Red Bulls. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

So, when Cassar was axed just three games into the 2017 season Petke was well placed to step up to the big team. Oh, General Manager Craig Waibel interviewed a couple of other candidates but it is hard to get past the notion that this decision was made in December when Petke was hired for the USL gig.

Petke played 12 years in MLS, earning three All–Star nods and a pair of caps with the U.S. MNT before turning to coaching. The Red Bulls turned to Petke, an RBNY assistant at the time, only when no one else would take the job.

But Petke, a beloved former MetroStar, and Red Bulls player exceeded expectations, leading New York to a Supporters Shield title in 2013 and bringing his side to the conference semifinal in 2015 before new and since-deposed boss, Ali Curtis surprisingly fired him in favor of Jesse Marsch.

Petke has shown that he can win in MLS but New York was a veteran team led by Thierry Henry, who Petke famously and to his credit, stood up to in a verbal confrontation just a few weeks into his first season as a head coach.

Salt Lake is a younger team devoid of big name international stars. So, a different challenge for Petke. But one that the new RSL coach will not back down from.

3) BWP to DP

You may be forgiven for thinking that Bradley Wright-Phillips is already a Designated Player, he has won the Golden Boot twice and equaled the single-season MLS goals record in his three full years with the Red Bulls.

Bradley Wright-Phillips has definitely earned his status. (ISI Photos/Al Sermeno)

The 32-year-old was, in fact, previously a DP, then he wasn’t but with this “multi-year” extension Wright-Phillips has his elite status reinstated.

The important thing for Red Bulls fans is that the clubs all-time goals leader is not going anywhere.

4) St Louis to MLS?

It is pretty simple. If the citizens of St. Louis want an MLS team they will vote for it in the Municipal elections on April 4th. In addition to a mayoral race, a pair of linked propositions is on the ballot. One for an extension to the MetroLink transportation system and one that dedicates much of a 1/2 cent sales tax increase to a $60 million contribution by the city to a new downtown soccer stadium.

St Louis will make the decision on April 4th. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Public funds for stadiums has long been a controversial issue but Don Garber had this to say at a press conference in St. Louis on Monday: “If you want MLS, that proposition needs to be successful.”

Your move St. Louis.

5) Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago for the World Cup!

Just when you let yourself start to believe that the bad old days when American reporters looked at soccer as some oddball pursuit for foreigners, some guy raised his hand at Schweinsteiger’s introductory press conference in Chicago and asked the former Manchester United and Bayern Munich man if he was going to lead the Chicago Fire to the World Cup.

Schweinsteiger’s signing. (Post from Schweinsteiger’s twitter page)

Naturally, the reporter’s gaffe set the internet ablaze. One of the best tweets came from the German World Cup winners new Fire teammates Dax McCarty.

 

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U.S. MNT Back on World Cup Track After Ugly Draw in Panama
U.S. MNT Back on World Cup Track After Ugly Draw in Panama avatar

It was rough, it was ugly, the Americans coughed up a lead, but in the end Tuesday’s 1-1 away draw against Panama meant that the U.S. MNT picked up four points from the first two World Cup Qualifiers of the Bruce Arena 2.0 era to revive its World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Christian Pulisic was once again involved in the goal.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Win at home and draw on the road. It is a qualification formula as old as soccer itself and one that Arena had in mind prior to this two-game set. Four points had been the goal before the U.S. crushed Honduras 6-0 last Friday night in San Jose and four points remained the goal even after Honduras.

The injury bug that bedeviled the Americans in recent weeks cost Arena the services of three starters for this match, forcing the coach to turn to his sixth(?) choice right fullback in Graham Zusi to deputize for Geoff Cameron.

Tim Ream replaced John Brooks in the 70th minute versus Honduras and the Fulham man got the start when sinus trouble ruled Brooks out against Panama. Tuesday afternoon the unfortunate news broke that Sebastian Lletget will miss up to four months due to foot surgery having left Friday’s match and Arena turned to Jermaine Jones, back from a yellow card suspension, to fill that void.

To all the personnel changes Arena added a formation switch, opting for a more conservative flat 4-4-2 that pushed Christian Pulisic out wide, as opposed to the diamond that featured the 18-year-old in an advanced central role last time out.

It was all the same to Panama, who were happy to rough up the rising star wherever he situated himself on the subpar Estadio Rommel Fernandez pitch. The referee was of the “let them play variety,” and Pulisic and fellow wing midfielder Darlington Nagbe payed the price for the referee’s laissez-faire attitude.

Despite Panama’s overzealous defending the two wingers were bright spots for the U.S. with Pulisic facilitating the visitors breakthrough in the 39th minute, setting up Dempsey after picking center back Felipe Badoy’s pocket.

Pulisic then toyed with Badoy’s partner Roman Torres before he found his new running mate Dempsey, and the veteran made no mistake to score his 58th international goal, just one behind Landon Donovan for the top spot in the U.S. MNT record books.

Howard was unable to hold on to a clean sheet. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

With three points on offer, the U.S. conceded when a long throw-in bounced off of Ream and a flat-footed American defense was beaten to the loose ball by Panama’s Gabriel Gomez, who rifled his chance past a helpless Tim Howard to equalize in the 44th minute.

Howard would be tested again, certainly more so than his opposite number Jaime Penedo, with the Hero of Salvador da Bahia proving well up to the task.

The home team was pressing for the go-ahead goal as the time wound down but in the end, it was an evenly matched, if unevenly played game and neither team can feel too hard done by having escaped with a share of the spoils.

With three World Cup places on the line and the lifeline of a playoff spot versus an Asia Conference side to play for tonight’s result keeps the U.S. in fourth place in the Hex after four games, one point behind Panama and level on points with fifth place Honduras after four of the 10 World Cup qualifying matches.

A 1-0 win in Trinidad and Tobago keeps Mexico atop the Hexagonal with 10 points while Costa Rica retained the second position despite a 1-1 tie at Honduras.

World Cup Qualifiers resume in June with the U.S. hosting sixth place Trinidad and Tobago on June 8th before heading to Mexico to take on Mexico at the Azteca.

June 8, 2017 TBD MNT vs Trinidad & Tobago Home
June 11, 2017 TBD MNT vs Mexico Away

Tuesday’s CONCACAF Hexagonal Results:
Mar 28, 2017 Panama 1, USA 1:Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City
Mar 28, 2017 Honduras 1, Costa Rica 1: Estadio Francisco Morazan, San Pedro Sula
Mar 28, 2017 Trinidad & Tobago 0, Mexico 1: Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain

PTS W L D GF GA GD
Mexico 10 3 0 1 5 1 +4
Costa Rica 7 2 1 1 7 3 +4
Panama 5 1 1 2 2 2 0
USA 4 1 2 1 8 7 +1
Honduras 4 1 2 1 4 9 -5
Trinidad & Tobago 3 1 2 0 2 6 -4

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