MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

MLS is back and with that here are five things that have piqued our interest for the upcoming season.

1) 2 New Teams!

The MLS Expansion Bonanza continues apace in 2017 as Minnesota and Atlanta take to the fields of Major League Soccer beginning tonight when Minnesota United FC face Portland at the Timbers small but raucous Providence Park. Then Atlanta United FC plays host to the New York Red Bulls Sunday evening at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus.

(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

The expansion bonanza continues. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

The two teams have gone about preparing for their inaugural season in very different ways, with Atlanta hogging most of the expansion ink with moves like hiring former Argentina and Barcelona coach Tata Martino and longtime U.S. MNT captain Carlos Bocanegra as the team’s Technical Director.

30,000 season tickets sold, a host of player signings, including three youthful DP’s, has people talking playoffs for Atlanta while Minnesota has flown somewhat under the radar. Still, the former NASL side turned some heads when it traded $650,000 to Orlando City, coach Adrian Heath’s former club Orlando City SC, for Kevin Molino.

Molino, will combine with former Minnesota NASL stars Miguel Ibarra (3 USMNT caps), Christian Ramirez, Josh Gatt, the perpetually injured U.S. MNT prospect recently returned from Europe, and Abu Danladi, the 1st pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, to provide some attacking excitement for the Loons in what may be a difficult year one in MLS.

Minnesota is building stadium in St. Paul, which they expect to open in 2018. For now the Loons will play at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

2) 2 New Stadiums!

Orlando City Stadium opens for business on Sunday when the Lions host New York City FC. The 25,500 capacity stadium is located in downtown Orlando and will also be home to NWSL club Orlando Pride. Orlando City Stadium has a natural grass playing field.

Orlando City will (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Orlando City Stadium opens for business they weekend. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Atlanta United FC will open its inaugural season at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus but expect to transition to the spectacular new Mercedes Benz Stadium sometime this season, hopefully by the the summer. AUFC will share the stadium with team owner Arthur Blank’s other team the Atlanta Falcons. The stadium is designed to convert from football to soccer, one strike against the new stadium is that the playing surface will be will be artificial.

3) On Designated Players MLS says: Out With the Old and in with the Young.

Despite having yet to kick a ball in anger Atlanta is already setting trends with the signings of the trio of Hector Villalba (22), Josef Martinez (23), and Miguel Almiron (23) as DPs on the rise, signaling a move away from the retirement league stigma that MLS has endured.

Former greats like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and Robbie Keane have all moved on, the first three into retirement, with the new model more in the Giovinco/Nicolas Lodeiro mode.

Albert Rusnak in action for(ISI Photos/BPI)

Albert Rusnak in action for FC Groningen. (ISI Photos/BPI)

Real Salt Lake has brought in 22 year old attacking midfielder Albert Rusnak from Eredivisie side FC Groningen but most of the signings have been late 20 somethings like Chicago’s signing of Hungarian international Nemanja Nikolic, the Galaxy’s Romain Alessandrini, 27 or NYCFC import, 30 year old Maxi Moralez.

None of these players have been signed to sell tickets, they all have been brought in for soccer reasons. And while this new approach doesn’t necessarily rule out clubs from going for star power, it is a clear shift in priorities, one that many will welcome.

4) CONCACAF Champions League – Is this the Year?

Not for the New York Red Bulls who were eliminated at the quarterfinal stage Thursday night by fellow MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps. With its win over the Red Bulls the Caps advance to the CCL semifinals where they will face Mexican side Tigres while FC Dallas will go up against Pachuca, another Liga MX club.

FC Dallas will be hoping they can carry their success forward to the (ISI Photos/David Bernall)

FC Dallas will be hoping they can carry their success forward to the CCL. (ISI Photos/David Bernall)

No MLS club has won the CCL since this format was adopted in 2008 and Mexico’s continued dominance of the CCL has become a bit embarrassing for MLS, particularly in light of Commissioner Don Garber’s goal of making MLS the top league in the region.

Only Montreal, 2014-15 and Real Salt Lake 2010-11 have gotten as far as the CCL Championship match with both coming up short. Will this be the year?

5) U.S. MNT in MLS

U.S. coach Bruce Arena has said that he expects 2/3 of his World Cup roster to come from MLS, so we should probably keep an eye on the MLS production of established vets like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, the health of comebacking stars like Tim Howard, and the continued strong play of aging Jermaine Jones.

Kljestan (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Kljestan is looking to cement a spot in Arena’s squad.  (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

There are positional battles too. Can Sacha Kljestan hold off Arena recall Benny Feilhaber? Who plays later this month if Howard is less than 100% and Brad Guzan’s lack of minutes with Birmingham puts Arena off? Nick Rimando? Luis Robles? David Bingham? Bill Hamid?

Can a fast start in MLS convince Arena to pick one over the others?

Then there are the younger players looking to impress the boss, if not for March then for the Gold Cup this summer. Juan Agudelo, still just 24, may miss out on Honduras and Panama but if the New England striker can finally start putting up the goal figures his talent says he should then a call-up is not out of the question.

And how about U20 prospect Justin Glad? Center back is a bit of a problem area and if Glad can build on the form he has shown with the U20’s the Real Salt Lake man could be this year’s Matt Miazga, moving rapidly up the center back ranks.

And for those concerned about the next generation of U.S. MNT goalkeepers it will be instructive to keep an eye on a pair of young American goalkeepers with youth national team experience who are getting their chance at club level. 21-year-old Zack Steffan at Columbus and 24-year-old Cody Cropper at New England will get the opportunity to show that they should be considered to make the step up to the full national team.

Those are just a few of the American players worth checking out in MLS play starting tonight when newcomers Minnesota make its MLS debut in Portland in front of a packed house at Providence Park.

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U.S. Impressive in Win Over Germany
U.S. Impressive in Win Over Germany avatar

Chester, Pa. – A second half goal by Lynn Williams staked the U.S. WNT to a 1-0 over Germany Wednesday night under threatening skies outside of Philadelphia as the hosts claimed a win its first game of the SheBelieves Cup.

Lynn Williams was relentless going forward and finally got rewarded with the game winner. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lynn Williams was relentless going forward and finally got rewarded with the game winner. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

On one hand this was a matchup between the reigning Olympic Champions and the current World Cup Champs, the number one and number two ranked teams in the world but on the other it was the first game of the year for most of the American players in a tournament that only began last year after the U.S. players made it up.

So, did it matter?

U.S. coach Jill Ellis called playing the Germans a “fantastic test”, noting that “this is the first time our back three has played against such a quality opponent.” Ellis had to be pleased at how well that trio, Allie Long, flanked by Becky Sauerbrunn and Casey Short, not only held up but thrived against the Germans defensively while also providing the passing out of the back that she is looking for.

Ellis called the performance “a big card to put in their back pocket as we move forward.”

Alyssa Naeher got the nod against Germany and will be happy with her clean sheet. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Alyssa Naeher got the nod against Germany and will be happy with the shutout. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

With Hope Solo out the picture now and one can presume in the future, Alyssa Naeher got the nod tonight over Ashlyn Harris and the Chicago Stars netminder set a high bar for Harris to match if, as expected, she gets her turn on Saturday in Harrison, New Jersey against England.

Ellis had said on Tuesday that Naeher and Harris need to demonstrate that they can handle the international game and Naher certainly looked the part tonight. Her one big moment came in the 12th minute when she denied Sara Däbritz with a diving save but Naeher was confident and in charge all night.

The shutout was Naeher’s seventh in just 11 caps but the caliber of opponent and the chance to battle for the number one goalkeeper’s job leave little doubt that this shutout was easily the most important one.

Naeher, as expected, wasn’t getting carried away. “One game at a time, one step at a time,” was how the 28-year old put it. “For me it’s a huge opportunity to take a 90 minute game against one of the top teams in the world and be able to learn from it, good and bad, so I’m excited to have that game, happy with it and now I’m looking forward to the rest of the tournament.”

Dunn didn't seem concerned about the new formation. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Dunn didn’t seem concerned about the new formation. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Ellis’ 3-4-2-1 is a demanding formation on her players, with Crystal Dunn noting that “with the three back it definitely makes us have to be on the front foot at all times because our numbers are high, so we have to do the work early or we can get punished in the end.”

But Dunn didn’t sound too concerned. “I think with the players that we have on this team we’re all ready to go, we’re ready to press the team and keep them on their back foot.” Team captain Carli Lloyd likes the new setup telling the media throng after the win, “ I think the formation suits us” before simplifying things just a bit. “At the end of the day,” the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year said, “it’s soccer. We’ve got to move the ball and see what’s on and we were able to do that tonight.”

On next is England this Saturday, March 4, at Red Bull Arena at 5:00 pm ET. Germany and France face off at 2:15 and longtime U.S. WNT captain Christie Rampone will be honored for her contributions to the national team, a well-deserved honor for the Rampone, who will play her final season with NWSL club Sky Blue this year.

The U.S. will be happy with their performance and 3 points. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. will be happy with their performance and 3 points. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

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

USA – Lynn Williams 56th minute

Lineups:
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 20-Allie Long, 7-Casey Short; 19-Crystal Dunn (2-Mallory Pugh, 58), 6-Morgan Brian, 3-Samantha Mewis, 17-Tobin Heath 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.); 12-Lynn Williams (13-Alex Morgan, 79), 23-Christen Press (9-Lindsey Horan, 79)
Subs not used: 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Johnston, 11-Ali Krieger, 14-Jessica McDonald, 15-Emily Sonnett, 16-Rose Lavelle, 18-Jane Campbell, 22-Brianna Pinto, 24-Ashlyn Harris
Head coach: Jill Ellis

GER: 1-Almuth Schult, 2-Josephine Henning, 4-Leonie Maier, 5-Babett Peter, 9-Alexandra Popp, 10-Dzsenifer Marozsan, 11-Anja Mittag (15-Mandy Islacker, 74), 13-Sara Däbritz, 14-Anna Blässe (7-Pauline Bremer, 69), 17-Isabel Kerschowski (29-Felicitas Rauch, 74), 18-Lena Petermann (23-Verena Faißt, 45)
Subs not used: 3-Kathrin Hendrich, 12-Laura Benkarth, 20-Lina Magull, 21-Lisa Weiß, 24-Kristin Demann, 26-Hasret Kayikci, 27-Sara Doorsoun, 31-Linda Dallman
Head coach: Steffi Jones

Stats Summary: USA / GER
Shots: 15 / 11
Shots on Goal: 3 / 4
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 6 / 4
Fouls: 7 / 6
Offside: 2 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
GER – Elizabeth Kerschowski (caution) 42nd minute
GER – Anna Blasse (caution) 63
USA – Lindsay Horan (caution) 90

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France Stun England With Last Minute Win
France Stun England With Last Minute Win avatar

Chester, Pa. – Sprung from the bench in the second half French captain Wendie Renard proved a match winner when her header in the 90th minute broke English hearts in the opening match of the SheBelieves Cup.

England created numerous chances in the first half but were just not clinical enough. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

England created numerous chances in the first half but were just not clinical enough. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Moments after the game Renard was nonplussed as she described her heroics with the help of a translator. “I’m happy to score because it was the last occasion for us to score,” the French captain said cooly, adding, “so I’m very happy for the team and I am happy for me too.”

Renard, the tallest player on the field had come close moments earlier only to head over the lathe but when France earned a late, late corner kick the captain was not to be denied.

Jordan Nobbs put England deservedly ahead. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Jordan Nobbs put England deservedly ahead. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

England will kick themselves for not providing a bigger cushion than 1-0 after a dominant first half display, although Les Bleues keeper Sarah Bouhaddi deserves a share of the credit for that.

Standing at a sun dappled Lincoln Financial Field Tuesday afternoon England coach Mark Sampson had told a small group of reporters that his team would need a fast start against France if they were to end a long winless streak against their old rivals.

Wednesday night as Sampson stood beneath the Talen Energy Field stands trying to explain what went wrong GotSoccer asked the English boss why his team had been unable to build on that promising beginning.

Not in any mood to mince words Sampson said, “we started the second half really poorly. We know how we want to play in the first period of games, first and second half, and in the first key moments of the second half, other than the kickoff, we didn’t execute.”

Clearly aggravated Sampson continued, “we made some poor errors, technically and some poor decisions,” and Sampson said, “like I said earlier I made some poor decisions.”

In that good English first half Jordan Nobbs gave England a 1-0 lead over their fierce rivals with a 32nd minute long distance laser. It might have been more but for Bouhaddi and when the second half began it was a whole new ballgame.

France was as good after the re-start as England was bad and with blue wave after blue wave washing over Karen Bardsley’s goalmouth a French goal began to seem an inevitability.

France threw everything at England in the second half and scored twice to win the match. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

France threw everything at England in the second half and scored twice to win the match. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

That inevitability was finally realized when Marie-Laure headed home the equalizer, setting the stage for a frantic finish and yet another frustrating loss to Les Bleues.

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Final Preparations Complete for SheBelieves Cup
Final Preparations Complete for SheBelieves Cup avatar

Philadelphia, Pa. – Four of the best women’s soccer teams in the world assembled in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, going through their paces one last time before kicking off the second annual SheBelieves Cup this afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium just outside of Philadelphia and GotSoccer had a chance to speak to players and coaches from two of those teams, the U.S. and England.

Talen Energy Stadium. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Talen Energy Stadium. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Three of the national sides, the U.S. Germany, and France, got their work in at the site of Wednesday’s doubleheader while England went its own way, training instead at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and that is where GotSoccer caught up with coach Mark Sampson and his squad.

The early bird catches the worm, or in this case, the last of the good weather for this first leg of the tournament, with England practicing under sunny skies Tuesday afternoon, skies that turned on England’s opponents  before the day was out and could threaten Wednesday’s schedule if the stormy forecast holds true.

Weather permitting, England faces old nemesis France in the opening match of SheBelieves 2017, and Les Bleues are certainly a team that can be said to have the Lionesses number. However, Sampson’s squad may be counting on a little extra something extra from Philadelphia’s favorite son to see them past Les Bleues.

Houghton (ISI Photos/Matt Bunn)

Houghton seemed in upbeat and ready for the tournament. (ISI Photos/Matt Bunn)

“I think we’re going up the (Philadelphia Museum of Art) steps this afternoon,” English captain Steph Houghton said with a laugh when asked about the iconic “Rocky” scene after Tuesday’s practice.

Houghton was joking, of course, but the tale of the ultimate underdog seems to have struck a nerve in the England camp. Sampson was also asked about the famous steps and admitted to that he is “a fan, a huge, huge fan,“ of the Rocky films adding, “to be honest, I couldn’t run all the way up, I ran half the way and walked the rest.”

Joking aside, Sampson called this trip, “a good experience,” as his team prepares for this summer’s Euros in the Netherlands, but the boss concedes that “we need to get over the line.” “We’re knocking the door down but we just can’t get through.”

For the host of the SheBelieves Cup, the days of making breakthroughs are long past, this Cup is more about rebounding after a frankly abysmal 2016 Olympic Games performance. The Americans finished out of the medals in Brazil, the only time the U.S. has missed out on the podium at the Games, raising the stakes for the host nation in this sophomore edition of the SheBelieves Cup.

To that end, U.S. coach Jill Ellis has continued to expand the player pool, notably including 16-year-old Brianna Pinto in her 23 player roster. So, will the precocious midfielder pick up her first senior cap in the coming days?

Ellis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis gave the impression the Pinto was definitely someone for the future. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Jill Ellis made it seem unlikely. “She’s done well, “she’s, of course, young,” the coach said before adding this. “What I’m trying to look at is, ok, where is she now? Where could she be in two years investment with us in here? That’s really where I’m looking at her.” “Will she play in this tournament,” Ellis said wrapping up, “I don’t know, to be determined.”

But while Ellis can afford to wait on Pinto, there is a sense of urgency surrounding the next number one goalkeeper. With Hope Solo gone from the U.S. WNT and unlikely to return, Ellis was asked if Ashlynn Harris had the inside track on claiming the starters gloves over Alyssa Naeher.

“That’s to be determined,” Ellis answered, making it clear that nothing has been decided in the race to replace Solo. “This is the biggest game for Ash and Alyssa,” Ellis said, noting the step up to international play, calling it, “a different level.”

For her part, Harris, Orlando’s 31-year-old starter, wasn’t buying the hype. “You can’t put that kind of pressure on yourself,” Harris answered when asked if she felt this was her chance to claim the starting job.

“For me, every day I show up and I’m the best player and teammate I possibly can be and at the end of the day I can’t focus on things out of my control,” Harris said.  Showing a strong sense of perspective, Harris reminded, “we’re two years out of any major tournament, we’re just getting our feet wet.”

Hopefully, not quite as wet as the weather forecasts have been predicting and Harris and her colleagues from the U.S. Germany, France, and England will put on a show for the fans on day one of the SheBelieves Cup, 2017 edition.

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U.S. U20 Close in On World Cup Berth with Historic Win over Mexico
U.S. U20 Close in On World Cup Berth with Historic Win over Mexico avatar

Monday night for the first time in 31 years the U.S. defeated Mexico in U20 play by a 1-0 score at the CONCACAF Championships/World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Costa Rica, smoothing its path to the U20 World Cup this May and June in South Korea.

On a night for slaying dragons the Americans earned that win at Saprissa Stadium, long known as a House of Horrors for the U.S. senior side.

Palmer-Brown (L) got the game winner for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Palmer-Brown (L) got the game winner for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Young Yanks came into this match off of consecutive 4-1 wins following a 1-0 loss in the tournament opener versus Panama. Still, that pair of victories over CONCACAF minnows did little to boost the confidence of U.S watchers.

But Monday night was different.

The U.S. came out with a far more aggressive and positive approach from the start against El Tri, pressing the favorites and even if the play was a bit ragged early on the Americans eventually began to click.

U.S. coach Tab Ramos surprised more than a few pundits, this one included, when he left NYCFC winger Jonathan Lewis on the bench but Ramos was vindicated by a lineup led by a determined central midfield trio.

Captain Erik Palmer-Brown had by far his best game operating as deepest of the three and with Eryk Williamson and Tyler Adams harassed and dominated Mexico’s midfield all game. Adams in particular impressed, with the 18 year old covering acres of ground.

With the middle of the park closed off, Mexico had no choice to attack the U.S. wings but fullbacks Marlon Fossey and Danny Acosta were like a pair of NFL lockdown corners, choking off the Mexican attack.

The Yanks had the more dangerous possession and were rewarded when Palmer-Brown headed home from a corner kick in the 29th minute. The U.S. goal unnerved Mexico and the favorites had to be happy to get to the locker room trailing by just that one goal.

The second half was more of the same, although Mexico put late pressure on the the Americans, who held firm.

A win or a tie on Friday against El Salvador and it is on to South Korea for the U.S. The Americans would also advance if El Salvador pull off an upset versus Mexico on Wednesday

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Jill Ellis Names U.S. WNT Roster for 2nd Annual SheBelieves Cup
Jill Ellis Names U.S. WNT Roster for 2nd Annual SheBelieves Cup avatar

Jill Ellis has named her roster for next week’s SheBelieves Cup and there are some surprises. The most eye-catching inclusion is 16-year-old Brianna Pinto, who only four months ago was lining out in the U17 World Cup for the Americans.

Brianna Pinto must have impressed in the recent camp. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Brianna Pinto must have impressed in the recent camp. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

If Pinto sees the field in the SheBelieves Cup, she will break new ground as the first player born in the new millennium to earn a cap with the full national team.

On the other end of the spectrum, defender Meghan Klingenberg goes down as the most unexpected exclusion from this group, while Amy Rodriguez was unable to do enough to earn back her spot in the forward ranks after missing time to have a baby.

Ellis has been trying to expand the player pool and these moves are certainly consistent with that philosophy. Klingenberg has been recovering from an injury and may also have been hurt by Ellis’ recent flirtation with the three-back set.

Jessica McDonald will be looking to cement her place in the national team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Jessica McDonald will be looking to cement her place in the national team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

ARod’s exclusion was no doubt made possible by the rising fortunes of the Carolina Courage (formerly Western NY Flash) strike force of Jessica McDonald and Lynn Williams.

This is the second edition of the SheBelieves Cup, an event that was the brainchild of the U.S. WNT players, and one that brings together four of the top five ranked women’s teams in the world. The U.S. (1), Germany (2), France (3), and England (5), will play a series of doubleheaders in Chester, Pa. Harrison, N.J. and Washington, D.C. over seven days beginning March 1st.

Fourth-rated Canada misses out.

U.S. Women’s National Team 2017 SheBelieves Cup Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

DEFENDERS (6): Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Brianna Pinto (CASL)

FORWARDS (6): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)

Mar. 1 England vs. France. Talen Energy Stadium: Chester, Pa. 4 p.m. ET
Mar. 1 USA vs. Germany. Talen Energy Stadium Chester, Pa. 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Mar. 4 France vs. Germany. Red Bull Arena: Harrison, N.J. 2:15 p.m. ET
Mar. 4 USA vs. England. Red Bull Arena: Harrison, N.J. 5 p.m. ET on FOX

Mar. 7 Germany vs. England. RFK Stadium: Washington, D.C. 4 p.m. ET
Mar. 7 USA vs. France. RFK Stadium: Washington, D.C. 7 p.m. ET FS1

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U.S. Move One Step Closer to U20 World Cup With Over St. Kitts and Nevis
U.S. Move One Step Closer to U20 World Cup With Over St. Kitts and Nevis avatar

As expected, the U.S. U20 side took care of business Friday evening in Costa Rica, beating CONCACAF minnows St. Kitts and Nevis 4-1 to advance to the final round of the World Cup Qualifier Tournament.

After losing by a combined 9-1 score versus Panama and Haiti to start the tournament the Young Yanks were expected to handle St. Kitts and Nevis and a four goal first half ensured that they would.

Tab Ramos' group get off to an early start. (ISI Photos/Aykut Akici)

Tab Ramos’ group took care of business. (ISI Photos/Aykut Akici)

Good work from Jeremy Ebobisse set up Brooks Lennon for the American opener in the 16th minute, his fourth of the tournament, and the favorites were one step closer to World Cup qualification.

After sitting out his team’s opening match 1-0 loss to Panama, Jonathan Lewis received his second consecutive start and once again the New York City FC draft choice impressed.

The speedy attacker doubled the U.S. lead just four minutes after Lennon’s opener when he pounced on a loose ball in the St. Kitts box from a U.S. corner kick.

Helped by some poor play from Nathan Lescott in the St. Kitts and Nevis goal Sebastian Saucedo added a pair of U.S scores to put this match to bed before the intermission.

Romario Martin pulled one back for the underdogs in the 77th minute but it was always going to be too little too late to keep the Americans out of the qualifying round.

The Americans will join old rivals Mexico as well as El Salvador in the final group, with the two of the teams moving on to the U20 World Cup in South Korea in May and June.

Mexico is up first on Monday and regardless of the outcome the U.S. should advance with a win over El Salvador (assuming Mexico defeats La Selecta).

February 27, 2017 5 PM ET U20 MNT vs Mexico @Estadio Ricardo Saprissa; Tibas, Costa Rica Facebook Live

March 3, 2017 6:30 PM ET U20 MNT vs El Salvador @Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica; San Jose, Costa Rica Facebook Live
March 3, 2017

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

USA – Brooks Lennon (Jeremy Ebobisse) 16th minute
USA – Jonathan Lewis 20
USA – Sebastian Saucedo (Jonathan Lewis) 35
USA – Sebastian Saucedo 41
SKN –Romario Martin 77

Lineups:
USA: 12-JT Marcinkowski; 14-Aaron Herrera (2-Marlon Fossey, 29), 4-Tommy Redding, 6-Justen Glad, 3-Danny Acosta; 11-Sebastian Saucedo, 5-Erik Palmer-Brown (Capt.), 7-Eryk Williamson; 17-Brooks Lennon (19-Coy Craft, 45), 9-Jeremy Ebobisse, 20-Jonathan Lewis (15-Jonathan Gonzalez, 68)
Subs not used: 1-Jonathan Klinsmann, 8-Tyler Adams, 10-Luca De La Torre, 13-Auston Trusty, 16-Jeremiah Gutjahr, 18-Emmanuel Sabbi
Head coach: Tab Ramos

SKN: 1-Nathan Lescott, 2-Javier Sutton, 3-Ezer Browne, 4-Phillip Richardson, 6-Salas Cannonier (Capt.), 12-Yusuf Saunders; 8-Yohannes Mitchum (5-Kejauni David, 77), 13-Raheem Somersall, 19-Gvaune Amory, 20-Alex Charles (7-Ronaldo Belgrove, 69); 11-Tahir Hanley (9-Romario Martin, 49)
Subs not used: 10-Delano Hodge, 14-Tyquan-Illijah Terrell, 15-Dakari Phipps, 17-Steve Archibald, 18-Akimbah Francis
Head coach: Anthony Isaac

Stats Summary: USA / SKN
Shots: 33 / 2
Shots on Goal: 15 / 1
Saves: 0 / 10
Corner Kicks: 12 / 6
Fouls: 12 / 6
Offside: 2 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
SKN – Raheem Somersall (caution) 63rd minute

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U.S Back on Track with Win over Haiti in U20 WCQ
U.S Back on Track with Win over Haiti in U20 WCQ avatar

With a their backs to wall Tuesday evening in San Jose, Costa Rica the U.S. MNT U20 squad earned a desperately needed 4-1 win over Haiti without looking particularly good, despite the scoreline.

The young side knew only a win would do.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The young side knew only a win would do. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Coming into this match on the heels of a desultory 1-0 loss to Panama in the opening match of the CONCACAF Championship/World Cup Qualifying Tournament Tab Ramos’ Young Yanks needed to collect three points from this match if they hoped to avoid an ignominious early exit.

The early signs were far from positive as the Americans repeated the pattern of the first match when they failed to apply any threat to the Haiti goal despite dominating possession.

Then at the 15 minute mark inattentive defending coupled with slow reactions from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann put the U.S. in a hole that could have proved fatal to the team’s World Cup dreams.

A routine cross sailed into the box by Jonel Desire found its way to Kenley Dede who gratefully finished his chance to put the U.S. on notice. Dede slipped his mark, Marlon Fossey, after the ball eluded Tommy Redding, who made an unorthodox and unsuccessful effort at a clearance.

Klinsmann (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann was in goal for the U.S.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann was unable to get to Dede’s slo-mo floater and the U.S. was in trouble.

In trouble because basics as simple as trapping and passing seemed beyond Ramos’ charges in the opening 105 minutes of this event but a couple of new starters would get the U.S. back in this game.

In the 28th minute Eryk Williams, a non-factor in a little over 20 minutes versus Panama, picked out Jonathan Lewis with a fine pass over the Haitian defense that the NYCFC draftee controlled in stride only to be chopped down for a U.S. pk. Brooks Lennon made no mistake and the Americans were back in not only the game but the World Cup hunt.

The second half was a whole new ballgame as the U.S. took advantage of a couple blunders by the opposition to finish the match with a three-goal flurry between the 52nd minute and the 58th minutes.

Luca De la Torre  in action for Fulham. (ISI Photos/Jed Leicester)

Luca De la Torre in action for Fulham. (ISI Photos/Jed Leicester)

Luca De La Torre got it rolling when Haiti goalkeeper Isaac Rouaud roamed from his net on a corner kick only to gently slap the ball to De La Torre’s feet. The Fulham prospect did the rest and the beginning of the end had arrived for Les Grenadiers.

Moments later a poor clearance was intercepted by Lewis, who fed Jeremy Ebobisse, who shuttled the ball to Lennon and suddenly it was 3-1 U.S.A. Lennon completed his hat-trick in the 58th minute and the Americans were home and dry and looking ahead to Friday evening’s tussle with St. Kitts and Nevis.

Given that St. Kitts and Nevis’s tournament thus far has consisted of a 5-1 loss to Haiti and a 5-0 defeat to Panama, a U.S. win and advancement to the final round of the tournament is a reasonable expectation.

That next round figures to be somewhat tougher for Ramos’ crew, although a trip to South Korea in May ( the U20 WC runs from 5/20-6/11) should still be in the cards.

We have already noted the negatives, inability to make possession count, unacceptably bad basic ball control and passing issues, so what about the positives?

The U.S. received a promising performance out of Jonathan Lewis, who provides some threat on the wing, even if his touch can let him down. Jeremy Ebobisse showed that he can be a real handful when he finally received some service and Ramos will be pleased to see Lennon and De La Torre get on the board. The duo is key to this team’s success and nothing boosts a players confidence like scoring a goal, never mind three.

Next up: U.S. vs St. Kitts and Nevis

Friday@5:30 Estadio Ricardo Saprissa; Tibas, Costa Rica UDN, Facebook Live

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

HAI – Kenley Dede (Jonel Desire) 15th minute
USA – Brooks Lennon (penalty kick) 28
USA – Luca De La Torre 52
USA – Brooks Lennon (Jeremy Ebobisse) 53
USA – Brooks Lennon 58

Lineups:
USA: 1-Jonathan Klinsmann; 2-Marlon Fossey, 4-Tommy Redding, 6-Justen Glad, 3-Danny Acosta; 10-Luca De La Torre, 5-Erik Palmer-Brown (Capt.) (16-Jeremiah Gutjahr, 68), 7-Eryk Williamson; 17-Brooks Lennon (19-Coy Craft, 81), 9-Jeremy Ebobisse, 20-Jonathan Lewis (11-Sebastian Saucedo, 71)
Subs not used: 12-JT Marcinkowski, 13-Auston Trusty, 14-Aaron Herrera, 15-Jonathan Gonzalez, 18-Emmanuel Sabbi
Head coach: Tab Ramos

HAI: 1-Isaac Rouaud; 19-Stevenson Guillaume, 5-Emerson Georges, 3-Odilon Jerome (Capt.), 13-Francy Pierre; 8-Jonel Desire, 14-Ivenet Noel (10-Roberto Badgio Louima, 61), 15-Alessandro Campoy, 6-Brian Chevreuil (4-Fardyson Pierre, 85), 11-Kenley Dede; 20-Richelor Sprangers (9-Ronaldo Damus, 61)
Subs not used: 12-Josue Duverger, 7-Jimmy Shammar Sanon, 16-Abraham Duverger, 18-Dutherson Clerveaux
Head coach: Wilfrid Montillas

Stats Summary: USA / HAI
Shots: 16 / 12
Shots on Goal: 6 / 3
Saves: 2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 4 / 4
Fouls: 21 / 23
Offside: 6 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
HAI – Emerson Georges (caution) 39th minute
HAI – Emerson Georges (caution) 82
HAI – Emerson Georges (ejection) 82
HAI – Fardyson Pierre (caution) 90+1

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Jesse Marsch Ducks McCarty and Curtis Controversies
Jesse Marsch Ducks McCarty and Curtis Controversies avatar

Harrison, N.J. – “I’m not going to answer any questions about Ali or Dax,” Jesse Marsch said not making for a very promising start to New York Red Bulls Media Day on Monday.

Jesse Marsch (ISI Photos/Howard C Smith)

Jesse Marsch (ISI Photos/Howard C Smith)

The Red Bulls coach also dismissed the rumor that he would trade in life at the New York branch of Red Bulls soccer/football for the home office in Salzburg that kicked off the club’s controversial offseason when it became a major talking point at the MLS SuperDraft in January.

Marsch had previously admitted that he was a bit unhappy with how the trade of team captain Dax McCarty was handled but while Media Day might have been a good opportunity for Marsch to share his first public thoughts on Curtis’ exit, Marsh maintained his silence on the the departure of the man who put his own neck on the line with his first move in charge of the Red Bulls when he fired a popular coach in Mike Petke in order to hire Marsch.

On other topics, however, Marsch was more his usual forthright self.

On Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps:

“It’s a little bit of a strange moment that we are in right now because we have such a big match coming up and in many ways, we don’t feel totally prepared.” Still, the coach expects his team to “go out on Wednesday night and give everything they have.”

On the team’s playing style:

Bradley Wright-Phillips will surely benefit with the players that   (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Bradley Wright-Phillips will surely benefit with the players that has been brought in.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

For the second year running Marsch plans to juke the team’s playing style by giving Bradley Wright-Phillips some help at the top of the team’s attack, whether that help comes from new captain Sacha Kljestan or from Gonzalo Veron.

Veron was limited by a hamstring injury for much of 2016 but Marsch likes what he has seen of the Argentine in pre-season and said, “yes, we are moving a little bit to a two-forward system.”

On freshening the squad:

“Us watching our USL team, we were really impressed with that group and we’re really excited about a lot of those players.” Speaking of the USL Champion Red Bulls II Marsh sounded ready to play the kids. “I think that youthful fearlessness that team displayed and that those young players have, we need to incorporate that more into the team that we are now.”

On replacing Dax McCarty on the field:

Sean Davis (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Sean Davis looks likely to replace McCarty alongside Felipe.  (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

“Sean Davis will emerge as a natural fit for playing in there with Felipe. He’s had a fantastic pre-season and he’s ready for some big challenges.” “And then the other guy is Tyler,” Marsch added. Tyler Adams was injured in the dismal U.S U20’s loss to Panama on Saturday but Marsch hopes the 18-year-old will be back shortly. “I think that both of those two are poised for huge seasons.”

And as a leader:

“It almost wasn’t a choice at all,” Marsch said on naming Sacha Kljestan as McCarty’s successor as captain.” “It was,” Marsch said, “a natural fit.” The coach cited veterans Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips as Kljestan’s natural lieutenants adding, “I think there is more room for young guys to blossom into leadership roles too.”

On getting over the playoff “hump”:

Marsch mentioned the team’s young players and tactics but emphasized the little things. “I want to focus on the minutiae of the details of what make us good.”

On how good this team is:

“We feel by the end of all of this the potential to have our best roster, our most well-rounded team, and the most weapons within our arsenal could be at the highest that it’s been since I’ve been here and that’s saying something.”

Saying something, indeed. Just not about Ali or Dax.

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U.S. Begin World Cup Qualifiers with a Bad Loss to Panama
U.S. Begin World Cup Qualifiers with a Bad Loss to Panama avatar

Despite playing with a man advantage from the 18th minute the U.S. U20’s dropped a 1-0 decision to Panama in a shocking display in the opening match of the CONCACAF Championships.

Tab Ramos (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Ramos’s squad should be able to win their next two matches.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

With the regional tournament doubling as qualifiers for the U20 World Cup Tab Ramos’s squad has put themselves in a hole with this loss, although the remaining group games versus Haiti and St Kitts and Nevis should be winnable, shouldn’t they?

After his team’s effort against Panama overconfidence should not be a problem for Ramos and company.

The Americans dominated the early exchanges Saturday afternoon but the U.S. was having trouble putting its possession advantage to any discernible use, a problem the U.S. would not solve on the day.

That figured to change in the 18th minute when New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams was scythed down by Los Canaleros midfielder Justin Simons. Adams, who had been singled out by Ramos as key to U.S. plans, stayed in the match until the 31st minute but it had to be discouraging for the Americans to see the young New York Red Bull hobble from the dressing room after the half on crutches and wearing a cast.

Simons earned a straight red card for his recklessness gifting the Americans with a man advantage for the remaining 72 minutes of the match but somehow the Young Yanks were unable to make that edge count.

Instead, the Americans fell behind on a 37th-minute goal from Leonardo Avila on a shot that deflected off of the unfortunate Marlon Fossey. Unfortunate because the fullback was one of the better American players on the pitch, motoring up and down the right flank, combining well at times with winger Brooks Lennon, and using his plentiful speed to track back on defense.

It looks like it is back to the drawing board for this young side. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

It looks like it is back to the drawing board for this young side. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

But the U.S. had trouble all game connecting simple passes, involving the forwards in the attack, in particular, target man Jeremy Ebobisse, in short providing any real threat, despite the extra man.

The loss of Adams may have been a factor but the U.S. midfield had a very bad day at the office, with neither Luca De La Torre or converted center back and captain Erik Palmer-Brown providing the necessary link with the American attackers.

The only real impetus shown by the Americans came late when central defender Justen Glad ventured upfield looking for all the world like a young man determined to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Glad had a breakout season with Real Salt Lake last season, becoming a regular starter and that experience showed despite the loss. With time running down versus Panama Glad repeatedly ran at the defense and very nearly produced a U.S. goal.

It would have been the least that the RSL man deserved, although it is hard to make a similar case for his teammates.

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

PAN – Leandro Ávila (Ronaldo Córdoba) 37th minute

Lineups:
USA: 1-Jonathan Klinsmann; 2-Marlon Fossey, 4-Tommy Redding (7-Eryk Williamson, 69), 6-Justen Glad, 3-Danny Acosta; 17-Brooks Lennon, 5-Erik Palmer-Brown (Capt.), 10-Luca De La Torre (19-Coy Craft, 69), 11-Sebastian Saucedo; 9-Jeremy Ebobisse, 8-Tyler Adams (18-Emmanuel Sabbi, 31)
Subs not used: 12-JT Marcinkowski, 13-Auston Trusty, 14-Aaron Herrera, 15-Jonathan Gonzalez, 16-Jeremiah Gutjahr, 20-Jonathan Lewis
Head coach: Tab Ramos

PAN: 12-Charles Taylor; 20-Josue Vergara (13-Jorge Gutiérrez, 90+3), 6-Javier Rivera (Capt.), 2-Jiovany Ramos, 3-Andrés Andrade; 11-Justin Simons, 5-Ricardo Ávila, 14-José Tejada, 17-Leandro Ávila (18-Isidoro Hinestroza, 79); 8-Cristian Martínez (16-Yair Jaen, 72), 9-Ronaldo Córdoba
Subs not used: 1-Aldo Ciel, 7-Chamell Asprilla, 10-Andrés Peñalba, 19-Oliver Beckles
Head coach: Nelson Gallego

Stats Summary: USA / PAN
Shots: 9 / 10
Shots on Goal: 2 / 2
Saves: 1 / 2
Corner Kicks: 6 / 5
Fouls: 22 / 16
Offside: 2 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
PAN – Justin Simons (sent off) 18th minute
USA – Luca de la Torre (caution) 41
PAN – Cristian Martínez (caution) 45+1
USA – Sebastian Saucedo (caution) 74

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Young Yanks Start on Road to U20 World Cup
Young Yanks Start on Road to U20 World Cup avatar

With a place in the 2017 U20 World Cup the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow the U.S. begins the CONCACAF Championship/World Cup Qualifiers Saturday afternoon in Saprissa, Costa Rica against Panama.

Ramos (R) (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Ramos (R) will be expecting his young team to advance by the group stage.(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Coach Tab Ramos’ 20 man group will be expected to advance from Group B play and to go on to claim one of four World Cup spots on offer to qualify for the age group World Cup this May and June in the Korea Republic.

Ramos took the U.S. to the quarterfinals of the 2015 U20 Cup where the team fell to eventual champions Serbia on penalty kicks. That team was one of the few youth soccer “successes” under Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as U.S. MNT coach and Technical Director. Klinsmann successor Bruce Arena does not have responsibility for the youth teams leaving the spotlight to Ramos as the former U.S. MNT star attempts to burnish his credentials to succeed Arena.

Panama figures to the toughest test of the opening round for the U.S although Haiti can be tricky. Much of the U.S. roster comes from MLS with Sporting Kansas City man Erik Palmer-Brown leading the squad as team captain.

Palmer-Brown is back with SKC this year after a productive loan spell in Portugal spent with Porto FC’s B team. The 19 year old is known as a center back but Ramos has options there in Justen Glad and Tommy Redding, so Palmer-Brown may step up into the midfield.

Glad started 27 of his 28 games for Real Salt Lake last season and Redding also saw plenty of action with 16 of of 18 appearances for Orlando SC coming from the opening whistle, so Ramos has reason to expect solid play from his central defenders.

Although he is the second youngest player on the U.S roster, only Jonathan Gonzalez is younger, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams is looked at as a rising star and will be expected to join Palmer-Brown in the midfield, assuming Ramos does use EPB in an advanced role. Fulham product Luca De la Torre also figures to see plenty of time in the American midfield while his fellow junior Cottager, fullback Marlon Fossey, is one of the more intriguing prospects in this group.

Brooks Lennon (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Brooks Lennon during the training camp.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The forwards show plenty of speed and promise and it will be up to Ramos to settle on his selections. Liverpool’s Brooks Lennon has just signed a one year loan deal with Real Salt Lake. Jonathan Lewis (NYCFC) and Jeremy Ebobisse (Minnesota UFC) were selected third and fourth in January’s MLS Superdraft, Coy Craft has a handful of appearances with FC Dallas since turning pro in 2014 and will be looking to impress as will Emmanuel Sabbi, a rare U.S. international on the books of La Liga with his club UD Las Palmas.

GOALKEEPERS (2): Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California; Newport Beach, Calif.), JT Marcinkowski (Georgetown; Alamo, Calif.)

DEFENDERS (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake; Salt Lake City, Utah), Marlon Fossey (Fulham F.C.; Surbiton, England), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; Tucson, Ariz.), Aaron Herrera (New Mexico; Casa Grande, Ariz.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC; Oviedo, Fla.), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; Media, Pa.)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; Wappingers Falls, N.Y), Luca de la Torre (Fulham F.C.; San Diego, Calif.), Jonathan Gonzalez (CF Monterrey; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Jeremiah Gutjahr (Indiana University; Bloomington, Ind.), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake; Park City, Utah), Eryk Williamson (University of Maryland; Alexandria, Va.)

FORWARDS (5): Coy Craft (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; Bethesda, Md.), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake; Paradise Valley, Ariz.), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; Plantation, Fla.), Emmanuel Sabbi (UD Las Palmas; Libertyville, Ill.)

U.S Group schedule.
U.S. vs. Panama at 4 p.m. ET on Feb. 18
U.S. vs. Haiti at 5:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 21
U.S. vs. Saint Kitts and Nevis at 5:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 24.
All three of the USA’s matches will be broadcast in the United States on Univision networks.

The 2017 CONCACAF Men’s U20 Championship runs from February 17 – March 5, with the new competition format divided into two stages. From the first stage, 12 nations are divided into three round-robin groups, with two nations from each group to advance.

Group A – Mexico, Antigua & Barbuda, Honduras, Canada
Group B – USA, Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, Haiti
Group C – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago

Following the opening round the six nations will be divided into two groups, as determined by the draw and the corresponding placements in the opening round. From these final groups, The top two nations advance from these final groups to qualify for the FIFA U20 World Cup in Korea Republic 2017. The two group winners will also play in the Championship match on Sunday 5 March at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Group D – Group B 2nd Place; Group A 1st Place; Group C 1st Place
Group E – Group B 1st Place; Group A 2nd Place; Group C 2nd Place

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New York Red Bulls Soap Opera Ends With Curtis Departure
New York Red Bulls Soap Opera Ends With Curtis Departure avatar

The Ali Curtis, New York Red Bulls Soap Opera finally reached its expected conclusion today with Curtis leaving the organization in a “mutually agreed” upon decision.

Ali Curtis (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Ali Curtis  has departed company with there Red Bulls.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

“We would like to thank Ali for his contributions to the club over the last two seasons. We wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”

That is the club’s statement and it does nothing at all to clarify the fog of mystery that has hung over Curtis and the team’s front office since the Sporting Director abruptly left the MLS SuperDraft in Los Angeles last month.

If the club’s Sporting Director skipping out on the SuperDraft wasn’t odd enough the team’s coach Jesse Marsch only arrived in Los Angeles after Curtis’ surprise departure, missing out on the MLS player combine. The coach touched down at LAX amid rumors that he would be leaving New York to take the reins at Red Bull Salzburg setting off rumors of a power struggle between Marsch and the man who hired him.

Red Bulls assistant coach Denis Hamlett has reportedly been filling Curtis’ Sporting Director role for the past month while the club continued to maintain that there had been no change to the team’s front office.

With Curtis’ whereabouts unknow these past four weeks it was Marsch’s name that appeared in team releases regarding player transactions. Today’s Red Bulls statement said that “over the past four weeks, Curtis and the Club tried to work through differing views. Ultimately, both sides agreed to part ways.”

Dax McCarty trade to Chicago (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Curtis had not been in favor of Dax McCarty’s trade to Chicago. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The recent trade of club captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire has been
cited in press reports as a possible tipping point with Curtis said to favor retaining the captain while Marsch favored the move. For his part McCarty told reporters that he was unhappy with how the organization handled the trade and made it clear who he saw as the Red Bulls decision maker. “At the end of the day,” the former Red Bulls captain said, “you could tell it was a decision that was his (Marsch’s) decision. I don’t think Ali Curtis had anything to do with the decision. I think that’s fairly obvious with the way the club is treating Ali right now. It’s clear for everyone to see that he’s no longer a part of the decision making process going on at the Red Bulls, which is a little surprising to me considering he put together two years of one of the best teams in MLS that won the Supporters’ Shield and won an Eastern Conference, so that’s a little surprising to me how things are going down with Ali.”

And while this conclusion was clearly in the cards since Curtis left Los Angeles in January, in the bigger picture the dissolution of the Curtis/ Marsch partnership does come as something of a shocker.

One of the Director’s first moves after his hiring in December 2014 was to fire highly popular Red Bulls coach Mike Petke paving the way for the Marsch hiring. The hugely unpopular move put the duo in the fans crosshairs and seemingly bound the them together.

No replacement for Curtis has been announced but it seems clear that whoever assumes the Sporting Director title, the Red Bulls are Jesse Marsch’s team now.

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Carli Lloyd Joins European Exodus
Carli Lloyd Joins European Exodus avatar

The exodous continues today with the announcement that Carli Lloyd has inked a deal with Manchester City Women’s Football Club joining fellow U.S. WNT stars Crystal Dunn (Chelsea) and Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais) in Europe.

Carli Lloyd scored a brace for Houston. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

Carlo Lloyd’s departure is still worrying for the future of the NWSL. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

The good news for NWSL fans and in this case Houston Dash fans is that, like Morgan’s stint in France, Lloyd’s move is short term and she will be back in the NWSL this season.

Still the loss of the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year for the beginning of the 2017 season can’t help but be a blow to the Dash both on the field and at the box office.

In a club statement the U.S. WNT co-captain highlighted the chance to play in the Champions League, a challenge not on offer in the NWSL.

Man City has an array of England internationals and are dieuintitley the team to beat in the League. (ISI Photos/Matt West)

Man City has an array of England internationals and are defiintitley the team to beat in the League. (ISI Photos/Matt West)

“Having played in the US throughout my career, the chance to fulfil a long held ambition to test myself in a new footballing environment, as well as playing in the Champions League, is something I am relishing”.

Lloyd will lead the U.S. WNT against Germany, France, England, in the SheBelieves Cup in March before joining Dunn in the FA Women’s Super League. The league is switching from a summer to winter schedule and this season will operate a one time spring season from February through May.

Manchester City coach Nick Cushing knows what the U.S. star can bring to his team. “Carli has had an incredible career and is recognised as one of the best in the world. There is much we can learn from her that will help us to improve as a team. We are all looking forward to working with her over the coming months”.

Lloyd won’t be joining some rebuild, this City club won the domestic double last season claiming both the league and FA Cup and is looking to Lloyd to lead the team to UEFA Champions League glory this year.

Not surprisingly Lloyd sounds up for it, saying in that same statement, “With the challenge of the Spring Series and the FA Women’s Cup ahead of us too, I really can’t wait to pull on my City shirt in front of our fans and make them proud”.

Once the SheBelieves Cup is out of the way Lloyd will join her new club in time for City’s Champions League quarter final tie against Danish side Fortuna Hjorring.

Lloyd will be impressed with the facilities and the access to the Men's team. (ISI Photos/Paul Greenwood)

Lloyd will be impressed with the facilities and the access to the Men’s team. (ISI Photos/Paul Greenwood)

The allure of the Champions League is growing for top American women’s soccer players and the rising profile of the women’s game in Europe is reflected this year with the final being played in Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on June 1 2017, two days before the final of the men’s tournament will be played at the Millennium Stadium in the same city.

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Rapinoe Left off U.S. Roster for SheBelieves Cup
Rapinoe Left off U.S. Roster for SheBelieves Cup avatar

With the second edition of the SheBelieves Cup rapidly approaching U.S. WNT coach Jill Ellis has invited 25 players to training camp starting February 20th in Orlando ahead of the tournament that will pit the Americans against three of the top teams in the world in Germany, France, and England.

Rapinoe's . (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Rapinoe’s . (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Most of the expected names are included with the exception of Megan Rapinoe. Ellis gambled on including the difference making winger on last year’s Olympic squad but the gamble failed to pay off with Pinoe looking far from recovered from a knee injury as the Americans flamed out with their earliest ever exit from the Mundial.

Rapinoe participated in U.S. WNT’s January camp in Carson, California but apparently did not do enough to earn a spot on this roster. Reports out the camp indicated that Rapinoe was healthy, although it may be that she still has not come all the way back from last year’s ACL surgery.

Ellis continues to introduce new players into the mix, with four uncapped players headed to Orlando. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell, midfielders Sarah Killion, Rose Lavelle and Brianna Pinto are the debutantes. Lavelle was selected by the Boston Breakers with the first pick in January’s NWSL Draft while Campbell went to the Houston Dash with 15th overall pick. Although new to the senior side Killion will be among friends, having been part of the 2012 U20 Women’s World Cup winning team alongside Morgan Brian, Julie
Johnston, Samantha Mewis and Crystal Dunn.

Brianna Pinto at the January training camp. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Brianna Pinto at the January training camp. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The most intriguing name on this roster is 16-year-old Pinto, who becomes one of the youngest players to be brought into camp with the U.S. Women’s National Team. A central midfielder, Pinto will not celebrate her 17th birthday until May 24 and was a mainstay with the US at last year’s U17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Ellis will have to trim just two players from this group to get down to the required 23 player roster for the SheBelieves Cup. Each of the four teams will play each other one time with the nation that gains the most points claiming the championship.

The Americans won the inaugural SheBelieves in 2016 with nine points. Germany finished in second with six points with England and France bring up the rear with one point each.

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Sarah Killion (Sky Blue FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Brianna Pinto(CASL)
FORWARDS (6): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies FC), Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)

March 1, 2017 7 PM ET WNT vs Germany Talen Energy Stadium;
Chester, Pa.
Game Preview | Match Guide Ticket Info | Buy Tickets
FS1

March 4, 2017 5 PM ET WNT vs England Red Bull Arena; Harrison,
N.J.
Game Preview | Match Guide Ticket Info | Buy Tickets
FOX

March 7, 2017 7 PM ET WNT vs France RFK Stadium; Washington,
D.C

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