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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Morgan & Wambach Nominated For Player Of The Year; Sundhage Up For Coach Of The Year

The good times continue to roll for the U.S. women's national team. They blew out Ireland 5-0 last night in Portland, Oregon and today (as expected), forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were nominated for the FIFA Women's Player of the Year. Also, former U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage was one of three finalists for World Coach of the Year for Women's Soccer.

In 2012, the lethal combination of Wambach and Morgan have totaled 50 goals and 26 assists which is insane. Brazil's Marta is the other nominee but honestly, she has no chance in winning the award this year. I'd say that Morgan (27 goals, 18 assists) is the heavy favorite with Wambach (23 goals, 8 assists) the solid second choice.

Just like last year, Sundhage is joined by France's Bruno Bini (haha great name) and Japan's Norio Sasaki (who won it last year after Japan captured the 2011 World Cup). The nominees were all chosen by the captains and head coaches of women's national teams around the world and the media.

“Obviously, any kind of individual awards are a product of what a team can do,” said Wambach to “But what a tremendous honor for all of us, and even more so to be recognized with Alex, someone who compliments me in almost every way on the field, and also with our coach who set us both up to succeed. We’ll be excited to go to Switzerland with the hearts of champions as this will always be about winning titles as a team and that’s something we are really proud of this year.”

The finalists for the Men’s World Player of the Year are Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal, Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina and Andrés Iniesta of Barcelona and Spain. The finalists for the World Coach of the Year for men’s soccer are Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque, former Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho.

The winners of all of FIFA’s year-end awards will be revealed at the FIFA Ballon d’Or gala at the Zurich Kongresshaus on January 7, 2013, during which the Men’s World Player of the Year, the FIFA World XI and the FIFA Puskás Award for the most beautiful goal of the year will also be announced. The FIFA Presidential Award and the FIFA Fair Play Award will also be presented during the gala.

Sundhage finished third in the voting for the World Coach of the Year in 2008, the first year the award was given out, and finished second last year.

This is the second time Wambach has been in the final three for the award, finishing third last year. She finished fourth in the voting in 2004 and 2006, fifth in 2007, was one of the final 10 in 2009 and was fifth again in 2010. Wambach led the USA with five goals at the 2012 Olympics, scoring one goal in each of the first five matches. Her 23 goals this year (she also has eight assists) are the second most in a single year during her 12-year international career. With 148 career international goals, she is just eight behind tying Mia Hamm for the world’s all-time greatest goal scorer.

Morgan scored three times at the 2012 Olympics, which of course included the latest goal ever scored in a FIFA competition when she headed home the game-winner in the 123rd minute of the dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Canada in the semifinal. She was also tied for the team lead in assists at the Olympics, setting up four goals.

Morgan’s 27 goals this year are the third-most ever in a calendar year behind Abby Wambach’s 31 in 2004 and Michelle Akers’ record 39 in 1991. Morgan’s 18 assists in 2012 are also tied for the fourth best ever in a single year and are by far the most on the team this year. She has either scored or assisted on 41 percent of the USA’s 108 goals this year and scored her second career hat trick, with all three goals coming in a 20-minute span of the first half, on Nov. 28 in a 5-0 victory against Ireland on the Fan Tribute Tour, presented by Panasonic.

Sundhage led the USA to a 23-1-1 record in 2012, which of course included dramatic run to the Olympic gold medal, before she coached her last game for the USA in a 6-2 victory against Australia on Sept. 19 in Colorado. The USA scored 16 goals at the Olympics, the most of any team the tournament, and came from behind to win in two matches, against France in the opener and against Canada in the semifinal. The USA’s 6-0-0 record in England, which included three shutouts, marked the first-time a U.S. team had won all six games during an Olympic Games. Sundhage recently took over as the head coach for her native Sweden and will lead her team into the 2013 European Women’s Championships in Sweden next summer.

You can catch Morgan and Wambach in action on Saturday (9:30 p.m ET, Fox Soccer Channel) as they meet Ireland once again, this time in Glendale, Arizona. It would be pretty sweet to see the U.S. women's team sweep the two biggest FIFA awards and it seems like this could be the year to do it. Both players certainly deserve it and Sundhage earned one last sweet moment stemming from her very successful time in the States.

Ireland Women No Match For The U.S., Namely Alex Morgan & Sydney Leroux

Even when they don't play particularly well or it takes them a little while to get going, the U.S. women's national team still has no trouble with most teams. That's mainly because they have three of the best goal-scorers in the world: Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux (who doesn't even start).

Ireland saw first-hand tonight what that felt like as the U.S. rolled 5-0 at Portland Oregon's JELD-WEN Field. It was the sixth match of 10 in the Fan Tribute Tour and the Americans improved to 4-0-2 in that span. Morgan scored her second career hat trick while Leroux added a pair of goals off the bench in the second half.

It was chilly and more importantly, the squad hadn't been together in over a month so it was understandable that the U.S. started out not really looking like themselves. Morgan had the first two chances which were stopped by Ireland's goalkeeper Emma Byrne. Poor Emma wasn't so lucky in the 24th minute as Morgan dribbled across the top of the box then hit a sneaky shot that went off the post and in. Heather Mitts had the assist.

The second goal for Morgan was very easy as she got free in front of the Irish goal then waited for Lauren Cheney to find her in the 34th minute. Byrne didn't have a prayer to stop it. Fittingly for the hat trick, Morgan did something which you'll rarely see from her: she scored with her right foot in the 44th minute. A left-footed shot was blocked so she followed that up past the stunned goalkeeper.

Morgan now has 27 goals in 2012, the 3rd best calender year in U.S. women's history behind Abby Wambach (31 in 2004) and Michelle Akers (39 in 1991). Leroux's two goals give her 12 on the year which extends her record for most goals as a U.S. substitute.

Leroux scored her first strike in the 62nd minute on a header after a beautiful cross from Heather O'Reilly (another halftime substitute). The second goal, in the 81st minute, was a joke since Leroux's shot wasn't hard or tricky and yet Byrne let it go right through her arms and in. Talk about being psyched out.

With the victory under interim head coach Jill Ellis, the U.S. improved to 24-1-3 this year plus their unbeaten streak reached 19 matches. They play Ireland again on Saturday (9 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel) at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Carlos Bocanegra Out Six Weeks With Muscle Tear, Luckily The Next U.S. Game Is In February

For professional athletes, there is never a good time to pick up an injury. However, in the case of U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra, things could be much worse at this point.

He tore a muscle in his left leg in the 2-2 draw with Russia on November 14 and now he's expected to miss six weeks with his current club-Spain's Racing Santander. You'll remember that he's on loan there since his real club-Rangers-dropped down to the second division in Scotland after financial troubles.

The next U.S. men's game isn't until February 6, 2013 against Honduras in the hexagonal CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If I'm American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, I'm telling my best defender to take as much time as he needs to recover. No need to rush back or hurt it any further. The most important thing for him should be his country, not the club that he's only temporarily playing for.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

U.S. Men Escape Russia With A 2-2 Tie Thanks To Mix Diskerud's Stoppage Time Goal

I can't sit here and tell you that the U.S. men played particularly great this afternoon in Russia. Russia dominated for large portions of the international friendly and Tim Howard (6 saves) was forced to make his usual assortment of incredible saves. However, if you are a U.S. fan, you can't complain with the result: a 2-2 tie at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar, Russia after rallying twice.

The last game in 2012 for the U.S. men was a particularly memorable one since it looked certain they would go down 2-1. That is until substitute Mix Diskerud (in his 3rd career game) scored in the 93rd minute when his shot was deflected by a Russian defender into the goal. Did I mention that it was his first international goal? Talk about wonderful timing.

In a way, all four goals were rather crazy. Russia got on the board first in the 9th minute as U.S. defender Danny Williams gave the ball away on a free kick in his own end. Russia's Fedor Smolov went in on a rush and blasted it by Howard.

The Americans didn't show much of an attack in the first half and rightfully trailed 1-0 at the break. Slowly, they turned things up a bit in the second half and were eventually rewarded in the 77th minute as Michael Bradley scored an incredible goal (his 11th for the U.S.). Substitute Juan Agudelo headed it back to Bradley, who volleyed it out of the air, off the post and in.

Carlos Bocanegra limped off in the first half with an injury and that reared its ugly head as the man who replaced him-Clarence Goodson-was called for a foul that resulted in a penalty kick. Roman Shirokov calmly converted it in the 84th minute and it looked like that would be it. The U.S.' winless streak vs. Russia (0-2-2) would continue.

Complaints of the U.S. not having some of their top players like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan should be tempered with the fact that Russia likewise was without many of its best guys. Still, this was a team that's currently ranked ninth in the world and hadn't allowed a goal so far in World Cup qualifying. Any time you can earn a win or tie in Europe, against a quality opponent, you have to be content.

Jurgen Klinsmann's team finished with 9-2-3 record in 2012 and a .750 winning percentage which ties for best mark in national team history. Think of it this way: they won in Italy and Mexico while gaining a tie in Russia. We get caught up in the sluggish World Cup qualifiers but it's hard to argue with those results. They get back in action on February 6, 2013 when they resume 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying with a match in Honduras as the hexagonal begins.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are You Ready For U.S. Men Vs. Russia? Me Neither But It's Almost Here

Since it is smack in the middle of European club seasons and at the end of MLS' postseason, there has understandably been very little talk about the U.S. men's friendly against Russia on Wednesday morning (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2, Still, make sure you set your DVR for what sound be an interesting game against the No. 9 team in the world.

This afternoon, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann unveiled his 20-man roster that is dotted with some new names and familiar faces. This team's players currently compete in 11 different countries, led by the German Bundesliga with five guys. They began arriving in Frankfurt, Germany yesterday where they trained twice earlier today. They'll depart for Krasnador, Russia (site of the match) tomorrow. It is the final U.S. match of 2012 but they've already at least tied their best calendar year in the modern era (9-3-2 in 2008). They are 9-2-2 (.769 winning percentage) in 2012 so a win or tie would have some extra special meaning.

“We ask for these games because they are big learning curves for us. Playing in Italy, in Mexico and in Russia – we are not the favorites there. For us, we can take a lot from the games no matter how the result ends up. But still we want to go there and beat Russia knowing that it’s one of the top teams in Europe at the moment. In World Cup qualifying they are 4-0, so that’s not going to be an easy task. We need to measure ourselves against the best teams out there and build even more confidence. We want to close the year in a very positive way and then go into a busy 2013 that includes World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup and some exciting friendlies.”

There is not much of a rivalry between Russia and the United States since they've only faced each other four times, beginning with a 1-0 Russian win on February 13, 1993 in Orlando, Fla. The U.S. is 0-2-2 all-time against Russia so I don't want to get too ahead of ourselves but a victory would be a perfect way to close out an excellent year that saw them record their first ever win against Italy and their first ever win at Estadio Azteca in Mexico.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)

Gatt and Gyau are making their first appearances in the senior camp after playing for the U.S. Under-23 squad together. Diskerud and Agudelo reunite after they combined for a goal against South Africa in 2010. It's also nice to see Jozy back in the fold while Klinsmann tries to get Chandler CAP tied with his squad rather than Germany.

“Calling in players like Mix Diskerud, Joe Gyau and Joshua Gatt is a clear signal to this generation of players that we are watching you, follow you, and want to help you get to the next level. This is a first taste for them and what it means to be with the senior National Team. They can train alongside guys like Timmy Howard, Jermaine Jones and Carlos Bocanegra and say ‘I want to get to this level.’ It’s also really an opportunity for them to come in, get accepted right away and show what they can do. Maybe they will even get some minutes in the game against Russia. It also means for them that they go back to their clubs with bigger expectations. We will tell them that now we expect you to become starters in your club team, break through there and get even hungrier. So it’s important that we give these guys the opportunity to join us.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Official Draw Held For CONCAF's Final Round Of 2014 World Cup Qualifying

You probably weren't aware of it but tonight was a big evening for the U.S. men's national team as CONCACAF held the draw in Miami for the Final Round of 2014 World Cup qualifying.

The U.S., Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama are the six teams that will battle in a 10-game round-robin format which begins on February 6, 2013 and concludes on October 15. The top three will advance to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while the fourth-place team faces the Oceania region winner in a two-game playoff for the last spot.

“Usually, a team would like to have the first game at home, but if you don’t have the first game at home you make the best out of it,” said U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “We are looking forward to going to Honduras for the first game and then we’re going to take it one game at a time. I think it’s an exciting group and it will go all the way down to the last game to decide who is going to the World Cup. We are excited. Finally, we have our schedule and we can plan ahead like coaches want to plan, so it’s all good.”

The journey begins with a trip to Honduras on February 6. From there, the U.S. opens at home against Costa Rica on March 22 but goes back on the road for two more: at Mexico on March 26 and at Jamaica on June 7. The U.S. enjoys back-to-back home games on June 11 vs. Panama and June 18 vs. Honduras. They visit Costa Rica on September 6 and play Mexico in the U.S. on September 10. Their last game on home soil is October 11 vs. Jamaica then it ends on October 15 in Panama.

Some historical notes courtesy of
The U.S. has qualified for six consecutive FIFA World Cup tournaments, amassing an overall record of 63-34-31 overall in World Cup Qualifying, including a record of 40-6-12 all-time in qualifiers played on American soil. Against Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica and Panama, the U.S. has an all-time record of 58-49-31 in all competitions.

They haven't decided the locations for the qualifiers in the United States yet so stay tuned for the details on those.

U.S. Men Jump 5 Places To No. 27 In Latest FIFA Rankings

Here is a little something to tide us over while we eagerly await the U.S. men's friendly in Russia next Wednesday (10 a.m., ESPN2 &, their last game of 2012. The latest FIFA rankings were released today and the Americans find themselves situated at No. 27, up five spots from the last time.

The top five are Spain, Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Italy. England, Netherlands, Colombia, Russia and Croatia round out the Top 10. Uruguay dropped four spots to No. 11 while 2014 World Cup host Brazil is No. 13.

CONCACAF rival Mexico is No. 14 while the top African team is Ivory Coast (15) and the top Asian squad is Japan (24). What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing but it's fun to see where all the top teams are at this quiet point in international soccer.

Just going by the rankings, the U.S. men should have their hands full in Krasnodar next week. Russia is one of the best European countries yet nobody seems to talk about them as an elite power. I guess we'll be able to decide for ourselves if they are legitimate or not.