Ladies First

So far in China, there’s been precious little to do for Hope Solo. Except be thankful.

So far in China, there’s been precious little to do for Hope Solo. Except be thankful.

Thankful for a clean slate with her fellow U.S. national team members. Thankful for new coach Pia Sundhage’s confidence and decision to name her a starter at the Four Nations Cup. And now thankful that a new domestic league awaits in 2009.

Women’s Professional Soccer was officially rolled out Thursday at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, just hours before the USA took the field their second game in Guangzhou.

Against Canada in the tournament opener, Solo made her first start since the infamous benching four months ago by then-coach Greg Ryan before the World Cup semifinal. Solo made a couple saves in Wednesday’s 4-0 win. She will likely be back in the net for Sunday’s final game against host China.

Brianna Scurry got the call against Finland and, although the U.S. won 4-1, Scurry allowed a Finnish shot to slip through her hands.

Back home, WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci is obviously hoping that the U.S. wins the tournament, but more importantly is victorious in Olympic Games later this year in Beijing. That would give the WPS launch some much-needed momentum, while also serving to create awareness of the next generation of top players.

Mia Hamm’s silhouette is prominent in the WPS logo, but she had the other heroines of 1999–Akers, Chastain, Fawcett, Foudy, Milbrett and Parlow–are now retired.

The so-called “Best Team You’ve Never Heard Of” will be counting on some serious TV face time this summer, hopefully making household names out of Abby Wambach, Heather O’Reilly and, now for solely her athletic ability, Solo.

Where the likes of Solo and Wambach will land in the upcoming allocation draft land is one mystery. Another is the eighth and final city in the new league’s lineup.

Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, St. Louis and Washington were previously announced. The logical guess is that remaining slot will be situated on the West Coast, providing a travel partner and rival for L.A.

San Diego and San Jose were members of the WUSA, from 2001-03. Portland and Vancouver may also get a look. According to Antonucci, whose office is in San Francisco, the league is also interested in eventually expanding to Seattle.

Quiet Down


Recently there was a humorous yet pointed piece written by Paul Gardner, pleading for quiet in the ranks, specifically on the part of TV commentators, keepers and coaches.

Good thing that he didn’t argue his case in Baltimore this week. There, in the largest known soccer gathering of its kind, 5,000 coaches came to do their business. 

Loads of exhibits and clinics for the apparently outspoken coaches to choose from, some conducted by some pretty big names with some rather ironic sounding subjects.

“Motivation & Mindset – The Psychological Basis of Winning Soccer" is the message of Bill Beswick. He’s the England National Team psychologist, and no doubt there will be some smirks in the audience after the Three Lions proved less than focused in the ill-fated run at the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

To go one better, the dethroned England coach, Steve McClaren, will present a clinic on “Defending Drills.” Playing at home and needing only a draw to qualify, McClaren’s team was clownish on defense in a decisive 3-2 defeat to Croatia.

That said, the NSCAA Convention is still a marvel, and a great forum, especially for the American Soccer Nation during the dead of winter.

Against the backdrop of all those coaches, the MLS has been conducting its SuperDraft from the convention for several years now. WPS also found a enthisiastic audience. Fox Soccer Channel’s two-hour live show Thursday night featured, among others, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber, WPS commissioner Antonucci and Dominic Kinnear, coach of the MLS champion Dynamo.

More Americans to London?


Apparently there’s still room at Craven Cottage for a few more Americans.

National team forward Eddie Johnson and goalkeeper Brad Guzan could become the fifth and sixth Yanks to join struggling Fulham. The Times of London reports that the MLS and Johnson’s club, the Kansas City Wizards, are nearing agreement on a $5 million transfer deal. Fulham and Celtic scouts will reportedly be in L.A. watching Guzan in goal for the U.S. on Saturday.

The Cottagers are in desperate need, and will be relegated unless they can overtake at least two other teams before May. Already on the team’s rolls are Kasey Keller, Brian McBride (both injured but due back shortly), Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey, the team’s top scorer with six goals.

On the Tube
If you’re looking for the likes of Dempsey and Bocanegra on TV this weekend, you will find them early. Fulham hosts Arsenal in the FSC first game Saturday at 7 a.m. It promises to be a interesting doubleheader.

Following at 9:15 a.m. will be Newcastle-Bolton, with a roaring crowd of Geordies at St. James’ Park to greet the return of ever-popular Kevin Keegan as manager. The din could only grow should Alan Shearer accompany Keegan to the touchline.

The U.S. men’s national team hosts Sweden on Saturday evening (5:30, FSC). The lineups will be comprised mostly of domestic based players whose leagues are hibernating. That means the Swedes are minus stars such as Ibrahimovic and Ljungberg, and the Yanks without Adu and Howard among others. Still, Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore could prove to be one fast tandem up front.

Unfortunately the U.S. women’s final game against host China (Sunday, half-past midnight) will not be aired on TV back home.

Throw-ins


Once the pride of Tacoma, Preki is among the finalists on the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame player ballot. Also among the 35 considerations is another former Stars attacker, Roy Wegerle…The Sounders’ home opener at Qwest Field features arch-rival Portland May 10. As for the Seattle women, they open at home May 15 against the Ventura County… Victoria will field a team in the PDL (U-23, USL third division) in 2009, joining the Yakima Reds (and 66 others)...Ronaldo’s asking price spiked following his two goals for Milan last week. The onetime world player of the year has played only twice due to injuries and was thought to be leaving the San Siro during the transfer window. Rio’s Flamengo is set to bid, but Ronaldo may have also caught the eye of someone in MLS…More likely to land in America this summer is Luis Figo. One scenario had him headed from Inter to Houston. Aside from it being an AEG-operated team that makes little sense. New England, with its huge Portuguese-speaking population and salary cap room, seems more logical…Is Marcus Hahnemann’s job in jeopardy? Reading has brought in free agent Polish international keeper Wojciech Kowalewski for a trial. Reading hosts Manchester United Saturday. Hahnemann was man of the match in the first meeting, a scoreless draw on opening day…Best Buy bought itself the front of the Chicago Fire shirts. The deal, worth between $3.5-5 million, makes Chicago the seventh MLS team with a corporate shirt sponsor…One American crossing the Atlantic in this direction may be Benny Feilhaber, who delivered the goal to win last year’s Gold Cup. Feilhaber has been shown the door at Derby County, now dead last in the Premiership…Be on the lookout for highlights from the African Cup of Nations, which begins Sunday in Ghana…Finally, U.S. Soccer will decide within the next six months whether it will make a run at hosting the 2018 World Cup. England has already declared its intentions. America is thought to be FIFA’s Plan B if Brazil fails to get moving on the massive job of overhauling its facilities and transportation systems for 2014.

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