Monday Catch Up: Rumors, Deals & Steals

I need to get down to work writing Tuesday’s column, but wanted to note in passing that:

*The transfer rumor of the day had the Galaxy chasing Argentine defender Andrs D’Alessandro, who is currently with Brazilian team Internacional. The club reportedly turned down a $10 million bid from the Galaxy (and yes, that is yet another indication – were one needed – that Landon Donovan is indeed gone).

*Shocker! The steal of the year comes as former Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid is set to be announced Tuesday as the new coach of the Seatttle Sounders.

*The deal of the young week so far has U.S. Soccer confirming today what 100 Percent Soccer reported over the weekend; U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Pia Sundhage has signed a a new four-year deal.

*From the Haven’t We Heard This Before Department? comes word that to play for England David Beckham must play club games.

*Cal State Dominguez Hills senior forward Kyle Holland and Coach Joe Flanagan will appear live between 5 and 7 this evening on Fox Football Fone-In on Fox Soccer Channel to discuss the program’s NCAA Division II National Championship.

*In a coup for Women’s Professional Soccer during these tough economic times, Puma has stepped up to become the league’s “official sport and lifestyle apparel, footwear and equipment supplier.”

“Puma has built up a strong momentum in women’s soccer over the past 10 years collaborating closely with pioneering partners that have redefined the game on a global and local stage. Today, we are proud to be one of the founding partners of Women’s Professional Soccer in what promises to be a new pioneering chapter for women’s soccer,” said Puma Chairman & CEO Jochen Zeitz. “The WPS partnership provides Puma with a perfect platform to reinforce the brand’s positioning as the most desirable sportlifestyle brand in the world as well as underline our continued commitment to women’s sports.”

The move makes sense given that Puma also sponsors Brazilian star Marta and is likely to be paying most of her salary if she indeed signs with the Los Angeles Sol.

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U.S.-China Post-Game

As soccer spectacles go this 1-0 game on a chilly night in surburban Carson before a few thousand fans at the tail end of a long year was not one for the ages.

China were content to remain in a disciplined defensive shell much of the game and went long stretches without getting a sniff of goal, while a tired-looking U.S. found it difficult to break them down and looked out of sorts offensively.

Trojan Amy Rodriguez duly provided the offensive spark coming off the bench to create Tina Ellertson’s goal, but really there were few highlights.

In the end the U.S. were content with a narrow 1-0 win over a quality opponent.

“I would rather play China than a team that’s not going to give us a challenge,” said Torrance’s Shannon Boxx. “We love to compete and if it’s not a challenge for us what’s the point of being out there. We always want to improve even though this is a victory tour and we’re out there having fun, we always out there to get better. Yeah, it’s been a long season and I think at the end I was like ‘let’s keep the win’ – I wasn’t pushing forward as much as I was at the beginning of the game. We’ve been playing for 12 months straight – it’s a long time.”

A sidenote: the crowd was announced at 3,619.The last time the nations met in Southern California they played before a then record crowd of 90,185 at the Rose Bowl in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final back in the Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain era. How times have changed.

Still, the small crowd received a preview of what future Sol striker Han Duan might provide the WPS team, notably rounding Kate Markgraf with relative ease at one point to snap off a shot.

“She’s a great player,” Boxx said. “When I look at China – and we scrimmaged with them the other day – she’s the player that I notice. In the game I was like “wow” she’s doing some great things for China and to play with the Los Angeles Sol I’m excited because that’s someone I get to play with. She’s a great player on the ball and she seems to find space for herself and that’s awesome because I know when I play with her I’m going to get the ball back.”

More on the game is here.

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U.S. Soccer to Announce New Sundhage Contract Monday

U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Pia Sundhage has signed a new four-year contract with U.S. Soccer that will be announced Monday, 100 Percent Soccer has learned.

The new deal will take the Swedish coach through the 2011 World Cup in Germany and was widely expected. Sundhage was given a short-term contract after the firing of Greg Ryan with the mission of winning an Olympic gold medal.

Mission accomplished.

It’s been almost exactly a year since Sundhage took charge of the team at a camp at Home Depot Center, so I did a little Q & A with the coach in the wake of the China game Saturday in Carson in a year that saw the U.S. win a record number of games.

Question: Reflect on your year in charge. How was it?
Answer: It’s been fantastic. It’s almost a dream come true. … Coaching the best players in the world – it has been better than I could have thought about and dream about. … They have embraced the change because I wanted to change both a little bit of the playing style, but I guess also my leadership is a little bit different because I do not come from this country and I think U.S. Soccer was brave to hire me in an Olympic year. Its been fantastic even though Kristine Lilly got pregnant, Abby (Wambach) broke her leg and we lost the first game against Norway. But we found a way to have fun, we found a way to win and we really worked as a team. I think that is key.

Q: So what will change in the next four years?
A: We won the gold medal because of great defense and a great atmosphere in the team. I think we should go into Germany in 2011 and try to win another gold medal, but I hope people will talk about the way we attack. So now we have two years to adjust the attacking style because honestly I think Brazil played better attacking soccer than we did (at the Olympics). I like the way Japan is playing attacking soccer as well. They knock it around and they are comfortable with the ball. So we need to learn from the Asian team when it comes to technique and to read the game a little bit better and that is in the attack.

I watched the U-20 World Cup, hopefully we’ll change the team a little bit. I’m impressed with the way they’ve changed their game – I’ve only been here 10 months so I can see many things happening with these players. I can promise you it will not be exactly the same players. We will try to change different players coming in and try to change the chemistry a little bit, the atmosphere a little bit and expectations and I think that’s important going forward. Because, we want to win the gold medal in a different way.

Q: What was the key to success this year?
A: First of all, they were looking for a change, so that was a good start. Whatever I did, something they hadn’t done before, they embraced that. Secondly, they work as a team. They respect the roles, they had different kinds of roles. If you look at the back four I expect them to keep possession, be comfortable, so we change the expectations and little by little going into the Olympics mentally we were strong. We knew that we have a lot of fun and we can do it.

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Final Result: U.S.-China

U.S. 1 China 0

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, the U..S. having the better of the play, but just failing to emphatically put China away, the final touch missing in front of the goal most of the night.

A marauding Amy Rodriguez created the breakthrough goal in the 66th minute, crossing from the left wing to Tina Ellertson who scored the first goal of her national team career – in her first national team call-up by Coach Pia Sundhage – from about five yards out.

Veteran Kristine Lilly almost added to her career 129 international goals four minutes after entering the game for Angela Hucles. She collected a Tina Ellertson pass in the 55th minute, but shot wide from about 12 yards.

Perhaps China’s best attack came in the 68th minute when future Sol striker Han Duan left Kate Markgraf for dead along the right touch line, but her shot hit the side netting.

Tonight’s attendance was all of 3,619.

More later.

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Half Time: U.S.-China

Few moments of high anxiety for either team in the opening 45 minutes means zero goals, although the U.S. did have the majority of the possession and leads 9-2 in shots.

But the last shot of the game (before a weak Tina Ellertson effort in stoppage time) came in the 15th minute and the contest could do with a shot (or two) of adrenaline.

Highlights include:
*Carli Lloyd almost scoring direct from a 10th minute corner that appeared to at least partially go over the line after China goalkeeper Zhang Yanru had trouble handling the ball under pressure.

*A Lindsay Tarpley break down the right wing in the 19th minute saw a cross sent over to an on-rushing Angela Hucles, who should have done better to at least get the ball on target.

*Tina Ellertson, making her first start for the full national team as a striker, rounded goalkeeper Zhang Yanru in the 28th minute to set up Lindsay Tarpley, but her shot went wide.

Hucles replaced Tarpley up front midway through the first half to little effect.

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U.S.-China at Home Depot Center

An intimate crowd should we say here at the HDC this evening.

U.S. lineup:
goalkeeper Hope Solo; defenders Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler; Lori Chalupny; midfielders Heather O’Reilly, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Angela Hucles; strikers Lindsay Tarpley, Tina Ellertson.

Options off the bench include Bruin Lauren Cheney, Trojan Amy Rodriguez and veteran Kristine Lilly.

China starts L.A. Sol allocation Han Duan up front.

The burning question (as was pointed out to me just now): can Torrance’s Boxx score her fifth goal in five U.S. games tonight in front of family and friends at the HDC. She has one previous goal this year – a header against China in January, which won the Four Nations Tournament for the U.S..

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U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team Gameday

Well, that headline is a little awkward.

But after an almost 16-month absence from Carson the U.S. Women’s National Team is back in the South Bay where they’ll put their perfect 8-0 record at Home Depot Center on the line against China.

Yes, the weather looks gloomy out there, but there are plenty of tickets available for the 6 p.m. game that is not televised.

And this is likely going to be a tight game: the U.S. and China have met twice this year and last time out the U.S. squeezed through 1-0.

Those looking forward to the Sol season should know that neither Stephanie Cox nor Aly Wagner (both injured) will play tonight, but Torrance’s Shannon Boxx will be seeking her fifth goal in five appearances at the HDC. More on Boxxy here, BTW.

(Meanwhile, U.S. midfielder Christie Rampone is closing in on a record of her own).

But one likely Sol player fans can see is Chinese striker Han Duan, who has been allocated to the team.

BTW, here’s the complete squad for China: goalkeepers 1-Zhang Yanru, 18-Weng Xiaojie; defenders 15-Zhou Gaoping, 5-Weng Xin Zhi, 2-Yuan Fan, 4-Wang Kun, 14-Liu Hua Na;
midfielders 3-Zhang Ying, 19-Gao Yan, 12-Wang Dan Dan, 17-Gu Ya Sha, 6-Zhang Na, 7-Bi Yan, 16-Zhang Rui; forwards 8-Xu Yuan, 10-Liu Sa, 9-Han Duan, 11-Lou Jiahui.

Also missing for the U.S. tonight: Natasha Kai (illness) and UCLA striker Lauren Cheney, who is taking time off after a long college season.

Trojan Amy Rodriguez is in the squad though, as is evergreen veteran Kristine Lilly, 37, who has 340 caps (no-one in the world has more) and 129 goals (second most in the world).

More on the game is here.

And while there is no TV coverage, I’ll blog from the game tonight so join me back here for updates.

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Saturday Soccer: Sigi, Joe & Tina & More

Seattle is in the final stages of signing Sigi.

Cal State Dominguez Hills Coach Joe Flanagan was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) West Region Coach of the Year, leading a collection of eight men’s and women’s soccer players named to NSCAA All-Region squads. First team selections are Kyle Holland (Anchorage), Miguel Benitez (Hawthorne/Bishop Montgomery High) and Kevin Gallaugher (Walnut).

*Pac-10 player of the Year Tina DiMartino of UCLA is one of three Hermann Trophy finalists. Kerri Hanks of Notre Dame and Casey Nogueria from North Carolina are the others. The winner is revealed Jan. 9.

*UCLA junior midfielder Michael Stephens, the 2008 Pac-10 Player of the Year who led UCLA in scoring with 23 points, was named to the 2008 NSCAA All-Far West Region first team.

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MLS: Former Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid Free to Negotiate with Sounders, No Tampering Involved

Looks like Sigi Schmid, a long-time South Bay resident and the MLS Coach of the Year, has gotten out of his contract with Columbus.

Here’s the complete MLS statement on the matter issued this afternoon:

NEW YORK (December 12, 2008) – Major League Soccer announced today that the Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders FC resolved a potential contractual issue regarding former Crew coach Sigi Schmid. Columbus acquired allocation money and cash from Seattle, thus releasing Schmid from contractual obligations and allowing him to proceed with his contract negotiations with Seattle. In connection with this matter, Major League Soccer found no evidence of tampering by Seattle Sounders FC.

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Friday Football: Sigi, USWNT & More

Photo by Bruce Hazelton

*Cal State Dominguez Hills held a victory rally Thursday for their national championship team. Picture gallery here.

*More reports of the messy tampering charges apparently lodged against the Sounders over former Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid are surfacing. Negotiations between the Columbus Crew, MLS and Seattle are likely under way; league officials told me Wednesday they could perhaps comment Thursday on the issue, but didn’t release a statement. Schmid is due back in Southern California over the weekend, so perhaps I’ll know more then.

*More on the week’s preparations for Saturday’s U.S. Women’s National Team game against China at Home Depot Center here. (Plenty of) tickets are still available.

*The South Bay Force is hosting the Odyssey Cup in the South Bay this weekend. Tournament schedule and more info here.

*Finally, plenty of soccer on the box this weekend.

Best bets include the 10 a.m. Sunday College Cup on ESPN2, an event virtually every MLS coach scouts (including the Galaxy’s Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan) and the 3 p.m. Sunday Caribbean Championship final between Jamaica and Grenada, worth a look to see potential Galaxy target Donovan Ricketts, the goalkeeper for the Reggae Boyz.

7 a.m. Saturday Fox Soccer Channel Manchester City-Everton
9:30 a.m. Saturday FSC Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur
10 a.m. Sunday KVEA Toluca-Cruz Azul (the second leg of the Apertura final; Toluca lead 2-0)

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