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Hope Solo on U.S. Olympic Team’s Loss to Sweden: ‘We Played a Bunch of Cowards’



For the first time in its distinguished history, the U.S. women’s soccer team has failed to advance to the semifinals of a major tournament.

The four-time Olympic gold medalists were upset by Sweden on penalty kicks, 4-3, following a 1-1 draw Friday at Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia.

The top-ranked Americans had advanced past the quarterfinals in seven World Cups and earned no worse than silver in five previous Olympics. But on this day, Sweden, guided by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, prevailed in the shootout to claim a semifinal slot against Brazil or Australia on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

The United States, unbeaten in 18 prior matches this year, was seeking to win a fourth straight gold medal and become the first team to win World Cup and Olympic titles in consecutive years.

“It’s hard to go back to back — that’s why no one has done it,” captain Carli Lloyd said. “It’s unfortunate. We had the talent. We were playing well. That’s the way soccer goes sometimes.”

Against the run of play, sixth-ranked Sweden went ahead in the 61st minute when substitute Stina Blackstenius scored on a clinical counterattack. The Americans answered in the 77th when Alex Morgan took advantage of a deflection and scored from 10 yards.

In the first shootout in Olympic women’s history, each goalkeeper made a save in the first three rounds. After both teams converted in the fourth stage, Christen Press drove her shot over the crossbar and Lisa Dahlkvist beat Hope Solo to clinch victory.

The match transpired exactly as expected: the United States hoarding possession while Sweden absorbed pressure and, in soccer parlance, parked the bus to compress space and thwart opportunities.

After the game, Solo remarked on the contrasting styles in blunt terms.

“I thought that we played a courageous game,” she told reporters. “I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. … But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

Asked to explain her criticism of the Swedes, Solo said: “They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was. … I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on, and we’re going home.”

Told of Solo’s comments in her postgame news conference, Sundhage retorted: “It is okay to be a coward if you win.”

U.S. coach Jill Ellis told reporters, “I’m sad for the players, disappointed for all the hard work we did” but said of Sweden’s play: “I’m not going to criticize the tactics they chose. It is a choice to play defensively and it is okay.”

The Americans took hold of the match at the very start, putting Sweden under severe duress. In the third minute, Morgan’s header was cleared by a defender at the back post and Morgan Brian’s bid was pushed away by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

Sweden defended in numbers, clogged channels and won aerial challenges. The United States moved the ball well, emphasizing the right flank with Tobin Heath, but failed to link the final pass and failed to serve quality crosses and set pieces.

The Swedish weapons were counterattacks and corner kicks. Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston extinguished potential threats in the run of play, but the U.S. defence looked uneasy at times on set pieces. Solo, who conceded two goals on Colombian free kicks in the group finale, did not have to make any difficult saves in the first half but had to remain vigilant against a limited but smart and composed opponent.

The Americans had a golden chance early in the second half, but after an exchange with Heath on a free kick just beyond the penalty area, Lloyd missed wide on a clear attempt. A minute later, the United States drew another free kick from striking range. Lloyd went for goal but cleared the crossbar from 28 yards.

Sweden’s tactics tested the Americans’ patience and slowed the pace to a crawl. The onus was on the United States to crack the unbending resistance and open up the match. A goal, by any means, would accomplish that, but as the second half proceeded, Sweden kept its nerve.

As Ellis prepared to make changes, the Swedes executed a textbook counterattack to claim the lead. After they broke out of their end, Dahlkvist threaded a long through ball into a central channel. Blackstenius, who had entered in the 18th minute for the injured Fridolina Rolfo, beat Sauerbrunn to the ball and fired a low shot past Solo and into the far corner.

Ellis turned to her bench, replacing defensive-minded players (Allie Long and Kelley O’Hara) with attackers (Crystal Dunn and Megan Rapinoe). The breakthrough finally arrived in the 77th minute. At the top of the box, Dunn flicked a header that caromed off Jessica Samuelsson and fell to Morgan for a left-footed one-timer into the lower-left corner, her fifth career Olympic goal.

Lloyd threatened to break the tie in the 84th minute. After Dunn laid the ball off to her, Lloyd cut back and shot toward the open far corner. A defender, however, deflected it wide, prompting Lloyd to grab her head in disbelief. A moment later, Lindahl made a soaring save on Heath’s threat.

Extra time beckoned.

In the 99th minute, Press replaced Rapinoe, who on Tuesday had returned from an eight-month injury layoff and was only capable of playing 30 minutes or so. In the 101st minute, Lindahl closed down Morgan’s angle and thwarted the attempt.

After Mallory Pugh left late in the extra period with an injury, allowing Lindsey Horan’s entry, both teams had goals disallowed.

Lloyd headed in Dunn’s cross but was incorrectly ruled offside. (She also appeared to pull down defender Magdalena Eriksson.) A minute later, Sweden’s Lotta Schelin was wrongly ruled offside after collecting a deflected ball alone in the box and shooting past Solo.

Penalty kicks would have to settle the outcome.

“It could have gone either way,” Lloyd said. “Overall, we played well. It’s unfortunate to lose, but you best believe, in 2019 [World Cup in France] and 2020 [Olympics in Tokyo], we’re going to be back for the golds.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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