Earthquakes

Cal's Alex Morgan leaving NWSL for Europe, aims to be world’s best player

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AP

Cal's Alex Morgan leaving NWSL for Europe, aims to be world’s best player

With the lure of Champions League football proving too strong to resist, United States forward Alex Morgan is joining European champion Lyon in a move she hopes will help her become the world's best player.

Lyon announced on Tuesday that Morgan is arriving from Orlando Pride on a six-month deal, with an option for her to play a further season.

The 27-year-old Morgan wants to make the most of her career as she enters her peak years.

"I hope that this change will help push my game to another level," she said. "I want to be the best player in the United States . the best player in the world."

Morgan has made 120 appearances for the U.S. women's team and scored 73 goals, winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012 and the World Cup last year in Canada.

But she has never sampled European club football's intense rivalries, and this was a chance to good to miss, especially considering three-time European champion Lyon is among the best teams around.

"Training with these incredible athletes each day, and learning a unique style of play, is exactly what I need," Morgan said in a long letter on The Players Tribune website. "I will also be immersed in a soccer culture that I believe is precisely what I need at this point in my career. It has always been a dream of mine to 'live' soccer and to compete in the Champions League."

Lyon is in second place in the league this season, three points behind unbeaten Paris Saint-Germain. A 1-0 defeat to PSG on Saturday was Lyon's first league loss in more than two years.

Morgan will form what looks on paper like a devastating attacking partnership with France striker Eugenie Le Sommer, who has 16 goals in 12 games this season and 186 overall since joining Lyon in 2010.

Morgan explained further on The Players Tribune that she made the decision during "a belated honeymoon that I recently took with my husband, Servando, in Europe." After "a few weeks of deliberation" Morgan said the decision to join Lyon became evident.

"Lyon is a team that's world-renowned for excellence, with a roster that includes many of the greatest players in the world. In fact, Lyon won all three possible titles last season: Champions League, French League and the Coupe de France," she wrote. "They are committed to growing women's soccer and provide the women with first-class facilities and an unparalleled training environment on par with the men's team."

Long-serving Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has overseen considerable success with both the men's and women's teams.

The men won seven straight French titles from 2002-2008 while the women have won the league 14 times.

"Alex Morgan's arrival demonstrates Lyon's will to invest in the highest level, starting with the women," Aulas wrote in a Tweet.

The women's squad has 26 players, all of them internationals, representing France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.

Morgan starts playing next month and will return to play for the Pride after Lyon's season ends in June.

"I'm committed to Orlando. Just as I'm committed 100 percent to the National Team," she said. "Those things won't change, but right now I need to follow my heart."

Morgan and other players from the U.S. national team are allocated to the National Women's Soccer League teams by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which pays their salaries. The players' labor contract expires Dec. 31, leaving either side in position to call for a work stoppage.

Alleging wage discrimination, Morgan and four other U.S. national team players filed a complaint in April with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the USSF.

Her move to club football in Europe will have a short-term effect on the Pride.

"We are obviously disappointed that Alex will miss the beginning of the Pride season but understand her wishes to play in Europe and we look forward to her rejoining her teammates after Lyon's season," said Phil Rawlins, president of Orlando City SC, the MLS club affiliated with the Pride.

"This in no way affects our plans or commitment to growing Orlando Pride and we will continue providing the team the best available players, training resources and staff to become a championship contender in the NWSL and a leader in women's professional soccer."

Morgan is used to playing at the highest level of the game.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, she scored a dramatic winner against Canada in the semifinals. A year earlier, she scored in the 2011 World Cup final, which the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

A star in the NWSL, Morgan previously played for Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns. She was named U.S. female soccer athlete of the year in 2012.

Lyon's first league game following the winter break is away to Guingamp on Jan. 15, although she could make her debut in a French Cup game the week before at Evian.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

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Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

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AP

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.