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US earns respect at World Cup, but wins remain elusive

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-iran-sports-soccer-middle-east-39b00d05507a405df65822ff3f5fcec4

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Respect achieved. Wins await.

American players wanted more than a 0-0 draw with England on Friday night, likely the most-watched match of their lives.

The U.S. shut out a European opponent in the World Cup for the first time since 1950 yet left the tent-like stadium in the Arabian desert knowing a win in Tuesday’s politically charged matchup with Iran is a must to reach the knockout stage.

“We dominated the game. We had the more clear-cut chances. Obviously, it sucks that we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, standing out with red, white and blue streaks in his hair. “There’s a lot of people that obviously thought we were going to get blown out.”

The British tabloid The Sun ran a headline calling the result “Yawn in the USA.” England supporters booed loudly at the final whistle and American fans cheered.

“I guess that’s a positive sign,” U.S. star Christian Pulisic said. “Back home watching, I hope we made a lot of people proud.”

Playing before what figured to be a huge Black Friday television audience, the former Colonies remained unbeaten in three World Cup matches against Ye Olde Country, a run that includes the famous 1-0 upset at Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1950 and the 1-1 draw at Rustenberg, South Africa, in 2010. The U.S. had conceded goals in 19 consecutive Cup matches against European opponents until Matt Turner matched Frank Borghi’s clean sheet of 72 years earlier.

American fans outcheered England supporters, too, including a cheeky serenade of “It’s called soccer!” in the 40th minute.

“Now I’ll go back and I don’t think my Leeds teammates can say anything with all the banter they were saying before,” midfielder Brenden Aaronson said. “I think it does show that were going to get respect out of this game.”

In 2010, England dominated 14-10 in shots and 6-4 in corner kicks. This time the U.S., using five starters from Premier League clubs, led 10-8 in shots and 7-3 in corners.

McKennie had the best U.S. chance, putting an open 9-yard attempt wide from Tim Weah’s cross in the 26th minute. Seven minutes later, Pulisic bent a shot with his weaker left foot around Kieran Trippier and Bukayo Saka, and the ball glanced off a fingertip of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and against the crossbar.

England’s best opportunity came in second-half stoppage time, when Harry Kane sliced a header wide from Luke Shaw’s free kick.

The U.S. wore blue tie-dyed uniforms in Bayt Stadium, which has a tent-shaped roof with an underside in a red-and-black carpet pattern. The interior is filled with the sadu pattern of the Bedouin.

Coach Gregg Berhalter made just one change from the 1-1 draw against Wales, replacing forward Josh Sargent with Haji Wright in just his fifth international appearance. Usually wedded to a 4-3-3 formation, Berhalter switched to a 4-4-2 that was first practiced Wednesday, according to Aaronson, who referred to it as an “amoeba.”

“Regarding changing the way the world views American soccer, we’re chipping away at it, and you need games like tonight to be able to do that,” Berhalter said. “I talked before the World Cup about how seriously the team is taking, the staff is taking this responsibility to gain momentum in this sport in America, and good performances will do that. We want to capture the public’s attention. We want to perform at a high level. We want to give them something to be proud of, and a night like tonight helps, but there has to be more to come.”

Still, the U.S. has five losses and five draws against European teams at the World Cup since beating Portugal in 2002. Looking ahead to the Iran match likely will be the huge topic of Saturday’s Thanksgiving dinner with players, family and friends.

Iran upset the U.S. 2-1 at Lyon, France, in the second game of the 1998 World Cup, eliminating the Americans. Team Melli is coming off Friday’s 2-0 upset of Wales and would advance with a win, or with a tie if Wales fails to beat England.

“All we can ask for is to have destiny in our own hands,” Turner said, “and we have that.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-iran-sports-soccer-middle-east-39b00d05507a405df65822ff3f5fcec4

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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