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Lindsey Horan’s USWNT showing vs. Portugal could deep-six concerns about Julie Ertz injury



Lindsey Horan's USWNT showing vs. Portugal could deep-six concerns about Julie Ertz injury

This was the first game in two months for the U.S. women’s national team, and they won’t play one that matters until another month from now. There was one essential component of Thursday night’s friendly, though, and it was obvious coach Vlatko Andonovski wanted to make sure it was handled before anyone reached the locker room. So he spoke to midfielder Lindsey Horan immediately after the Americans completed a perfunctory 1-0 victory over Portugal.

“I told her she was a monster on the field,” Andonovski said afterward.

He has been in charge less than two years and hasn’t yet handled the USWNT in a major competition. So even with an 18-0-1 record to date, it seems a bit premature to label Andonovski a good coach for the national team. But his zeal to assure Horan she had delivered in the defensive midfield role typically handled by Julie Ertz – the No. 6, in soccer parlance – suggested he might be a good coach to play for at this level.

Andonovski praised Horan (photo below) for excelling in “aerial challenges, intercepting balls, controlling the game from the lower part of the field.” And she did all of that when required. It just wasn’t required all that often.

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Portugal played a low block through most of the game, rarely possessing the ball, even less frequently advancing it past the halfway line. This is not uncommon for those USWNT opponents finding themselves at a massive talent disadvantage, which is the majority of them. The role of the No. 6 is elevated in importance, though, in games against such teams as Sweden, the opening opponent July 21 in the Olympic Games.

Whether Horan will be in this position against Sweden is unclear. Ertz sprained the MCL in her right knee in her first NWSL game a month ago for the Chicago Red Stars, and Andonovski has said he expects her to be healthy in time for the Olympics.

What is certain, though, is the USWNT has almost unreasonable depth at every field position save this one. Tobin Heath, who started on the right side of the front line through the 2019 World Cup campaign is out with an ankle injury. Christen Press filled that spot against Portugal. She owns 145 caps and 60 international goals. Carli Lloyd subbed on for striker Alex Morgan in the 73rd minute; Lloyd has scored more goals than all but five women in the game’s history. Defender Tierna Davidson entered the game at the same time; she excelled in her one 2019 World Cup start and can play left back or in central defense.

When Ertz (photo below) was injured, though, there was no such obvious answer.

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There was reason to believe, though, Horan’s gifts might translate well to that position.

“Julie, of course, always going to be such big shoes to fill,” midfielder Sam Mewis told reporters on a postgame Zoom call. “But I’m proud of Lindsey.”

Horan began her career as a forward for Paris Saint-Germain, then transitioned to an attacking midfield spot after moving to the Portland Thorns. Although she is one of the world’s best, named NWSL most valuable player in 2018, she has been in and out of the starting lineup for the U.S. because the competition for positions is so extreme.

Horan started four of the seven games at the 2019 World Cup, whereas Mewis started five and Rose Lavelle all but one. The latter two have given Andonovski no reason to believe previous coach Jill Ellis had it wrong in deploying the pair so often in the attacking midfield positions; Mewis, in fact, scored the winning goal against Portugal with a sharp header off Press’ corner kick.

Expanding her repertoire to include the defensive role will give Horan one more avenue into the starting lineup. Her ability to cover ground and her vision and skill to make the sort of passes that launch forward moves allow Horan to play the position the way Xabi Alonso once did for Real Madrid.

The only question is how effective Horan might be at disrupting attacks by the opposition.

Horan got her first chance against Portugal in the 8th minute and surgically swiped the ball, pushing it ahead to Lavelle for a shot that led to a dangerous free-kick opportunity for the U.S. In the 25th minute, Horan gambled she could pull off another such maneuver but failed, leaving the door open for a surge that a better team than Portugal might have punished. A dozen minutes later, Horan expertly disarmed another opposition counter-attack.

“She is never satisfied. She always wants more,” Andonovski said. “The first thing that she asked was when we could watch the video.

“That’s what makes us get better.”

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Athletics’ Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check



Athletics' Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

MLB pitchers aren’t taking kindly to the league’s new foreign substance rules.

Athletics pitcher Sergio Romo seemed particularly annoyed that the umpires performed a substance check on him Tuesday night.

After working a one-run seventh inning for Oakland, the umpire beckoned for Romo to come over for the check. Romo responded to the moment by tossing his hat and glove to the ground and whipping his belt off.

MORE: Rays’ Wander Franco homers in first MLB game

Then came Romo’s final act. He pulled his pants halfway down to prove that he wasn’t harboring any illegal substances.

Romo certainly made his point, but Dan Iassogna, the umpire checking him, didn’t seem too bothered by his high jinks. In fact, the umpire flashed a smile at Romo, who the broadcast described as “heated.”

Romo wasn’t alone in being bothered by the substance check on Tuesday. Max Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in the first four innings of the Nationals-Phillies game and became increasingly irritable with each examination. He directed his rage at Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who was later ejected for jawing at Scherzer. The checks didn’t seem to faze the three-time Cy Young winner too much; he earned the win, pitching five innings while giving up just a run and striking out eight.

Needless to say, these antics will be fairly common as MLB attempts to implement these rule changes on the fly.

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Nationals’ Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies’ Joe Girardi over substance checks



Nationals' Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies' Joe Girardi over substance checks

MLB’s new sticky substance rules are already causing havoc, and resulted in a feud between Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Phillies manager Joe Girardi on just their second day since being implemented.

Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in his first four innings against Philadelphia. He came up clean each time. The Washington starter didn’t look happy about his first check of the game after the opening frame.

That said, all starters will be checked for foreign substances under MLB’s new protocols, so that was expected.

MORE: Wander Franco cranks three-run homer in first career game

What wasn’t expected was that Scherzer would be checked after the third inning as well. He finally drew the line when Girardi requested that Scherzer be checked in the middle of the fourth inning.

The feud between Scherzer and Girardi reached its boiling point in the fifth inning. Scherzer stared at Girardi on his walk back to the dugout after retiring the Phillies in order, and Girardi took exception to it. He came running out of the dugout yelling at Scherzer and was ejected while the pitcher mocked him from a distance.

Be prepared to see more of these mini squabbles and frequent substance checks. Managers have the right to have the opposing pitchers checked, so they will likely take advantage of this as baseball implements this major rule change on the fly.

Though the Scherzer-Girardi feud was amusing, it’s certainly not a feather in MLB’s cap. If anything, it’s a bad omen that the league’s hastily made protocol changes could result in more conflicts, slowdowns and controversies as umpires figure out how to properly deal with them.

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Rays’ Wander Franco hit game-tying homer in first MLB game, and Twitter loved it



Rays' Wander Franco hit game-tying homer in first MLB game, and Twitter loved it

Welcome to Major League Baseball, Wander Franco.

The top prospect in baseball made his long-awaited Rays debut on Tuesday night in an effort to help the team snap a six-game losing streak. Almost immediately, the move paid dividends.

Franco walked in his first plate appearance, but made a lot of noise in the fifth inning. With the Rays trailing 5-2, Franco hit a three-run homer off Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez to tie the game.

Franco drove the slightly low slider 362 feet and helped Tampa Bay come from behind in a critical game against Boston. The Rays owned a half-game lead over the Red Sox atop the AL East entering play on Tuesday.

MORE: Four things to know about Rays prospect Wander Franco

The 20-year-old became the youngest player to homer in his first game since Jurickson Profar did so on Sept 2, 2012, with the Rangers.

He also is the youngest member of the Rays to homer since B.J. Upton in 2004.

The blast inspired many reactions from MLB Twitter, as fans and analysts alike were excited to see Franco deliver on the hype immediately.

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