Regional Sports News
I think the Broncos at San Francisco sets up as a trap game. The Niners have nothing to lose and plenty of inspiration. We are down to rookie receivers, and they have cornerback Richard Sherman. Our secondary is in shambles. And the best we can really hope for from Case Keenum is not to throw interceptions.
Mark, gives fair warning
Kiz: I recall a time when Mike Shanahan would walk fuming into a news conference after a Denver loss, and a teenage son would be standing in the back of the room, his young jaw tight with irritation, in the tradition of a family that never accepts defeat. When looking for their current coach, the Broncos decided against hiring Kyle Shanahan. He hasn’t forgotten. During a season when everything has gone wrong for the Niners, this is his Super Bowl.
The Broncos are kidding themselves if they believe this team is for real as a playoff contender. The games won recently were gifted to them: the Bengals with no quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger literally handing Denver a win, and Philip Rivers being Philip Rivers. The Broncos did win, so give them some credit. My real concern is not that they might make the playoffs, but they might keep a coach who has shown no real signs of being competent. I believe making the playoffs could be among the worst things that might happen to the Broncos.
Phil, keeping it real
Kiz: It’s all about the scoreboard, baby. If the Broncos go from 3-6 and the pits to 10-6 and the playoffs within a span of two months, Joseph is more likely to be named NFL coach of the year than be fired, regardless of what you, I or any critic might think.
While the appointment of Mel Tucker as CU football coach looks great, it has always bothered me Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy were never given a fair chance to implement their program after taking over a bare cupboard, with not even a Cody Hawkins at quarterback. A few years later, guess who is running the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs offense. It sure ain’t Dan Hawkins or Mike MacIntyre. Hint: His initials are E.B. Think the Buffs might have benefited from his vision, not to mention his lifelong ties to CU? I just hope Tucker doesn’t have a kid that wants to play for the Buffs.
Kiz: Tucker and his wife are proud parents of two teenage sons. If they want to play college football, I hear their dad has a pretty decent connection to Nick Saban.
And today’s parting shot is a blessing for the wicked.
I have read your columns for years and just finished your article on the Broncos’ rookie class. I have to write sermons every week, so I know good writing when I come across it! I don’t always agree with everything you have to say, Kiz, but you are so clear in your thinking and communication. God has gifted you with amazing talents! Keep writing word pictures, and we will read it with joy.
Pastor Dave, in holiday spirit
Baseball’s annual winter meetings open Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The location invites a bevy of cliches, so we’ll get those out of the way quickly.
Which team will roll the dice on high-priced free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, or will his agent, Scott Boras, hold out until after the holidays to see if Harper can land baseball’s first 10-year, $350 million contract? Will the up-and-coming Phillies gamble $300 million to land infielder Manny Machado?
The Cardinals have already traded for star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the Mariners shipped infielder Robinson Cano to the Mets, and it looks like the Indians are open to trading either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, depending on which starting pitcher draws the most chips. But what other big-time wheeling and dealing will take place? It should make for a very newsy four days.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, as usual, is not showing his hand. In his first four winter meetings, Bridich showed no interest in making a big move simply for the sake of making a big move. Much to the consternation of Rockies hot stove fans, that philosophy remains intact and it’s quite possible the Rockies will leave Las Vegas without making a major trade or signing a high-profile free agent.
All we really know for sure is that Bridich says he wants to upgrade Colorado’s inconsistent offense. You can’t blame him. Colorado’s overall .256 batting average was the worst in franchise history, as was its .225 road average.
Following is a breakdown of where the Rockies stand entering the meetings.
— Money matters: The Rockies finished the 2018 season with a club record $143.9 million payroll (according to Spotrac). Entering the meetings, the club stands in the $88 million range, but it has a number of high-priced decisions to make. Star third baseman Nolan Arenado is entering his final year of arbitration and it appears he’ll break the arbitration record for a one-year deal, surpassing the $23 million made by Josh Donaldson in 2017. The Rockies also have six more arb-eligible players, including all-star shortstop Trevor Story, who could be in line for a $6 million salary. Bridich did not say if the Rockies will up the ante in 2019, but did say the club is following “a responsible growth” plan.
— Getting offensive: Before the 2017 season, the Rockies signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal, projecting him as a first baseman and utility player. Perhaps the Rockies will go athleticism and versatility again by signing a free agent such as Marwin Gonzalez or Josh Harrison.
Ideally, Colorado would like to land a power-hitting first baseman, thus freeing up Desmond for other outfield duty. First baseman Carlos Santana might be a fit, but he was just traded from Philadelphia to Seattle. Would the Mariners, currently in full rebuilding mode, turn around and trade Santana? It’s possible.
A dark-horse trade possibility could be Toronto outfielder Kevin Pillar, who’s athleticism and glove work would make him a good fit for Coors Field. He’s projected to make $5.3 million through arbitration and he showed some value at the plate last season, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 59 runs and slashing .252/.282/.426.
Free-agent A.J. Pollock, the former Diamondbacks outfielder who has tormented the Rockies for years, would be a decent fit, but he’s reportedly seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $80 million deal Lorenzo Cain signed with Milwaukee last winter. That’s probably too rich for the Rockies.
— Trade hurdles: As Bridich loves to say, “it takes two to tango,” so trades are impossible to predict. Plenty of teams covet the Rockies’ young talent, particularly top infield prospect Brendan Rodgers and front-of-the-rotation starters Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. Teams have inquired about inconsistent Jon Gray, too. Bridich has said that no one is “untouchable,” but the Rockies would have to be blown away to give up their core young pitchers.
ATLANTA — The Western Conference’s top seed isn’t catching many breaks.
The Nuggets announced that Paul Millsap suffered a broken big toe on his right foot and will be re-evaluated as necessary.
Millsap, who is in Atlanta with the team, will see a foot specialist in Denver and will then likely be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, according to a league source.
The Nuggets (17-8) also announced that starting shooting guard Gary Harris, who injured his hip in Monday’s win over Toronto and missed the next two games, will be re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis. The team initially described him as day-to-day.
The Nuggets are also recalling Thomas Welsh from the G League to address their thinning bench.
Injured small forward Will Barton has been out since Oct. 20 after suffering a core muscle injury that required surgery. He is nearing a return, but the Nuggets don’t have a firm target date yet.
The Nuggets’ seven-game winning streak was snapped Friday night in a loss to Charlotte, and their five-game road trip concludes Saturday in Atlanta.
Following Millsap’s injury, the Nuggets are down to just two regular starters in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Juancho Hernangomez and Torrey Craig have done well in the absence of Barton and Harris. It’s likely Trey Lyles will see added minutes in the wake of Millsap’s injury.
WHEN THE 49ERS RUN
San Francisco is without starting running Matt Breida (ankle) and will rely on Jeff Wilson, an undrafted rookie recently promoted from the practice squad, with 22 rushes for 94 yards in two game appearances this season. The 49ers managed just 66 yards on the ground last week at Seattle. That bodes well for a Denver defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 6 against Todd Gurley and the Rams. However, watch out for the versatility of 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Edge: Broncos.
WHEN THE 49ERS PASS
The 49ers are on quarterback No. 3 this season: Jimmy Garappolo (ACL) to C.J. Beathard (wrist) to Nick Mullens. The results haven’t been pretty at 2-10, but Mullens, undrafted in 2017 and promoted from San Francisco’s practice squad, has proven capable. He’s completed 64.5 percent of his passes with a 91.5 rating — including 414 yards through the air — last week against the Seahawks. Denver is without its top cornerback Chris Harris (leg) and must account for 49ers’ tight end George Kittle’s receiving ability. But San Francisco’s passing game has been mostly dormant this season. Edge: Broncos.
WHEN THE BRONCOS RUN
Running back Phillip Lindsay eclipsed 150 carries this season with a 6.08 yard average — third highest in the NFL since 1970. Royce Freeman provides added muscle. Devontae Booker brings pass-catching talents. And, with a resurgent offensive line, the Broncos run-game has flourished. San Francisco ranks No. 15 in the NFL with 108 rushing yards allowed per game this season and feature star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to stuff gaps. Just don’t expect Lindsay, the player teammates call “Pitt-bull,” to slow down any time soon. Edge: Broncos.
WHEN THE BRONCOS PASS
Quarterback Case Keenum tossed 10 interceptions over his first eight games. He’s gone without a pick over his past four starts. Now Keenum must adapt to life without top receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) as rookie wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton‘s roles increase. Also expect a bump in production from first-year practice squad promotions Tim Patrick and River Cracraft. San Francisco, meanwhile, has just two interceptions all year and has allowed 300-plus passing yards in four games. Keenum doesn’t need to be the hero, he just needs to be consistent. Edge: Broncos.
San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould has connected on 23-of-24 field goal attempts and the 49ers’ kickoff return yardage (26.4) average ranks No. 3 in the NFL. Broncos’ kicker Brandon McManus has made only four of his last seven field goal attempts and Denver’s return units, both punt and kickoff, have struggled. Edge: 49ers.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Rushing milestone. With only 63 yards on the ground Sunday, running back Phillip Lindsay will reach 1,000 on the season to become only the third undrafted rookie to hit the mark (Dominic Rhodes-2001 and LaGarrette Blount-2010). Lindsay’s ability to grind out tough yards between the tackles and explode for huge gains in space make him a dynamic threat any time he’s on the field.
2. Rookie spotlight. Denver’s next-man-up mantra hits overdrive in Week 14 with young players stepping into prominent roles due to starters’ injuries at spots like wide receiver (DaeSean Hamilton for Emmanuel Sanders), cornerback (Isaac Yiadom for Chris Harris) and inside linebacker (Josey Jewell for Brandon Marshall). No time for growing pains at San Francisco.
3. Sack master. If linebacker Von Miller records one sack against the 49ers, it extends his streak to eight games, the longest of his illustrious career. Should Miller reach two sacks, he will become the franchise’s all-time career leader (regular season and postseason) with 104.5 to surpass Simon Fletcher.
Broncos: Out — CB Tramaine Brock (ribs), CB Chris Harris (leg) and linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip). Questionable — LB Brandon Marshall (knee).
49ers: Out — RB Matt Brieda (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and WR Pierre Garcon (knee). Questionable — CB K’Waun Williams (knee).
Mark Kiszla: 49ers 28, Broncos 27
As a proud member of the Shanahan clan, guessing Kyle has a little something special planned for John Elway and the Broncos.
Ryan O’Halloran: Broncos 28, 49ers 17
Courtland Sutton rises to No. 1 receiver status with seven catches for 102 yards.
Kyle Fredrickson: Broncos 24, 49ers 21
Von Miller has many fond memories at Levi’s Stadium. Add a three-sack day to the list.
Winning any of the AP’s individual NFL awards, from MVP to top rookie, means plenty to players.
Being nominated for, no less winning, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award means more.
Don’t minimize how proud a guy is when he’s voted one of the prestigious individual awards. It’s a portion of his resume that jumps off the page the way Saquon Barkley hurdles over potential tacklers.
But being selected for the Payton award, renamed in 1999 for the great Chicago Bears running back and humanitarian, involves so much more than football achievements.
“It is probably one of my greatest accomplishments,” says 2013 winner Charles Tillman, who played 12 seasons at cornerback for the Bears and his final year with the Panthers. “It really shows the true character of a person.
“When fans see us, they just assume a lot of times we are just athletes. They don’t know what these men do on their days off during the season, in the community. A lot of players really put their community service in every week of the year. They get their charity work done and their volunteer work.
“The Walter Payton Award is about excellence off the field. I am proud to be associated with that award.”
Who wouldn’t be? In a time when many NFL players have been criticized or even condemned for their protests of social and racial injustice during the national anthem, many — if not most of them — also have been doing good deeds in their communities. They don’t do it for recognition or applause. As Tillman notes, they do it because they can “shed light on a bigger thing. It’s not just football. It’s about being a good person, serving other people and loving other people.”
Unlike in the past, when three finalists were selected before a recipient was chosen, one player from every NFL team is a finalist. All will be recognized and participate in NFL functions during Super Bowl week. The Man of the Year will be revealed at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press’ individual NFL awards are announced Feb. 2 in Atlanta.
Five current players have won the award: Drew Brees, Thomas Davis, Larry Fitzgerald, Eli Manning and J.J. Watt, and they wear a Man of the Year patch on their jerseys. All 2018 finalists will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal beginning this week through the end of the season.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Jets offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum says. This week, Beachum surprised Ca’moore Jones, an eighth-grade student at Orange Preparatory Academy in New Jersey, with two Super Bowl tickets. Moore was nominated by his teacher, Glenn Gamble, for his performance and growth with the Character Playbook course that is embraced by the NFL.
“Just the name Walter Payton, he’s the gold standard,” Beachum said. “What he did off the field and on the field, his excellence is bar none, top in history. So to be mentioned in the same name and the same breath as him, it’s truly humbling.”
Humbling is an appropriate word because the award finalists often feel that sensation during their community work.
“I’ve been blessed to play in this league for 13 years and to be a part of some really good seasons,” says Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is heavily involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “But making a difference in someone’s life will go beyond football any day of the week. It’s not just about the game, it’s about the opportunity to bring people together. When I look back and think about my NFL career, the time spent out in the community giving back to people in need will always be the most touching to me.”
Adds Colts DE Jabaal Sheard: “With our jobs as NFL players comes a huge platform to brighten and improve the lives of others, and that’s what I strive to do every day.”
Tillman knows firsthand how kind and giving people can be. His own family was helped in 2008 when his infant daughter Tiana needed a heart transplant. Magali Garcia, the mother of 9-week-old Armando, who died in a Minnesota hospital, offered her son’s heart.
To Tillman, Magali Garcia is a hero, not him. She is what the Payton award is all about.
“When my daughter needed a new heart, another person stepped up and decided to take a bad situation and turn it into a success story,” Tillman says. “She not only blessed my family but other families with her choice.
“For all we do in our foundation, it is a great blessing for what this woman did for her son. Magali, she is the one who actually is blessing those people, blesses them every day, and doesn’t even know it. She served my family and a lot of families and she made an amazing choice. A tough decision. I think about her son a lot and I truly am sorry. She is a part of my family, and for us to have this story that has bonded us, and this connection, and to turn that negative into something positive by blessing other people … I get great satisfaction in that.”
So when the NFL Honors program is televised the night before the Super Bowl, pay special attention to the names on the side. Maybe stand up and give them an ovation for the truly special things they do.
AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Redskins with a quadriceps injury. He did not travel to Washington with the team.
Beckham appeared on the team’s injury report Friday with a bruised quadricep and practiced on a limited basis. He was downgraded to out on Saturday.
Beckham threw one touchdown pass and caught another last week in the Giants’ 30-27 overtime victory over the Chicago Bears.
The Giants have won three of their past four games to get to 4-8. The Redskins are 6-6.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela — Dozens of Venezuelans waited in line outside a chapel in the state of Lara on Saturday, hoping to bid farewell to former major league baseball player Luis Valbuena, who was killed in a car accident along with teammate Jose Castillo.
The corpse of Castillo was moved earlier in the morning to a different central-west state.
The 33-year-old Valbuena and 37-year-old Castillo were both former players for the Houston Astros.
They died late Thursday when their SUV crashed as it tried to veer around an object put on the road. Officials said some bandits place or throw objects on highways to force vehicles to stop so they can rob the occupants.
Yaracuy state Gov. Julio Leon Heredia said four people were detained after being found with property of the athletes.
Valbuena and Castillo were teammates on the Cardenales de Lara team in the Venezuelan winter league and were returning from a game in the capital when the crash occurred en route to the city of Barquisimeto in Lara.
No others details about the incident were available.
On Saturday, their deaths caused an outpouring of grief as fellow teammates, family members and fans wore shirts from the winter league and lined up to say goodbye.
Retired Cardenales player Robert Perez and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera were both in attendance.
Cardenales third baseman Carlos Rivero, who survived the crash, visited the chapel wearing dark sunglasses and bearing a small bruise on his forehead.
Valbuena hit .226 with 114 home runs over 11 big league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros.
Castillo played five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros. He had a .254 average with 39 home runs.
BOULDER — Brothers Joseph and Christian Tucker gazed out the window at snow-covered Folsom Field. On the video board atop the south stands was a bigger-than-life image of their dad, Mel Tucker, who had just been introduced as the 26th full-time head coach at the University of Colorado.
As the brothers talked about their father, they couldn’t help but talk about their grandfather.
“They are both just crazy people in that they are so passionate in what they do,” said 16-year-old Joseph. “They just go for it. My dad, if he sees something and he wants to do it, like flying drones or driving a boat or skiing, he’ll go all in.”
Christian, 14, quickly piped in: “My grandfather is the exact same way.”
Which explains why, during his introductory news conference at CU on Thursday, Tucker spoke frequently and lovingly about his dad and his childhood in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
“My father, Mel Sr., raised me as football man,” Tucker said. “My dad was my first coach. I’m proud of that. I think that being a coach is a very honorable profession, and coaching has been in my blood for quite some time.”
As Tucker, 46, laid out his vision for the Buffaloes’ program, he spoke in measured tones, but with a fierce intensity noticeable just beneath the surface.
“Why not us? Why not the Buffs?” said Tucker, who’s been the defensive coordinator at Georgia the past three seasons. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to compete at a championship level and win championships. It’s been done here before. The time is now, in my mind.”
“The time is now,” could well be the Tucker family motto, whether it comes to football or romance.
Consider this: Tucker proposed to his wife, the former JoEllyn Haynesworth, on their very first “official” date. They have been married for 19 years.
JoJo, as everyone calls her, was a Rutgers law school graduate and was set up on a blind date with Tucker by her roommate, who had been a classmate of Tucker’s at the University of Wisconsin.
“We’d been talking on the phone for a few weeks, but that date was the first time we met in person,” JoJo recalled. “I was in Cleveland for a job fair and we thought it was a good time to meet. We met a restaurant in the Flats area of Cleveland, and that was it.”
In love, as in football, the son took a cue from his father, who’s been married to Brenda for 50 years.
Closing the deal
Mel Sr., who’s enshrined in the University of Toledo Sports Hall of Fame as a football and baseball player, wasted no time closing the deal with the love of his life.
“I was at a party in my last year in Toledo when I met Brenda,” Mel Sr. said. “We danced all night and I wouldn’t let anybody else dance with her. Nobody. That was it. She was the one. And we’ve been together over 50 years.”
Mel Sr., who was born in born in Toledo and then moved to Cleveland at age 10, was a gifted athlete. He was a two-time All-MAC selection in football as a defensive end for Toledo in 1967-68, and a first-team All-MAC pick in baseball in 1967. That was the year he hit back-to-back grand slams in a 19-3 victory over Detroit.
“They were both on curveballs, and that’s not easy to do. I was very proud of that,” he recalled with a laugh.
The father’s football influence on his son began early. They watched pro and college games together on TV with dad pointing out the nuances of the game.
“I remember telling him, ‘You see how that guy was running with the ball and that guy just kind of lunged at him to try to tackle him?’ ” Mel Sr. said. “I told my son, “Wait another yard or two where you could get up close to him, corner him, and then make some solid contact. Make something happen. He picked that up right away.”
Now Tucker is bringing that hard-knocks lesson to Boulder.
“Our team we will be physical,” he said. “My dad always told me that the name of the game of football is hit. H-I-T. That’s the name of the game. There is always a place on the football field for someone who can hit. He’s told me that since I was 3 years old.”
Tucker, who was a wishbone quarterback at Cleveland Heights High School, came close to coming to the Air Force Academy to replace the late Dee Dowis. Instead, Tucker became a member of coach Barry Alvarez’s first recruiting class at Wisconsin. Tucker chose Wisconsin over Air Force because he had always wanted to play in the Big Ten.
During his four seasons as a defensive back and special teams player at Wisconsin, Tucker earned a reputation as an intense, physical player who had a knack for being at the right spot at the right time. Indeed, one local writer described Tucker as a “demolition expert.”
“Mel was always very serious. A deep thinker,” recalled Alvarez, now the athletic director at Wisconsin. “You could tell he was a football guy. You could tell that he understood football, and that came from his dad. He was always intense and he was just the type of person I was looking for to build our program in my first year.”
Making an impression
One moment, in particular, stands out in Alvarez’s memory. After going 1-10 in 1990, the Badgers started gaining respectability in 1991. A turning point came with a 19-16 win at Minnesota on Nov. 16 that ended the Badgers’ 19-game Big Ten Conference losing streak, as well as a 23-game road losing streak.
“If Mel doesn’t make the big hit on the final play of that game, we don’t win it,” Alvarez recalled. “He blew that kid up.”
Tucker, a sophomore, entered the game late in the third quarter, replacing injured free safety Scott Nelson. With 10 seconds left in the game, Gophers tight end Patt Evans was about to make a catch in the end zone for a Minnesota victory — until Tucker let loose.
“I saw Evans coming from the left,” Tucker told the Wisconsin State Journal after the game. “I saw the ball was thrown, and I took a beeline for him. I tried to run through his chin strap.”
The Badgers finished the 1991 season 5-6 and posted the same record the following season. In 1993, they went 10-1-1 and beat UCLA 21-16 in the Rose Bowl.
In preseason practice during his junior season, Tucker broke his leg and couldn’t play. He ended up on the sidelines on game days, standing next to Alvarez and acting as a quasi assistant coach.
“You could tell that Mel was a student of the game,” Alvarez said. “It wasn’t just, ‘What am I supposed to do on this defensive call?’ He always knew a little bit more about it. It was always very serious business for him.”
Serious enough that he’s been working as an assistant coach since 1997 when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban, who’s won six national championships. Over the past 21 years, Tucker worked for Saban three different times at three different schools (Michigan State, LSU and Alabama). From 2005-2014, he was also an assistant on NFL staffs in Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago.
Now he gets the chance to run his own show. He’ll do it with lessons learned from his father.
“We’re going live tough. We’re going to eat tough. We’re going to practice tough,” Tucker said. “It’s going to be who we are and part of our culture. In order to play this game, you’ve got to be tough and physical.
“When they do wrong, we’ll point that out. When they do right, we’re going to go nuts. They’ll know they did it right.”
PARIS — The defending champion United States is grouped with Sweden again for the Women’s World Cup next summer in France.
The draw, which determined the group stage for the 24 teams set to play in soccer’s premier tournament, was held Saturday at a gala event in Paris amid a backdrop of unrest in the country.
Host France will open the World Cup on June 7 with a match against South Korea in Paris.
The Americans defeated Japan 5-2 — highlighted by Carli Lloyd’s hat trick — in Canada in 2015. The U.S. has played in every World Cup since the competition started in 1991, winning the inaugural event and also in 1999.
The No. 1-ranked U.S. team landed in the same group with Sweden for the fifth straight World Cup and the sixth time overall. Also in Group F are Thailand and Chile, which is making its World Cup debut.
The United States will open the tournament against Thailand in Reims on June 11.
Sweden, ranked No. 9 in the world in the latest FIFA rankings, will face its American foes on June 20 in Le Havre. It will be the final group match for both teams.
“This is the first time for me (against the U.S.) but I know about the history, tough games during many years. We feel that we have a chance and that’s the most important thing,” said coach Peter Gerhardsson, who took over the team after Pia Sundhage’s retirement in 2017.
The game will be a rematch of the Olympic quarterfinal in Brazil, where Sweden advanced on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Afterward, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo famously called the Swedes “cowards” for bunkering on defense.
“It’s a good draw for us, it pits against a couple of teams we’re not that familiar with, which I like and then obviously Sweden. I like having Sweden in the third game because it allows us to settle into the tournament,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who was in Paris for the draw.
The pots for the draw were based on the world ranking, except that No. 3 France, as host, was atop the first pot, followed by the top-ranked U.S., Germany, England, Canada and Australia. The updated FIFA rankings were released on Friday.
France has gone 7-1-2 this year, with the loss coming against England in the SheBelieves Cup in the United States. This will be the fourth World Cup for Les Bleues.
Didier Deschamps, who coached the French men to victory in that side’s World Cup in Russia five months ago, got a huge roar Saturday as he walked onto stage. He said he’s confident in Les Bleues under coach Corinne Diacre.
“I don’t have advice to give to Corinne, she knows women’s football far better than me. We’ve spoken several times, she knows that I’m at her disposal,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of expectation from the fans and media. Corinne and her staff know what awaits, but that shouldn’t be a negative thing.”
England, ranked No. 4 in the world, drew a difficult group that includes No. 8 Japan and Scotland. England was the surprise third-place finisher in Canada and has been on the rise in the past several years. The squad is coached by Phil Neville, a former Manchester United and England defender who played in three European Championships.
The Lionesses have gone 7-2-3 under Neville this year.
Also drawing a tough group was No. 6 Australia, which is joined by No. 10 Brazil and superstar Marta, who will be playing in her fifth World Cup. Australia defeated Brazil 1-0 in the Round of 16 in Canada.
It will be the seventh World Cup for the Matildas, who went 7-4-6 this year.
“The first immediate instinct is: It wouldn’t be a major football tournament for the Matildas unless we had to play Brazil — 2007, 2011, 2015 and now 2019, and the Olympics we’ve crossed with Brazil,” coach Allen Stajcic said. “So very exciting to be playing them again, with and we’ve beaten each other so many times over the past few tournaments so it’s just exciting to be playing them again.”
The United States went undefeated in play this year, finishing 18-0-2, including a 2-0 victory over Canada in the final of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The team’s overall unbeaten streak is at 28 games, dating to a 1-0 loss to Australia in the 2017 Tournament of Nations.
Lloyd, who attended the draw event, was asked if she was confident the United States can defend its title.
“Pretty confident, I must say,” she said. “This squad is as talented as can be, we’ve got the depth and a great coaching staff in place.”
The draw took place inside La Seine Musicale, a dome-shaped concert hall perched over the river Seine on the outskirts of Paris — and far enough away from the center not to be affected by the vehement anti-government demonstrations taking place in the country.
The groups that will play next year in France:
- Group A: France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria.
- Group B: Germany, China, Spain, South Africa.
- Group C: Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica.
- Group D: England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan.
- Group E: Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands.
- Group F: United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden.
Winter Park Resort has no shortage of accolades or name recognition, but can now officially call itself the best ski resort in North America.
“There are some really, really stellar resorts on that list and to come out on top is really special,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of communications and public relations for the resort. “What makes it even more special is that it’s a readers poll (…), so they’re actually people who come and ski and are our guests.”
After failing to make the list last year, Winter Park Resort beat out other Colorado resorts Copper Mountain, which came in fifth, and Telluride, which came in tenth.
With over 3,000 acres of terrain spread across seven territories, Winter Park Resort is the fourth largest resort in Colorado. But aside from its size, consistent snow and top-notch terrain, Hurlbert said what he thinks makes Winter Park unique is its atmosphere.
Read the full story from skyhinews.com.