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  • Writer's pictureSoccer Down Here

In-state showdowns tonight, WCQ's begin in South America, and more: Starting Lineup, Sept. 7

by Jason Longshore

One of the real joys of what I do is getting to see the growth of the game around the state in real meaningful ways. Sometimes that's down to the huge crowds at professional games or exhibitions, sometimes it's new clubs starting up, things are changing for the good so fast right in front of us that it's hard to keep up at times.

One of the biggest jumps in recent years has been the quality of the college game at all levels around the state, especially in the women's game. The players that are being produced at a higher level than ever before, they've had more experience playing at a high level, and the games are more compelling than ever before. Go out and watch your local college programs if you get a chance, especially if you have kids that you can take to see the game played a high level up close.

1- Two big in-state rivalries highlight the schedule tonight. We'll start in Kennesaw as the Owls host the Georgia State Panthers at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Come join us starting at 7pm or you can watch on ESPN+ with Matteen Rad and me on the call. KSU has momentum after Sunday's comeback draw against undefeated SEC squad Florida while GSU came up just short in their match with Ole Miss. Both teams have a good mix of veterans, impactful freshmen, and local talent. Expecting a fun one tonight. (photo credit: @KSUOwlsSoccer)

2- Down in Statesboro, the Georgia Southern women host Georgia at 6pm. The Eagles are 4-1-0 this year, winning on Sunday over the College of Charleston. They also have a Power 5 win in 2023, going to Miami and beating the Hurricanes earlier this season. The Bulldogs haven't been to Statesboro since 1995, the first match on the road in UGA program history. Hannah White scored twice for Georgia in their Sunday 4-0 win over Southern Miss in Athens. This match is also on ESPN+.

3- World Cup qualifying kicks off in South America tonight as the journey to 2026 begins. 10 teams enter, 6 will automatically qualify (up from 4) and the 7th-placed team will go into the playoffs. Yes, that's a large percentage of teams that will qualify and will eliminate some of the jeopardy for the big teams. But the format of 18 games, playing everyone home and away remains and there will be drama to get an automatic spot and to stay alive in the playoffs. Argentina and Brazil should be locks to qualify, but beyond that there are many questions. Will Uruguay return to the top under Marcelo Bielsa? Can Ecuador solidify themselves as a top CONMEBOL side with another trip to the World Cup? Will Colombia fix their issues and qualify this time after missing out?

4- From the Atlanta United perspective, Thiago Almada and Argentina host Ecuador tonight at River Plate's El Monumental in Buenos Aires. Almada is not expected to start. Peru and Luis Abram are on the road in Asunción to face Miguel Almirón and Paraguay. According to Peruvian reports, Abram will start on the backline paired with Miguel Araujo of the Portland Timbers.

5- Sticking with the Atlanta United connections, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Greece are visiting Eindhoven to face the Netherlands in a Euro 2024 qualifier. It's early in the process, but Greece is in second in the group which would book them a ticket to the finals. The Dutch have only played two games so far, but a win would pull them level with Greece. Big game, and Giakoumakis is expected to start for Greece.

6- Marko Mitrovic was named the USMNT U23 manager yesterday, he'll lead the squad to the Olympics next summer in Paris. This will be the first US men's team to play in the Olympics since 2008. Mitrovic originally came to the US to be part of Veljko Paunovic's staff with the Chicago Fire after previously working with him with the Serbian youth national teams. He followed Paunovic to Reading in England before starting with the USSF as the U19 head coach last year. Former FC Tulsa manager Michael Nsien moves up from the U16's to take the U19's going forward. Mikey Varas got this team qualified for the Olympics via the Concacaf U20 Championship, he's moved up to join Gregg Berhalter's staff with the senior national team.

7- Drama in Spain continues as players competing in Liga F, the women's first division, will strike for the first two weeks of the new season after failing to reach an agreement with the league over a new minimum wage. The players are requesting a minimum salary of €25,000 be introduced for the upcoming season, rising to €30,000 for the 2024-25 campaign. It was set at €16,000 last season, the league's first since turning fully professional. The league said yesterday that they proposed a minimum salary of €20,000, with the possibility of reaching €23,000 based on sponsorships generated by the league. The lack of trust and credibility in women's football leadership in Spain is a huge issue in these negotiations. A sustainably growing league is needed, not overspending but also paying players fairly based on revenues and investment coming in.

Also, Jenni Hermoso took the necessary step of filing a legal complaint against suspended RFEF president Luis Rubiales which opens the door to potential prosecution.

8- Racing Louisville will meet the North Carolina Courage in Saturday's NWSL Challenge Cup final. The Courage won their semifinal over Kansas City 1-0 on a stoppage time goal from Brianna Pinto. Kirsten Davis scored the lone goal in Louisville's win in Seattle over OL Reign. The Courage have dominated the all-time series against Louisville and will host the final at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC.

You can watch the game at 12:30pm Saturday on CBS. Bethany Balcer of OL Reign said in an Instagram story yesterday before her team's match, "Screw CBS and put that game on YouTube for all I care,” Balcer said in the post. “No wonder we struggle to get the exposure and views we want … because what the league is giving us is s—.” Balcer said that if the Reign won and advanced, they would be unable to host the final because of the locked-in timeslot with CBS due to their college football commitments later in the day. The game could not have moved to 3:30 Eastern (12:30 local for Seattle) due to contracts with the SEC. Getting timeslots and TV time is a tricky business, but the outcry over this particular issue was not a good look and ultimately won't matter now.

9- After the huge transfer fees agreed to by clubs during the summer window, European clubs are now seeking assurances that they will actually get paid by Saudi clubs. Crazy theory, shouldn't that have happened ahead of the deals going down? 11% of the business in the recent window came from Saudi clubs, per Nick Ames of The Guardian. The European Clubs Association can't help force these payments to be completed, but they can help with pressure being put on FIFA if things don't get done on time. Just two months ago, FIFA put a transfer ban on Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr for unpaid transfer payments.

10- Speaking of Al-Nassr, on this day in Atlanta soccer history in 2020 it was announced that Atlanta United had sold Pity Martinez to the Saudi club for the second highest transfer fee ever received by the club. It is my understanding that all payments were completed in that deal. Just a few weeks before, Pity had one of his best games in the Atlanta shirt.

11- For your Song of the Day, we'll go back to a legend born on this day in 1936. Charles Hardin Holley, better known as Buddy Holly, was born in Lubbock, Texas. His career was tragically cut short when he died in a plane crash in 1959, but he inspired musicians ranging from the Beatles to Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones. Dig into his catalog if you get a chance...

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