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Reign general manager: NWSL’s “Seattle can be something much bigger”

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The announcement stood in stark contrast to the rest of the league’s appointments, to the extent there were any. With many of the new National Women’s Soccer League’s teams having participated at some level of last year’s U.S. Soccer “pyramid,” most coaching staffs were in place when teams signed up for this latest attempt at top-flight women’s soccer. Of the vacant spots, FC Kansas City hired from their partner’s Major Indoor League team while the Portland Timbers’ women’s instance (Thorns FC) created a few ripples by hiring former national team star Cindy Parlow Cone.

The neophyte Seattle Reign took a noticeably different approach, one which saw the team look beyond the confines of the U.S. domestic landscape for somebody who would qualify as a bombshell, if such things exist in the world of women’s club coaching hires.

“Initially reaching out, you never know until you try,” is how Reign FC general manager Amy Carnell described the club’s coaching search, one that ended with the unlikely Dec. 21 hire of Laura Harvey.

Lured to the Pacific Northwest from Arsenal LFC, Harvey is one of the most compelling names you could conjure as a possible NWSL hire. The 32-year-old (now former) Arsenal Ladies coach saw defeat only twice in 48 games during in her two Women’s Super League seasons, capturing both of the nascent league’s titles. In UEFA Champions League, Harvey had recently steered her side past German giants Turbine Potsdam in the competition’s knockout stages, a notable victory considering the recent successes of Frauen-Bundesliga clubs (and England’s lack of results). As difficult as it was to raise the stakes for a team with Arsenal’s success, Harvey was doing it, creating a continental power from a team that was losing ground to the Lyons, Frankfurts, and Turbines of the region.

Because of the lack of exposure for the European club game has in the United States, Harvey’s accomplishments are unlikely to be appreciated. For most Puget Sound residents that will see Seattle’s first NWSL games, Harvey is a non-factor. That doesn’t make her résumé any less remarkable.

“What she’s done at Arsenal is unprecedented,” Carnell explained. “The thing that’s most impressive about Laura is how well she works under pressure. She knew [there would be pressure] going into the Arsenal job, and to have the success over the past few years that she’s had is incredible.”

“One of the most appealing things about Laura was her ability to manage big players – to manage egos.” With Arsenal stocking the likes of Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, Steph Houghton, Katie Chapman and Rachel Yankey (all England internationals), ‘loaded’ would be an understated way to describe the Lady Gunners’ advantages.

“That was one of our priorities in bringing in a coach,” Carnell explained. “Depending on what players we get, we want a coach that those players are going to respect and a coach that’s going to be able to manage a big star all the way down to a star college player in their first year as a pro.”

In England

Arsenal LFC has won both WSL titles, scoring the most goals while allowing the fewest over the short history of England’s eight-team league. As the two-year goal differences illustrate, the WSL has played as a very top-heavy and stratified league.

Pos. Club GP W L D Pts GD
1 Arsenal 28 20 2 6 64 +41
2 Birmingham City 28 15 3 10 55 +29
3 Everton 28 14 6 8 50 +10
4 Lincoln Ladies 28 11 9 6 39 +0

Not that there aren’t risks that come with importing Harvey. Only 32, Harvey may be younger than some of her Reign players, depending on the results of allocation and recruitment. That wouldn’t be a completely foreign position for her, having managed a star-studded team at Arsenal, though the talent at Harvey’s disposal brings up another concern. Arsenal was far and away the most talented team in the WSL, their dominance of their domestic league more obligatory than surprising. In the United States, there’s no guarantee Harvey will have such luxuries.

“I believe in people’s abilities to do their job,” Carnell said when asked why she feels Harvey can adjust to a more competitive environment. “It’s passion and work-ethic. If you have those two things, I think you can be successful, and she obviously [has them].”

But criticisms about inexperience and talent advantages may miss the point. At least, in the big picture — looking beyond the immediate win-loss-benefit of the move — competitive factors aren’t the only considerations. Ambition matters, and for a team yet to play a game, so does reputation – prestige.

For the Reign, Harvey’s signing is a symptom of a club looking beyond the early, relatively modest origins of the NWSL. The team’s looking toward a success that transcends the league’s modest goals.

“The vision is Seattle can be something much bigger,” Carnell says.

“[It’s about] building out a vision of this brand and not just being a leader within our own league. The long term goal is to be one of the best clubs in the world and be a recognizable brand.”

Seattle has a long way to go to be considered in the same breath as European champions Lyon Feminine or even WSL titans Arsenal. But with the hire of Harvey, it’s difficult to imagine the team making a more compelling first step.

“Part of my talk with Laura was just selling her on what we’re looking to do here,” Carnell explained. “She’s very much on the same page with where she wants to go in her career, as well.”

That attitude’s a reflection of the drive Seattle group’s shown since first appearing on the women’s soccer map last summer. Then, owner Bill Predmore emerged as somebody surprisingly willing to fight for a second team in Seattle. At the time, the Sounders Women (a team using Sounder branding without being a direct offshoot of their Major League Soccer namesake) had just completed a W-League season featuring the likes of Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Sydney Leroux. Many assumed that whatever women’s team surfaced from the area, it would have the Sounder label attached. That the Seattle-based POP media agency owner was willing to challenge that brand while embracing some financial risk (implying he’d lose money to grow the game) made Predmore an early, refreshing face on what would evolve into the NWSL landscape.

source:  “Bill Predmore, the owner, and I want to think out of the box,” Carnell (right) explained, trying to find words to describe the approach that led to Harvey’s hiring.

“The biggest thing is that we want to deliver to our fans a top-tier coach and world class players. We believe our fans here in Seattle deserve that … we’re trying to do it the right way and build a world class brand here in Seattle. That’s the direction that we’re going, and if we want our fans to know anything, it’s that.”

They’re sentiments that would be dismissed as perfunctory in most leagues, but for the NWSL, it’s a refreshing show of ambition – an attitude that’s been tacitly verboten since the league was announced. In different ways, ambition by the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011) undid previous attempts to make a league work. With that in mind, it’s understandable the U.S. Soccer’s venture has maintained a more limited perspective.

But the Reign are in a very competitive market. They will be competing with another women’s team (the Sounders Women still intent to field a team in the lower-level W-League) without the benefits of the Sounders’ extremely powerful branding. Making as many splashes as possible will not only keep the Reign in Seattle’s soccer conscience, it will also help the club stay in step with what’s sure to be another wave-making team 200 miles to the south (Portland).

In that regard, Seattle may have already gotten an early (though potentially insignificant) leg up. Though Portland hired a former U.S. national team legend, Reign FC made a hire that could transcend any impact made on the field. Because even if Harvey fails to adjust to whatever challenges NWSL soccer presents, the coup announces Seattle as a club willing to transcend expectations. They’re willing to be great, or at least try.

That’s what these types of moves are about.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.