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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.

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.