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Winners and losers from Friday’s NWSL Allocation

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Early reaction to Friday’s National Women’s Soccer League allocation made the Portland Thorns FC the subject of a lot of envy, and with good reason. The sister franchise of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers not only got the league’s most marketable talent (Alex Morgan), Canada’s best player (Christine Sinclair), and arguably the most skilled player in the league (Tobin Heath), their “other players” include two parts who project as above average contributors at the back (Rachel Buehler, Karina LeBlanc).

Within the league, reaction varied. Some were shocked by the Thorns’ good fortune. For others, the excitement of a day seven weeks in the making overshadowed any perceived imbalance.

But if we’re talking winners and losers, we have to start with Portland. And unfortunately, since a number of teams were left without a marquee player, there are just as many losers as winners after the NWSL’s dispersal.

Winners

Portland Thorns FC – Rachel Buehler, (27, D, USA), Tobin Heath (24, M, USA), Karina LeBlanc (32, G, CAN), Alex Morgan (23, F, USA), Marlene Sandoval (28, D, MEX), Luz Saucedo (29, D, MEX), Christine Sinclair (29, F, CAN)

Portland’s clearly the best team coming out of allocation, perhaps unfairly so. Most people would put Morgan and Sinclair among the best three players in the world, and they’ll have one Tobin Heath providing for them. Buehler’s capable of anchoring an NWSL defense while Karina LeBlanc started for a WPS regular season champion in 2009. Thorns are stacked, have a strong spine, and are somewhat balanced. Opponents are right to be upset, even if the draw of Morgan and Sinclair is bound to make for good TV as the Timbers Army packs Jeld-Wen Field.

Seattle Reign FC – Kaylyn Kyle (24, M, CAN), Teresa Noyola (22, M, MEX), Megan Rapinoe (27, M, SEA), Amy Rodriguez (25, F, USA), Jenny Ruiz (29, D, MEX), Hope Solo (31, G, USA), Emily Zurrer (25, D, CAN)

With Solo and Rapinoe, there’s tons of star power on this team, and with Kyle and Zurrer, Laura Harvey and Amy Carnell got two quality players out of their Canadian allotment. Even if they didn’t get Alex Morgan, there’s a lot to like about this dispersal (after all, they did get the best goalkeeper in the world).

The key to whether this team can keep up with their Cascadia rivals is Rodriguez. If she can score like she did in her second WPS season (under Paul Riley in Philadelphia), Seattle’s results could match their ambition. If she’s the inconsistent player we saw in her first and third years (and recently with the national team)? Seattle will have to rely on Megan Rapinoe (when she returns), who was never the star in WPS she’s become internationally.

MORE: Seattle’s GM reacts to allocation, Morgan in Portland

FC Kansas City – Nicole Barnhart (31, G, USA), Lauren Cheney (25, M, USA), Renae Cuellar (24, F, MEX), Marylin Diaz (21, M, MEX), Becky Sauerbrunn (27, D, USA), Desiree Scott (25, M, CAN), Lauren Sesselmann (29, D, CAN)

Where are the goals going to come from? Free agency, you’d assume. Or, perhaps Lauren Cheney becomes a striker again (she’s only recently become a midfielder, and only for the national team). If Kansas City moves Cheney back to her natural position, this becomes one of the league’s better allocation classes, even if it lacks one of the true big names. If not, free agency becomes much more important.

Goal prevention, however, is where Kansas City appears particularly strong. Sauerbrunn could be one of the league’s best defenders, with Sesselmann, Barnhart, and midfielder Desiree Scott rounding out what should be a formidable defense.

Boston Breakers – Anisa Guajardo (21, F, MEX), Adriana Leon (20, F, CAN), Sydney Leroux (22, F, USA), Heather Mitts (34, D, USA), Heather O’Reilly (28, M, USA), Cecilia Santiago (18, G, MEX), Rhian Wilkinson (30, D, CAN)

Boston got a player they can build around in 22-year-old striker Sydney Leroux. She’s young, talented, and marketable. For a team that didn’t have a big name attached to them pre-draft, getting Leroux was quite a boon.

They also got Mexico’s No. 1 in Cecilia Santiago – a good young shot stopper whose decision-making will improve with consistent, higher level games. Until that trait’s developed, Santiago’s going to need help in defense, and it’s unclear this allocation gives her enough.

There’s a similar story in midfield. O’Reilly only plays wide right, which means if the Breakers plan on connecting with Leroux and their two other young attackers, free agency and next week’s college draft will be key.

Losers

Western New York Flash – Carli Lloyd (30, M, USA), Bryana McCarthy (21, D, CAN), Veronica Perez (24, F, MEX), Jo-Ann Robinson (23, F, CAN), Pamela Tajonar (28, G, MEX), Abby Wambach (32, F, USA)

The Flash were the team short-changed by allocation, getting only six players. They did, however, get the one player they coveted: Abby Wambach. The financial impact of getting the local hero is huge. They also get Olympic hero Carli Lloyd and a Mexican attacker (Perez) who should partner well with Wambach.

Unfortunately, the Flash got little else. They may have received the worst Canadian allocation, and it remains to be seen if Pamela Tajonar will be up to the task in goal.

The Flash may have gotten one of the marquee players, but if Wambach’s ankles can’t hold up over the course of a full season, this dispersal could look terrible at year’s end.

Sky Blue FC – Melanie Booth (29, D, CAN), Jill Loyden (27, G, USA), Monica Ocampo (26, F, MEX), Kelley O’Hara (24, D, USA), Christine Rampone (37, D, USA), Lydia Rangel (21, M, MEX), Sophie Schmidt (24, M, CAN)

Rampone gives the organization a face to build around, but without one of the brighter stars from the national team, this allocation has to be seen as a disappointment. Ocampo is a decent attacker, and Schmidt gives them a quality player in midfield, but the New Jersey-based team got short-changed on U.S. national teamers without getting enough to make up for it.

Chicago Red Stars – Shannon Boxx (35, M, USA), Maribel Dominguez (34, F, MEX), Dinora Garza (24, M, MEX), Amy LePeilbet (30, D, USA), Erin McLeod (25, G, CAN), Carmelina Moscato (28, D, CAN), Keelin Winters (24, M, USA)

It’s a very balanced allocation for Chicago, but one that relies heavily on two players in their mid-30s. With LePeilbet, Moscato, and McLeod, the defense has a strong core, while Turbine Potsdam’s Keelin Winters could help the group transcend its lack of name value.

But despite getting seven solid players, the group is still without one of the marquee U.S. players. As a result, Chicago lack the high-end talent you see in other teams’ dispersals.

Dominguez will need help, and with LePeilbet unlikely to be healthy to start the season (knee), the roster is full of question marks. There are a lot of ways this can go wrong.

Washington Spirit – Ashlyn Harris, (27, G, USA), Alina Garciamendez (21, D, MEX), Robin Gayle (27, D, CAN), Ali Krieger (28, D, USA), Lori Lindsey (32, M, USA), Diana Matheson (28, M, CAN), Teresa Worbis (29, M, MEX)

Curiously, Washington gets three U.S. national team players who didn’t feature at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Krieger was injured, Harris didn’t make the team, while Lindsey was only an alternate. Each player, however has ties to D.C., all having played for the Washington Freedom.

While decent at the back, this group looks weak, particularly going forward. Worbis has a decent goal rate for the Mexican national team, but she’s unlikely to be a major goal producer in this league. Washington’s ability to acquire a goal scorer in free agency (or the draft) might make-or-break their first season.

Final verdict

It’s tempting to be overly critical of these types of ventures, mostly because we tend to adopt our own standards in lieu of some other unambiguous goals. While the days before dispersal saw quotes from U.S. Soccer laud the value of competitive balance, there were clearly other factors at play. Team and player preferences played a big part and are likely one of the biggest reasons Portland and Seattle sit so pretty today.

As for the other teams, Chicago, Sky Blue and Washington have enough history in their communities to make their teams work, particularly given the subsidies the federations are providing with player salaries. Western New York and Boston each got a marketable star, while Kansas City was given a competitive team with two players (Cheney, Sauerbrunn) capable of being faces for their fanbase.

Could the results have been better? Perhaps, but that gets us back to standards. Are you judging this based on parity or other considerations, considerations U.S. Soccer made clear were going to be a factor from the onset. Ultimately, no teams were left far behind, even if the apparent desire to put high profile players (Morgan, Solo, Rapinoe) in marketable situations created some imbalance.

Hopefully highlights of Alex Morgan shooting into Portland’s north end will make it worthwhile.

LIVE – Europa League play-offs: West Ham within reach of group stage

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Reece Oxford of West Ham United and Elvis Bratanovic of NK Domzale in action during the UEFA Europa League Qualification round match between West Ham United and NK Domzale at London Stadium on August 4, 2016 in Stratford, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the UEFA Europa League play-off round takes place on Thursday with the final 22 places in the group stage

West Ham United are drawing 1-1 from their first leg in Romania against Astra Giurgiu, the team who knocked them out in the qualifying rounds last season.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ] 

Slaven Bilic‘s men have a vital away goal and will fancy their chances of getting past Astra this time  as the second leg takes place at their new home at the London Stadium.

Plenty of the 22 ties hang in the balance with Shakhtar Donetsk, Sparta Prague and Olympiakos all with a little work to do to secure their spot in the next stage.

Premier League sides Southampton and Manchester United have already qualified for the Europa League group stage and the draw to decide their opponents will take place in Monaco on Friday.

Below is the full schedule for the second legs which take place on Thursday, while you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.


Europa League schedule 

FK Qarabag vs. IFK Goteborg (0-1)
Brondby vs. Panathinaikos (0-3)
Grashoppers vs. Fenerbache (0-3)
Rosenborg vs. Austria Wien (1-2)
Slovan Liberec vs. AEK Larnaca (1-0)
Partizan Tirana vs. FC Krasnodar (0-4)
PAOK vs. Dinamo Tblisi (3-0)
Genk vs. NK Lokomotiva (2-2)
Osmanlispor vs. Midtjylland (1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Sonderjyske (0-0)
West Ham United vs. Astra Giurgiu (1-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (1-2)
AZ Alkmaar vs. Vojvodina (0-3)
Anderlecht vs. Slavia Prague (3-0)
BATE Borisov vs. Astana (2-0)
FK Shkendija vs. Gent (1-2)
Hajduk Split vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv (1-2)
NK Maribor vs. Gabala (1-3)
Red Star Belgrade vs. Sassuolo (0-3)
St Etienne vs. Beitar Jerusalem (2-1)
Olympiakos vs. Arouca (1-0)
Rapid Wien vs. Trencin (4-0)

Sturridge complains about playing out wide; Klopp responds

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06:  Substitute Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool walks to the bench past Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 6, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Daniel Sturridge isn’t too happy to be playing out wide.

[ MORE: Bravo signs for Man City ]

He’s said it many times in the past (most noticeably during his time at Chelsea) and the Liverpool forward said it again following their 5-0 win over Burton Albion in the EFL Cup in midweek.

Sturridge, 26, came on as a second half sub for Jurgen Klopp‘s side and scored twice.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints ]

However, speaking to reporters after the game the man who usually plays as a central striker had the following to say about playing in a wide position.

“Of course it is more difficult for me to play wide,” Sturridge said. “I’m a center-forward. I have to do a job for the team. That’s not saying I am happy to do it. That’s saying I have got to do a job for the team. It’s a team game. If I am put in that position, I have to play there.”

Tell us how you really feel, Daniel.

Yet Klopp, speaking on Thursday in his press conference ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) effortlessly diffused what could’ve been a sticky situation for Sturridge.

“It wasn’t a fixed position. Daniel is a very smart player,” said Klopp. “He’s good at getting himself into positions where it’s not easy to defend. There is absolutely no problem.”

Okay, so everyone is cool. Fair enough.

You do get the lingering feeling that Klopp may have a quiet word with Sturridge behind closed doors in the next day or so as these kind of complaints from a star player should really go to the manager first before he speaks publicly about them.

Sturridge is a passionate player who can often be seen showing his frustration on the pitch as his winning desire sometimes gets the better of him.

That’s obviously the case for certain media interviews too.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Zaha to Spurs, Lucas to Arsenal

West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace - Premier League
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Sky Sports is reporting that Tottenham Hotspur have made a $21 million bid for Wilfried Zaha and are in talks with Crystal Palace.

Zaha, 23, is in his second spell with the Eagles after returning to Selhurst Park in 2015 following his $13 million move to Manchester United not working out.

[ MORE: Bravo signs for City ]

The pacey winger has reportedly told Alan Pardew he wants to leave Palace and is obviously keen on being part of Spurs’ squad which will take part in the UEFA Champions League group stages this season.

Productivity is the main issue with Zaha but he did score five goals and addes seven assists across 43 games in all competitions last season as Palace reached the FA Cup final and started brightly in the Premier League but then faded badly to just stave off relegation.

With Christian Benteke arriving for a club-record $41.5 million last week, Palace may be interested in getting some of that money back but Pardew has already sold Yannick Bolasie to Everton for $37.5 million this summer and although he has Andros Townsend around, he is unlikely to be happy about losing another pacey and direct winger who can provide crossed for Benteke to finish.

As for Spurs, Zaha would provide some much-needed pace out wide. In the current system Mauricio Pochettino has Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen in a two-man forward line with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen breaking forward from midfield to support them. However talented those players are, Pochettino may be looking for extra pace on the break, especially late in games, and Zaha has that in abundance.


A battle is brewing for Deportivo La Coruna forward Lucas Perez Martinez.

The Spanish forward, 27, is reportedly subject to two bids from both Everton and Arsenal. The latter are said to be closing in on $22.5 million transfer, with the BBC reporting that Arsenal are deemed the favorites for his signature.

[ MORE: Solo ban about more than comments ]

Known simply as Lucas, the striker scored 17 goals in 36 La Liga appearances last season and could be the answer to Arsene Wenger‘s problems up top. Wenger has pursued Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette all summer long but the French club are demanding over $55 million from the Gunners. Lucas would be a much cheaper option and the journeyman (he’s spent time in Greece, Ukraine and Spain with five different teams) was prolific in a Deportivo team which finished in 15th place in Spain’s top-flight. Given service by Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, he could be deadly.


Joe Hart, 29, will not be moving to Everton according to Ronald Koeman.

Everton’s manager was asked about Hart’s availability on Thursday and the Dutchman emphatically denied reports linking the Manchester City goalkeeper with a loan move to Goodison Park.

“No interest,” was the blunt response from Koeman and after Hart played, captained and kept a clean sheet for City in their 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in their UCL second leg play-off game on Wednesday, it looks like he is now in an awkward situation.

Hart was lauded by City’s fans throughout the game but with Claudio Bravo arriving from Barcelona on Thursday it seems like England’s first-choice goalkeeper could now be third-choice at Man City after Pep Guardiola preferred veteran Willy Caballero to him.

With Everton no interested, plus reports of loan moves to Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund going quiet, it appears Hart’s options are limited. If he wants to stay in the PL, perhaps Liverpool is his only option among the clubs who are expected to be challenging for the top four and beyond.

Manchester City confirm $22.5 million signing of Claudio Bravo

FOXBORO, MA - JUNE 10:  Claudio Bravo #1 of Chile passes the ball during a 2016 Copa America Centenario Group D match between Chile and Bolivia in the first half at Gillette Stadium on June 10, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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It’s done.

Claudio Bravo, 33, has signed a four-year contract at Manchester City as the club announced his $22.5 million transfer from Barcelona on Thursday.

[ MORE: Saints close to Boufal deal ]

Bravo flew in to Manchester earlier this week and Pep Guardiola finally has the goalkeeper he’s been craving as he revealed the Chilean international is someone “he’s admired for a number of years.”

With Joe Hart given the cold shoulder and veteran Willy Caballero handed the starting spot in goal for City’s first two Premier League games of the season, it always seemed likely that a goalkeeper was lined up.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Speaking to the club website about his move to City after spending the last two seasons at Barcelona, Bravo is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“I’m very proud to be joining Manchester City. I know the Club is building something very special and I hope I can be part of many successes in the coming years,” Bravo said. “I have followed City’s progress in recent years and obviously know some of my new team-mates from the Copa America.

“It is not easy to leave a club like Barcelona where I had two fantastic years, but the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola was too good to refuse. Now I will challenge the other great goalkeepers the Club has and together I hope we can win many trophies.”

So, now the picture is even clearer for Hart as despite Bravo claiming he is at the Etihad Stadium to “challenge the other great goalkeepers” they have, we all know he is the new numero uno. Hart will have to find a move elsewhere if he wants to play regularly but his options are running out with Everton’s manager Ronald Koeman saying they are no interested in signing Hart.

Over the last two seasons Bravo has split time with Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barca but the man who has already made 100 appearances for Chile and has won back-to-back Copa America titles is now ready to be a bonafide star as he enters the prime of his career.

Comfortable with the ball at his feet and a sublime shot-stopper, Bravo’s acquisition is another key moment in Guardiola’s masterplan at City.

The Spanish coach has now spent $260 million on John Stones, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Marlos Moreno, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Bravo this summer.

Four games into Pep’s tenure as City’s boss the Citizens are perfect with four wins as they’ve qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages.