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.

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

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Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.