Thoughts as Seattle’s GM reacts to NWSL allocation, losing Alex Morgan

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I think generally speaking, I could speak for all the clubs when I say I’m extremely surprised they would place (Christine) Sinclair and (Alex) Morgan in the same city.

That was Seattle Reign FC general manager Amy Carnell speaking to the Seattle Times in the wake of yesterday’s NWSL dispersal. After many expected her team to get the league’s brightest star, Carnell learned Alex Morgan had been allocated to the Reign’s rival, Portland Thorns FC. There she’ll join Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and U.S. playmaker Tobin Heath in what seems destined to be the league’s most threatening attack.

It’s a fair assessment. While the rest of the league may not have been as upset with the allocation as Portland’s northern neighbors, seeing Morgan and Sinclair on the same team was jaw-dropping for even a casual women’s soccer fan, let alone people who’ll have to compete with them.

It made dispersal twice as hard to take for Carnell. Not only did her team lose out on a player they expected to be their cornerstone, but the 23-year-old ends up being paired with one of the world’s other elite forward, both playing for a team 175 miles to the south.

I think for us it’s a little bit surprising because she was here last summer with (the Sounders Women). I think U.S. Soccer made the decision there, and obviously a player like Sinclair has deep ties to Portland. … I think No. 1, everyone’s surprised those two forwards are on the same team, and then No. 2, I think we were a little surprised we didn’t get her.

You have to sympathize with Carnell, but it just doesn’t make marketing sense to put Solo and Morgan in the same city. And Solo was definitely going to Seattle.

As far as women soccer draw are concerned, Morgan and Solo are on their own level. Abby Wambach (allocated to Western New York) is a step below, with Megan Rapinoe the only other play who can move the dial (even then, she can only nudge it slightly). You just can’t take the two people who can reach beyond the fences of women’s soccer and drop them into the same market.

You could argue that Morgan in Portland creates too much competitve imbalance, but let’s not hand the league to the Thorns just yet. The 2009 Los Angeles Sol had Marta, Camille Abily, Shannon Boxx and Aya Miyama yet still managed to lose in the WPS title game (albeit without Abily, away at Euro 2009).

Even if Portland lives up to expectations — even if the allocation creates an imbalance — think about the scene: NWSL’s premier star playing in front of what’s destined to be the league’s biggest and more lively crowd. The potential for a number of television-friendly games at Jeld-Wen featuring the league’s biggest draw is an awfully appealing prospect. Perhaps it proved irresistible. That might not be fair to the other seven clubs, but it’s probably best for the league.

But Morgan’s dispersal isn’t the problem, nor is her pairing with Sinclair, who was destined to go to Portland (where she has significant ties). The problem is adding Tobin Heath, defender Rachel Buehler, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to that duo. More narrowly, Portland getting somebody like Heath should be the real focus. There’s no way Thorns FC should have gotten Morgan and a player with Heath’s talents from U.S. allocation.

There’s more from Carnell in Joshua Mayers’ Q & A at the Times’ website (you should check it out), but I’ll leave you with the Seattle GM’s thoughts on the pluses and minuses of being allocated Lyon’s Megan Rapinoe:

Honestly, it’s unfortunate. We’re thrilled to have her. She is a world-class player, and personally, her style of play is so unique. We wanted her, and she’s worth the wait, but it’s tough to essentially lose a core player for two thirds of your season. It’s unfortunate, but in the long term, when you’re building a team, you have to look at it that way, as well. We’re very happy to have her and she’s a big part of our club.

LIVE, UCL – Sevilla vs. Man United, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

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Jose Mourinho has created a splash this morning by benching Paul Pogba despite utilizing a 3-man central midfield formation as Manchester United heads to Spain to take on Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg meeting.

Pogba was left out of Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup due to illness, but having made the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad, it seems his omission is instead due to tactical reasons. 21-year-old academy product Scott McTominay starts in Pogba’s place alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, with the Frenchman on the bench among the substitutes.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The decision is surprising given Manchester United’s 16-point deficit in the Premier League table as they trail runaway favorites Manchester City, leaving the Champions League as the best competition remaining that the Red Devils have a shot to win.

Up front for Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez carries the creative load along with Juan Mata, with both supporting Romelu Lukaku at the striker position. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof continue to work as the central defensive partnership, while Antonio Valencia captains the side as full-back, mirrored by Ashley Young on the other edge.

In the other matchup, Roma heads to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk, who finished 2nd in Group F three points behind Manchester City. The Ukranian side has only just returned from its winter break, with just a single game played since December 10th.

Roma, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of a rut just in time for the return of Champions League play, with three straight Serie A wins coming on the heels of a five-match winless run. They have scored eight goals over those three wins, with a pair of road clean sheets among the group. 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under is on fire over the win streak, scoring four goals over that span.


Today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Sevilla vs. Manchester United – 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma – 2:45 p.m. ET

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.