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NWSL Update: Finally, some signings (just not enough)

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The new National Women’s Soccer League’s free agency period closed on Thursday. At least, we suspect it closed, mostly because that’s what the league had previously announced.

From Jan. 18 through Jan. 31 teams would be able to sign four-to-five additional players. Teams were allowed to announce their recruits until the end of the window, but given most teams had verbal agreements with reinforcements before the league identified its free agency period, surely Jan. 31 or Feb. 1 would see a huge list of announcements. Fans would finally see a month of links between players and teams be confirmed or denied.

No such luck. Some teams have leaked or confirmed signings, but for the most part, everybody’s still in the dark, and nobody’s sure why. One way or another — whether it’s behind the scenes or front and center on social media — teams have made it clear their part of free agency is done, but with U.S. Soccer (who runs the league) not only approving all contracts but choosing to have approval over all press releases from clubs, there seems to be a bottle neck. News is only going to flow with the league turns to faucet.

Chalk it up to growing pains. If all goes well, these early hiccups will be buried by time, but with fans having waited around to hear who the eight teams had signed to augment the 10-11 players already on rosters, there’s understandable disappointment that news hasn’t come. It’s not the first time a new league has chosen to err on the side of control rather than let details flow (see early MLS), but don’t expect that to satiate information-starved fans.

A few notes have trickled in. In New Jersey, Sky Blue signed a strong class of free agents headed by midfielder Brittany Bock and Australian attacker Lisa De Vanna. For a team that had been defense-heavy in their previous acquisitions, De Vanna’s is a particularly welcome arrival, as is the signing of forward Danesha Adams. Midfielder Manya Makoski rounds out Sky Blue’s four.

Western New York, who were given an extra free agent slot as a result of getting one fewer U.S. international in allocation, have also had their free agents identified. Brittany Taylor has been added to the defense, Sarah Huffman and McCall Zerboni bolster the midfield, while Spanish international Adriana and Australian Samantha Kerr augment an attack that already features Abby Wambach and Mexican international Veronica Perez.

Boston announced the return of defender Cat Whitehill, Chicago’s announced the capture of Lesley Osborne, but the rest of the signings are left to speculation. We know Portland will eventually announce the captures of former Tar Heels Allie Long and Nikki Washington. It’s widely known Boston will add English forward Lianne Sanderson and have long settled on their other two signings. FC Kansas City will add former University of Virginia midfielder Sinead Farrelly and have also been linked to forward Melissa Henderson and former WPS Best XI midfielder Jen Buczkowski.

Other confirmations and half-acknowledgements float around social media, and in all likelihood, each of the league’s 36 free agent slots have been filled. We just don’t know who’s filled them.

Expect more news to start trickling in at the beginning of the week. With a Supplemental Draft to round out rosters slated for Thursday, we should know team’s 18-20 woman rosters by the end of the week.

At least, in theory.

U.S. Soccer announces Players of the Year nominees

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer unveiled the finalists for its top 2016 Male, Female, and youth awards on Monday.

MLS stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey are joined by Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood as top men’s player nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final.

[ MLS: Best XI has historic American low ]

Stoke City’s Cameron and Hamburg’s Wood are the European-based players on the list, while Fabian Johnson did not make the cut. Dempsey has been limited by heart problems, but still found a way to the list.

John Brooks and Christian Pulisic are also notable exceptions, though the latter is a finalist for the younger award.

The five-woman list for Female Player of the Year sees Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Becky Sauerbrunn vying to finish second behind Carli Lloyd (Sorry, we couldn’t resist even with Heath’s incredible season).

The Young Male award promises to be a showdown between Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), though it’s difficult to see the latter edging the former. Also in the frame are Spurs back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Atlanta United teenager Andrew Carleton and U.S. U-17 star Josh Sargent.

The Young Female nominees are midfielders Emily Ogle and Andi Sullivan, defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Karina Rodriguez and forward Ashley Sanchez.

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MLS Best XI has just two Americans (and that’s fine)

FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, center, heads the ball near Seattle Sounders defender Zach Scott, second from left, in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 3-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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MLS released its season’s Best XI on Monday, and it’s the least American bunch in the history of the award.

Some have asked whether this be a concern. The short answer is: As long as you’re not a xenophobe, probably not.

There’s no question the league is better than ever, so in that sense no one should worry that only Matt Hedges and Sacha Kljestan earned nods in the league’s 3-4-3.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

Several times the league saw five Americans in its Best XI, and once it was four, but this year’s duo marks a new low.

MLS Best XI
GK – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union / Jamaica)
D – Matt Hedges (FC Dallas / USA)
D – Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy / Belgium)
D – Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids / Sweden)
M – Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas / Argentina)
M – Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy / Mexico)
M – Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls / USA)
M – Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact / Argentina)
F – Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls / England)
F – David Villa (New York City FC / Spain)
F – Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC / Italy)

Now of course the next question is, “Where do players 12-24 come from?” Let’s make a quick second XI (and include Nicolas Lodeiro despite his half-season status because, well, did you watch any MLS this year?):

GK – David Bingham (San Jose / USA)
D – Ronald Matarrita (New York City / Costa Rica)
D – Laurent Ciman (Montreal / Belgium)
D – Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas / USA)
M – Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle / USA-Cuba)
M – Darlington Nagbe (Portland / USA)
M – Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC / USA)
M – Diego Valeri (Portland / Argentina)
M – Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle / Uruguay)
F – Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC / England)
F – Ola Kamara (Columbus / Norway)

A bit better, huh? And Dwyer could be American in under a year. Next up would probably be several Americans (Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Drew Moor).

The idea of better players shouldn’t be about Americans racking up the top spots, rather U.S. players being improved by the level of competition.

Look at the Premier League’s Best XI, the PFA Team of the Year, which had a total of four Englishmen (five if you include English-born Jamaican back Wes Morgan). While some will argue for a cap on foreign players — which MLS has — you don’t mess with what makes it great.

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After latest loss, Hull City gets blunt: “We need help”

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull City jumps with Calum Chambers (25) and Victor Valdes of Middlesbrough (26) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Hull City players and staff are not being bashful.

Mired in the drop zone and following yet another loss, this one a relegation six-pointer at the hands of hosts Middlesbrough, Tigers were speaking out on the talent at the KC Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Manager Mike Phelan said “hopefully” there will be action by the club in the January transfer window, as the club continues its quest to stay in the Premier League.

Phelan said the club is lacking “firepower”, and veteran defender Charlie Davies put it even more plainly.

From the BBC:

“We need help. We made signings in the summer and they have done their bit but they were all last-minute. We are thin up top and we need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Hull went through a mess during the summer, with player acquisition problematic and manager Steve Bruce quitting the club. After a hot start led to Phelan getting the job on a permament basis it’s clear that, like Swansea boss Bob Bradley, this isn’t about who’s in the dugout.

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Boro boss Karanka vows no complacency

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Aitor Karanka manager of Middlesbrough and Mike Phelan manager of Hull City look on from the touchline during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka stayed level-headed after a controlling 1-0 win over Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday.

Aside from a couple of heart-in-throat moments near the 90th minute, Boro was all over the Tigers in earning three points and jumping into 13th place.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We deserved to win this game because we had a lot of chances,” Karanka said after the match on NBCSN. “We scored the goal, had a lot of possession, and were confident on the pitch. When we scored the goal, we had the spirit to manage this kind of game. It’s a game to be really proud of the team. It’s difficult to play Monday.”

He was asked whether Boro was better than being a relegation candidate.

“We have to fight relegation because we are a recently promoted team. We have to keep winning games, if you’re in the Premier League you’re going to pay if you’re complacent. We have done nothing yet.”

Boro appears to have the quality to stay up, and has an interesting road through the congested holiday season of fixtures: at Saints, home for Liverpool and Swansea, at Burnley and Manchester United, then home to Leicester on Jan. 2.

Find 7-8 points in there, and perhaps there will be some exhalations a few days into 2017.

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