Six-round supplemental draft rounds out NWSL rosters

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“Will they even play?” That’s the question onlookers were left asking as the final picks were announced. By then, over an hours’ worth of NWSL Supplemental Draft picks left teams throwing darts and launching Hail Marys, hoping long shot selections of prominent question marks will come good.

It was a draft designed to fill out rosters. Teams already had three-fourths of their squad in place. Today’s day’s six round draft was just supposed to fill out. It’ss understandable a few teams chose to swing for the fences with their last roster spots.

Take the selection of Tasha Kai. She’s a former U.S. Women’s National Team regular, was a starter for three seasons in Women’s Professional Soccer, and was a vital cog on the Philadelphia Independence team that make the 2011 WPS final.

But it’s also unclear whether she’s a soccer player any longer. For over a year, Kai has been devoting herself to rugby, where he has excelled. Strong, fast, and with a mentality that left few surprised the former striker gravitated toward the sport, Kai was part of the U.S. team that competed at the first IRB rugby sevens Challenge Cup in December 2011.

The Washington Freedom selected Kai 25th overall in today’s draft, the most notable of a series of curious selections that started in the first round. There, with the second pick, the Seattle Reign took former University of Virginia defender Nikki Kryzysik, a former WPS Best XI player who is unsure she’ll play in 2013. With the final pick of the round, the Portland Thorns selected Tina Ellertson three days after the veteran defender said she would be taking the year off for family reasons. There were also questions about goalkeeper Val Henderson (31st overall, Western New York), Casey Loyd (30th, Kansas City), and Marian Dalmy (32nd). Kaley Fountain (42nd, Seattle) and Tina DiMartino (38th, Kansas City) don’t intend to play at all.

But don’t mistake confusion for knowledge, and don’t assume tweets reflect certainty. After speaking with Thorns FC head coach Cindy Parlow Cone, Portland has good reason to believe Ellertson and Dalmy would eventually suit up for the team. Each is a locally-based player, something that would alleviate Ellertson’s family concerns, and while a pick in a draft doesn’t guarantee players will show up for training in March, the club had been in contract with both players before the draft. Similar stories could be driving the rest of Thursday’s curious selections.

With the exception of Krzysik and Ellertson, all those picks came after the fourth round, the point at which teams seemed to decide it was better to roll the dice on maybes than secure the roster’s last spots. Kai would be a rare, proven goal-scorer, Ellertson’s a starting-caliber central defender, while Henderson was a WPS starter. Noguiera has near-Tobin Heath-level skills, and Dalmy’s a former U.S. national team defender. They’re probably worth the risk.

The selections provided a quick and dirty synopsis of the day’s events. Before the fourth round, teams were adding players that fell through free agency – talents they probably see getting meaningful playing time as the 22-game season unfolds. With 18th, 19th, 20th spots on their rosters, teams were more willing to embrace low risk, high reward selections, even if that means Discovery and tryout players may eventually full their rosters’ final spots.

Expect more news on player availability over the next few days. The doubts listed, above? Those are just the ones we know about now. As we approach March’s preseason camps, we’ll have a better idea which picks were sure things and which were complete flyers.

More discussion points from today’s draft:

How did they last this long?

It was surprising that Stephanie Ochs, the first player selected on Thursday, even lasted through free agency. She was the third pick in last year’s WPS draft, a known commodity from the University of San Diego, and stayed on radars by appearing for the U.S. U-23s last year. But after a process that saw a number of players return to clubs with whom they had previous connections, the 23-year-old who never appeared in WPS was still a free agent. With the first pick, the Washington Spirit reaped the rewards.

Jordan Angeli’s another curious case, though the Santa Clara alum is still recovering from knee surgery. The forward/defender scored eight goals during her three WPS seasons in Boston but still fell to the third round. Two-time WPS champion Kandace Wilson went to Sky Blue FC with the 38th pick, while former WPS All-Star Allison Falk lasted until the sixth round (also, Sky Blue). If they play, they’re steals.

But that’s an important caveat: If they play. Given how many players we already see bowing out, all we really know is a one team has claimed their rights. Getting them to suit up is another deal entirely.

Is Lindsay Tarpley coming back?

It was one of the heartbreaking stories in the buildup to the World Cup. Veteran attacker Lindsay Tarpley, a likely selection for Germany 2011, blew out her knee in the build-up to the tournament. The two-time gold medalist hasn’t played since.

Today, Chicago — the team with whom Tarpley began in WPS — selected the former U.S. international with the fourth pick, a huge hint the 29-year-old is ready to come back. Should she return to some semblance of her former self, Rory Dames has picked up a potentially valuable cog for an attack that looked thin coming out of allocation.

Where’s the (international) flavor?

Teams are allowed up to two international players, but only a few of those slots have been filled. Depending on whether today’s draftees get classified as domestic or international players (determined by green card and citizenship status), only seven of the league’s 16 international slots may currently be filled.

Obviously this is an issue that goes beyond one Supplemental Draft, but it still prompts a question of quality. Combined with some european exiles (Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath), players who passed on the league to stay abroad (Christen Press, Yael Averbuch), and the dependence on low-paid college players to fill out squads, the lack of international players portends to a step back from WPS’s talent.

But that step back in talent doesn’t necessarily mean the quality won’t be there. Despite its spending, WPS turned out to be a goal-starved environment in its first season, something the league strived to resolve in subsequent seasons. Eventually, we saw the game open up, with goal-scoring up 32 percent by the time WPS shut its doors.

Even if the quality of play is down from WPS, it would be for understandable reasons. Cost-control is a much bigger priority for the NWSL than it was for WPS or its predecessor, Women’s United Soccer Association. In an effort to build a more sustainable league, less money’s being spent on talent.

That means players like Marta, Camile Abily, and 2011 MVP Veronica Boquete are staying abroad, but it also means the league stands a better chance of being around to lure the next generation of talent. In the short-term, that means concluding a Supplemental Draft with most of the league’s international slots yet unfilled.

Supplemental Draft Results

First Round:
1. Stephanie Ochs (Washington Spirit)
2. Nikki Krzysik (Seattle Reign FC)
3. Joanna Lohman (Boston Breakers)
4. Lindsay Tarpley (Chicago Red Stars)
5. Katy Frierson (Sky Blue FC)
6. Courtney Jones (FC Kansas City)
7. Estelle Johnson (Western New York Flash)
8. Tina Ellertson (Portland Thorns FC)

Second Round:
9. Tori Huster (Washington Spirit)
10. Lauren Barnes (Seattle Reign FC)
11. Katie Schoepfer (Boston Breakers)
12. Lauren Fowlkes (Chicago Red Stars)
13. Brittany Cameron (Sky Blue FC)
14. Bianca Henninger (FC Kansas City)
15. Angela Salem (Western New York Flash)
16. Angie Kerr (Portland Thorns FC)

Third Round:
17. Jordan Angeli (Washington Spirit)
18. Laura Heyboer (Seattle Reign FC)
19. Bianca D’Agostino (Boston Breakers)
20. Michelle Wenino (Chicago Red Stars)
21. Coco Goodson (Sky Blue FC)
22. Merritt Mathias (FC Kansas City)
23. Kim Yokers (Western New York Flash)
24. Michele Weissenhofer (Portland Thorns FC)

Fourth Round:
25. Natasha Kai (Washington Spirit)
26. Liz Bogus (Seattle Reign FC)
27. Jasmyne Spencer (Boston Breakers)
28. Jackie Santacaterina (Chicago Red Stars)
29. Meghan Lenczyk (Sky Blue FC)
30. Casey Nogueira (FC Kansas City)
31. Val Henderson (Western New York Flash)
32. Marian Dalmy (Portland Thorns FC)

Fifth Round:
33. Megan Mischler (Washington Spirit)
34. Michelle Betos (Seattle Reign FC)
35. Lauren Alkek (Boston Breakers)
36. Alyssa Mautz (Chicago Red Stars)
37. Kandace Wilson (Sky Blue FC)
38. Christina DiMartino (FC Kansas City)
39. Ashley Grove (Western New York Flash)
40. Jessica Shufelt (Portland Thorns FC)

Sixth Round:
41. Heather Cooke (Washington Spirit)
42. Kaley Fountain (Seattle Reign FC)
43. Jessica Luscinski (Boston Breakers)
44. Pass – Chicago Red Stars
45. Allison Falk (Sky Blue FC)
46. Casey Berrier (FC Kansas City)
47. Pass – Western New York Flash
48. Pass – Portland Thorns FC

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.