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

How important is Eden Hazard to Chelsea?

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Can Chelsea afford to lose Eden Hazard?

Hazard, 26, continues to be linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer for a potential world-record fee of over $125 million.

[ MORE: Conte hails Eden Hazard

This season the Belgian winger has been unplayable at times, particularly in recent months, and he is on the verge of leading Chelsea to a second Premier League title in the last three seasons.

Yet, with rumors of Hazard leaving Stamford Bridge persisting it is worth contemplating just how important he is to Antonio Conte‘s side despite the Italian claiming his star winger is “priceless” in a bid to wave off interest.

From a numbers perspective Hazard’s importance is clear. He has scored 11 PL goals and has four assists, with Diego Costa the only other Chelsea player to be involved in more goals with the Spanish international scoring 17 times and adding five assists. Beyond this season, Hazard has scored and assisted on more goals than any other current Chelsea player since he arrived in 2012-13.

There’s no doubting Hazard’s influence runs deeper than goals and assists.

When he picks up the ball defenders backtrack and even when they get close they have no idea which way Hazard will turn. The only way to try and stop him, as we’ve seen recently in their FA Cup quarterfinal win against Manchester United, is by hacking him down at every opportunity. With so much focus on stopping Hazard, the likes of Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian have been able to flourish and Conte reshaped his Chelsea side to a 3-4-3 with wing backs to get the best out of Hazard.

Hazard is back to his best with confidence flowing through his game just like it did in the 2014-15 campaign as he led Chelsea to the PL title and was crowned as the PFA Player of the Year.

However, there is a lingering sense that if Real Madrid did offer a huge sum of money this summer then perhaps Chelsea would accept the deal. Last season Hazard was way off the pace as Jose Mourinho’s time at Chelsea unraveled quickly and he was lambasted by fans as one of the star players who turned against the manager.

There’s no doubting Hazard is up there with N'Golo Kante and Costa as Chelsea’s top players this season but arguably he would be the most replaceable star. Without Costa’s goals and presence up top, Chelsea would be struggling. Without Kante’s incredible rate of interceptions and tackles in midfield, they’d be less effective in launching devastating counters.

When Hazard was missing through injury in Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Stoke in their last PL outing, Willian came into the team and scored a free kick and alongside Pedro they provided plenty of chances for Costa and others to score. Hazard wasn’t missed but there’s no doubting Chelsea is a better team when he’s in it.

On paper Hazard is entering the prime years of his career and perhaps the pull of Real Madrid could be too great if the Spanish giants do indeed intend to chase him hard in the summer. Of course, Real already have Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema up top but if the Zinedine Zidane’s side bought Hazard then he’d obviously start.

The only thing he has left to achieve with Chelsea is win the UEFA Champions League. Apart from that, he’s proven himself as one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League time and again.

It will be intriguing to see what happens with Hazard this summer.

Injuries, suspensions still an issue for busy Man United

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Manchester United have been struggling with suspensions and injuries and the international break hasn’t provided any respite.

[ MORE: United announce US tour dates ]

Both Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Ander Herrera are suspended for Saturday’s clash with West Bromwich Albion (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) at Old Trafford, plus Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Maroune Fellaini are all doubtful.

Jones injured his toe while on international duty as his United teammate Smalling tackled him in training, while Smalling has been spotted in a knee brace after picking up a knock in England’s win against Lithuania on Sunday. Fellaini also suffered a toe injury in Belgium’s draw with Greece on Saturday and has been released from international duty.

Rooney hasn’t played since the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Mar. 4 after suffering a training ground injury with Jones and Pogba limped off with a hamstring injury in United’s UEFA Europa League win against Rostov on Mar. 16.

Oh, Jose. When it rains it pours…

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All of this injury news has been made more concerning given United’s busy month coming up as Mourinho’s men have nine games in April as they push hard to finish in the top four in the PL and reach the UEFA Champions League.

After the game against West Brom they face Everton at home and Sunderland away in a seven day stretch before heading to Anderlecht on Apr. 13 for the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal. Sandwiched in-between their two games with Anderlecht they host Premier League leaders Chelsea and then finish off April with trips to Burnley and Manchester City before hosting Swansea City.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Mourinho will be hoping the vast majority of these players will be available for the busy stretch ahead as his large squad cope with a season-long struggle of juggling PL, domestic cup and European action.

Defensively he still has Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly to slot in but he could be forced to draft in youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah into midfield with so many games coming up in a short space of time.

United will be stretched to the limit as they aim to finish the season strong.

Lionel Messi suspended after abusing linesman

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Argentina will be without five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi for their next four games.

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On Tuesday FIFA announced that Messi, 29, has been suspended for four international game as the Barcelona forward was found guilty of verbally abusing an assistant referee in the second half of Argentina’s crucial 1-0 win against Chile last Thursday.

Messi, of course, scored the winning penalty kick in that game.

Messi — the captain of Argentina and their leading all-time goalscorer with 58 goals — will miss the game against Bolivia on Tuesday, plus Argentina’s friendly with Brazil this summer in Australia and also two key World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela in August and September.

Argentina currently sit in third-place in CONMEBOL qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but are far from locks in their quest to qualify for the World Cup. That task has just got a lot harder after losing their talisman for sending verbal abuse at a linesman.

Look, it would be great to see abuse from players towards officials stamped out but how many times have we all seen players across the game screaming obscenities at officials in an aggressive manner? It seems like Messi may be a little hard done by and that FIFA has used the biggest name on the planet and made an example of him.

Below is the statement in full from FIFA on Messi’s suspension.

The FIFA Disciplinary Committee – in application of articles 77 a) and 108 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) – has reached a decision in relation to the case of Lionel Messi following an incident that occurred during the match between Argentina and Chile on 23 March 2017 as part of the qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™:

Footballer Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.

As a result, Lionel Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000. The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March. The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.

Both the player and the Argentinian Football Association have been informed of the decision today.

After late goals broke Panama’s hearts in 2013, US returns

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PANAMA CITY (AP) With Panama about 90 seconds from reaching a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time four years ago to give the already qualified United States a 3-2 win and eliminate the hosts.

“You felt this place dip,” Jozy Altidore recalled Monday. “You heard people crying.”

The U.S. will be back Tuesday night in a match that matters for both teams. The Americans routed Honduras 6-0 Friday at home and are looking for a second straight win in World Cup qualifying under coach Bruce Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann after an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Before a light workout at Estadio Rommel Fernandez, American players thought the Panamanians might still have that 2013 match on their minds. Panama needed a win, but the late U.S. goals kept Mexico alive and El Tri went on to reach the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Panama has never advanced to the World Cup.

“If we were smart enough, we wouldn’t have broken their hearts. Pretty stupid, if you ask me,” Arena said humorously. “You think Mexico would have scored a goal at the end of that game?”

Panama opened the hexagonal, as the final round is called, with a 1-0 win at Honduras and a 0-0 tie at home against Mexico, and then lost 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago. Five players from that 2013 loss to the U.S. were in the starting lineup for Friday’s defeat.

“It was obviously probably pretty devastating for the players,” said American midfielder Sacha Kljestan, also among those on the field that night. “I’m sure it still means a lot to them.”

Mexico leads the hexagonal with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six, Panama with four and the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras with three each. The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place team again goes to a playoff, this time against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“The reality of the situation that we’re in and the reality of the start that we had is we’re not playing with house money,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “We’re not in a situation where we can just say, great, we took our three points at home, whatever we get on the road is extra. No, we have to come here and take points. We want three. We’re going to play in a way that gives us a chance, a big chance to get three.”

LINEUP CHANGES

Arena predicted as many as four or five changes to his starting lineup. There will be at least two.

John Brooks will miss the match because of a sinus infection and Sebastian Lletget is out with a foot injury. The players who replaced them against Honduras could start, Tim Ream for Brooks in central defense and Alejandro Bedoya in place of Lletget in right midfield.

Jermaine Jones, back from a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation, could enter in a central midfield role, which would push Christian Pulisic to the left flank in place of Darlington Nagbe.

APPROACHING A RECORD

After scoring his second international hat trick Friday, Clint Dempsey has 55 goals, two shy of Landon Donovan’s American record.

“Yeah, it’s on your mind,” the 34-year-old Dempsey said. “But if it comes, it comes. If it don’t, it don’t.”

OLD FRIENDS

Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, a holdover from the 2013 game, played for Arena on the LA Galaxy from 2013-15.

“Jaime Pinedo is one of the finest people I’ve ever met in the game,” Arena said. “We enjoyed him very much. Our fans loved him.”

WEATHER-WISE

After playing on a cool, damp night in the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend, the U.S. will deal with far different conditions. The game-time temperature is forecast to be 80 degrees with high humidity.

Panama’s players also may not be used to the heat, given some play in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Switzerland, Romania and other cool climates.