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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

Report: Granit Xhaka accused of racial abuse

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (R) of Arsenal protests to referee Jonathan Moss after shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has not had the best 48 hours of his life.

[ MORE: Coutinho key to Liverpool? ]

Xhaka, 24, was sent off for the ninth time in his career on Sunday for a two-footed lunge in Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 win against Burnley.

It has new been reported by the Telegraph that Granit Xhaka has been accused of racially abusing a member of staff at Heathrow Airport on Monday, just over 24 hours after being sent off.

The Swiss midfielder, who joined Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach for $43.8 million in the summer, was reported by a third party for abusing the staff member as he dropped off a friend at Heathrow airport but they were then refused entry to security after turning up late for the flight.

Xhaka is said to have abused the staff member in German but he refutes the claim.

“Police were called at 19:29hrs on Monday, 23 January following an allegation that a member of staff had been racially abused at Heathrow Airport, Terminal Five. The allegation was made by a third party. Officers attended and spoke with a man in his 20s. He was not arrested. He voluntarily attended a west London police station where he was interviewed under caution. Enquires continue.”

Arsenal have no comment on what they call “a private matter” according to Sky Sports, but it has certainly not been a great 48 hours for the club who also had manager Arsene Wenger hit with a misconduct charge by the FA after being sent to the stands for his reaction at a late penalty kick was awarded to Burnley.

Wenger is also being investigated for an apparent push on fourth official Anthony Taylor as he watched from the tunnel area with many expecting Arsenal’s manager to receive a touchline ban.

Again, not a vintage 48 hours for Arsenal as they sit eight points clear of Chelsea and prepare for a pivotal week in their Premier League title hopes which culminates with a battle against their London rivals on Feb. 4 at Stamford Bridge.

How important is Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores their fourth goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on September 24, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With reports circulating that Philippe Coutinho‘s agent is in talks with Liverpool over a new deal, it is easy to see why the Reds want to reward the Brazilian playmaker.

[ MORE: Klopp on title chances

Coutinho, 24, is undoubtedly the key cog in Jurgen Klopp‘s offensive machine and since he went down with an ankle injury in November against Sunderland they’ve missed him being back to his best.

In the nine games since Coutinho was injured Liverpool have dropped 12 points in the Premier League. In the 13 PL games before his injury they dropped just nine.

Now, this isn’t down to one man but there’s no coincidence here. He makes Liverpool tick and as good as Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino have been, Coutinho is the main man. Even when you look at Liverpool’s defensive record, their much-maligned backline is slightly better with Coutinho in the team. They conceded 14 goals in 13 games before he was injured and they’ve conceded 13 in their last nine games.

Maybe that’s because Coutinho takes the pressure off his teammates by getting on the ball, dipping between the lines of defense and attack and easing pressure to allow Liverpool to dominant play rather than seeing them susceptible to counter attacks like we did against Swansea City.

Klopp’s main man started at Plymouth last week and against Swansea at the weekend, playing over an hour in each game and showing flashes of his ability. Slowly but surely he is getting back to his best and Liverpool need him to be fully fit for a pivotal stretch of games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

On Wednesday they host Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal second leg as the Reds trail 1-0 from the first leg. They then play an FA Cup game against second-tier Wolves and host Premier League leaders Chelsea next Wednesday in a game which they simply must win to have any hope of overhauling Chelsea to win the Premier League title.

Top four is the priority for Klopp’s men but keeping Coutinho fit and in-form is a close second.

This season he has scored five goals and added five assists in just 13 starts in the Premier League and Coutinho’s ability to thread balls in-behind to onrushing attackers, always seem to have time on the ball and ability to change the direction of play has been much missed by Liverpool over the past two months. It is inevitable that in recent displays Coutinho hasn’t looked as sharp as he did before he got injured but Klopp will be hoping the rust has been shaken off and he’s back to his best in the next week.

Along with Sadio Mane‘s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal (which will likely be until the first week of February at least as he led them to the knockout stages) Liverpool’s attack looks less dangerous and that extra bit of quality and pace is missing.

That’s because Mane and Coutinho have been missing.

With Mane away, more pressure is now on Coutinho’s shoulders.

Last season was Coutinho’s most productive of his career with 10 goals and seven assists in all competitions. He is well on the way to breaking that record this season based on goals and assists in the Premier League alone.

If Liverpool is going to at least finish in the top four this season and make at least one Wembley final, they have to keep calm and pass it to Coutinho.

He’ll do the rest.

Yaya Toure slams big money moves to China

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Sevilla at Etihad Stadium on October 21, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yaya Toure is sick of hearing about players moving to the Chinese Super League for big money.

[ PLAYBACK: Ref calls cost Man City ]

Toure, 33, is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium this summer but after coming back into the fold at Manchester City in recent weeks (thanks to an apology from his agent to manager Pep Guardiola) he has been a key cog in central midfield and wants to stay at City.

The towering Ivorian midfielder has been instrumental since joining City in 2010 from Barcelona. Toure has won the FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles with City and has questioned what means more to players.

Money or enjoyment?

“I always say that if I went to China I would end up feeling angry there. Do you play football because you love football, or do you play because you want to make money? What’s the purpose?” Toure said. “Me, I just want to play football because I enjoy it, I love playing. I enjoy helping my team-mates, I enjoy playing against the big players and teams. I want to carry on in that way. Some people have the mentality that they want to do that, to try something different but, for me, my feeling is that I want to play more football.”

Toure also said that he hopes to remain at City beyond the end of his current deal which expires in the summer.

“I’ve said before that I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs but, especially at City, I want to give something back to the fans,” Toure said. “I’d like to continue to work hard for them, keep giving them entertainment, keep them happy – that’s what I want. If I was tired, I’d say ‘no more, move on’, but I don’t feel like that. I feel very, very good. I feel young.”

Over to you Pep and Man City. Toure clearly wants to say.

Toure certainly has a lot more to give and now that Pep is on board, a two-year extension would surely be signed if it was offered.

The song below becomes more and more poignant. All together now…

Hull give latest update on Ryan Mason after skull fracture

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Ryan Mason of Hull City is examined by a medical staff after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ryan Mason is making “excellent progress” after fracturing his skull in Hull City’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Mason, 25, collided with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill when challenging for a header in the first half.

The English midfielder has since been diagnosed with a fracture in his skull and has undergone surgery at a central London hospital

On Tuesday the Premier League club gave the latest update on Mason’s condition.

The Club can confirm that Ryan Mason continues to make excellent progress after sustaining a skull fracture in Sunday’s game against Chelsea. He will continue to be closely monitored by staff at St Mary’s Hospital over the next few days, whilst also remaining in contact with our medical team to assess his progress. There will be no further updates from the club until there are any changes in Ryan’s condition. We also ask that people respect Ryan and his family’s privacy whilst he remains in hospital.

Mason has been visited in hospital by Chelsea’s John Terry, Gary Cahill and assistant manager Steve Holland, plus Hull captain Michael Dawson and members of their staff have also been by his side.

This is very promising news.