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

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”