Seattle Reign, trying to reload, bolster midfield ahead of NWSL season

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It has been a bitter-sweet beginning for the Seattle Reign. Owner Bill Predmore and general manager Amy Carnell managed to secure a place National Women’s Soccer League. Since then, it’s been a bad winter for Reign FC.

First there was the news that Megan Rapinoe would be in France until June. Everybody knew that doing into dispersal, but Seattle but got to deal with that mixed bag.

Then Amy Rodriguez became pregnant – great news for her family, bad news for the Reign. With Rapinoe gone, the U.S. national team forward was going to be counted on to carry the scoring load. Instead she’s going to miss the entire 2013 season.

Combine those losses with midfielder Teresa Noyola’s Dutch contract running through mid-June and Hope Solo’s wrist injury, and Seattle’s only had two notable moments this winter: Luring Laura Harvey from Arsenal and seeing Penn State’s Christine Nairn fall to them in the College Draft. True, these misfortunes have earned them a lot of attention (look at all the links), but Seattle would prefer to make their name on the field.

And that’s why Carnell’s getting aggressive – to give the team a chance to be more than a hard-luck team. Over the past 24 hours, the team’s been part of the first trade in league history while securing the early return of one of their best players. As a result, Seattle’s completely remake their midfield.

source:  The first move came yesterday when Seattle and the Chicago Red Stars confirmed that Keelin Winters (right), a midfielder on the cusp of some national team run, would move west along with a fourth round draft pick. In return, Chicago receives a first round draft pick and future considerations.

The future considerations seem complicated. Seattle has confirmed Chicago will received one of the Reign’s U.S. Soccer allocated players ahead of the 2014 campaign, so it seems Amy Rodriguez will be going to the Red Stars. If, for whatever reason, Rodriguez is doesn’t come back for the 2014 season, then Seattle’s going to have to send another national team player to Chicago.

Again, that’s unconfirmed speculation, but with Rodriguez’s status up in the air, it doesn’t look like this deal will be resolved until after the season; hence, the future considerations.

My first reaction to the trade: It’s a steal for Seattle. I’ve softened on that a little, but Carnell’s done well for her team. I may tend to over-value Winters, but she is a very good deep-sitting midfielder who has enough ability to function in a box-to-box role (Harvey sees her in a defensive role).

For whatever reason, Chicago saw Winters as their third-best option in the middle behind Shannon Boxx and Leslie Osborne. Even if Winters isn’t better than the two in 2013 (and she very well might be), she’s more valuable in the long run.

To get her, Carnell had to give up Seattle’s first round pick, a commodity that could turn into one of Crystal Dunn or Julie Johnston. Both college players project as future national team regulars, but they’re also defenders – not midfielders. Everybody needs defenders, of course, but for a team like Seattle in need of impact players, there’s an argument for preferring Winters over either defensive prospect.

But the duo’s also relatively unproven. Not every college star makes a smooth transition to the pro game. Even if they do, it’s no certainty they’ll be as good as Winters, who has scored seven goals in 36 games between the Boston Breakers, Seattle Sounders, and German power Turbine Potsdam since 2011.

It’s easy to fall in love with Dunn and Johnston’s potential, but it’s potential. The draft pick is a lottery ticket, one that won’t have access to those players if Seattle makes the playoffs. In my mind, it’s a one-in-three chance Seattle’s pick turns into one of those players. Factor in the probability Winters will remain a better player during the draftee’s time with her team, then the likelihood of Carnell giving away the deal’s best player becomes pretty low. It’s not enough of probability to stop this deal now.

Factor in Seattle’s needs — their desire to get some quality players in who can replace the talent they’ll miss — and Carnell made the right move. The team that was ambitious enough to pluck Harvey from Arsenal continues to be aggressive as the season approaches.

That aggression manifest again in Seattle’s other move: Securing Noyola’s early arrival. The Mexican international and former Stanford star was originally slated to finish the European campaign with ADO Den Haag; however, after a deal was reached between the clubs, the 22-year-old former U.S. youth international will join her new club after the Algarve Cup. The 2011 Hermann Trophy winner will be with Seattle for the club’s first game on April 14.

Mid-week, Seattle’s midfield was Nairn, Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle, then a significant drop. Now they’ve added Winters, somebody who can serve as an anchor centrally, and Noyola, who can team with Nairn to help augment the roster’s lack of goal scoring. If Ohio State alum Tiffany Cameron can carry over some of her NCAA goal scoring prowess (21 goals in 22 games as a senior), Seattle may have enough to survive the spring.

And that’s all they need to do. In a league where half the teams will make the playoffs, Harvey only needs to craft a team capable of surviving the spring. They need to stay within reach until Rapinoe returns.

The defense is big problem, and they’ll need some heroics from Solo if the team’s going to match the front office’s ambition. But thanks to their two most recent moves, Seattle’s back in the game. There are enough flawed teams in this league to give Seattle hope they can steal enough points to stay afloat.

If Harvey’s acumen can match her Arsenal results, the first round pick they gave up is not going to be Crystal Dunn or Julie Johnston. There are enough pieces here to avoid that worst case scenario.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.