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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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.