2013 NWSL team preview: Chicago Red Stars

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up is another return entrant from Women’s Professional Soccer, the Chicago Red Stars.

Joining Sky Blue, Boston, and Western New York, the Red Stars are one of four NWSL clubs that participated in WPS, even if Chicago elected to pass on the league’s final season in 2011. Since then the club has been playing the Women’s Premier Soccer League, losing in the 2011 final before duplicating the feat in 2012’s WPSL Elite.

Such was the world of semi-pro soccer that a professional-caliber organization could drop down and come within two hairs of winning consecutive titles. Now back at their level, the Red Stars will find things more difficult. In the crapshoot that was NWSL allocation, Chicago ended up with the short end of the stick, and after taking a draft pick in exchange Keelin Winters — a talented midfielder who played at a position of depth — the Red Stars are left with a solid but older team, one that has questions everywhere but goal.

In a league of new teams that have only had four weeks to prepare for the season, that’s a description that could be applied to most NWSL clubs. That means if everything clicks, Chicago will make the playoffs, outperforming teams who can’t find solutions. And if they don’t, the Red Stars will finish in the league’s lower half.

Who you know: While FC Kansas City (previewed earlier) may lack superstars, Chicago lacks stars of any variety. Their biggest name is Shannon Boxx (pictured), a regular in central midfield for the U.S. national team but somebody whose been away from the team throughout preseason. It’s unclear how she’ll perform in a midfield with former Boston Breaker Leslie Osborne, someone who can play a very similar role.

The defense has question marks without Amy LePeilbet, the two-time WPS Defender of the Year who is out for the season. Erin McLoud, one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, may have to be Chicago’s best player for the team to have a chance at the playoffs.

Lori Chalupny is another name, the former U.S. international returning to Chicago after helping them to the 2012 WPSLE final. The 29-year-old could be one of the league’s better all-around midfielders, providing the type of leadership that can help a new group of come together quickly.

Who you should know: The Red Stars surprised some when they made Zakiya Bywaters the first pick in the College Draft, though shortly after her selection, Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum expressed his support. If he had the first pick in the draft, Waldrum said, he would have taken Bywaters, an attacker who Waldrum has coached while running the U-23 national team.

Bywaters is one of a number of potential goal scorers for the Red Stars – a slew of players who’ll be counted on to address Chicago’s biggest weakness. Mexican legend Maribel Dominguez and Ella Masar, returning to Chicago after a stint at Paris Saint-Germain, will also need to compensate for the lack of an elite goal scorer.

What it means: Though Chicago are without LePeilbet, the defense looks decent, and with a midfield that has talent that can defy its redundancies, the big question is scoring. Can the Red Stars find enough goals to get the three point-results that separate the postseason from the also-rans?

Chicago opens the NWSL season on Sunday against visiting Seattle.

More NWSL previews:

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League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”