2013 NWSL team preview: FC Kansas City

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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 one of the league’s early favorites, FC Kansas City.

If there’s one team that can be the Dallas Mavericks to Thorns FC’s Miami Heat, it’s FC Kansas City. At least, if we take the thin speculation that’s festered since early winter’s allocation and give it far too much weight, Portland are the favorites and FCKC are dark horse that can chase them down.

It’s a surprising status for a team that lacks one of the league’s marquee talents. Instead, FC Kansas City combines rock solid  allocations, a fortuitous draft, and shrewd free agent signings to form one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. Whereas teams like the Thorns and Boston Breakers accent tremendous strengths with potentially worrisome weaknesses, Kansas City looks solid everywhere.

The question is not of faults but of potential. If another team with more firepower finds their stride, can FC Kansas City remain that galloping dark horse set to un-tell our narratives? Would you rather have a team that comes with guarantees, or one higher upside?

Who you know: Though she’s settling into a midfield role with the national team, Lauren Cheney (pictured) will be counted on for goals, something that weren’t easy to come by when she arrived in WPS from UCLA. When played at forward, she’ll be KC’s main option with the hope she’ll form a strong relationship with Kristie Mewis, the attacking midfielder that surprisingly fell to number three in the draft.

Becky Sauerbrunn, one of WPS’s best defenders, will be the cornerstone in central defense, while national team backup Nicole Barnhart will be the No. 1 in goal.

Who you should know: Casey Loyd may be the league’s ultimate X-factor. As skilled as anybody in this league, the former North Carolina Tar Heel was one of the final picks in the supplemental draft, falling after concern she wouldn’t play this season. With her commitment, head coach Vlatko Andonovski has a player who severely increases the team’s upside.

Canadian international Desiree Scott could be one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, Mexico’s Renae Cuellar will help Cheney in attack, while the likes of Melissa Henderson, Jen Buczkowski, Lauren Sesselmann and Sinead Farrelly round out a team that has very few obvious weaknesses.

That’s not a description that can be applied to a lot of teams in this league.

What it means:  When U.S. Soccer announced Kansas City had been awarded a NWSL franchise, it looked like an isolated team with no pre-existing footprint, one that might struggle to attract (or be allocated) talent. Reality has painted a drastically different picture. This team may lack a superstar, but top-to-bottom, it’s one of the most talented groups in the league – a title contender.

The first game in FC Kansas City history will take place Saturday against the Portland Thorns.

More NWSL previews:

And more:

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…