Three good questions for Seattle Reign head coach/general manager Laura Harvey

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No NWSL team has had a more turbulent preseason than the Seattle Reign. They were allocated a star that had previously committed to spend the spring in France. Then the player expected to be their leading scorer became pregnant. The face of their team was forced to undergo wrist surgery which will sideline her until June, while just this week their general manager left the team.

For Seattle’s newest professional team, the NWSL’s first season can’t start soon enough.

Laura Harvey’s hiring from Arsenal Ladies remains one of the high points of the offseason. The 32-year-old who won four titles (in four years) during her time London was brought in to coach the team. With the departure of Amy Carnell, she’ll also assume general manager’s duties, a doubling down by owner Bill Predmore. If Harvey has trouble adapting to the game in the States, Seattle problems will be compounded. On the other hand, if she can adapt quickly, the Reign will reap the benefits of a promising coach managing her own roster.

Shortly before boarding a flight to Chicago (where the Reign open their season on Sunday), Harvey took some time to talk to PST about the upcoming season. Here are our three good questions.

1.) None of your originally allocated U.S. players are with you to start the season. Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez are all out for various reasons. Which loss hurts most?

They all hurt in different ways. I think maybe the Hope one hurts the most because we initially thought we did have her, then we had to plan quite late in the day that we weren’t going to have her.

We knew pretty much from day one about the Megan situation, and obviously as much as (Amy Rodriguez’s situation) is disappointing for our team, it’s hard to be annoyed by that when someone’s pregnant.

They all hurt in different ways, but we had to react pretty quickly to the Hope one. The position that she plays is sometimes the hardest one to replace. But we got there in the end.

(Note: Michelle Betos, a 25-year-old who attended Georgia, appears set to start the season in goal.)

2.) The team went out and traded for a Keelin Winters, a midfielder on the fringe of the national team. Combined with the early return of Theresa Noyola and Christine Nairn’s fall in the draft, you have, on paper, a strong midfield. Can you describe what Winters adds to what you were originally given? And how do you plan to set up your midfield?

Keelin has the experience of playing at the highest level domestically both in the States and in Europe (note: Winters spent the fall with Germany’s Turbine Potsdam). She adds experience which, if you look across our team, I think that’s the one thing we lack – experience at this level. She’s a dynamic all-around midfielder who can give you a lot in attack and is a good defensive midfielder, too. That’s probably the main thing that she brings.

How we’ll set up our midfielder could chance game-to-game depending on who we’re playing. We’ll look to try to overload midfielder areas to allow our best players to get on the ball. We field our midfield area is strongest, so we’ll try to overload in there.

3.) Now the inevitable question about your outlook on the season. On one hand, good coaching can cover a myriad cracks, especially in defense (in my opinion). On the other hand, people are looking at the team on paper and saying this is a bottom-two squad. What are your expectations for the season?

I have big expectations. I don’t think it should ever be any different. In the experience I’ve had is coaching and managing club teams, you have to be realistic with expectations.

And there is a realism. Other coaches in the league have stated this, but at the minute everything that people talk about is on paper. The game is not won there.

Coaching helps. Organization helps. Being prepared helps. Getting your players in the best physical and mental state helps, and it doesn’t matter if they’re World Cup winners, have a hundred caps for their country, or they’re rookies who have just come out of college. As long as they’re prepared mentally, physically and they know what their job for the team is, then you have a chance of winning games.

We’ll find out in August who’ve won the most games, and by then we can judge who set the right expectations and (who) didn’t. If anyone (said they’d) set an expectation not to finish in the top half of the league, I think they’d be lying. I don’t think anyone goes into the league not expecting to get into the playoffs.

That should be everyone’s expectation level. For sure, that’s the same with us. We’re setting the bar high and we’re hungry, we’re enthusiastic, and we’re not going to shy away from any obstacle that comes our way. The first one will be in Chicago on Sunday.

(Follow-up, on Rapinoe and Solo situations lending to the temptation to look at this as two seasons in one.)

Potentially, yes. June, July, August for us – those could be a complete game-changer. If we can maintain on the tails of all the other teams come those dates, we have a chance of finishing. Undoubtedly any team getting Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo back into the team will be a better team for it. You can’t deny that. We have that to look forward to.

Injuries, keeping your best players fit for as long as possible, (these) will be a major factor for teams in this league. If you can keep your best players on the field as long as possible you have the best chance of being successful, and we’re no different to that. Already we’ve had setbacks, as we all know. Megan’s been a bit different than an injury, but if can get [Rapinoe and Solo] back fit and healthy, we have a chance of being successful.

I don’t go into [a season] any other way. If somebody wants to tell me we’re going to finish bottom of the league, I’ll put any money on us moving up.

The NWSL season starts on Saturday in Kansas City. Here is more preview content from PST:

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Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday