2013 NWSL preview: Picks, predictions, and blind prognostication

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We’re ready to wrap this up. With kickoff in Kansas City just over four hours away, it’s time to get ProSoccerTalk’s authors on record about the upcoming NWSL season: Who’ll win the games; who’ll score the goals; and which teams will make their inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season a fruitful one.

Having to pick a finishing order for eight teams you’ve never seen is an unenviable task, but the process is a good, quick way to provide some context for the upcoming season. See the same teams at the top of multiple lists, you know they’re probably favorites. If a team tends to land at the bottom, you know they have their work cut out for them.

Between those extremes, there’s conflict for Richard Farley and Jeff Kassouf. Here are their picks for the upcoming season: Order of finish and awards.

More links to preview content, below.

Pos. Kassouf Farley
1 Portland – We’ve seen this script before, and while there may be potential depth issues in the back, there’s no defense in this league or in the world that can handle Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair together. This has 2010 FC Gold Pride and 2011 WNY Flash written all over it, but perhaps a little less dominant. Portland – As we’ll see below, I have no problem with making a reach with preseason predictions, especially when we haven’t seen these teams play. Ever. But to have Portland below number one demands judging their few weaknesses more harshly than you would other teams’. Not that I begrudge somebody’s willingness to do so.
2 FC Kansas City – Solid throughout and should give every team trouble, especially if some of the yet-to-breakout players like Renae Cuellar (stellar preseason) come to life. FC Kansas City – The most well-rounded team in the league. They’ve done a great job with decent allocations, shrewd picks, and smart signings. A clear number two.
3 Western New York Flash – Composing a genuine back line a big question mark, but the midfield is spectacular and Abby Wambach and Adriana up top, with Veronica Perez sitting in behind, should do the Flash well. Boston Breakers – Huge problems in defense, but the Breakers have big upside in attack. Sydney Leroux will be one of the league’s best players, Heather O’Reilly’s one of the circuit’s few true threats from wide, and Australian Kyah Simon will also grab goals. At the back, they’re in really bad shape, but half the teams in this league may  be unable to take advantage.
4 Sky Blue FC – A good spine with Jill Loyden/Brittany Cameron in net, Christie Rampone leading in the back, Brittany Bock and Sophie Schmidt in the middle and Kelley O’Hara up top. Good coaching from Jim Gabarra could be the difference that gets SBFC into the playoffs. Seattle Reign – It will be at least eight games before Seattle gets Megain Rapinoe and Hope Solo back. If they can go 2-4-2 in that span, I think they grab the four seed. But for two months, I’m going to look like the irrational president of the Laura Harvey fanclub, though I’ll admit – the idea of changing GMs six days before kickoff made me reconsider what’s going on in Seattle.
5 Boston Breakers – Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon should have this team scoring goals, but the Breakers failed to go out and get a starting goalkeeper and that will end up costing them. Chicago Red Stars – Good goalkeeping with Erin McLeod. Decent in defense. They have an above-average midfield thanks to Lori Chalupny. Rory Dames thinks he’ll find enough goals to make this work. I think they come up just short.
6 Chicago Red Stars – Just not enough firepower on this team, though Inka Grings’ arrival later in May could change that. Sky Blue FC – I could see this team finishing anywhere between three and six. So why am I picking them six? It’s a flaw in my analysis. I tend to find aspects I love or hate about teams and dwell on them. Sometimes that works, most of the time it doesn’t. This time, it has Sky Blue sixth. There’s just nothing about this team that I either hate or love.
7 Seattle Reign FC –  With Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo, this team suddenly looks a lot better. Unfortunately, both those players will miss at least the first couple months of the season. Western New York Flash – I think this blows up. I’m not confident Abby Wambach holds up (just a hunch). Carli Lloyd tends to be much better with the national team than at club level. The defense has issues, though if Adi Franch is as good as advertised, she’ll cover some cracks, (though it’s not like Hope Solo’s teams had huge WPS success). While I like Franch, I think it’s more likely Wambach and Lloyd fail to match their national team output.
8 Washington Spirit – The back is solid, sure – I regard Ali Krieger as one of the best right backs out there and Ashlyn Harris will do well. But I don’t see how this team is scoring many goals. Washington Spirit – Goalkeeping, some good defenders, but little else. Like anybody else in this league they prove much better once we see them play. Ultimately, we’re making picks based on teams we’ve never seen play.
Awards
MVP Alex Morgan or Christine Sinclair will probably get it, but I typically vote for the underappreciated players that hold teams together, like a Becky Edwards. I’ve got Christine Sinclair, but if national team absences prove decisive, a non-national teamer like Becky Edwards could take it. (Clearly, Jeff and I have known each other for too long.)
Golden Boot Christine Sinclair Alex Morgan
Best Defender Becky Sauerbrunn Becky Sauerbrunn – No Amy LePeilbet. No Whitney Engen. Sauerbrunn was a WPS warrior.
Goalkeeper of the Year Nicole Barnhart Adrianna Franch
Rookie of the Year Adrianna Franch Christine Nairn – Even if I don’t like her team’s chances, Franch wins the Keeper honor on talent and her competition missing so much time. Nairn gets the Rookie honor while helping Seattle survive the storm.

More NWSL previews:

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U.S. Open Cup roundup: Poku lifts Miami; Red Bulls, Cincy win on PKs

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While MLS represents the majority of the remaining clubs in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, one side continues to defy the odds.

[ MORE: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson ]

Miami FC reached their first quarterfinal in club history after knocking off Atlanta United late on Wednesday, behind a goal and an assist from Kwadwo Poku. The victory for Miami sets up a date with FC Cincinnati — who pulled off an unbelievable shootout win against the Chicago Fire.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution both advanced on the night with wins over the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, respectively. The Red Bulls and Revs will meet in the final eight as well.

Sporting KC kept its hope of hoisting a fourth U.S. Open Cup title alive on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. The 2015 winners will take on FC Dallas — who defeated the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night.

Here are all the results from tonight’s Open Cup action.

Houston Dynamo 0-2 Sporting KC
New England Revolution 2-1 D.C. United
Miami FC 3-2 Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls 1-1 (5-3 on PKs) Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati 0-0 (3-1 on PKs) Chicago Fire
San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Seattle Sounders
LA Galaxy 2-0 Sacramento Republic

Report: City Football Group set to expand outreach with Girona deal

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City Football Group appears on the verge of adding to its global outreach, and it’s next destination looks to be in Spain.

[ MORE: Are Southampton’s days of selling behind the club? ]

The group of investors, which are known for controlling Premier League side Manchester City, are reportedly nearing a deal to purchase a partial stake in Spanish club Girona — which is set to make its La Liga debut in 2017/18.

CFG is said to be gaining a near “50 percent” stake in the club, with the rest of the club owned by Media Base, a company owned by Pep Guardiola‘s brother, Pere.

Over recent years, CFG has vastly expanded its ownership outreach and currently has a stake in five clubs around the world, with Girona set to be the sixth.

MLS side New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay are all part of the CFG enterprise, alongside Man City.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.