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2013 NWSL preview: Picks, predictions, and blind prognostication


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.
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.

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FOLLOW LIVE: UEFA Champions League Wednesday fixtures

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - NOVEMBER 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden celebrates after the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Denmark and Sweden at Parken Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yesterday’s Champions League slate brought us the return of Lionel Messi to the field, and he exploded back onto the scene in only a way that Messi can. Today features another return, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes home.

PSG heads to Sweden as Zlatan comes back to his boyhood, hometown club of Malmo, kicking at 2:45 P.M. ET. Zlatan isn’t one to dish out compliments to opponents very often, but he had nothing but gushing praise for the club that kickstarted his career.

“I have become who I am because of Malmo,” Zlatan told the Malmo official website. “Everything started in Malmo and I feel like a Malmo lad. I move in a Malmo way and I think I talk in a Malmo way. Everything is Malmo for me.” He also hopes to score a hat-trick and have the home fans chant his name.

[ FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League Wednesday fixtures ]

A win for PSG along with a Shakhtar Donetsk loss would progress both Real Madrid and the French club into the knockout stages.

Elsewhere, Manchester City travels to Juventus looking to solidify their hold on the top spot in Group D. City has been unlucky with their group stage draws in recent years, but they could snatch the top spot in the group this year should they win today. The Italians are just a point behind, and could go top of the group with a win of their own.

The aforementioned Blancos of Real Madrid travels to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk. Real Madrid is already guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds, but a win would secure them the top spot in the group with PSG three points behind.

Manchester United welcomes PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford with the Group B still entirely in flux. A win for Wolfsburg earlier today over CSKA Moscow put them ahead, but the Red Devils could snatch that top spot back with a win. Should Louis Van Gaal and company falter, they would drop out of a knockout stage spot, as PSV sits just one point back of them in third.

Finally, Atletico Madrid hosts Galatasaray in a very important match in the middle of Group C. Sevilla tops the group with 10 points, but with Atletico behind them at seven points and Galatasaray on four, Atletico could secure themselves a knockout round berth with the three points, while a win for the Turks would leave things totally up for grabs.

One more final score from earlier today, Benfica drew Astana 2-2 in Kazakhstan, leaving them just three points ahead of Atletico Madrid atop Group C.

VIDEO: Watch hilarious Liverpool boss Klopp practice scouse accent

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Will Jurgen Klopp be “giving it bifters” anytime soon?

Well, he’s probably already been doing that after Liverpool brushed aside Manchester City last weekend: “boss tha.”

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make UCL last 16? ]

If you are wondering what the heck is going on, take a look at the video above as a young Liverpool fan — nine-year-old Issac — gave the German coach a scouse lesson as Klopp has now been in charge of the Reds for over seven weeks.

The video was shot before Liverpool’s big win at Man City, and Klopp promised Issac he would sneak “boss tha” into his press conference if they won.

During his pre-match press conference on Wednesday before Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Bordeaux, Klopp was true to his word.

Is your “head chocka” yet?

Click play on the video above to see the hilarious interview in full, as Klopp learns plenty of useful scouse phrases and, of course, there are plenty of hugs and laughs.

Mauricio Pochettino wants Premier League to work schedule around Europa League

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at White Hart Lane on November 22, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino won’t be the first to make these requests, nor will he be the last. Nonetheless, every time someone brings up this point, it’s noteworthy.

The Spurs boss said it’s “not fair” that Chelsea has two days extra to recover from their midweek Champions League game, while his side has a Thursday affair in Europa League play, giving them just two days off before their Premier League meeting on Sunday.

“To be fair, you need to compete in every competition with the same conditions as the opponent,” Pochettino pleaded to Sky Sports prior to Spurs’ trip to Azerbaijan to take on FC Qarabag. “I am not complaining. I only want to translate our feeling. I only want to bring attention to the conditions, that it’s not fair to have two days less recovery than the opponent.”

“My question is; why not be attentive and careful to try to help the team who needs to compete in Europe? It’s difficult because we need to manage a lot of things. We need to be clinical in how we assess our players because the jet lag is very important.”

The idea that the Europa League is more detrimental than it is an asset for teams that make it in. For Spurs, it can sap the team of energy as they push for a top four league spot and an in to the Champions League. For some mid-table sides who make it into the earlier rounds thanks to Cup wins or Fair Play berths, it can be a massive hurdle as the clubs focus on maintaining their Premier League status.

Pochettino isn’t asking for much from the Premier League, just even a few extra hours.

“Why not play on the Monday, or 4pm on Sunday, instead of 12pm?” Pochettino said. “It’s not much of a gap but in four hours you can rest a little bit more, you can sleep and recover after the long flight. Chelsea has two days more to recover. They play Tuesday, we play Thursday, and I think Jose Mourinho will agree that he has a little advantage to prepare for the game. But it’s not an excuse not to compete on Sunday and try to win the game.”

Daniel Sturridge could return for Liverpool against Bordeaux

X during Liverpool FC training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 30, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it’s possible that Daniel Sturridge could return to the Liverpool lineup when the Reds host Bordeaux in Europa League action on Thursday.

Sturridge has made just three Premier League appearances this season due to multiple injuries, and has not played since a full 90 minutes against Everton on October 4. He is back in training, however, and was an unused substitute in the 4-1 win over Manchester City on the weekend.

“The best news at the moment is Daniel is getting closer and closer,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He can train seven or eight times in a row which is the longest period since I’ve been here.”

Klopp was faced with a striker injury crisis at the start of his tenure at Anfield, but the options have slowly improved. The German was first forced to use Divock Origi in his first match in charge. He employed Roberto Firmino up front against Manchester City with great results, but said in his interview with the NBC Sports crew after the match that he had to continually remind Firmino to push forward into a striker role before the Brazilian eventually scored.

Christian Benteke was also among the substitutes against City, and now it appears Sturridge could be close to a return. Klopp said he will be a game-time decision tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, whether he starts or not.

“My decision you will see but it is closer and that is very good,” Klopp said.