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FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns stalemate rings in NWSL

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It only took three minutes for the new National Women’s Soccer League to find its first goal scorer, with FC Kansas City’s Renae Cueller beating Karina LeBlanc in the third minute of Saturday’s opener. For over an hour, the lead held, but when a controversial whistle gave Thorns captain Christine Sinclair an opportunity from the spot, Portland had the chance they needed to secure a 1-1 draw in front of 6,784 at Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kan.

It was an strong start for a league that’s hoping the third time’s a charm for women’s professional soccer. Yes, the match was played on turf at a high school venue, and those people who waded through the choppy internet stream the NWSL offered on its YouTube channel saw high school football lines serve as a perpetual reminder of the league’s modest beginnings, but fans were also privy to a quality of play that WUSA and WPS — the two previous professional leagues — would have been hard pressed to match. While the talent in midfield for both teams meant that quality often cancelled out, long time fans of the women’s game could close their browser windows happy. The NWSL looks promising.

That promise started with Cuellar’s goal, a left-footed finish from 16 yards out that began 20 minutes of control for the hosts. The stretch gave NWSL fans every reason to believe a deep FCKC squad can compete with a star-laden Thorns team that’s been singled out as the league favorites.

Though play started to even out mid-way through the first half, the two sitting midfielders in Vlatko Andonovski’s 4-2-3-1 variant continued cutting off Portland’s access to their most dangerous weapons: Sinclair and strike partner Alex Morgan. A talent Thorns midfield was neutered by Desiree Scott and Jen Buczowski’s two-woman shield, the fast turf, and their own inability to effectively move the ball. Morgan, the league’s biggest star, was taken out of the game. Portland may have the most talented team in the league, but going into halftime, there was little doubt they’d been outplayed.

Why Thorns FC were able to recover in the second half is open to interpretation. Form Portland’s point of view, an increase in intensity, particularly with their forwards pressing Kansas City’s defenders, helped sway the game. But that may only tell part of the story. As the match bled on FCKC lost the abandon with which they were throwing attackers at Portland’s back line. Second half questions of the Thorns’ defense often left Cuellar isolated. The rest of her team played too reverential, and by the hour mark, Portland was convincingly controlling play.

It still took a beneficial whistle for the Thorns to pull even. In the 66th minute Danielle Foxhoven, recently brought on for Angie Kerr, appeared to be pulled down by Kansas City’s Lauren Sesselman near the edge of the six-yard box. It was the type of foul that may have looked more convincing to a trailing referee than a television audience, though Andonovski and defender Becky Sauerbrunn would later express their disagreement with the call. But those refrains had to wait until after the match, one left drawn after Sinclair buried the penalty kick.

For Portland, it was a fortuitous draw, though given how they’d come into the game, they very well could have created a goal over the match’s final 23 minutes. Their midfield was average, and a defense that was questioned during preseason was at fault for Kansas City’s only goal. Still, by the end of the match, Portland seemed to have evened the scales.

Kansas City played a big part in that. In the second half, they lacked the intensity that caused Portland to scramble over the first 45 minutes. Throwing Casey Loyd, Lauren Cheney, and Kristie Mewis forward to attack off of Cuellar in the first half, FCKC was able to constantly stress the Thorns with quick transitions out of their own end. That verve was absent over the last 45, allowing Portland to come back into the match.

Ultimately, this may be a result that suits both sides. Because of the quality of their team and the surface they play on, Kansas City may prove one of the more difficult teams to take points from on the road. And from FCKC’s point of view, they can take solace in earning a point from a full strength Thorns squad.

Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair spoke to’s Geoffrey C. Arnold after Saturday’s match:

Portland players Ridgewell, Gleeson arrested on DUI charges

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Adam Larsen Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers knocks the ball away from Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew as Liam Ridgewell #24 and Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers look on during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and defender Liam Ridgewell face charges of driving under the influence after an accident in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Monday night.

Gleeson and Ridgewell were booked into Clackamas County Jail and posted bond. Both are scheduled to appear in Lake Oswego Municipal Court on Nov. 16.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Police said Gleeson rear-ended another vehicle and called Ridgewell, who arrived later to help. Neither Gleeson nor the driver of the vehicle he hit was injured in the accident.

Gleeson, who is from New Zealand, faces charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and reckless endangerment while Ridgewell, who is British, faces a DUII charge.

The team issued a statement Tuesday that said it has been in “close contact with the players, local law enforcement and the league office” and will not comment further until additional information is known.

The case for (and against) every Western Conference MLS playoff team

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook
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On Monday, PST’s Nicholas Mendola made the case for (and against) the six sides vying for the Eastern Conference’s place in MLS Cup 2016. Today, I’ll do the same for the Western Conference.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Real Salt Lake (6)

Why they could win it: Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez combine to form one of the league’s most terrifying attacking trios (25 goals, 17 assists combined) … when they’re at their best (more on that in the section below).

Why they won’t: Momentum. They have none. Seven games without a win to finish the regular season (three draws, four losses). Scored all of two goals in their final six games. Five straight losses on the road (last win: July 31), which is where they’ll be playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET) in the knockout round. They never actually figured what to do at center back alongside Justen Glad — you simply can’t count on Jamison Olave or Chris Schuler to be healthy and stay on the field.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Sporting Kansas City (5)

Why they could win it: They’ll outwork just about anyone in the midfield, which is a trait that typically translates to success in the playoffs. The core of the team — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and a few others — have been there and won it all before. Realistically, they needed to win four points from their last two games to get into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what they did. There’s something to be said for that.

Why they won’t: Though they faced the fewest number of total shots during the regular season, they gave up way too many big chances due to catastrophic mistakes at the back and deep in midfield. The lack of a consistent scoring option beyond Dwyer (16 goals) makes them extremely one-dimensional as it’s too easy to cut off service to the lone man up top. A deep playoff run would have to look something like this: 1-0 win; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg. Margin for error: extremely thin.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Seattle Sounders (4)

Why they’ll win it: Momentum. They have all of it. Since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach on July 26, they’ve suffered just two defeats (eight wins, four draws). Nicolas Lodeiro was the best no. 10 in the league the day he arrived, and he’s been worth his weight in gold thus far (four goals, eight assists in 13 games). Jordan Morris gets stronger and stronger with each passing game, and that’s never the case with rookies. Cristian Roldan solved their problem deep in midfield, perhaps extending the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years if they roll with the same setup in 2017.

Why they won’t: Have you ever seen what the Sounders do in the playoffs? I also still worry about Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones at the two fullback spots. If teams can transition following a turnover quickly enough, they’ll find a ton of joy down either flank.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East ]

LA Galaxy (3)

Why could win it: They’re the Galaxy, and Bruce Arena is still their head coach. Giovani dos Santos enjoyed an otherworldly end to the summer (seven goals, seven assists from late-July to early-September). With Robbie Keane out injured for extended periods, this is now his team. Lost just once at home all season — combined with RSL’s road struggles, the Galaxy are a solid bet to get out of the knockout round. Oh, and Landon Donovan lives for the playoffs.

Why they won’t: What’s up with the midfield? Is it Baggio Husidic and no one else? Is Steven Gerrard going to be healthy? Is Jeff Larentowicz the answer? You do know Sebastian Lletget isn’t a defensive midfielder, right? They’re fine at the back, and still pretty scary on the attack (despite injuries — Gyasi Zardes), but you can’t overlook the total absence of a midfield.

[ MORE: Biggest 2016 disappointment — Portland or Columbus? ]

Colorado Rapids (2)

Why they’ll win it: 32 goals conceded during the regular season (fewest in MLS). No one has perfected the art of the 1-0 victory quite like Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids. 60 minutes will go by, and you’ll have taken all of two shots, both from 35 yards out. One can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to play against team. Home losses in 2016: zero.

Why they won’t: 39 goals scored during the regular season (second-fewest in MLS). If/when they go a goal down, they won’t be able to get back into the game against a Cup-contending side. Their margin of error in this regard is practically nonexistent. Jermaine Jones returned to action after nearly four months on the sideline (knee injury) over the weekend, but there’s no way he can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way on that kind of a turnaround, right? Right? Don’t count this team — or him — out. Seriously, don’t do it.

Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

FC Dallas (1)

Why they’ll win it: Here are two inarguable statements about FCD: they’re the most talented team in MLS; they’re the deepest team in MLS. Fabian Castillo was transferred two-thirds of the way through the season, and they didn’t skip a beat. They can play with pace; they can grind it out in ugly affairs; they can pummel you with set pieces. However you choose to force them to beat you, they’re happy to oblige. No one maximizes each and ever facet of the game quite like Oscar Pareja’s Hoops. Matt Hedges was far and away the best defender in MLS this year, and Walker Zimmerman, his center back partner, was top-five (-three?) himself. Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele complement each other wonderfully and give Pareja an infinite number of tactical tweaks to apply.

Why they won’t: Mauro Diaz is out for the season (torn achilles). That’s a massive blow for any team, even FCD. No one has a better feel for the tempo of the game — when to push it; when to ease off the gas — than Diaz, and FCD will inevitably play themselves into trouble a haldful of times each game without their guiding light. That’s it, though. On paper, priod to Diaz’s injury, it would have been nigh impossible to make a case against FCD completing the first treble in MLS history.

LIVE – EFL Cup: Liverpool vs. Tottenham headlines five ties

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It is a big night in the EFL Cup on Tuesday with five Premier League involved across the five games.

[ LIVE: Follow EFL Cup scores ]

There’s no doubting that the game of the night is at Anfield as Premier League title contenders Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur collide. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will both make changes but are expected to field very strong teams.

Elsewhere Arsenal host Championship side Reading with Arsene Wenger set to give plenty of youngsters a chance (Gedion Zelalem klaxon) plus there are two all-Championship ties with Newcastle United hosting Preston North End and Leeds United welcoming Norwich City to Elland Road. Premier League side Hull City, who haven’t won any of their last seven league games, head to Bristol City as the second-tier side will fancy their chances of an upset at Ashton Gate.

Below is the schedule for the five games, with all of them kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. If you click on the link above, you can follow the games live while we will have reaction on all five games here on ProSoccerTalk.

EFL Cup fourth round, Tuesday games

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United vs. Preston North End
Arsenal vs. Reading
Bristol City vs. Hull City
Leeds United vs. Norwich City.

Who needs victory more in EFL Cup: Man United or Man City?

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 592215668 and 596883044) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City.  Josep Guardiola brings his Manchester City team to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in their first Manchester derby in the Premier League on September 10, 2016.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City encourages his players during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester’s two teams aren’t quite in turmoil, but they are in a tricky patch.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave?

Perhaps the last thing both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would’ve wanted is another massive derby game so early on in their respective careers at United and City but they will clash again in an EFL Cup last 16 tie on Wednesday. 

But they’ve got it.

In September the two teams met at Old Trafford with Kevin De Bruyne the star of the show as he scored and grabbed an assist in City’s 2-1 win.

Since then City have stumbled in recent weeks and Guardiola is without a win in his last five games in all competitions. That’s only happened to him once before in his managerial career and after the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday he kept his side locked in the dressing room for 50 minutes after the game.

For Mourinho, he will still be seething from the 4-0 defeat at his former club Chelsea on Sunday as the Portuguese coach suffered his worst-ever defeat in a Premier League game and also lashed out at Antonio Conte with a bizarre post-match embrace.

Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Guardiola played up the special atmosphere of derby day in Manchester.

“I always expect the best from United,” Guardiola said. “They are strong team with quality. They are six points behind – just two games. Derbies are always special. We are going to try to play seriously and try to win the game.”

That said, Guardiola revealed that he will rotate his squad and that De Bruyne is out injured for the clash. So, that will be a boost for Mourinho and United.

With both the Red Devils and the Citizens having a heck of a week following big Premier League games and European action, it is likely both teams will rest plenty of players but can either really afford to do so?

So early on in their careers at the two hugely expectant clubs, both are experiencing wobbles. You can argue that perhaps Mourinho needs a win here more than Guardiola.

The latter already has City playing his way and in his style. Even if silly defensive errors from Claudio Bravo and John Stones in recent games have cost them results, there is a clear direction City is heading in. They’re on their way and are top of the Premier League on 20 points.

For United, where do we start?

The Wayne Rooney situation has taken center stage once again as questions continue to crop up about his future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, while dressing room unrest is also being reported with some players “surprised by how hands off he’s been” on the training ground. It is never good when things like that start to leak out. Add to that 14 points from their first nine games of the PL season with Mourinho has the same record as David Moyes did in his first nine league games in charge, plus Paul Pogba struggling and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ice-cold and things are stacking up against the Red Devils.

Yeah, Mourinho and United need this EFL Cup win more, especially after losing the derby at home last month. A victory will build confidence and give Mourinho extra games to use all of his squad and try and get his message across.

In the past Mourinho has had great success in the EFL Cup, winning it three times in his five full seasons as a manager in the Premier League. He values its importance and although his rivalry with Guardiola goes way back, he may want to (and perhaps needs to) win this game much more than City’s manager does.