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 OregonLive.com’s Geoffrey C. Arnold after Saturday’s match:

MLS Power Rankings — Week 8: FC Dallas back on top

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FC Dallas relinquished the top spot in the Power Rankings last week. Their response? To beat the team that jumped them.

A number of teams grabbed much needed wins, including Seattle, Toronto, and Orlando City. The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake slipped up. See below where each team sits going into Week 8.

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[ MORE: Last week’s MLS Power Rankings ]

TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

22 (22)

21 (20)

20 (19)

Philadelphia Union: After Montreal’s 3-goal comeback, Alejandro Bedoya said it’s “hard to stomach” what feels like another loss. It’s only April, and the aura is already discouraging.

Colorado Rapids: Since beating New England, they’ve scored four goals in their last five. Losing to Minnesota is painful.

Montreal Impact: A crazy comeback and a rescinded red card have netted Montreal four points over their last two, but the big picture still screams struggles.


19 (21) Minnesota United: It came against hapless Colorado, but a win is a win is a win. Seven points in the last four. A solid defensive record. A chance to build further comes against San Jose.
18 (15) LA Galaxy: The transition away from Bruce Arena is an obvious excuse for a truly bad start, but the squad also looks porous. Questions may be asked soon.
17 (13) Vancouver Whitecaps: With a tough immediate schedule ahead, Vancouver could be headed for a second-half fightback just to make the playoffs. Can’t dig too deep a hole.
16 (17) New England Revolution: This team’s all over the place. A lot like DC United in that they seem to have good moments and bad moments each week.
15 (16) DC United: Positives and negatives taken from the draw with New England. Sums up the season so far.
14 (14) San Jose Earthquakes: No matter the home form, winless in five is very concerning.
13 (18) Seattle Sounders: Well. They certainly needed that. Soundly trouncing the Galaxy is promising, and games against New England and Toronto are a huge chance to truly turn the poor start around.
12 (9) Real Salt Lake: Oops. Maybe last week’s leap of faith was slightly premature. Falling in to Atlanta’s fantastic start isn’t the end of the world, but losing momentum from a 2-game winning streak hurts.
11 (11) Houston Dynamo: Great at home. Not a single road point. Will we learn anything more about Houston when they visit Toronto? They’re still hard to gauge, but seem more dangerous than not.
10 (6) Columbus Crew: Road travels are tough no matter where you go in MLS play, but the Crew cannot turn two straight road losses into a bigger habit.New York Red Bulls:
9 (12) New York Red Bulls: Soundly beating Columbus means they get to jump the Crew on this list, and a win over Chicago next time out would see them climb further up the Top 10.
8 (10) Toronto FC: Their table position is still slightly unnerving given the team’s talent, but a win Friday over defensively challenged Houston would give Toronto a much more deserved location.
7 (7) New York City FC: All 3 of NYCFC’s losses have come by 1 goal. It’s early, and those are correctable. Moving up after a loss is rare, but this team is well-managed and dangerous.
6 (5) Chicago Fire: There’s little shame in losing to a pair of Giovinco goals on the road, but the manner of the loss is somewhat startling. Outpossessed Toronto, yet obliterated 9-1 in shots on target.
5 (8) Atlanta United: After forever on the road, Atlanta returns home in fantastic position. The one concern has to be discipline – they picked up four more yellows in the RSL win.
4 (4) Portland Timbers: A home win over a Cascadia rival goes a long way towards putting a bad four-game stretch to bed.
3 (1) Sporting KC: A lack of goals has been mitigated this season by a fantastic defensive unit, but that proved their downfall against FC Dallas, and could be an issue going forward against better attacking teams.
2 (3) Orlando City: Jason Kreis emphatically put to bed the thought that Orlando City couldn’t win on the road. Cyle Larin is absurdly good. But can they survive shouldering the entire goalscoring responsibility on one man?
1 (2) FC Dallas: After dropping to #2 last week due to a lack of marquee results, they promptly went out and became the first team to beat Sporting KC this year. Welcome back to the top spot.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Burnley

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  • Palace unbeaten in 10 vs Burnley at home
  • Burnley has 1 goal from open play in last 6
  • Burnley has just 4 points on road all season

The old 40 point target is within grasp.

One more win for Crystal Palace would put them over the cusp, as Sam Allardyce leads his Eagles into battle against Burnley at Selhurst Park on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Palace’s recent form suggests they’ll do just that, with a massive surge of six wins in their last nine to boost them out of the relegation zone and into a push towards the table’s top half. Their last three wins have come against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. However, they’re depleted in central defense, with Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann, and James Tomkins all out injured.

Burnley, meanwhile, could get to 39 points with a win, a big boost in their bid to outrun those below them in the table. The Clarets are looking to buck the league’s worst road record, with just a single win and a single draw away from Turf Moor. They’ll be without Joey Barton, whose career could be over after an 18-month suspension for gambling. That’s a big miss for the Clarets, as Barton has played all but 10 minutes of their last 12 matches. Scott Arfield could be a candidate to replace Barton, with the 28-year-old a regular in the side before Barton’s arrival midseason.

What they’re saying

Allardyce on Burnley“I think he has built a very good football club from top to bottom on stability that he has brought to Burnley, he has made Burnley’s owners and directors look at the financial side of their club and they now see one that is financially secure. That money has been brought to the club by him getting them promoted to the Premier League, evolving at a nice, steady pace and as a club they have not panicked and been patient, which is a word that doesn’t happen in football anymore. If you look at the football dictionary, the word patient you can’t find anymore because there is none. But there is at Burnley.”

Burnley manager on survival“We have more points than we did ever in the Premier League and it’s now about taking it all the way. It’s now about everything we’ve learned over the season and delivering performances in these last four games. We, as a club, without a shadow of a doubt are in really good shape going into this last bunch of games. But we aren’t naïve enough to think it takes care of itself, because it doesn’t. We have to go and step on and take care of what we need to.”

Prediction

Burnley has been horrid away from home this season, and while they should stay up given the poor squads below them, Crystal Palace is playing too well to fall to lesser opposition at Selhurst Park. Christian Benteke will continue to feast as the Eagles win.

Robbie Mustoe: Tottenham are bosses in North London, for this season

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Ahead of Sunday’s North London derby (NBCSN, 11:30am ET), Robbie Mustoe spoke with ProSoccerTalk about Tottenham, Arsenal and whether there is a transition of power happening in North London.

Q: Are we seeing a power shift in North London between Tottenham and Arsenal?

Robbie Mustoe: I think it’s hard to really commit to that statement of a power shift because of the history and because of the revenues. I went back and checked just on the 2016 figures and Arsenal have so much more money coming in. Arsenal have 468 million euros of revenue and Spurs have 279 million. That’s almost 200 million euros in terms of difference. For a long-term power shift I still think it’s really hard for me to think that’s going to happen when there’s that difference in money.

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When you look at Spurs at the moment with their amazing training ground, their new stadium, a motivated owner and chairmen in Daniel Levy, a fantastic young manager with a young team, you have to think, hang on for a minute could history change and all of sudden Spurs become that dominate force in North London? But again, I go back to the revenues and a lot in the Premier League is governed by your revenues as a football club and I just can’t think that there’s going to be this crazy difference right now. Even though Spurs are in a brilliant period of time with what they are doing at the moment and Arsenal are not, I think it’s way too early to say that there’s a shift of power in North London.

Q: Have Spurs begun to rise to the level of Arsenal?

RM: I think it’s about Spurs rising, but Arsenal have definitely fallen. Considering where they are right now it looks very difficult for them to finish in the top four and they’re stagnating. They’ve stood still where Spurs have really gone forward. I think you really have to give credit to the owner Daniel Levy. We all know he is an extremely hard negotiator, he won’t go crazy on players’ salaries. He has sold the club’s best players before for financial reasons, like [Gareth] Bale and [Luka] Modric and through all those situations he’s still managing to put together the football side of the club that’s phenomenal. Their new stadium is going to be incredible. We had a look at it two weeks ago when we were in England and it was magnificent. There’s no question that Spurs are on a fantastic run with this new dynamic football side of things and this young squad that have been all signed up.  They’ve signed up all their good young players where with Arsenal you’re thinking about who’s staying, who’s going to sign a longer contract.

I think the off the field stuff in terms of organization, preparation and execution, Spurs have been fantastic. It’s just the annual revenues that Tottenham Hotspur bring in are still a long way down on some of the other clubs in the Premier League. That’s the challenge for them going forward. You have to figure Spurs will be addressing these revenue issues in the next few years as they move into their new stadium and maybe if the team gets more successful they will close that gap financially as well.

Q: If we are looking at the next five years, which side has the brighter future?

RM: I think in the five-year window Spurs’ future is more positive. I mean in terms of the ownership, Stan Kroenke doesn’t seem that motivated, that involved. Arsenal are a giant of a club, a historical giant of European football and that’s where the frustration has come from the Arsenal fans. They should be challenging for the title. Last year, I thought it was absolutely their year to win, given the other teams that weren’t in good shape and Leicester ended up winning the league title so the frustrations are still there. I think the general feeling is that Arsene Wenger is going to stay at the football club so I just, you can’t see a reason to be extremely positive about them challenging for the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Full Premier League schedule – Week 35 ]

Whereas Spurs you can. Their net spend over the last few years hasn’t been a lot. They’ve received a lot of money from the players they’ve sold. Financially they are in good shape and they’ve done an amazing job in producing a brilliant young team without spending a huge amount of money. I think when you look at the manager and these young players you have to be more excited about Spurs. Particularly the players that are signed up for long contracts. They are playing so well, their ages are good and there’s been an improvement from last season with Spurs. They’ve got their highest Premier League points tally already in 74 points. That’s real progression and the majority of the team is the same so that shows you what the manager does with his players. He improves them and develops them so they become a stronger team, where with Arsenal you can’t say that. You can’t say that many of the players, if any at all, are improving. There doesn’t seem to be this same underlying progression from the squad.

Q: What do you think happens in this weekend’s North London derby?

RM: I think it’s interesting. I think it’s made more interesting because of Arsenal’s system. The three at the back is very different for Wenger. It’s worked in the three games they’ve played so far. They’ve won all of them when they’ve played this system. We first saw it against Middlesbrough which didn’t look particularly comfortable but I think they’ve done better since. However, I think Spurs are going to show Arsenal whose boss in North London because it is Spurs at the moment. They’re fired up, they’re playing great football and they’re finding ways to win. I thought the Palace away 1-0 victory this week was an indication of an improved determination, a drive, a hunger to win. I think last year I’m not sure if they would have won that game, but manager switches, system switches, player switches and just that drive and going for the game in the second half was very impressive. I just think Spurs are going to confirm with a victory that they are, at the moment, the best team in North London.

“If, if, if” — Wenger won’t quit on catching Spurs

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger may be further from Tottenham on the Premier League table as Sunderland is from safety, but he isn’t quitting on St. Totteringham’s Day — not that he’d use that term — until passing Spurs is impossible.

[ MORE: Pochettino on NLD, title fight ]

Tottenham has flailed in a late season superior position before, but it’s almost impossible this time around. If Arsenal wins Sunday, it will be 11 points back with five matches to play. Spurs will have four.

But Wenger is staying wedded to the almost, not the impossible, even in begrudgingly admitted that his North London Derby rivals are the favorites.

From Arsenal.com:

“If, if, if! If, if! It’s true that always in our press conferences we have to respond [about] if the worst happens what do you do? But let’s make sure that the best happens and give absolutely everything to make sure that we finish in a very strong way to our season.”

Wenger said he expects the game to be played in a fashionable, open manner on Sunday at White Hart Lane. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m. ET.