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Three good questions with NWSL director Cheryl Bailey

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With the first weekend of the new National Women’s Soccer League in the books, ProSoccerTalk took some time to catch up with league director Cheryl Bailey. Having just returned to Chicago from matches in Kansas City and Boston, Bailey discussed her takeaways from the league’s debut, hiccups like the difficulty viewing matches, and how to balance the need for stability with the ambitions of a new league.

Here are PST’s three good questions for Cheryl Bailey:

1.) You were in Kansas City and Boston this weekend: one very new club, and one well-established club. Can you share with us what you saw at each venue? What conclusions you could draw about the new league’s first weekend?

I couldn’t have picked two better (locations). Obviously, four games going on were great for this weekend, and the two that I happened to go to both had great atmospheres. Each one had sold out their stadium. Each one had great competition ending up in ties, one a very dramatic tie. The enthusiasm of the crowds and the environment was all that we had hoped for.

(On the Kansas City crowd for the club’s first ever match …)

It really was amazing. They had sold all of their seating capacity, and they saw the enthusiasm and actually sold standing room seats. They had (people in) the corners. They had people sitting on the grass. It was a great environment.

2.) For somebody who hasn’t been through the WUSA or WPS days, they may have tuned in this weekend and saw the troubles streaming games, the lines on the fields, the turf surfaces and drew some conclusions. How do you provide those people, some with very high expectations, with some perspective? How do you convert them and keep them coming back to the product?

That’s a fair question. Bottom line is all four matches that we played, if you were at those matches, no doubt (you) are coming back. (The games) were well-contested. They were great environments. The two venues that I didn’t go to, we had somebody from the league there, and they all came back with very positive experiences from the fans, those that were watching the game.

In terms of a few of the technical difficulties, I’m surprised given that we had four-and-a-half months to pull this off that we were able to even attempt some of those opportunities, and it will take a little bit (of time). But like anything, anybody who started anything, who’s been involved with anything from the ground knows, it’s putting in that hard work. Working through, trouble-shooting the (problems) that you get. When you come through that, you bear the fruits of your labor.

People want this league to succeed. They really appreciate the talents that are out on the field, and I think they’re going to come with us down this road that we’re going to take. This not going to be without a few bumps, but it’s certainly going to be with good soccer and just great enthusiasm at the stadium.

(On dealing with frustrations born from devoted women’s soccer fans’ high expectations …)

For me, it’s the journey, not just the individual things you’re going to get along the way. With women’s sports, whenever you are going to start something new, while there were two leagues before us, those that want to be part of this journey are going to have to take a little bit of step back, just like we have as a the league.

We’re not at the biggest stadiums. We (don’t have) expectations that we’re going to achieve our final goals today. We’re building (toward) those goals.

People have to appreciate the fact that we sold out two stadiums this weekend. We had good attendance at the other two, and we had four great games. If you look at the scores of those games to look at the talent level, every week-in and week-out they’re going to play great soccer.

You just have to go with an ability to see beyond a technical difficulty or startup things that might set you back a little bit. Nobody gets anywhere without a lot of hard work, and you really reap the rewards because of that hard work – sticking with something.

It’s not going to deter me at all. It just means, alright, let’s figure out what the issues were. Let’s work on them and make them better so the next time we don’t have those same issues.

(On the quality of play ..)

The talent was unbelievable: the speed of play; the technical (ability). And we’re not just talking about national (team) allocated players. We’re talking top-to-bottom. In the two games I was at, those four teams, I was equally impressed with the great job all those players on the field did.

3.) U.S. Soccer has stepped up and is running this league, leaving some with questions about juggling sustainability, as league stewards, versus ambition – growing the league. Can you talk about the league’s philosophy on these issues, how that affects priorities, and your view on what’s the right balance?

The first thing is, you have to create a base. You have to be sure that the eight teams that you have, the places you have, what you have, you get good root. Because without that balance, you can’t grow. It’s constantly coming and going, coming and going.

I feel very much that we understand the balance here, that the eight teams we have and all the players playing on those teams, they are the core. They are the roots of what we’re really putting into the National Women’s Soccer League.

At the same time, we have to have vision. We have to have the ability to see there are other people out there that want to be a part of this league, whether we’re adding teams or (growing) these teams. We have to balance that, no doubt.

Our first obvious objective, we needed to launch the league. And that created more time spent on just getting everything in place. Getting to where we were this past weekend, to have the teams that were on the field, great games that were played.

Now we need to continue to balance that. There are some things to work through, as you indicated earlier, but also look to the future. We’re going to get this launched and we’re going to get a little bit under our belts. But we will, in fact in the next couple of months, take a look at where opportunities may lie as well.

Why Antoine Griezmann is exactly what Man United need

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JULY 07:  Antoine Griezmann of France celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA EURO semi final match between Germany and France at Stade Velodrome on July 7, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Multiple reports are linking Manchester United with a summer move for Antoine Griezmann.

Do they need him? Yes. Yes they do.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

An incredible stat emerged at the weekend which stated that United has the worst “big chance” conversion rate in the whole of the Premier League. Stats company Opta state that United have had 37 big chances (this stat is described as “a situation where a player should be reasonably expected to score”) this season, converting just 12 of them at a ratio of 32.43 percent.

The Independent claims that United are willing to pay Griezmann’s release clause of $106 million to sign him from Atletico Madrid and the French international said back in November that he would like to link up with his international teammate Paul Pogba.

Seems straightforward enough…

There is, however, a complication surrounding any deal as Atletico currently have a transfer ban and if their appeal falls through then the Spanish club won’t be able to buy or sell any players in the summer.

For United, 25-year-old Griezmann would be the major arrival at Old Trafford this summer and the report also suggests that Mourinho is eager to offload Luke Shaw this offseason, plus Memphis Depay will leave in January as Lyon’s pursuit continues.

Back to Griezmann though, and it is reported that United have been pursuing the diminutive striker since the summer when he stole the show at EURO 2016 as the top goalscorer in the tournament which saw the host nation France lose in the final to Portugal.

On paper, Griezmann would be a phenomenal buy for United. He is exactly what they’ve been missing this season.

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Antoine Griezmann (L) and Paul Pogba (R) of France shows their dejection after their team's 0-1 defeat in the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Yes, Zlatan has been ruthless in recent weeks — 11 goals in his last 11 games in all competitions says as much — but he is 35 years old and can’t be expected to go on forever. He has also had bad moments in front of goal this season and when you look around United’s squad they have raw young talents in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford but not much else, and certainly no clinical strikers like Griezmann.

When I think of United, I think of a team creating copious amounts of chances and with their direct play under Mourinho they have certainly missed plenty of “big chances” this season, dropping points after failing to finish teams off and drawing many games they should have won.

If Griezmann was at United this season he’d probably be leading the PL in goals scored. I’m sure of it. He is of the same ilk as a Javier Hernandez or Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, a lightning quick poacher who is cool in the box. Yet, Griezmann also offers more with his pace and creativity and that’s why United should break the bank to sign him this summer.

This season Griezmann has scored 12 goals in 25 appearance for an Atletico side battling back from adversity to position themselves in the La Liga title race once again. Over the course of his two-and-a-half seasons at the Vicente Calderon he has now scored 69 goals in 132 games in all competitions. Every step up he has made the striker has done it with ease.

For United to become title contenders and get back to the upper echeleons of Europe, Mourinho needs a predator in the box. Zlatan and Wayne Rooney are getting on and youngsters Martial and Rashford will take time to develop. With the likes of Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan putting chances on a plate for those in front of them, United’s fans must be salivating at the thought of seeing Griezmann in a red shirt.

If United go out and buy Griezmann this summer it will be yet another huge statement in their intent to be back among the elite.

USWNT star O’Reilly signs for Arsenal

BIRMINGHAM, AL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Heather O'Reilly #9 of the United States of America reacts after scoring a goal against Haiti during the US Women's 2015 World Cup victory tour match at Legion Field on September 20, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Former U.S. women’s national team star Heather O’Reilly has completed her move to Arsenal Ladies.

[ MORE: Messi talks about future ]

O’Reilly, 32, is the eighth-highest capped player in USWNT history and retired from the national team in September 2016. She was an integral part of the team which won the 2015 World Cup in Canada, plus she has three Olympic gold medals from the 2004 games in Athens, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

The midfielder scored 47 goals in 231 appearances for the USWNT, while she has also played for the Boston Breakers and most recently the Kansas City Stars in the NWSL.

Speaking about signing for the FA Women’s Super League powerhouse, O’Reilly was delighted to be moving to London.

“Having come over to Arsenal last year to train, I was very impressed with the club,” O’Reilly said. “The facilities are world class and they have a tradition of excellence at the club that I wanted to be a part of, I’m very happy to be here.”

The schedules for the 2017-18 season in both the WSL 1 and 2 were released last week and the opening weekend of the season is on Apr. 22 when O’Reilly’s Arsenal play Notts County.

O’Reilly joins USWNT winger Crystal Dunn in the WSL 1, as she plays for Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea.

Report: Chelsea’s Diego Costa, Antonio Conte agree truce

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Diego Costa after the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Chelsea at Riverside Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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The feud is over. For now.

[ MORE: New rules stop Costa move

After Diego Costa was left out of Chelsea’s traveling squad for the win at Leicester City last weekend, he has been training on his own amid reports of a back injury which his manager Antonio Conte

It seems very likely that this situation was about much more than a back injury as Costa and Conte reportedly had a bust-up on the training ground, while links surrounding a big-money move to China continue as Costa’s agent, Jorge Mendes, was seen visiting owners of Chinese Super League clubs last week.

A report in The Times states that Costa and Conte have decided to put their differences aside and the Spanish international is back in contention to start against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

It was also stated that although everyone is buddy-buddy for now, Costa could still leave in the summer as his volatile nature is far from impressing Conte who continues to stamp his authority not only on the players but the entire club.

It’s clear Conte is boss but he can’t have Costa undermining him as seems to have been the case over the past week and it was also the case earlier on in the season when Conte demanded Costa remained on the pitch.

That said, Costa’s importance to Chelsea can’t be understated as he is the join-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and he’s added another five assists this season. With reports linking Chelsea with a summer move for Alvaro Morata, it appears Conte is already trying to plan for life without Costa.

Can the Blues win the PL title this season without Costa’s goal and presence up top? Despite a seven-point lead, probably not. That’s why Conte calling a truce in his instance makes sense.

That said, he now has six months or so to line up a long-term replacement for Costa.

The cracks have been papered over for now. But how long will it be until two fiery characters collide once again?

Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

[ MORE: Who are title favorites? ]

Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.