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NWSL Game of the Week: Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign

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PORTLAND, Ore. — On Sunday, Portland Thorns FC host the first NWSL Cascadia derby when the Seattle Reign visit JELD-WEN field. With over 14,000 expected to witness Portland’s home opener, the new country’s new women’s league will see its first five-digit crowd. In their first of four meetings this season (one which will be streamed on the league’s YouTube channel), Portland versus Seattle is our NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Can you have a rivalry against a team you’ve never played?

It seems illogical two teams who’ve never played will automatically will be rivals, but this is Cascadia, and this is soccer. While a new NBA team in the Emerald City may not spark instant tension with the Trailblazers, Cascadian soccer culture mandates the Thorns and Reign be rivals.

“It’s articulated in the Sounders-Timbers rivalry going back decades,” Reign owner Bill Predmore said, alluding to the NASL legacy of the regions MLS teams. “I think there’s going to be a lot of crossover from fan perspective. You’re going to see Sounders fans who are Reign fans, Timbers fans who are Thorns fans … I think that’s a great fit.”

For the Thorns, the rivalry allows them to build on that Timbers-Sounders intensity, something that could help the city’s new team share support with its MLS brethren. For Predmore, the dynamic could prove an important part of his nascent club’s growth.

“It think [the rivalry is] pretty important,” Predmore said. “Right now, for instance, our best selling matches are the two we’re going to play in Seattle against the Thorns … we’re absolutely seeing the budding rivalry is driving fan interest.”

But is the rivalry really budding? It’s impossible to know until game time. As Seattle head coach and general manager Laura Harvey said, “all that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock.”

Until then the question lingers: Can you truly have a rivalry before playing a game. Here’s what seven principles said when asked:

Dignitary Response
Cindy Parlow Cone
Head Coach, Thorns FC
“I don’t know. Don’t you guys set up the rivalries more so than we do? (It’s) the fans and the media.”
Laura Harvey
Head Coach/General Manager, Reign FC
“All that matters is what happens Sunday at two o’clock … It’s something the fans look forward to, the players look forward to, the coaches look forward to.”
Alex Morgan
Forward, Thorns FC
“All of Portland knows that it doesn’t matter what it is. Seattle and Portland always have a great rivalry … It’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”
Bill Predmore
Owner, Reign FC
“I think there’s probably a deep-seated rivalry just between the cities … Hopefully it creates a great environment for the fans in both cities when we’re playing.”
Christine Sinclair
Forward, Thorns FC
“It’s hard to built a rivalry when it’s both team’s second game ever and we’ve never played against each other before.”
Keelin Winters
Midfielder, Reign FC
“I definitely think they can. I know a lot of players who play on Portland. Words have been exchanged. Not saying anything exciting, by any means, but obviously both teams want to win.”

source: Getty Images2. MLS venue means MLS atmosphere

Thorns FC had a number of advantages coming into the season, the biggest of which will be seen on Sunday. The crowd at JELD-WEN will eclipse the combined attendance of the league’s four Week 1 games, and while the club has been reluctant to boost the 14,000 projection that’s been floated this week, a crowd between 16,000 and 17,000 is possible.

Particularly for players who aren’t national team regulars, crowds that size are exceptionally rare.

“The last time I played in front of that amount of people was in 2008 at the Under-20 World Cup,” Seattle midfielder Keelin Winters said. “Emotions are going to be high, playing in front of a big crowd like that. It pumps the players up, maybe a little too excited at times. I think the atmosphere’s going to be awesome, especially because it’s like a Northwest derby.”

It’s the most common refrain among players during this week’s buildup. Yes, the rivalry’s big, and it’s going to be good to get another game until their belts, but the opportunity to play at a Major League Soccer venue in front of Major League Soccer-caliber support is Sunday’s big selling point.

“I think the crowd is going to be awesome,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said, excitedly. “I hope that really carries over for us.”

It’s guaranteed to, at least in proportion. Thorns FC have over 7,000 season ticket holders, more than the maximum attendance at all but one of the league’s other seven venues.

3. Two very different midfields

Though Cindy Parlow Cone said the entire team could improve on their Kansas City performance, midfield was a particular area of concerned. Thanks in large part to the play of FCKC’s Desiree Scott, Portland’s midfield four saw supply to Morgan and Sinclair completely cut off. The Thorns failed to score from open play, and until moving Sinclair into an attacking midfield role near the hour mark, the team couldn’t find an alternate route into attack.

“We had so many issues [against Kansas City],” Parlow Cone said. “We weren’t playing well together as a team. We weren’t playing well between our lines – the midfield linking up to the forward, and the defenders linking to the midfielders. Those are things we have to clean up.”

Defensive midfielder Becky Edwards eventually came on after a difficult start, but the rest of the midfield was ineffectual. Allie Long, on the left of a narrow line of three, was the most active midfielder, but she was never able to convert her touches into product. Angie Kerr was a non-factor trying to operate in front of Scott and Jen Buczkowski, while Nikki Washington failed to have a influence as play tended to build through the other side of midfield.

source: Getty ImagesUnfortunately for Portland, Seattle may present even greater problems than Kansas City. Whereas FCKC played a 4-2-3-1 that often saw attacking Lauren Cheney stay well above of the space in front of defense, Laura Harvey’s likely to use a 4-3-3 that will leverage Winters, defensive midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, and first week standout Jessica Fishlock (right, playing last December in Australia).

“Jess came up huge for us defensively (against Chicago),” Winters explained. “She made countless tackles. She didn’t just go into a tackle. She won the tackle.

“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales. Nobody knew what to expect from her. (After) that game against Chicago, people are going to be a little more wary of where she is on the field in relation to them, especially when they have the ball. She’s coming after you whether you like it or not.”

Fishlock will default to the highest, more pressing role in what seems to function as a traditional win-pass-go trio. Winters, known as a defensive midfielder, can hold or play box-to-box, while Kyle’s main responsibilities will be in front of the defense.

Yet Harvey doesn’t want to limit her versatile players to those roles.

“We can play any three of them in any of the three different positions in midfield,” Harvey says, explaining how she’d ideally like her midfield to function. “Defensive mid – all three of them can play it. [Box-to-box] – all three of them can play it. The No. 10 role, playing behind the forward – all three of them can play it. That’s how I like my midfield to be anyway.”

The system’s designed for a lot of interchangeability, a potentially daunting task for Portland considering the trouble they had breaking through Scott and Buczkowski. For Winters, the Reign can learn from Kansas City’s plans, even if the players aren’t identical.

“Desiree (Scott) did a really good job in the game against Portland,” Winter said, commenting on Kansas City’s ability to keep Portland’s midfield from connecting with Morgan and Sinclair. “I was definitely looking for what she did well and worked for her in the game. At the same time, I’m not Desiree Scott.”

“[Morgan and Sinclair] just didn’t have the ball at their feet as much as I’m sure they would have liked,” Winters noted. “One of the things that myself and my midfield and my backline will obviously try (to do is) to deny [those passes]. Whenever they have the ball at their feet, they’re a threat … I’ve seen Sinclair shoot from 30 yards out and score.”

Last week Portland lost the battle of midfields, and they were fortunate they didn’t lose the game. If Seattle can replicate Kansas City’s success in the middle — and improve on the quick transitions Harvey would like to see off turnovers — Portland’s home opener will prove more troublesome than expected.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns Seattle Reign
Star to Watch Alex Morgan – Portland’s No. 9 looked tired last week, understandable considering the hectic month she endured leading up to the season. On Sunday, Morgan will be well-rested. Jessica Fishlock – The Welsh international was Seattle’s Week 1 standout. If she can pressure Edwards at the based of midfield, Portland will have to find another person to organize play ahead of the middle third.
Still Important Angie Kerr – Just like last week, the linkup between Sinclair and Portland’s most attacking midfielder will dictate how the game is played. In Kansas City, where the linkup non-existent, the game was played on Kansas City’s terms. Michelle Betos – The 25-year-old came up huge in Chicago in place of Hope Solo. With Seattle’s back line devoid of any star defenders, Betos will have to continue providing stellar performances.
Win if … … they get Sinclair and Morgan more involved, which means solving the midfield problem. They can afford defensive mistakes if they’re scoring goals, but without service to their strikers, Portland can’t get into a shootout. … they win the midfield battle, transition like Harvey wants, and use Christine Nairn and Kiersten Dallstream to stretch Portland’s vulnerable defense. Tactically, Seattle appear to have a series of advantages that should give Portland problems.

Other games, Week 2

Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Aaran Lines’ team played better than their 1-0 loss hints, but they’ll face a more robust defense in Washington, who took a strong point from Boston last weekend. This one looks like a 0-0, with quick transition play sparked by Veronica Perez coming up short against Ashlyn Harris and a strong Spirit defense.

Others: FC Kansas City and Boston has been postponed, while Sky Blue FC, Chicago have the weekend off.

MLS Snapshot: LA Galaxy 2-4 Seattle Sounders (video)

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06:  Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC in action against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on March 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): While one American star continues to earn more time on the pitch, another is making his presence felt as his side pushes for a playoff position. Jordan Morris’ 11 and 12th goals of the season were the difference for the Sounders on Sunday afternoon, propelling his side to within three points of the six spot in the Western Conference. Despite trailing early on, the Sounders stormed back with three second-half tallies and now have the postseason very much in sight. For the Galaxy, Bruce Arena’s group remains in third place in the West.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]

Three four five moments that mattered

20′ – Keane smashes home header — Sebastian Lletget has played a key role for the Galaxy in 2016, and the midfielder’s cross was everything it should be to help put the the hosts out in front.

35′ — Van Damme own goal levels it up before halftime — Call it lucky but with the playoffs on the line, the Sounders need all the help they can get as the regular season winds down.

63′ — Morris stuns StubHub crowd — It’s safe to say the Sounders are happy Jordan Morris opted to play in MLS this season. The American striker not only knocked in his 11th goal of the year but this beauty of a finish also propelled the Sounders to within three points of a playoff spot.

73′ — Morris tacks one on for good measure — Was it as pretty as the first one? No. Was it timely? We’ll let you judge.

73′ — Alonso caps off win with screamer — He got a little help from the referee but Osvaldo Alonso made no mistake with this finish.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Robbie Keane (20′, 84′), Jelle van Damme (OG 35′), Jordan Morris (63′, 73′), Osvaldo Alonso (78′)

La Liga roundup: Atletico edges Deportivo, Pato propels Villareal

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Antoine Greizmann of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts after his goal was declared offside during the La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna at Vincente Calderon stadium on September 25, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Antoine Griezmann was the difference for Atletico Madrid on Sunday as Atletico Madrid narrowly defeated 10-man Deportivo La Coruna, 1-0, to move up to third place in La Liga. The visitors were reduced a player prior to halftime, as Faycal Fajr was sent off in first-half stoppage time after picking up his second yellow card.

[ MORE: Schalke misery continues, Leipzig earns road point ]

A clinical first half performance from Villareal gave the hosts a 3-1 win over Osasuna, who remain at the bottom of the table. Alexandre Pato kicked off the impressive offensive display from the Yellow Submarine after five minutes, before Bruno and Nicola Sansone also tallied before halftime. Roberto Torres pulled one back for Osasuna before the break but it wasn’t enough to capture a share of the points for the road side.

After trailing inside of the opening half hour, Valencia battled back for a 2-1 win over Leganes. Alexander Szymanowski handed the hosts the lead after 21 minutes, but it was Nani and Mario Suarez that had the final say for Valencia as they wound up with the points on the day. The victory pulls Valencia out of the relegation zone temporarily, with the club currently sitting on six points in as many matches.

It looked like the two sides were on pace for a share of the points, but late stoppage time finishes from Giuseppe Rossi and Pione Sisto gave Celta Vigo a 2-0 win over Espanyol. Rossi, who entered the match in the second half, knocked Celta into the lead in the 91st minute, before Sisto doubled the lead two minutes later.

Sagna praises Aguero as “one of the best players I have played with”

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 24: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal  during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Everything about Manchester City’s start to the 2016/17 Premier League season has been right, and Bacary Sagna is already praising the squad’s biggest attacking threat.

[ MORE: Podolski displeased with Mourinho’s treatment of Schweinsteiger ]

With the Citizens already on 18 points and unbeaten in their opening six matches, the veteran defender was quick to note the importance of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero — who has already notched five tallies.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Aguero, 28, has posted nine straight double-digit goalscoring seasons, dating back to his time in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Last season, the Argentine netted 29 goals across all competitions, including 24 finishes in the PL.

“He is one of the best players I have played with, not just because he scores goals but also because of his attitude – he always wants to give his maximum for his team and bring the team up,” Sagna said of Aguero’s effort.

“His two goals showed his class. He has such desire in front of the box, and in the box itself. He is great.”

Podolski displeased with Mourinho’s treatment of Schweinsteiger

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Bastian Schweinsteiger of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The Jose Mourinho-Bastian Schweinsteiger relationship is a very puzzling situation for Manchester United, and most outsiders appear to be taking the German’s side.

[ MORE: De Bruyne sidelined a month with hamstring injury ]

Former teammate Lukas Podolski has chimed in on the matter, pointing out Schweinsteiger’s decorated career for both club and country.

[ MORE: Lewis Baker stuns Twente with long-distance golazo ]

Since the arrival of Mourinho this summer, the Portuguese manager has made it clear that the 32-year-old isn’t his plans, including dropping Schweinsteiger to United’s reserves.

Podolski recently spoke to Bild about the situation:

“When you look at the career Bastian has had, I can only say that what is happening there is simply not right for a player of his stature,” Podolski said.

“I do not know what Mourinho has discussed with Bastian. But is clear that it is not okay to drop someone like Basti to the reserves.

“A coach should always keep his door open to all players, and especially to players like Schweini.”

While Schweinsteiger’s contract doesn’t run out until 2018, the volatile relationship between the Red Devils midfielder and Mourinho certainly looks to be one that won’t last much longer.