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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.


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.


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.

Watch Live: Leicester City vs. Man United (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Leicester City host Manchester United to the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) on Saturday.

And, remarkably, the Foxes are in first-place as Claudio Ranieri‘s side continue to stun everyone with Jamie Vardy leading the charge.

Vardy, 28, has scored in 10 consecutive Premier League games, equaling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record. He can set a new record by scoring against Ruud’s old team on Saturday.


As for United, they sat in second place heading into the weekend but with goals continuing to be an issue for Louis Van Gaal, United’s fans aren’t overjoyed despite looking solid at the back. In this game last season United lead 3-1 but lost 5-3. Expect a tighter game this time out.

In teams news Leicester start with Okazaki up top with Vardy, while United bring in Paddy McNair, Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Ashley Young into the starting lineup.


Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: De Laet, King, Schlupp, Ulloa, Dyer, Schwarzer, Inler

Manchester United:  De Gea, Darmian, McNair, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Young, Rooney, Martial. Subs: Romero, Borthwick-Jackson, Fellaini, Memphis, Pereira, Schneiderlin, Rashford

Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup: Bender to Gunners, Demichelis to NYCFC

<> on September 29, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, Sunderland and Manchester City are all running through the transfer gossip mill this weekend.

The London Evening Standard has linked Arsenal with a sextet of players in January, apparently eschewing the tradition of a low-movement winter window.

Bayer Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender is the headline subject, with Arsenal looking for answers at the position outside of current options Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers. If they don’t get him — and this is purely cheeky conjecture — perhaps his twin brother Sven could be lured from Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Also linked with the Gunners: Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak andSporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, with Napoli’s Lucas Biglia and a pair of Nice players in the fray (Vincent Koziello and Nampalys Mendy).

Will Louis Van Gaal go for another Ligue 1 forward to help inject danger into his attack? Former Alex Ferguson-era target Lucas Moura is said to be in play, and the 23-year-old PSG attacker is only a part-time starter in France.

The Daily Mirror tabs Martin Demichelis as a potential departure from Manchester City, at least on loan. And it says they could use him to shore up the back line at brother club New York City FC.

Speaking of MLS, this one slipped through the cracks over Thanksgiving, but could Seattle Sounders striker Obafemi Martins make a short-term return to goal-hungry Northeast England?

Let’s say you’re a 16-year-old goalkeeper who’s already appeared five times for AC Milan. What are you worth on the transfer market? Gianluigi Donnarumma’s super agent Mino Raiola says, “I’d compare him to a [piece by Italian artist Amadeo] Modigliani. He’s worth 170 million.”

WATCH: USMNT’s Johnson bags brace for Gladbach from the wing

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s lack of strong left backs puts the USMNT in a bind when it comes to the use of Fabian Johnson, but the Bundesliga star keeps making his case on the wing for Borussia Monchengladbach.

After scoring in the UEFA Champions League at midweek, the slick-moving American added two more to his account on Saturday.

The first came when he finished off this gorgeous bit of a ball movement against Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Johnson’s razor-thin run was finished with a fortunate dink off the goal post and in, as the 27-year-old picked up his second Bundesliga goal of the season.

The second goal needs no words.


Klinsmann has sometimes used normal center backs at left back in order to deploy Johnson further up the field, where he’s been a key part of ‘Gladbach’s success. Many who didn’t watch the Bundesliga had been critical when Johnson began to be deployed further forward by the U.S. national team coach.

Much like Michael Bradley, the temptation to use Johnson in a second- or third-best position is high for Klinsmann. Saturday’s goal only adds to that predicament.

Watch Live, Stream links – Man City vs. Saints, every 10am ET game

Southampton v Stoke City - Premier League
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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Manchester City vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Injury-hit City will look to rebound from that crushing home defeat to Liverpool last week, while Saints also need to get back on track but Graziano Pelle is missing.

Sunderland vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

The Black Cats put in a composed defensive display away at Palace on Monday to win, while Stoke have won two-straight games and victory could take them into the top six.

Aston Villa vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Boy, it’s getting serious for Villa. Remi Garde’s side were battered at Everton last week and Jack Grealish is in trouble. Watford are solid and will fancy this, big time.

Bournemouth vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Cherries are without a win in seven and let a 2-0 lead slip at Swansea last week. Everton are flying after a 4-0 win over Villa with Lukaku and Barkley running the show.

Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Alan Pardew facing his former team and even though the Eagles are struggling to score goals, they’re in a much healthier position than relegation-haunted Newcastle.