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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.

Patrick Vieira discusses Mix Diskerud and NYCFC’s offseason plans

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While the general feel of Tuesday’s MLS MVP ceremony in New York City was upbeat for New York City FC, the club has a challenging road ahead this offseason as they look to retool ahead of 2017.

[ MORE: David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors ]

Captain and star striker David Villa accepted honors on Tuesday as the Landon Donovan MLS MVP after notching 23 goals and four assists for the Eastern Conference, but outside of the Spaniard the team will have several noticeable holes that need plugging prior to next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira proved to be a strong hire in his first season with the club, but his potential success moving forward will be dictated by how he and technical director Claudio Reyna fill out the rest of the roster.

Key pieces such as Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola have since left the club after providing stability in the midfield this past season, while Jason Hernandez, Claudio Bravo and Steven Mendoza were among the other roster casualties following the team’s first playoff appearance in 2016.

While Vieira admits losing players like Lampard certainly presents a challenge, the Frenchman believes that NYCFC can just as easily recruit more talented members in the buildup to next season.

“Of course we lost Frank [Lampard],” Vieira said. “We lose some other players as well. We have to bring some new players. Something that is very important to us is that we have to be better and we have to bring players that can match out targets and we have different options on the table.

“You would not believe how many players would love to play for New York City FC. We will have some difficult decisions to make and it’s important for us to bring the right people, like David, because it’s important to bring people who want to come, people who want to work hard, prepare to sacrifice themselves for the football club because we have to do well next year.

As it stands, NYCFC currently has 18 players under contract ahead of the 2017 season, including two Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

One name that certainly jumps out on the list of 18 though is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud, who has seen more downs than ups in his two seasons in the Bronx. After making 27 appearances for NYCFC in the team’s inaugural season, Diskerud’s playing time was dwindled down significantly in 2016 under Vieira to just nine starts in 12 overall appearances.

The 26-year-old was the fourth-highest paid player on NYCFC in 2016 — making $761,250 — however, he scored just one goal and added two assists. The club is still looking to figure out the best way to handle the Diskerud situation though, according to Vieira.

“He’s looking for playing time,” Vieira said. “We’re having discussions with him and trying to find the best way to satisfy both Mix and ourselves.”

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Man City, Arsenal both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (L) celebrates his sides second goal with his Arsenal team mates after Marco Verratti of PSG (not pictured) scored a own goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With their passage into the Round of 16 secured, Premier League duo Arsenal and Manchester City is both in action on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The Gunners know a win at Basel combined with PSG dropping points at home to Ludogorets would mean clinching top spot in Group A and an all-important top seed for the last 16 draw. As for Man City, they have secured top spot in Group C and can’t finish above Barcelona so Pep Guardiola will likely start plenty of fringe players against a Celtic side already out of Europe as they will finish in fourth place.

Elsewhere there is plenty to play for as the winner of Napoli vs. Benfica will make it to the UCL’s last 16 and Besiktas know a win in Kiev will also sent them through. There is also the small matter of a battle between two heavyweights in Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, although Atleti already have first place sewn up and Munich has to settle for second irrespective of the result.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group A
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Ludogorets
Basel vs. Arsenal

Group B
Napoli vs. Benfica
Dynamo Kiev vs. Besiktas

Group C
Barcelona vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Manchester City vs. Celtic

Group D
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven vs. FC Rostov

Brazil anti-trust body says bids rigged for 2014 World Cup

Brazil Stadium Collapse
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil’s anti-trust body says several construction companies rigged bids for 2014 World Cup stadiums, driving up costs by overcharging for the work.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Five stadium projects were mentioned in the report by the anti-trust body CADE. They included Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium, where Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup final.

CADE says three other stadiums used in the World Cup also could have been tainted by corruption.

[ MORE: Pogba told to stop showboating ]

CADE says it obtained the bid-rigging information in a leniency agreement with construction company Andrade Gutierrez.

Reports have been widespread about corruption linked to World Cup stadiums, and construction projects tied to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Champions League permutations: Who can reach last 16?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Marquinhos of PSG (R) is chased by Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the UEFA Champions League group stage is here and there are plenty of permutations to wrap our heads around for the matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full UCL schedule ]

Remember, the top two teams from each four team group go through to the last 16 with the team who finishes top the seeded team, while the team who finishes second the unseeded team. As well as that, the team who finishes third automatically qualifies for the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

Below is a look at how things stand in each group with one game to go and what each team has left to play for.


Group A
Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain have already qualified but if PSG win against Ludogorets and Arsenal beat Basel both teams will finish on 14 points. However, PSG will top the group due to their two away goals against Arsenal in the first head-to-head tiebreaker. Basel and Ludorogets are both in the hunt for the Europa League spot as they each have two points. If both teams finish on the same number of points then Ludogorets will go through as they similarly lead Basel in away goals in games between the duo.

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Group B
Everything is set up for an epic showdown between Napoli and Benfica in Italy as the winner of that game knows they will definitely go through and seal to spot. However, the loser may advance if Besiktas lose to bottom side Dynamo Kiev. The equation is quite simple for Besiktas: if they beat Kiev in Ukraine, they’re in the last 16. Kiev is on two points and can’t finish any higher than fourth. If Napoli and Benfica draw and Besiktas win, then Besiktas and Napoli would qualify as they beat Benfica 4-2 away from home. Benfica will still qualify if they lose and Besiktas draw, as they have a better head-to-head record. If Besiktas draw and Napoli lose, the Turkish side will be through.

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Group C
Everything is sorted in Group C with Barcelona sealing top spot, Man City finishing second and Bourssia Monchengladbach finishing third. Celtic is guaranteed to finish bottom and is out of Europe.

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Group D
Atletico Madrid have sealed top spot in Group D, while Bayern Munich have second spot guaranteed as both heavyweights are through to the last 16. The only thing left to play for is third place and if PSV Eindhoven beat Rostov at home in the final game then they will finish in third ahead of the Russian side.

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Group E
Monaco have sealed top spot, while Bayer Leverkusen is guaranteed second spot with both going through to the knockout stages. Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League and need just a point in their home game against CSKA Moscow to qualify for the Europa League. A defeat for Spurs against CSKA would mean the Russia side go to the Europa League instead.

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Group F
Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid are safely through to the last 16 and a win or a draw for Dortmund at Real Madrid on the final matchday will seal top spot. If Dortmund lose to Madrid then the reigning European champs will finish top of Group F. The battle for third place is on as Legia Warsaw host Sporting Lisbon in Poland. Sporting only need a point to advance to the Europa League Round of 32, while Legia must win.

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Group G
Leicester has sealed top spot in the group and has qualified as a top seed for the last 16. Porto host Leicester in the final game and a win would guarantee them a spot in the last 16. A draw may be enough for Porto of Copenhagen lose or draw at Club Brugge, but if Copenhagen win then Porto must also win to finish second and make the knockout rounds. If Copenhagen win and Porto draw then Copenhagen will go through as they have an equal head-to-head record with Porto but better goal difference.

group-g-ucl

Group H
Juventus is safely through to the round of 16 but they’ve yet to seal top spot. A win for the Italian champions at Dinamo Zagreb will guarantee first place. As for the battle for second, Sevilla know a point at Lyon will see them through but Lyon know a win would see them leapfrog Sevilla and make the last 16. If Sevilla beat Lyon and Juventus draw or lose against Zagreb then Sevilla will finish in top spot.

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