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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.

FOLLOW LIVE: UEFA Champions League Wednesday fixtures

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - NOVEMBER 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden celebrates after the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Denmark and Sweden at Parken Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yesterday’s Champions League slate brought us the return of Lionel Messi to the field, and he exploded back onto the scene in only a way that Messi can. Today features another return, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes home.

PSG heads to Sweden as Zlatan comes back to his boyhood, hometown club of Malmo, kicking at 2:45 P.M. ET. Zlatan isn’t one to dish out compliments to opponents very often, but he had nothing but gushing praise for the club that kickstarted his career.

“I have become who I am because of Malmo,” Zlatan told the Malmo official website. “Everything started in Malmo and I feel like a Malmo lad. I move in a Malmo way and I think I talk in a Malmo way. Everything is Malmo for me.” He also hopes to score a hat-trick and have the home fans chant his name.

[ FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League Wednesday fixtures ]

A win for PSG along with a Shakhtar Donetsk loss would progress both Real Madrid and the French club into the knockout stages.

Elsewhere, Manchester City travels to Juventus looking to solidify their hold on the top spot in Group D. City has been unlucky with their group stage draws in recent years, but they could snatch the top spot in the group this year should they win today. The Italians are just a point behind, and could go top of the group with a win of their own.

The aforementioned Blancos of Real Madrid travels to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk. Real Madrid is already guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds, but a win would secure them the top spot in the group with PSG three points behind.

Manchester United welcomes PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford with the Group B still entirely in flux. A win for Wolfsburg earlier today over CSKA Moscow put them ahead, but the Red Devils could snatch that top spot back with a win. Should Louis Van Gaal and company falter, they would drop out of a knockout stage spot, as PSV sits just one point back of them in third.

Finally, Atletico Madrid hosts Galatasaray in a very important match in the middle of Group C. Sevilla tops the group with 10 points, but with Atletico behind them at seven points and Galatasaray on four, Atletico could secure themselves a knockout round berth with the three points, while a win for the Turks would leave things totally up for grabs.

One more final score from earlier today, Benfica drew Astana 2-2 in Kazakhstan, leaving them just three points ahead of Atletico Madrid atop Group C.

VIDEO: Watch hilarious Liverpool boss Klopp practice scouse accent

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Will Jurgen Klopp be “giving it bifters” anytime soon?

Well, he’s probably already been doing that after Liverpool brushed aside Manchester City last weekend: “boss tha.”

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make UCL last 16? ]

If you are wondering what the heck is going on, take a look at the video above as a young Liverpool fan — nine-year-old Issac — gave the German coach a scouse lesson as Klopp has now been in charge of the Reds for over seven weeks.

The video was shot before Liverpool’s big win at Man City, and Klopp promised Issac he would sneak “boss tha” into his press conference if they won.

During his pre-match press conference on Wednesday before Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Bordeaux, Klopp was true to his word.

Is your “head chocka” yet?

Click play on the video above to see the hilarious interview in full, as Klopp learns plenty of useful scouse phrases and, of course, there are plenty of hugs and laughs.

Mauricio Pochettino wants Premier League to work schedule around Europa League

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at White Hart Lane on November 22, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino won’t be the first to make these requests, nor will he be the last. Nonetheless, every time someone brings up this point, it’s noteworthy.

The Spurs boss said it’s “not fair” that Chelsea has two days extra to recover from their midweek Champions League game, while his side has a Thursday affair in Europa League play, giving them just two days off before their Premier League meeting on Sunday.

“To be fair, you need to compete in every competition with the same conditions as the opponent,” Pochettino pleaded to Sky Sports prior to Spurs’ trip to Azerbaijan to take on FC Qarabag. “I am not complaining. I only want to translate our feeling. I only want to bring attention to the conditions, that it’s not fair to have two days less recovery than the opponent.”

“My question is; why not be attentive and careful to try to help the team who needs to compete in Europe? It’s difficult because we need to manage a lot of things. We need to be clinical in how we assess our players because the jet lag is very important.”

The idea that the Europa League is more detrimental than it is an asset for teams that make it in. For Spurs, it can sap the team of energy as they push for a top four league spot and an in to the Champions League. For some mid-table sides who make it into the earlier rounds thanks to Cup wins or Fair Play berths, it can be a massive hurdle as the clubs focus on maintaining their Premier League status.

Pochettino isn’t asking for much from the Premier League, just even a few extra hours.

“Why not play on the Monday, or 4pm on Sunday, instead of 12pm?” Pochettino said. “It’s not much of a gap but in four hours you can rest a little bit more, you can sleep and recover after the long flight. Chelsea has two days more to recover. They play Tuesday, we play Thursday, and I think Jose Mourinho will agree that he has a little advantage to prepare for the game. But it’s not an excuse not to compete on Sunday and try to win the game.”

Daniel Sturridge could return for Liverpool against Bordeaux

X during Liverpool FC training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 30, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it’s possible that Daniel Sturridge could return to the Liverpool lineup when the Reds host Bordeaux in Europa League action on Thursday.

Sturridge has made just three Premier League appearances this season due to multiple injuries, and has not played since a full 90 minutes against Everton on October 4. He is back in training, however, and was an unused substitute in the 4-1 win over Manchester City on the weekend.

“The best news at the moment is Daniel is getting closer and closer,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He can train seven or eight times in a row which is the longest period since I’ve been here.”

Klopp was faced with a striker injury crisis at the start of his tenure at Anfield, but the options have slowly improved. The German was first forced to use Divock Origi in his first match in charge. He employed Roberto Firmino up front against Manchester City with great results, but said in his interview with the NBC Sports crew after the match that he had to continually remind Firmino to push forward into a striker role before the Brazilian eventually scored.

Christian Benteke was also among the substitutes against City, and now it appears Sturridge could be close to a return. Klopp said he will be a game-time decision tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, whether he starts or not.

“My decision you will see but it is closer and that is very good,” Klopp said.