Looking back at Week 2 of the NWSL season

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When Women’s Professional Soccer began in 2009, the excitement around a new league slowly faded into concerns for the product. Beyond nebulous, qualitative concerns about aesthetics and quality, the league just wasn’t producing goals. During its first offseason, league officials came to openly discuss hopes the league would start producing higher scoring games. With a competition producing only 1.07 goals per game, the marketing battle was going to be that much harder.

The NWSL is having no such problems. Through six games, the league’s yet to have a 0-0. Only one match has failed to produce two goals, while this weekend’s game gave fans five scores in 180 minutes. Among the battles this league has to avoid their ancestors’ fate, lack of goals may not be one of them.

The bigger debate surrounds quality. Those who’ve covered WPS and its predecessor, Women’s United Soccer Association, have expressed reserved approval, while the league’s executive director, Cheryl Bailey, has continued to express satisfaction with the league’s standard of play. Newer fans have expressed concerns, perhaps hoping the NWSL’s clubs would replicate the wide-open style that’s endeared Pia Sundhage’s national teams to the masses, but that’s an unrealistic standard. On a more level playing field, coaches are going to be more risk averse.

With the teams’ low budgets preventing them from bringing in significant international talent, there was reason to expect a worse product than WPS. Yet to this point, that hasn’t happened. At time play has been open; at others, it’s combative. You know, like any other league. The absence of players like Marta and Kelly Smith may lower the league’s Q score, but those losses haven’t had an effect on the product.

With two more well-played games this weekend, NWSL looks to be transcending its self-imposed limitations. Where quality’s not an issue, the league can focus its energies elsewhere. For now.

Here’s what happened in Week 2:

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

source:  Portland became the second team to win this season, but given the team’s expectations, it’s difficult to say they stood out. What has stood out (at least, compared to expectations) is the Washington Spirit‘s start. Through almost two weeks (four of the league’s teams didn’t play this weekend), the Spirit sit third.

On Saturday, Mike Jordan’s team got another draw – a second straight match decided by late fireworks. Whereas last week the Spirit were giving up a late equalizer to Sydney Leroux, this time Diana Matheson won them a point from the spot. From a team picked by many to finish last in the league, two early results are forcing some re-evaluation.

It’s too early to deem Washington’s youth movement a success story, but it is worth asking how they’ve taken points from the Flash and Boston. The obvious answer is Ashlyn Harris, whose stellar play in goal has allowed the Spirit to get full value out of their limited chances on goal. Coming off a Woman of the Match-level performance in Boston, the U.S. international gave another impressive performance, making a highlight reel save on Abby Wambach in Saturday’s first half.

Washington were the beneficiaries of some good fortune, that late penalty at the Maryland SoccerPlex allowing them to salvage a Saturday result, but if the play of Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs is any indication, the Spirit won’t need such fortune going forward. McCarty, used as Washington’s lead attacker, looks like one of the fastest players in the league, her ability to beat the defense creating more room for Ochs, who has consistently out-worked opposing defenders over the season’s first two weeks.

They may yet end up in eighth, but after two weeks, it’s time to consider a more positive scenario. On paper, the squad isn’t impressive, but in action, they have enough pieces to compete for the playoffs. Just like everybody else.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

Here’s the shortest possible case for Christine Sinclair, best women’s soccer player in the world (pictured, above): She does so much more than score goals (which she arguably does better than anybody else).

On Sunday, Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone dropped Sinclair into attacking midfield, deploying her below Seattle’s two holders – Keelin Winters and Kaylyn Kyle. It was an approach that worked in the last 30 minutes against Kansas City, when Portland looked much better after struggling for much of the match. At JELD-WEN, the move assured Portland’s most important player would more touches.

After 20 initial, contentious minutes, the effect was obvious. Sinclair was the key to a Thorns attack that relied as much on transitions as their favored possession-based play. At the top of midfield, Sinclair was able to secure possession on second balls created by Becky Edwards and Allie Long, her quick passing to Alex Morgan taking advantage of the few instances where Winters came forward, tried to win a battle, but failed.

Early in the second half, that defensive work paid off. “Sinc” forced a Reign turnover that led to Morgan’s game-winning goal, her pass across the Seattle penalty area creating an easy finish for Portland’s second goal.

Also of note: The Flash’s Abby Wambach and Samantha Kerr, the Spirit’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, as well as our unsung hero, below

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Sat., Apr. 20 Washington 1-1 W.New York
Sun., Apr. 21 Portland 2-1 Seattle

ROUND’S BIG STORY

We’ve already done one pass on Portland’s crowd – 16,479 people that created the league’s first must-see event (well, second, if you count last Saturday’s opening game). Effusive players after the game speculated how the intimidation factor could create an even bigger home field advantage, though the league should hope the crowd’s effects transcend mere wins and losses.

Of course, the huge numbers mean big business for Portland, but other MLS teams with strong fanbases may see Sunday’s game, think about the wage subsidies provided by the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican federations, and conclude the obvious: We could actually make money off a women’s professional team. While it may be naive to assume Portland’s success can be replicated, executives in Vancouver and Toronto may look at Sunday’s game and see possibilities, not problems.

That doesn’t help the league’s current teams, many of which wil struggle to average one-fifth of Sunday’s crowd. The hope for those teams is in people turning on the YouTube streams (and come July, FOX Soccer), seeing Portland’s atmosphere, and wanting to  to give their local team a try. Though they can’t expect a Rose City Riveter presence for their team, they can hope to see one develop.

UNSUNG HERO

Western New York’s AD Franch was Week 1’s best player, and Christine Sinclair showed why she’s one of the world’s best in Week 2, but combine the weeks and choose the league’s best player and you’re likely to come up with Jessica Fishlock, the Welsh international that’s proved to be the best European import of the young season.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. PST
Rank
1 Portland 2 4 1
2 Sky Blue FC 1 3 3
3 Washington 2 2 6
4 Boston 1 1 7
4 Kansas City 1 1 2
4 Chicago 1 1 8
7 Seattle 2 1 5
7 W. New York 2 1 4

On Sunday, the energetic style of Seattle’s diminutive midfielder didn’t win her new friends among the highly-partisan crowd, but that couldn’t obscure the fact that she was clearly the game’s best non-Sinclair. Her disruptive presence at the top of Laura Harvey’s midfield three constantly presented problems for Portland’s four, often creating second balls that made life easier for the deeper Keelin Winters. Pressing holder Becky Edwards — forcing the Thorns pivot to play more balls to her defenders than she would have liked — Fishlock was also able to quickly jump into attack, positioning that paid off with her late goal.

“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales,” Winters said last week, the beginning of the explanation behind Fishlock’s surprise. The Welsh national team gets very little prime international exposure, and having played at Bristol Academy in England before coming to the States, she didn’t get attention should have received at clubs like Arsenal, Birmingham City, or Everton.

But Seattle head coach Laura Harvey, imported to the Pacific Northwest from Arsenal, clearly knew what she was getting in Fishlock – a player who can have an immediate, game-changing impact for the Reign. Through two weeks, she’s been one of the league’s best players.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

How will a week off affect Boston, Chicago, Kansas City and Sky Blue? … How quickly will Abby Wambach bounce back from her late-match concussion? … Will Sinclair have to stay in midfield until Tobin Heath returns? … When will McCarty and Ochs’ efforts start translating into goals? … Did preseason predictions underrate Seattle’s to-this-point solid defense?

LOOKING FORWARD

The league gets back to a four-game schedule this weekend, with Kansas City hosting Seattle in the league’s first Friday affair. On the east coast, two the the league’s best strikers will face-off in Rochester when Abby Wambach’s Flash host Syndey Leroux’s Boston Breakers. That will be PST’s Game of the Week.

Friday, April 26

FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC

Saturday, April 27

Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC
Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers

LAFC confirms second DP signing with Uruguayan Diego Rossi

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It’s been a fast and furious few days for Los Angeles FC, and that continued on Thursday with the signing of the organization’s second Designated Player.

LAFC announced the addition of Penarol forward Diego Rossi, joining manager Bob Bradley and the club’s first DP — Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

Rossi, 19, became the second-youngest DP signing in Major League Soccer history upon completing his move from Uruguay’s first division, with only former FC Dallas attacker Fabian Castillo younger (18).

“Diego is a young and exciting attacking player,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “His experiences at Peñarol and his ability fit perfectly with our vision of the team we are building at LAFC. We believe Diego will mature into a top-class player.”

The expansion side’s current roster is now up to eight players, following a busy few days of MLS’ offseason. Rossi will join Vela, Egyptian international Omar Gaber, as well as Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, Tyler Miller, Latif Blessing, and Marco Ureña.

Source: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP

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Los Angeles FC has been wheeling and dealing over the last several days, and Bob Bradley‘s side looks to be close to making another significant splash.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

An MLS league source has confirmed to Pro Soccer Talk that Sporting CP’s Francisco Geraldes is close to becoming LAFC’s third and final Designated Player signing ahead of the club’s inaugural 2018 season.

[ MORE: LAFC confirms signing of young DP Diego Rossi ]

PST has learned that LAFC is in the final stages of acquiring Geraldes, who is currently on loan from Sporting with fellow Portuguese side Rio Ave.

LAFC announced the signing of Diego Rossi on Thursday, with the 19-year-old Uruguayan becoming the second-youngest DP in league history. Meanwhile, Carlos Vela occupies the club’s other DP slot, after an agreement was struck back in August to be the team’s first signing.

Geraldes has started 11 matches this season for Rio, and scored one goal in league play.

The 22-year-old came up through Sporting’s academy system, and made his professional debut with Sporting B in 2013, before signing a contract with senior side Sporting CP two years later.

The young Portuguese midfielder has worked his way up the international ladder over recent years, making appearances with the Under-18, U-20 and U-21 national teams.

Donnarumma in tears after Milan fans jeer him

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MILAN (AP) A visibly shaken Gianluigi Donnarumma was comforted by AC Milan teammate Leonardo Bonucci as insults poured down on the teenage goalkeeper from the fans. And that was only the warmup.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Donnarumma has swiftly gone from being one of Milan’s most adored players to its most hated.

After a protracted saga appeared to be settled in the offseason by Donnarumma signing a contract until 2021, speculation over his future has started again and supporters have had enough.

Despite the new deal being worth 6 million euros ($7 million) a year and including the signing of his older brother as Milan’s third-choice goalkeeper, Donnarumma and his agent, Mino Raiola, are reportedly looking to annul the contract because he felt pressure to agree to it.

Before Wednesday’s Italian Cup victory over Hellas Verona, fans unveiled a giant banner saying: “Moral abuse, 6 million a year and the signing of a parasite brother? Now go, our patience is finished.”

There were jeers ahead of the kick-off when the 18-year-old Donnarumma’s name was read out, and shouts for him to leave. He was in tears as he was comforted by Bonucci.

Donnarumma had to play the first half below the giant banner and his every touch was greeted with boos.

“Of course he’s upset, he’s only 18,” Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso said before his team plays Hellas Verona again in Serie A on Sunday. “For the age that he is, there’s no doubt that he will become the best goalkeeper in the world, but he’s not calm and it can’t be easy to go out on the pitch and be criticized by your own fans. I can only say that while he is with me he will always have my total protection.

“They’re turning a lad of 18 into a monster. And he doesn’t deserve it, he has incredible values. Luckily this was a match where there weren’t many people (about 9,000). Imagine how difficult it would have been with 50-60,000.”

It’s not the first time Donnarumma has faced insults from the stands. He had fake money thrown at him during Italy’s Under-21 European Championship opener against Denmark in June after it was announced he would not be renewing his contract, while a banner emblazoned with “Dollarumma” was also displayed.

“We understand the fans but I ask them to boo our opponents and not our players,” Milan sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli said. “Gigio is a young lad and he’s not entirely at fault, he loves Milan and one day he will understand what’s good and what’s bad.

“He needs to be supported and the club will do so because he is an asset. We know where the evil comes from and we hope to resolve this problem in the next few months.”

Mirabelli said Milan “has no intention of selling Donnarumma” and criticized Raiola.

“I don’t have any plans to meet with Raiola. I don’t have anything to say to him,” Mirabelli said. “There’s a man who is trying to damage our image but he is becoming more a showman than anything else. We laugh about it, but he won’t get away with it.

“Gigio has never said he wants to leave, otherwise he would never have signed through to 2021. There’s someone who is trying to organize something deliberately, but we will look out for Milan’s interests in every arena.”

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

Donnarumma has been playing for Milan since October 2015, when he became the youngest goalkeeper to start a Serie A match, at the age of 16 years, 8 months, 6 days.

He has made four senior Italy appearances and is likely to take over as the No. 1 after Gianluigi Buffon retired from international duty following the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Another Premier League weekend is on the horizon. Let’s just keep rolling.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-1 Southampton (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 1-3 Manchester United – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-3 Liverpool – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Leicester City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Brighton 1-2 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Watford 1-2 Huddersfield (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Stoke City 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Everton 1-2 Swansea City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man City 2-2 Tottenham (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) –  [STREAM