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

LIVE – Everton, AC Milan, Ajax in Europa League action

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Everton, AC Milan and Ajax, three of the bigger sides fighting for passage into the Europa League proper, find themselves 180 minutes from the group stage as the final round of qualifying kicks off on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Everton have Croatian side Hajduk Split at Goodison Park for the first leg (3:05 p.m. ET), while Milan host Macedonian side KF Shkendija (2:45 p.m. ET) and Ajax are home to Rosenborg of Norway (2:45 p.m. ET).

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

Thursday’s notable Europa League fixtures

Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m. ET
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET

Previewing all 10 Premier League games – Week 2 (Video)

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Week 2 of the 2017-18 Premier League season is here. Ready?

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ] 

Below you will find 10 preview videos on each of the Premier League games this weekend with team news, score predictions and more on each encounter.

Enjoy.


Chelsea v. Tottenham

Everton v. Man City 

Newcastle v. Huddersfield 

Arsenal v. Stoke City

Liverpool v. Crystal Palace

Burnley v. West Brom

Southampton v. West Ham 

Leicester City v. Brighton

Watford v. Bournemouth

Swansea City v. Man United

From Madrid, to Paris, to Las Palmas, to Stoke: Jese loaned again

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Spanish forward Jese will attempt to relaunch his stuttering career in England after leaving Paris Saint-Germain to become the latest Champions League winner at Stoke.

The 24-year-old Jese joined Stoke on a season-long loan after failing to settle at PSG following his move from Real Madrid for a reported $29 million in August 2016. He spent the second half of last season on loan at Spanish team Las Palmas.

Stoke, a team from central England that is a perennial mid-table finisher in the Premier League, has become a haven for former high-profile players or one-time prodigies whose careers have stalled.

Since 2014, forwards Bojan Krkic and Ibrahim Afellay have joined from Barcelona while ex-Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri has arrived from Inter Milan. They all have Champions League winners’ medals, as does ex-Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, who was an offseason signing from West Bromwich Albion.

Most were back-ups for their clubs in their Champions League-winning campaigns, with Jese an unused substitute for Real in its victory over Atletico Madrid in the 2016 final.

“Jese was a man in demand when PSG made it clear they would allow him to leave on loan and we’re delighted he has chosen to join us,” Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes said. “He hasn’t had the happiest of periods in his career in Paris, but he’s still only a young man and is hungry to make a big impression in the Premier League.”

Jese will play out wide and is viewed as a replacement for Marko Arnautovic, who left Stoke this offseason to join West Ham. Stoke also sold Spanish striker Joselu to Newcastle for an undisclosed fee on Wednesday.

Stoke announced the arrival of Jese in a tweet that included audio clips from pundits in the British media saying the club lacked ambition and would struggle in the Premier League this season.

The team managed by Mark Hughes lost 1-0 at Everton in its opening league game of the season on Saturday.

Jese was a highly rated youngster at Real Madrid and made his La Liga debut under coach Jose Mourinho in 2012. He mostly played for Real’s reserve team and sustained a serious knee injury in March 2014, ruling him out for nine months.

He signed a five-year deal with PSG last summer but started only one league game, with another eight appearances as substitute.

Although technically skilled, Jese has not played so far this season and does not figure in coach Unai Emery’s plans — although the deal with Stoke does not include an option to buy him. At Las Palmas, Jese scored three goals in 13 games.

Jese is Stoke’s sixth signing of the summer transfer window.

First female ref set to take charge in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) After a decade in Germany’s second division, Bibiana Steinhaus will make Bundesliga history this season by becoming the first woman to referee in the country’s top flight.

The 38-year-old police officer is among four referees to have been promoted by the German football federation (DFB) into the league’s elite group of 24.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

“For every referee, whether man or woman, the dream is to be able to referee in the Bundesliga. I worked very hard toward that goal and had some setbacks over the past few years, so I’m very happy about the referees’ commission’s confidence,” Steinhaus said when her promotion was announced in May. “It shows that the performance-principle also applies in the field of referees.”

The daughter of a referee, she began by officiating women’s games for the DFB in 1999. Steinhaus then became a FIFA referee in 2005 and earned her place in the second division in 2007, as the first female referee in German professional football, before securing her latest promotion.

During that time, Steinhaus has handled women’s World Cups and European Championships, along with the gold medal match between the United States and Japan at the 2012 Olympics in London. Last June, she took charge of the women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

Of her 80 matches in Germany’s second tier, all but one went off without a hitch for Steinhaus. After sending off Kerem Demirbay in 2015, the then-Fortuna Duesseldorf midfielder reportedly told her: “Women have no place in men’s football.”

Demirbay was roundly criticized for the remark and handed a three-game ban with two further games suspended. Duesseldorf also made Demirbay referee a girls’ game to ensure he understood the message.

Demirbay apologized both publicly and to Steinhaus directly for his comment, and said he was “very happy that she accepted my apology.” The 24-year-old player is likely to meet Steinhaus again this season if she takes charge of any games involving his current club, Hoffenheim.

However, Steinhaus is already aware that she may be treated differently to other referees. During Bayern Munich’s game against Chemnitzer FC in the German Cup last Saturday, she had one of her bootlaces untied by Bayern winger Franck Ribery as he pretended to put the ball in place for a free kick.

[ MORE: Luis Suarez out for a month with knee injury ]

She laughed it off by giving Ribery a couple of playful punches in response, but it is debatable whether the France winger would have untied the bootlace if he had been dealing with a male referee.

“She laughed, that’s positive,” Ribery told broadcaster ARD afterward. “It was a joke, but you always have to respect the other.”

It wasn’t Steinhaus’ first run-in with someone from Bayern. As the fourth official during a league game in 2014, she shrugged off Pep Guardiola‘s hand from her shoulder as the then-Bayern coach got animated over a decision.