Christine Sinclair, Marian Dougherty, Emilee O'Neal

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

PSG loans goalkeeper Sirigu to Spanish side Sevilla

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 26:  Salvatore Sirigu of Italy speaks to the media during a press conference at the club's training ground at Coverciano on May 26, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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SEVILLA, Spain (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has loaned goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the season.

PSG said in a statement on Friday that Europa League winner Sevilla has an option to buy Sirigu at the end of his loan spell.

Sirigu will compete with Sergio Rico for the starting job on a Sevilla side being rebuilt under new coach Jorge Sampaoli.

The 29-year-old Sirigu, who has played 17 times for Italy, was a mainstay in the PSG side until Kevin Trapp replaced him as No. 1 last season.

Sirigu made 190 appearances for PSG after joining in 2011, winning four league titles, two French Cups, and three League Cups.

But his chances looked even more limited this season, with PSG recalling `keeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell in Spain with Villarreal.

Lewandowski hat-trick caps impressive Bayern win in Bundesliga return

MUNICH, GERMANY - OCTOBER 04: Robert Lewandowski of Muenchen celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Borussia Dortmund at Allianz Arena on October 4, 2015 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Micha Will/Getty Images for MAN)
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Robert Lewandowski continues to rack up goals in a Bayern Munich jersey, and the Bundesliga side reaps the rewards for their star striker’s production.

The Polish international began the new Bundesliga campaign on Friday with a hat-trick, as Bayern capped off a dominating 6-0 win against Werder Bremen.

Xabi Alonso opened the scoring for the home side after just nine minutes, but all eyes were on Lewandowski on the night as he netted his first three goals of the 2016/17 season.

The 28-year-old added Bayern’s second goal in the 13th minute, before finishing off his hat-trick performance with tallies in the 46th and 77th minutes, respectively. While his final finish came from the penalty spot, Lewandowski already looks more than ready to help Bayern retain its Bundesliga crown.

Veteran defender Phillip Lahm and Franck Ribery also converted their chances past Bremen goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald on an afternoon that saw Bayern tally an overwhelming 27 shots, 14 of which landed on target.

Werder Bremen’s chances were limited, with Viktor Skrypnyk’s group recording a mere two shots on net throughout the night.

Meanwhile, U.S. attacker Julian Green was on the bench for Bayern, however, the young American wasn’t introduced into the match.

Why Dortmund shouldn’t sell Christian Pulisic

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Christian Pulisic #11 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Frustration has set in with the young American, but is a move away from Borussia Dortmund really the best move for Christian Pulisic’s growth?

With the additions of Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele this summer, Dortmund has not only retooled its already dangerous attack, but also created a tricky scenario for one of its most promising youth talents.

For Pulisic, it’s a simple dilemma with two possible outcomes; remain at the club and try to earn his way into the side over the next few seasons or move on his way to a destination that presents more promise towards his development as a budding star within the club and international levels.

The 17-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania bursted onto the Bundesliga scene a season ago, making 12 appearances for the German runners’ up while also notching two goals.

While it was only a small sample size, there was no question that Pulisic has already earned the respect of his teammates due to his impressive control on the ball and high work rate on both ends of the field.

Now, several clubs have already shown interest in the young American, which is certainly promising for the attacker as he looks to make a name for himself.

It just seems too early though for Pulisic to try to maneuver his way out of the Borussia Dortmund set up. In only one season with the club — a major one at that — Pulisic has already made himself relevant within U.S. and foreign circles as a young talent that will be seen for many years to come.

ALTACH, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 05: Christian Pulisic of Dortmund (c) challenges Patrick Van Aanmolt of Sunderland (l) and Lee Cattermole of Sunderland (r) during the friendly match between AFC Sunderland v Borussia Dortmund at Cashpoint Arena on August 5, 2016 in Altach, Austria.  (Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images)
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The situation isn’t optimal for a player seeking first-team minutes this season, but his age certainly plays into the equation. At 17 years old, very few players are starting on elite squads. That’s not a knock on Pulisic or any other aspiring player, but a mere fact when looking at how top teams are built.

On Friday, Bundesliga club RB Leipzig emerged as a suitor for Pulisic, reportedly offering over $16 million for the young USMNT attacker, before further reports linked Liverpool with a bid of $14 million to the Dortmund product.

While a move to Leipzig doesn’t seem so far-fetched, particularly at this stage of his career, picking up and heading to Anfield doesn’t seem like the ideal scenario for a player looking to further his young career and find consistent playing time.

Liverpool’s defensive issues remain a concern for Jurgen Klopp, but the former Dortmund boss has a plethora of options with the Reds in the attack, which would make it nearly as difficult for Pulisic to break into the squad on a regular basis if he were to complete a move to England.

Ideally, as a 17-year-old player it’s all about how much playing time you get. That essentially applies to every player, but especially to someone like Pulisic who is looking to establish himself at Dortmund and break into Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT lineup.

A loan move for Pulisic seems like the best scenario for the youngster, and with the reported interest in him it appears quite likely that Dortmund can find a suitable team to house the U.S. midfield as he continues his development.

Leipzig appears to have legitimate interest in Pulisic, and with the Bundesliga newcomers looking to make an impact in their first season in Germany’s top flight. With other clubs expressing interest in Pulisic as well, it seems unlikely that Dortmund would have a tough time offloading him for a season or two, but selling the American would be a bit of an oddity.

Report: Liverpool offering $14 million for USMNT’s Pulisic

Hamburg's Gotoku Sakai, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Even if Christian Pulisic does remain at Borussia Dortmund this summer, at least the young American knows that there’s interest in him.

[ MORE: RB Leipzig expressing interest in U.S. attacker Pulisic ]

On Friday, fellow Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig emerged as a potential suitor for the U.S. Men’s National Team winger with a reported offer of $16 million on the table for Pulisic.

However, the Times is reporting that Liverpool has made an offer of roughly $14 million for the budding USMNT star, as he potentially seeks a move away from Dortmund after their summer spending spree.

[ MORE: Dempsey out vs. Timbers with irregular heartbeat ]

Stoke City was rumored to have expressed interest in Pulisic as well, but the Premier League side has since denied reports of making a sizable offer to Dortmund.

The Bundesliga side remains firm with its stance that they don’t want to part ways with Pulisic, who has three years remaining on his contract.