Weekend preview: Talking through NWSL’s Week 3 action

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Richard Farley: Mr. Kassouf,

By now most will have read about the Game of the Week. The big issue there is Abby Wambach. What’s your read on this one? Does her being unavailable change whether you think they’ll beat Boston?

Jeff Kassouf: Mr. Kassouf? I’m honored, Sir Farley.

Any time a team is without Abby Wambach, it changes the game plan. Her absence Saturday will certainly be felt on and off the field as she has to sit out a second much-anticipated homecoming in as many years. Sky Blue FC really kept Wambach in check on opening weekend, but she found plenty of opportunities versus the Washington Spirit last week. The Flash are versatile enough to deal with this, but the questions are, ‘How? And how effectively?’

Spanish forward Adriana could become the target forward Saturday instead of drifting wide as she has in the two opening games. Attacking midfielders Veronica Perez and captain McCall Zerboni can also play up front. But this could be another opportunity for 19-year-old Australian Samantha Kerr to shine. She got my Player of the Week vote last week for owning that right flank against Washington (and scoring).

RF: I talked to Aaran Lines on Wednesday. He was non-committal as to how they’d adjust. Regardless, they will need to make some major changes. Just like with the U.S. national team, Wambach becomes a focal point whenever she’s on the field – a type of perfunctory turnstyle that play goes through before moving on to bigger and better things (like a Wambach header as she trails the play).

It’s difficult for me to pick Western New York without knowing how they’ll play. They have Estelle Johnson, Brittany Taylor and Adrianna Franch as a solid core at the back, but can they contain Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon for 90 minutes?

I say that, but keep in mind: The only goals scored on Western New York this year? McCall Zerboni’s own goal and a controversially awarded penalty kick.

Still, I think if Boston get one, they’ll have enough. You?

JK: Good point about what the Flash have conceded. Chalk a lot of that up to Franch coming up big, though. How much can she endure?

Despite the low-scoring theme of the league thus far, it’s tough for me to say one will be enough in this game. Eventually these teams will start clicking and finding the net. There’s just too much attacking talent, like Leroux and Simon on Boston or the aforementioned Flash attack.

Speaking of clicking, Boston has had an impromptu two-week break after having last week’s game versus Kansas City postponed due to the tragedy that struck in Boston. What’s your read on how the Breakers will come out in this game? Sport has a way of bringing people (and teams) together, but it has to be tough to get back to soccer after everything that has happened.

RF: Agreed, but I think they’ll come out strong. My read on Boston is that the team’s eager to move on. I expect that to manifest in focus on Saturday. It’s a bit of a rivalry game for them, and as long as they can contain those quick transitions orchestrated by Perez, I think they’re good for an upset.

Staying in the East, we have Sky Blue visiting the Spirit. Sky Blue’s coming off a planned two-week break. For a young Spirit team, it’s probably best that they’ve kept played.

I’m becoming sold on the Spirit’s potential, especially with Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs in attack. And although Sky Blue has the only 100 percent record in the league, I wasn’t impressed when they hosted Western New York two weeks ago. Am I crazy for seeing a Washignton breakthrough here?

JK: The Spirit have exceeded expectations through two weeks, but I am far from being sold on them. There’s a long way to go in this season and long haul, I still see them struggling to score.

Sky Blue FC’s gameplan in their opening weekend win was perfect and kept Wambach in check all night. Now instead of size, that backline will have to deal with speed up top from Washington. But they’re perfectly fine with that.

Kelley O’Hara is about is speedy as it gets, Caitlin Foord is young and agile and Christie Rampone is still one of the best defenders in the league. Whichever team comes out victorious (unless we get another 1-1 draw!) will be sitting in a far better position through three weeks than I would have expected.

How about the other two games — Seattle at Kansas City and Portland at Chicago? They are both trap games in a sense, to me. Portland and Kansas City are two early favorites, but Seattle showed last week it has some potential in the middle of the park and, likewise, Chicago is still very much an unknown. I think, from watching on video, that the Red Stars’ home pitch is clearly different than most others (a seemingly smallish football turf). I’ve got this strange feeling the Thorns might be unprepared for some of those nuances in Chicago and have a case of, ‘You’re not in Portland anymore.’

RF: Portland has to be getting tired of playing against teams who use two holders. Kansas City did (Desiree Scott, Jen Buczkowski). Seattle did (Keelin Winters, Kaylyn Kyle). Chicago will (Shannon Boxx, Leslie Osborne). For all the talk of Portland’s midfield being bad, there needs to be a little more talk about what they’re up against.

Regardless, I agree with you, though I think the divide between Portland and Chicago is too much. I can see a tie, but I can also see a combative match where the Thorns create the only real chances.

As for Seattle, Mr. Kassouf: Are you starting to come around to my view on the Reign? I do believe you and I drastically disagreed on them two weeks ago. And did I got roundly dogged on your illustrious podcast for going against the grain on this (and Western New York)?

JK: Haha, we did disagree considerably. It’s too early for me to to come around on Seattle being a playoff team, but the midfield is a clear strength. I’m still trying to figure out how this team will score goals, particularly after last week against Portland when they may as well have been in a 4-6-0 formation. This weekend against Kansas City is a big test for Reign FC.

And the Flash? Too early to panic as well, but they certainly are not used to looking up in the table. Abby Wambach’s absence this weekend will hurt, but give it time, my friend. We’ll know a lot more about this team by this time next week, with games on Saturday vs. Boston and Wednesday vs. Sky Blue FC.

Report: Tottenham prepare $70 million summer bid for Zaha

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In a statement of intent, Tottenham is reportedly preparing to bring in one of the Premier League’s most electrifying wingers.

The Times in London reports that Spurs are set to offer Crystal Palace a $70 million transfer fee to sign Wilfried Zaha, bringing the Ivory Coast international back to a big six club for the first time since 2014. Zaha famously was the last signing of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but by the time the now-25-year-old arrived, David Moyes was the manager and Zaha never found a place in the Man United first team.

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Since returning, Zaha has found his form and this season has four goals and an assist for Crystal Palace in 20 Premier League matches as the club is now treading water above the relegation zone. Last season, Zaha scored seven goals and dished out nine assists in 34 starts in the league.

Zaha’s potential signing likely means either a change in formation or the departure of either or both Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela, both who play on Zaha’s preferred left side regularly.

The report states that the signing could be a way to galvanize some of the supporters for next season in which the club will play in the re-built White Hart Lane.

Sargent signs first professional contract on his 18th birthday

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Josh Sargent’s 18th birthday is one he’ll never forget.

The young American phenom was finally able to sign his first professional contract on Tuesday after turning 18-years old, passing the FIFA threshold for when a foreigner can sign a pro contract. Sargent has been training with Werder Bremen’s youth teams for the last few months and has even trained with the first team and featured for the Werder Bremen U23s.

“We’ve gone over all the formalities and Josh signed his professional contract with us earlier,” Bremen sporting director Frank Baumann said on Tuesday afternoon. “Again, we’re delighted he decided to join us. He’s settled in brilliantly since the turn of the year.”

[READ: UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas]

Sargent will continue to train with the youth teams and reserves, and will be eligible to feature for the Werder Bremen first team for the 2018-2019 season.

Orlando City sign defender Sane from Werder Bremen

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After making a number of moves to improve its attack this offseason, Orlando City SC is now splashing the cash to improve its backline.

The club announced on Tuesday the signing of veteran centerback Lamine Sane from Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on a permanent deal. It appears that with less than six months left on his contract and Sane not in Werder Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt’s plans, he was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

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“Lamine will significantly strengthen our back line,” Orlando City general manager Niki Budalic said in a statement. “He brings tremendous experience at the highest levels of European football and we believe he will fit right in with what we’re trying to build in Orlando.”

Sane started 27 times for Werder Bremen during a struggling 2016-2017 season, but had made just 11 appearances this season for the Bundesliga side. He’s also made 25 caps for Senegal, but the French-born defender hasn’t appeared for them since 2015. Perhaps a good start to the season in MLS could get him a surprise spot in the World Cup squad.

The 30-year-old joins a rebuilt starting lineup featuring other veterans as Orlando City looks to win in the near term, after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

While the team lost Cyle Larin and Kaka in the offseason, Jason Kreis and co. brought in Dom Dwyer late in the 2017 season, Justin Meram, Josue Colman, Uri Rosell and Sacha Kljestan in the offseason.  Along with a couple of new outside backs, Sane is the first signing to shore up the leaky middle of the park for Orlando, one that the club’s fans hope will lead Orlando City to a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference in the least in 2018.

Report: Barcelona agree nearly $50 million deal for Brazilian starlet Arthur

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Barcelona has again beaten out its league and global rivals for the next up and coming Brazilian star.

According to a report from Brazilian publication Globo Esporte, Barcelona has agreed with Gremio on a $49.4 million transfer fee for midfielder Arthur. The deal would see 60 percent of the fee go to Gremio and the rest to agents and the owners of part of the player’s rights.

[READ: Spurs ‘have capacity’ to win Champions League]

The 21-year-old’s deal is still subject to the standard medical tests, and wouldn’t go through until January 2019.

Arthur broke onto the scene as a permanent member of the Gremio first team in 2017, starting 27 league matches and nine times in the Copa Libertadores as a dominant holding midfielder.

Barcelona will likely look for him to play a similar role to countryman Paulinho or Sergio Busquets, controlling the tempo of the game with passing but also being able to quickly snuff out an attack.

Arthur created controversy in December when he was photographed wearing a Barcelona shirt. It was around then that news began to leak that Barcelona began negotiations for his services. According to other news reports, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Inter Milan were also interested in Arthur’s services.