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.

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