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NWSL Game of the Week: Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers

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source:  What looked like a battle of two of the NWSL’s best strikers fell through on Thursday when Abby Wambach was ruled out of Western New York’s Saturday match against Sydney Leroux and the Boston Breakers. Without his offensive focal point, Flash coach Aaran Lines will need another plan of attack if his team’s to claim their first victory of the young season.

Kicking off at 7:35 p.m. in Rochester, Boston’s visit to Western New York is ProSoccerTalk’s NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Boston putting last week behind them

When the Breakers arrived at Logan Airport last Friday, armed guards reminded them of the week that was – five days that started with a bombing at the Boston Marathon and ended with a manhunt in Watertown, where defender Kia McNeill was isolated while that section of the city was locked down.

“There were a lot of players that wanted to be with their friends and family,” Boston Breakers general manager Lee Billiard told Equalizer Soccer. “They didn’t want to leave them behind. They didn’t want to leave Kia McNeill behind either.”

The Breakers’ game in Kansas City was eventually rescheduled, the team leaving Boston’s airport to spend the weekend at home. As a result, the team hasn’t played a game in two weeks, undoubtedly the least of their worries, but one that could still have an impact on the field come Saturday night’s kickoff.

“For us, it’s a little bit of a set back,” head coach Lisa Cole told ProSoccerTalk. “Other teams have had the opportunity to have that one extra game that puts them a little bit ahead. But I also think because of the extra week we were able to address some tactical and technical things we needed to address.”

Having not played since their home opener, an April 14 draw with the Washington Spirit, Boston’s weekend off has also built anticipation.

“We’ve obviously dealt with some pretty crazy things this past week,” Sydney Leroux said of the team’s state of mind. “I think we’re ready to play soccer … the team’s in a good place now.”

Speaking to the BBC last Friday, Billiard highlighted the role sports, particularly in Boston, can play in helping a community move on. It’s a sentiment Cole echoed ahead of the Breakers’ return:

You don’t need to get over it or degrade what happened, but you do need to keep moving forward … for our fans, I think that’s important. Now’s the time to be energizing our fans and help put things behind them.

2. Teams making defense out of nothing at all

Among the things Boston and Western New York have in common – from their focal point strikers, to their participation in WPS, to their regional rivalry and their winless starts – the state of their defenses after this winter’s player allocation would have been a point of mutual empathy. Both teams were left them with questions in goal and defense – questions the league’s roster restrictions have made it difficult to answer.

“I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed,” Lines said, when asked about the challenges handed to him by getting only two U.S. internationals (Wambach and midfielder Carli Lloyd). “We weren’t given a defender … and then you couldn’t just go out and build the rest around that, either.”
As opposed to being able to build a squad through his own devices, Lines had to go through a supplemental draft, college draft, and limited free agency. Those steps that left him with a defense that has two combined international appearances.

But Western New York’s luck was different in the college draft, where the allocation of goalkeepers to most of the six teams picking front of Western New York meant Adrianna Franch, a national team prospect from Oklahoma State, fell to the Flash at seven. Over the first two weeks of her professional career, Franch has been among the NWSL’s best goalkeepers.

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

“At goalkeeper I’ve gone in with a rookie,” Lines said, explaining why he was willing to take the chance with inexperience. “If I hadn’t had the success the club’s had over the previous years (winning three straight titles across three different leagues), maybe I wouldn’t have gone in and made that step, but I was convinced with [her] ability.”

Ask opponents and the traits that most frequently come up about “A.D.” are quickness and poise, the latter speaking to the attitude she’s brought to her first year in professional soccer.

“It (hasn’t) been too different for me,” Franch said of her transition from college life to the pros, “because from my point of view with going to school with scholarships, it is in a way a job. You have to work for your scholarship and make sure you’re on time for everything and focused. That’s helped me with this adjustment.”

Boston, allocated 18-year-old Cecilia Santiago, had their chance at Franch but passed. As a result, Lisa Cole had to find a starting goalkeeper on the open market.

“It’s been difficult,” Cole said of that search. “Adrianna Franch, she’s gone a great job in her first two games, but I think a rookie goalkeeper needs to have a good solid six months.”

Cole’s eventually settled on Ashley Phillips, a 27-year-old veteran of the WPS Breakers, whose integration has been overshadowed by other problems along Boston’s defense. While Cole can rely on veteran duo McNeill and Cat Whitehill in the middle along with Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson on our right, left back has turned into soccer’s version of Spinal Tap’s drummer.

“I was excited about at the beginning of the season with Casey Short coming in,” Cole said of the Florida State defender Boston took in the first round, “We knew we’d have the ability to play Heather (Mitts, now retired) or Rhian there until she develops. (Then) Casey Short went down (knee injury). Now Bianca (D’Agostino) going down (knee injury). Then Julie King, who we thought would play these this weekend, has been injured. Jo Dragotta, who played there for us in the first game, (is injured). So it seems like anybody I put in that position gets hurt.”

With the restrictions on how rosters were formed, almost every team had question marks. But Western New York and Boston began the season with major questions at the back, and although neither team has given up more than one goal in a match (through three games), each coach will need more than early returns to alleviate their concerns.

3. Good luck stopping Syndey Leroux

She has 16 goals in 34 international appearances, numbers that would be even more daunting if Leroux wasn’t battling for playing time with Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. Her five goals in Olympic qualifying last January are tied for a U.S. Soccer record, and at despite being only 22 years old, the former UCLA Bruin may be the most physically daunting attacker in the NWSL.

source: APYet ask Leroux to describe herself, and you’ll get a completely unconscious answer:

I’m fast, I guess. That’s what I’ve heard before … I don’t really know. It’s a tough question. I’d like to say that I think that I play hard. And smile, I guess.

Without the burden of modesty, opponents say the same thing, though their descriptions paint a more tormenting picture.

“Pace, that’s the first thing,” Franch said when asked to describe her U-level teammate. “Her movement on and off the ball is good … She never gives up. Doesn’t matter if the ball’s running out (at) the endline. She makes sure she gives all her effort at the end of that. Forcing keepers or defensive backs to play that long ball. She’s always putting that pressure on.”

We always think of elite strikers as having great technique or “predatory instincts,” both of which Leroux has. But her combination of world-class speed and almost unmatched tenacity is a defender’s worst nightmare, one that has left opponents struggling for ways to restrain her.

“You can’t necessarily stop her completely,” Cole said of her star attacker. “I think you need to limit her touches, probably limit the number of times she gets a ball behind a defense, because she’s so dangerous running at a goalkeeper … As she develops, she’ll be close to impossible (to stop).”

Against Washington in week one, Leroux’s tenacity paid off, her 91st minute goal salvaging an opening day draw. Particularly with Wambach sidelined, Leroux’s skillset makes her the player most likely to decide Saturday’s game.

QUICK HITS

W. New York Boston
Star to Watch Adrianna Franch – She has been her team’s best player through two games. Until Lines’ attack can start converting chances into goals, the first year star will have to continue to produce veteran performances. Sydney Leroux – Western New York’s defense has been very good through the season’s first two weeks, but Leroux’s much better than Lisa De Vanna, a quality attacker given multiple one-on-ones with Franch in league one.
Still Important Veronica Perez – The key to W. New York’s transition game, the Mexican international’s ability to turn on a ball and get her team into through the middle third demands attention from opposition coaches. Heather O’Reilly – The U.S. international is one of the best wide players in the world – a unique talent in a league that lacks players who can break down opposing fullbacks. Her threat along Boston’s right will stretch the defense for Leroux.
Win if … … Franch and the defense stay strong while their wide play with Perez and/or Samantha Kerr can compensate for the absences of Wambach. … W. New York’s attack can’t click or Leroux can’t be contained.

Other games, Week 3

FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC (Friday, 8:35 p.m. Eastern) – A battle of midfields could be settled by Kansas City’s attack as two teams search for their first victories of the season. An attacking core of Renae Cuellar, Casey Loyd, Lauren Cheney, and Kristie Mewis makes Kansas City more likely to break through the midfield slog.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern) – For the third week in a row, Portland goes up against a team playing two holding midfielders. If they don’t have a way to offset that by now, Thorns FC’s midfield really does need to be reevaluated.

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern) – The Spirit’s two draws have come largely on the saves of Ashlyn Harris, but if Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs can translate threats into chances, they’ll break through for their first win. Sky Blue, coming off a bye week, are one of two teams to win a game over the league’s first two weekends.

3 killed during Colombia’s celebration of soccer title

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 06:  The teams of Sao Paulo and Atletico Nacional lines up during semifinal first leg match of Copa Bridgestone Libertadores between Sao Paulo and Atletico Nacional at Morumbi Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia’s celebration of victory in the South American club soccer championship has ended in violence, with three fans killed in a night of boisterous revelry.

Authorities say they registered more than 600 street fights after Medellin’s Atletico Nacional defeated Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle 1-0 in Wednesday night’s Copa Libertadores final.

It was Nacional’s second-ever title in the premier South American club tournament and the first by a Colombian team since 2004.

One of those killed was wearing the shirt of a rival Medellin club when he was slashed in the neck with a knife. There were also reports that mobs of Nacional fans attacked adversaries in Bogota.

Police say at least 23 people were injured.

MLS All Stars 1-2 Arsenal: Chuba Akpom provides the late winner for the Gunners

MLS All-Stars midfielder Giovani Dos Santos, front, of Los Angeles Galaxy, takes a shot on goal against Arsenal during the first half of the MLS All-Star soccer game Thursday, July 28, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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It’s a pre-season friendly for the Premier League side, but it never ends up playing out that way. This Thursday night in San Jose turned out to be an entertaining meeting between Arsenal and the MLS All-Star bunch that saw Arsenal youngster Chuba Akpom tap in the winner in the 87th minute after goals from Didier Drogba and Joel Campbell had evened out for much of the match.

The game was wide open early, as Theo Walcott had the game’s first chance, and Giovanni dos Santos had a good look down the other end in the ninth minute, saved by Petr Cech.

Minutes later, the opener came for the Gunners as a lovely touch from Joel Campbell chipped over MLS goalkeeper. Laurent Ciman attempted to box out Campbell as the ball trickled towards the net, but instead brought down the Arsenal striker. The foul by Ciman usually would have drawn a straight red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, but not looking to ruin the event in the 10th minute, the referee pointed to the spot but only showed the Montreal defender yellow. Campbell then slotted the penalty home to give Arsenal the lead.

Elneny had a go on 26 minutes looking to double Arsenal’s lead with a vicious strike from outside the box, but Blake produced a stunning save to tip it over the bar.

With a game to play in less than 48 hours, the two NYCFC players David Villa and Andrea Pirlo departed after just a half-hour, with Sascha Kljestan and Nacho Piatti coming in.

The game seemed to settle in after the opener, although the game was not lacking competitiveness, as evident by a number of heavy challenges. Amid plenty of pre-match talk centered around Didier Drogba facing former Chelsea teammate Petr Cech, the All-Star striker leveled the match just before the halftime break. A great ball from Kljestan to Giovanni dos Santos unlocked the young Arsenal defense, and Drogba was there to finish off the chance on his third attempt, seeing the first two saved and blocked.

Arsenal brought on new signing Granit Xhaka after halftime, while USMNT youngster Gedion Zelalem came on with just over 20 minutes to go. Xhaka ripped off a good long-range shot that forced a solid diving save by substitute goalkeeper David Bingham.

The visitors brought on their youngsters as the second half eased along, with Chuba Akpom and Jeff Reine-Adelaide seeing action. Cyle Larin came on late for the MLS All-Stars, and USMNT veterans Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski made appearances as well.

With the clock winding down, Chris Wondolowski brought back shades of 2014, firing over the bar with a glorious chance to win it for the MLS All-Stars after hard work by Larin down the right. Minutes later down the other end, the Gunners took the game in its grasp. An overlap to perfection between Alex Iwobi and Nacho Monreal opened things up at the near post, and the latter placed it on the doorstep for Akpom to tap home the winner.

The loss is the first for MLS All-Stars since 2013, and it’s the first in six games against a London opponent.

Sounders remain busy, bring back Alvaro Fernandez a day after signing Lodeiro

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 04:  Alvaro Fernandez #4 of the Chicago Fire controls the ball against Toronto FC during an MLS match at Toyota Park on August 4, 2012 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Toronto FC 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Seattle Sounders have had a busy summer, looking to ease supporters angry with the club burrowed in last place in the Western Conference.

Having brought in Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro on a Designated Player contract on Wednesday, the club announced the return of fellow Uruguayan and former Sounders DP Alvaro Fernandez, who comes back to CenturyLink Field four years since his 2012 departure.

Fernandez spent the last three-and-a-half seasons outside MLS after spending just half a year with the Chicago Fire. He spent loan stints in Qatar, Argentina, and his home country of Uruguay before signing for Argentinian side Gimnasia permanently in 2014.

Fernandez and Lodeiro played together with Uruguayan side Nacional in 2009 when the club made a run deep into the Copa Libertadores. They also played together on the Uruguayan national team during the 2010 World Cup, although neither was a consistent starter. Lodeiro said upon Fernandez’s signing, “We are good friends.”

During his first stint with the Sounders, Fernandez made 81 appearances, scoring 17 goals.

Norwich City striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel signs with former club Vitesse Arnhem

NORWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:Ricky van Wolfswinkel of Norwich City celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Everton at Carrow Road on August 17, 2013 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Norwich City’s record transfer at the time of his purchase from Sporting CP in 2013, is moving on after a largely unsuccessful four-year stint with the Canaries.

The 27-year-old has returned to his home country, moving to Vitesse Arnhem – the club he went professional with as a 19-year-old. Van Wolfswinkel made his professional debut in April of 2008 with Vitesse, and now returns for an undisclosed fee.

Van Wolfswinkel came to Norwich in 2013 with much fanfare, signing for a reported fee of $11 million – a club record signing at the time.

He proceeded to score just a single goal in 25 appearances during his first season in the Premier League, with Norwich finding itself relegated. He moved to Ligue 1 on loan with Norwich in the Championship, but still managed just five goals in 28 league appearances with St. Etienne. He never made another appearance for the Canaries, instead moving on loan again Real Betis last season, but flopped there too, scoring just once in 16 league appearances.

“I debuted in professional football on behalf of Vitesse and that is something you never forget,” van Wolfswinkel said upon signing. “After several foreign adventures I look forward to returning to the Dutch fields. I hope to find my niche and want to play well and add many goals and assists for Vitesse.”