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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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Tight at the bottom

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Southampton, England.
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Week 37 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

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. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

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.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Man City 3-1 Arsenal – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Ham 3-1 Swansea City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 3-1 West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 2-0 Watford – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Leicester City 2-2 Everton – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Sunderland 3-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Norwich City 1-2 Man United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Tottenham 1-2 Southampton– (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

WATCH: Premier League TV schedule, stream links – Week 37

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The penultimate week of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

It all kicks off at Carrow Road on Saturday as relegation haunted Norwich City host top four chasing Manchester United (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Alex Neil‘s men beat United at Old Trafford in December. Can they do the double to boost their survival hopes? Then already relegation Aston Villa host relegation threatened Newcastle United (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Villa Park. Rafael Benitez’s side are unbeaten in four and must win this game to boost their survival hopes. At the same time Sunderland host Chelsea (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA Network and online via Live Extra) as they aim to boost their own survival hopes.

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, the champions Leicester City host Everton (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and online via Live Extra) as the Foxes will hoist the trophy aloft at the King Power Stadium. It will be a magical occasion.

On Sunday Tottenham Hotspur will look to dust themselves up and grab a win against Southampton (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) which will all but secure second place. Ronald Koeman‘s Saints can still finish fifth and qualify for Europe. Plenty on the line.

Week 37 comes to a close on Sunday with a huge encounter between two teams fighting to finish in the top four: Manchester City and Arsenal (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) who go head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium. Arsene Wenger‘s side will clinch the top three with a win, while City will be reeling after their Champions League exit in midweek and they have Manchester United and West Ham chasing them for fourth place.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and theNBC Sports Live Extra App.

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

7:45 a.m. ET: Norwich City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Chelsea – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Swansea City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Everton – USA [STREAM]

Sunday

8:30 a.m. ET: Tottenham vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]

VIDEO: The Brotherly Rivalry – Liverpool vs. Everton

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The guys at KICK have produced this awesome digital short looking at the most recent Merseyside derby.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

When it comes to Liverpool vs. Everton, families are divided and the two brothers featured in this piece tell us what it’s like to support rivals and live under the same roof.

Remember: Anfield and Goodison Park are less than a mile apart.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game via Live Extra

Hit play on the video above to watch it play out.

What do other Premier League clubs think about Leicester’s title win?

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It is the most incredible title win in Premier League history.

Leicester City came out of nowhere to win the 2015-16 title in one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]

With that news still sinking in, how did managers and players of other clubs feel about the Foxes being the unexpected champs?

Overall, pretty much everyone is happy.

[ MORE: Ranieri the mastermind ]

Below is a look at what a leading figure from each club in the PL had to say about Leicester’s title win.


Arsenal – Manager, Arsene Wenger

“Congratulations to Ranieri and all the players. It’s a remarkable achievement and it has also been done in an unusual way which gives us food for thought.Their success is based on team spirit. They had low possession and that is very unusual.

But they were strong in what they did. They defended very well, they were very clinical and they were very efficient defensively. That was unexpected. Is that a trend in the coming season? I don’t know. If you look at their results they lost only three games and that’s remarkable looking at thequality of their competitors.”

Aston Villa – Former manager, Remi Garde

“When you see Leicester now, it’s crazy and unbelievable, nobody could have seen that 12 months ago. We should be inspired by that.”

Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe

“I think there is only going to be one Leicester. Who knows what the future holds, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to do that again. That’s why the odds were what they were at the start of the season. I know you have to dream and have that vision and hope, but I do think it was a one-off.”

Chelsea – Captain, John Terry

“Congratulations to Leicester because they have been superb this year. It still hurts us losing the league after winning it last year. It hurts us conceding it to Leicester but we’ll be back next year.”

Crystal Palace – Manager, Alan Pardew

“Leicester won the league after 36 games and for 10 games last season they were the best team in the league. So for the best part of 50 games they’ve been the best team in the country. All this about things falling their way is not quite correct. So they deserve all the plaudits they get. I’m glad they’ve done it early because they can enjoy it now. I think Leicester’s title win is already impacting on other managers,” said Pardew. “You can only name about five or six managers not under pressure in the Premier League.

“At the top clubs it’s had an impact definitely. Leicester have shattered the glass ceiling that I for one thought would probably be impossible to break. They’ve gone and done it and it’s amazing. We all know it’s unique. It puts more pressure on those of us lucky enough to be managing in the Premier League, so we’ll look forward to that. Football isn’t all logic. It’s almost like some stardust has fallen on Leicester.”

Everton – Manager, Roberto Martinez

“They have been a real inspiration in terms of a winning team, and not just in football, throughout sport. To have that intensity and that drive and, against all odds, it has been the real fairy tale of football and sport in general in the modern game.

Liverpool – Manager, Jurgen Klopp

“It is the best story ever.”

Manchester City – Captain, Vincent Kompany

Manchester United – Manager, Louis Van Gaal

“I have great respect for the champions Leicester City who deserved their league win. You cannot say that if we didn’t have our injuries then we would have been first. No, this would be disrespectful to the champions who totally deserve it in my eyes.”

Newcastle United – Winger, Andros Townsend

Norwich City – Midfielder, Gary O'Neil

Southampton – Manager, Ronald Koeman

“What you see in the Premier league now is that there is not a big difference… that gap is not so big and that gap is showed by Leicester, by West Ham and by Southampton last season and this season. The achievement of Leicester is great for football.”

Stoke City – Manager, Mark Hughes

“Whether or not it is unprecedented, are we going to see more so-called unfashionable clubs getting to the top of the pile, who knows? But it’s a great effort that Leicester have been able to do it with a couple of games to spare. They deserve great credit for that.”

Sunderland

Swansea City – Manager, Francesco Guidolin

“In the future the money in the Premier League goes to all teams, so a good squad, good manager and club can make a difference. It is possible to have a project and play for important targets. But it is not easy in the Premier League, you can do it one time (like Leicester) after 20 years. I won’t call it a miracle because it is a true story for Leicester. A team can play for third, fourth or fifth, but to win it is very difficult.”

Tottenham Hotspur – Striker, Harry Kane

Watford – Midfielder, Adlene Guedioura

“I think this story will inspire not only footballers but everyone because it is something unbelievable they did. Knowing Riyad Mahrez and talking to him they were not thinking about being in the top three or top ten this season. When they finished at the top it was something unbelievable. It’s a great story but especially it’s a good example that everything is reachable if you have a lot of motivation, a good spirit in the team and a manager that brings people to the top.”

West Ham United – Manager, Slaven Bilic

“They give hope to not only every football but every sporting club in the world.”

West Bromwich Albion – Manager, Tony Pulis

“You have to give credit for Leicester for getting those players. Everybody is looking for those type of players but Leicester have gone and got them. The great thing about Leicester is they’ve played like a team and once they built up momentum everybody at that football club bought into it.”