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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.

Report: Messi, Aguero 18 minutes from suffering Chapecoense fate

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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According to a report by Brazilian Folha de São Paulo, a flight bearing the Argentinian national team was dangerously close to crashing in the same manner that saw much of the Brazilian club team Chapecoense tragically perish just a week ago.

The report states that the national team, bearing Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and other star players on November 11th, was traveling on the exact same plane that crashed on November 28th, and was 18 minutes from running out of fuel before landing in Buenos Aires. The British Aerospace 146 aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity for a flight of four hours and 22 minutes, and the trip from Belo Horizonte to Buenos Aires took four hours and four minutes, according to the report, citing flight logs.

Information disemminating from the November 28th crash shows the aircraft did not reach its destination due to a loss of fuel.

According to an editorial written by Airways Magazine editor in chief Enrique Perrella following the Chapecoense crash, it is a common occurrence in South America for pilots to routinely stretch the maximum flight distances for aircrafts, and to take fuel amounts dangerously close to actual flight time without much pushback. Many flight governing bodies around the world state minimum fuel requirements to be enough fuel for flight time plus distance to an alternate landing location plus an extra 45 minutes.

The Perrella editorial states, citing the flight plan for the November 28th crash, that the pilot for the plane carrying Chapeocense was also the owner of the airline, causing a conflict of interest. In the interest of saving fuel costs, he apparently registered enough fuel on his flight plan for the exact amount of flight time from Santa Cruz to Medellin – four hours and 22 minutes. When the plane was asked to sit in a holding pattern to allow another flight with mechanical problems to land, they ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from the destination.

Should all this information prove accurate, the not only was the accident clearly preventable, but it could have happened more than once, and clearly a change in culture is needed.

Southampton’s Charlie Austin suffers horror shoulder injury

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton stands over injured team mates Charlie Austin during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Charlie Austin could be out for some time.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

In the first half of Southampton’s UEFA Europa League group decider against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday — the Premier League side need a win or a 0-0 draw to the make the knockout stages — Saints’ top scorer Austin fell awkwardly when sending a header wide at the back post and landed on his shoulder.

What ensued was ugly to watch.

The Englishman was screaming in agony on the floor and it looked like he had dislocated his shoulder with Saints’ physios running on to treat him.

Austin, 27, is Saints’ top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions and if he is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, that’s a big problem for Saints.

The former QPR and Burnley forward has dislocated his shoulder on multiple ocassions before and had an operation on his right shoulder in 2014 when at QPR.

To succeed at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho must adapt again

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on fromthe bench prior to the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United is not in the crisis everyone says they are.

No, they are not the ones in a crisis. Their manager, however, is a different story.

Throughout his career, Jose Mourinho has been quite adaptable. Through his wildly successful journey across four different European top flights, he’s been able to wire himself differently to fit each different league, and it’s worked. It hasn’t always made a lot of friends at each stop, but it’s worked – at least for a time, before burning to the ground. What Mourinho has not been able to do on a regular basis, however, is admit that he’s wrong.

Therein lies the identity crisis Jose Mourinho currently faces. He’s got it blatantly wrong at United, and to fix things in the short-term, he must admit his mistake, not publicly, but by making a critical change.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger discuesses Sanches, Ozil futures ]

Through two stints at Chelsea, the 55-year-old has found a formula that works in the Premier League: find a deadly striker, grab a goal or two, and sit on it. And it’s worked. Didier Drogba and Diego Costa got him the goals, while John Terry, Gary Cahill, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, and John Obi Mikel held those leads. In their title year of 2004/05, 17 of Chelsea’s 29 wins came while scoring two goals or less. The next year, they won the league again with 19 of 29 wins coming with two goals or less. In their last title season of 2014/15, 16 of Chelsea’s 26 wins came while scoring two goals or less. It was a seemingly simple formula, and with the right players he executed it to deadly perfection.

That, unfortunately, is what Manchester United doesn’t currently have, and it has Mourinho baffled. The right players.

You can see why Zlatan Ibrahimovic was attractive to Mourinho’s tactics. He is meant to be United’s Drogba. He is their Costa. And it’s working, to the tune of eight goals so far. What United doesn’t have is the lockdown defense Mourinho relies on, yet he continues to try and rely on it.

[ MORE: Swansea chairman backs Bob Bradley ]

In the nine matches Manchester United has dropped points in, they conceded first inside the opening 35 minutes four times (twice in the opening two minutes), and in three they’ve conceded in the final five minutes. The other two were 0-0 draws.

Mourinho has consistently blamed circumstance for United’s poor start. He’s partly right; United has been on the wrong side of crucial refereeing decisions, bad bounces, and a host of games where shot after shot after shot refuses to find the back of the net. Unfortunately, this is glossing over the real reason Mourinho’s bunch has failed to put up results indicative of their performances.

Manchester United’s defense just won’t cut it. Chris Smalling has served the club valiantly since coming over from Fulham at a young age, but at 27 years old he has failed to improve for a number of seasons, and will not find himself among any awards lists in the near future. Marcos Rojo has a horrific disciplinary record and can’t get out of his own way. Eric Bailly has looked a solid piece but has been injured, only just returning. Daley Blind is a versatile piece but still has not found his best position, and thus has found the bench instead. Phil Jones, still just 24, can’t be trusted. Luke Shaw can’t stay on the field. Matteo Darmian has been pressed into action and has yet to prove his worth.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 players in the Premier League ]

That’s not a bad defensive unit, but it’s certainly not a title-winning one. It’s a whole lotta “meh.”

Mourinho’s insistance on leaving Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a microcosm of the larger issue. Only just starting the $45 million signing for the first time in league play last time out, Mourinho has preferred the more possessive Jesse Lingard, despite Mkhitaryan’s ruthless attacking presence he proved last year with Borussia Dortmund, creating 82 chances in Bundesliga play, more than twice anyone else on the squad (hey look! he scored in the Europa League today because he’s actually getting time!).

[ VIDEO: Mkhitaryan scores in Europa League play ]

This team needs to attack, and they need to do it soon. If United can prove more ruthless at the front end, this team can pick up steam at a rapid pace. But for that to happen, Mourinho needs to adapt from his old ways and instead play to the squad he has. United can up the defensive unit in January and even next summer, but until that happens, this club will continue to suffer with the status quo.

VIDEO: Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores beauty for Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United controls the ball under pressure from Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Here he comes.

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United in the summer big things were expected.

It’s taken him a while to settle but now the Armenian playmaker has scored his first goal for United with a stunning superb solo effort against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League.

Watch the video below to see Mkhitaryan put United 1-0 up.

What a goal.