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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.

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

Chilwell
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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.

Report: Manchester United’s $132 million Pogba deal close to completion

ROME, ITALY - MAY 21:  Paul Pogba of Juventus FC celebrates with the trophy after winning the TIM Cup final match against AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on May 21, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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The finishing touches are being put on the biggest transfer in history.

A report from ESPN FC claims that Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, is locked in talks with Juventus to finalize an offer of $132 million from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Fabregas off in fiery friendly

Pogba, 23, has been chased by United all summer and it finally appears that Jose Mourinho has his man.

The report goes on to state that Pogba could have a medical in Miami on Friday (where he is currently on vacation) as United aim to tie up the deal by the weekend.

This week it had been reported that a major snag in the deal had arrived due to Raiola demanding over $22 million for brokering the deal. However it seems as though any talk of an impasse has now passed and United are now close to sealing the huge deal for the French international midfielder.

Pogba left United for a $1.2 million compensation fee in 2012 after he failed to break into Sir Alex Ferguson‘s team. Now, just four years later, he will return to Old Trafford with four Serie A titles in his trophy cabinet plus he was named as the best young player at the 2014 World Cup.

Real Madrid and Barcelona were previously linked with Pogba but United’s riches, despite the Red Devils not being in the UEFA Champions League next season, seem to have prevailed.

Mourinho said in his first press conference as United’s manager that he wanted four key players to arrive as part of his rebuild.

He got Eric Bailly. He got Zlatan Ibrahimovich. He got Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Now it looks like the fourth, and most important, player will arrive.

Ranking the Olympic teams at Rio 2016

United States' Carli Lloyd (10) scores a goal on a penalty kick against Costa Rica during the first half of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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There are just six days to go until the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off in Brazil.

We’ve already ranked the top 20 players in the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments at Rio 2016 and now it is time to look each team.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic soccer here ]

With host nation Brazil the clear favorites in the men’s competition, the U.S. women’s national team is also head and shoulders above the rest as they aim to pick up a fourth-straight Gold medal.

Below you can find the “power rankings” if you will, of the teams competing this summer for a place atop podium.


Men’s

  1. Brazil
  2. Germany
  3. Mexico
  4. Argentina
  5. Nigeria
  6. Portugal
  7. Sweden
  8. Japan
  9. Korea Republic
  10. Denmark
  11. Colombia
  12. Algeria
  13. Iraq
  14. Honduras
  15. South Africa
  16. Fiji

Women’s

  1. USA
  2. Germany
  3. France
  4. Brazil
  5. Sweden
  6. Australia
  7. Japan
  8. China
  9. Canada
  10. Colombia
  11. South Africa
  12. Zimbabwe

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mustafi to Arsenal, Guzan to Boro, Tello to Saints

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 12:  Shkodran Mustafi of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Germany and Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 12, 2016 in Lille, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Arsenal are said to have inquired about Valencia’s German international defender Shkodran Mustafi, 24.

After losing Per Mertesacker until 2017 with a serious knee injury, Arsene Wenger has already spoken about looking for an experienced option at center back.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

However, it appears he may be looking for a more long-term approach with Mustafi set to cost around $26 million according to report in the Independent. That say that Spanish outlet Cadena Cope believe the German defender is up for sale.

With Laurent Koscielny on an extended break after appearing in the EURO 2016 final for France and Gabriel missing Arsenal’s tour of the USA with tonsillitis, Wenger will use young center backs Calum Chambers and Rob Holding against the MLS All-Stars on Thursday in San Jose, Calif. or maybe even Francis Coquelin as an emergency center back with Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal either side of him.

Mustafi started and scored against Ukraine in Germany’s 2-0 win in their EURO 2016 opener but only appeared again at the Euros as a second half sub in their semifinal defeat to France.


U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan is set to seal a move to Middlesbrough, according to the Guardian.

Per the report Guzan will leave Villa on a free transfer and will sign a two-year contract for Aitor Karanka’s side. Skyy Sports is also reporting that Guzan will have a medical on Teeside in the next 24 hours.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in fiery friendly ]

Guzan, 31, played for the U.S. at the Copa America Centenario this summer but given Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship the Illinois native wants to stay in the Premier League.

If the move to ‘Boro does go through then he will be battling with Victor Valdes and Dimitrios Konstantopoulos for the starting spot.

Guzan has become the first-choice goalkeeper for Jurgen Klinsmann since the 2014 World Cup when Tim Howard decided to take a sabbatical. Last season he endured a nightmare campaign as they were relegated from the Premier League for the first-time in history.

Here’s hoping Guzan gets a chance to shine at the Riverside but with Valdes also signing on, it’s difficult to know who will be the first choice.


Southampton are chasing two Spanish players, according to the Sun.

Barcelona’s Christian Tello, 24, has spent the last two seasons on loan at Fiorentina and FC Porto but is now looking for a permanent home and Southampton will be hoping to add to their attack after losing Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane this summer.

Tello could leave Barca for $13 million and although he’s scored 20 goals in 86 games for his hometown team, he has failed to break through and finally wants to become a regular elsewhere.

Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin are both back fit and among the goals during preseason but with their history of injuries perhaps Claude Puel will be looking to sign one more striker as Saints prepare for both the Premier League and the Europa League.

The report also states that midfield reinforcement is being looked at with Malaga’s Recio, 25, linked with a $7 million move to St Mary’s. Saints seem pretty set in that area of the pitch with Jordy Clasie, Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.