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.

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.

VIDEO: Coutinho curls home stunning free kick

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Philippe Coutinho was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick in the first half to put Liverpool 1-0 up against Crystal Palace.

Click play on the video above to watch his 10th Premier League goal of the season as Wayne Hennessey couldn’t get close to it.

How Martial’s goal cost United $10.8 million; Pogba injury update

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You could perhaps forgive Manchester United’s hierarchy for not celebrating Anthony Martial‘s goal against Burnley with the usually zest…

[ MORE: United see off Burnley ]

That’s because Martial’s strike in the 2-0 victory at Turf Moor on Sunday was his 25th for United.

‘So what?’ you might be asking. Well, when Martial arrived at Old Trafford as a teenager in the summer of 2015 his transfer from AS Monaco was heavily incentivized with documents leaked in recent weeks showing many clauses in place which could see the deal rise to over $80 million over the years.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Monaco are now owed an extra $10.8 million with Martial scoring his 25th goal for United and it was just his eighth goal of the season as he’s mostly been used as a sub by Jose Mourinho.

If Martial reaches 25 caps for the French national team before 2019 while at United (he’s currently on 15) Monaco will get another $10.8 million and if he wins the Ballon d’Or before 2019 Monaco will also get another $10.8 million.

That’s some deal for the Ligue 1 side but Martial will be playing a lot more games in the coming weeks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for the season with a horror knee injury.

Staying in United news, and finances, the most expensive player on the planet, Paul Pogba, hobbled off towards the end of the victory.

Speaking after the game Mourinho confirmed that he’s “not sure” if Pogba will play against Manchester City on Thursday and singled out the displays of Eric Bailly and Pogba after both had played the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht on Thursday.

“We wanted Anthony Martial to get behind as he’s faster, and he did well. But I can’t choose an individual performance as they all did well,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly get a mention after two hours of football against Anderlecht.”

United will be sweating on the fitness of Pogba ahead of the monster clash against City as United’s win means they’re now just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals who occupy the final UEFA Champions League spot in the Premier League standings.