China v United States

Looking back at Week 3 of the NWSL season

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It seems we were a bit premature in touting the league’s ability to get goals, because while the NWSL’s first two weeks notably avoided WPS’s punch-less debut, it wasn’t until this weekend – Week 3 of the new league’s season – that we saw a surge. Whereas only one team (Portland Thorns, against Seattle) had bagged multiple goals in a game through “The N’s” first fortnight, every Week 3 winner got on the scoresheet twice, with matches in Kansas City and Chicago giving the league its first multi-goal margins.

While the product wasn’t necessarily better (`70s-style turf pitches challenging our soccer aesthetics), the execution was, with set piece precision and counterattacking awareness flashing the cohesion coaches have been trying to instill. With teams having only assembled for preseason six weeks ago, some growing pains were expected. Now teams are making good on their coaches’ two-week-old promises: As we get more time together, things will improve.

Take Boston, who injected ball-winner Mariah Nogueira into midfield, used Lianne Sanderson as a focal point at the top of midfield, and push Sydney Leroux wide to break down the Flash’s right back (Alex Sahlen). The result? Two goals for Heather O’Reilly cutting in from the right. That’s a system doing work.

Or look at Kansas City. On all the league’s teams, Vlatko Andonovski’s was most-ready to go on day one, but even the Blues made tweaks. They stayed 4-2-3-1 but moved Sinead Farrelly into the team, pushing Lauren Cheney wide. That tightened screw allowed FCKC to avoid their Week 1 slog, a trough that allowed Portland’s second half goal to take a point from Overland Park. On Friday, it was Kansas City scoring the second half goal, Renae Cueller’s second of the season sealing their 2-0 win over Seattle.

For some teams, asking fans for patience is so two weeks ago. Their changes are already collecting points that could make a difference at the end of this short, 22-game season. They’re also putting pressure on the rest of the league to catch up.

Here’s what else happened in Week 3:

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

With Western New York struggling out of the gate, it’s difficult to know what Boston was up against on the field, especially with Flash focal point Abby Wambach kept out of Saturday’s home opener. But this weekend in Rochester, the Breakers’ biggest obstacles were always going to be away from the pitch, where the team sought to move on from last week’s tragedies in Boston.

With last week’s match in Kansas City cancelled, Boston may have shown some rust while allowing Samantha Kerr to put the Flash up after six minutes, even if Heather O’Reilly’s quick response evened the scales. Late in the second half, O’Reilly’s dash from her right-wing position through the left channel created the game-winner, the U.S. international recording the first brace in NWSL history.

It’s easy to exaggerate the link between sports and “real life,” but there is a link, one that Lee Billiard and Lisa Cole talked about in the buildup to Saturday’s game. If not for Boston as a whole then for the team and community around it, Saturday’s game was an important return to normalcy. And a winning one.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

While O’Reilly recorded the league’s first double, FC Kansas City’s Lauren Cheney (above) was in a giving mood. Dangerous over dead balls all night, Cheney curled a corner kick two yards from the goal line to give Farrelly a far post, 21st minute opener.

But witness the real gem of Cheney’s night:

(Mark Yesilevskiy graciously made the GIF for us)

Cheney was a target striker in WPS, but in the year-plus since that league closed shop, she’s been converted to a midfielder by the national team, a move made possible by her intelligence and quality on the ball. But to this point, her performances in the middle have been merely acceptable, perhaps the product of a learning curve. She’s been steady, and her versatility allows for a lot of possibilities tactically, but squeezed backward by the national team’s forward surplus, Cheney just hasn’t had as much of an impact in midfield.

On Friday, that showed signs of changing. Beyond her two assists, Cheney showed a command for the game that justified Andonovski’s midfield deployment, assuming the responsibility of being the driving force in midfield. Whether wide left or back in the middle (Kansas City’s interchangeability seeing her move around), Cheney was the week’s best player.

At the time of allocation, there was some speculation Cheney would resume her natural, forward’s position, but after performances like Friday’s, we now have a proof of concept. Lauren Cheney – whether as a wide creator, late-match regista, box-to-boxer or a No. 10 – may have a viable future in midfield.

Also of note: “HAO” did have those two goals, Coco Goodson is a giant (h/t Lauren Barker), Christine Sinclair was again her match’s best player, and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Fri., Apr. 26 Kansas City 2-0 Seattle
Sat., Apr. 27 Washington 1-2 Sky Blue FC
Sat., Apr. 27 W. New York 1-2 Boston
Sat., Apr. 27 Chicago 0-2 Portland

ROUND’S BIG STORY

It’s no surprise the league’s first two-goal margins were produced by Portland and Kansas City, the two clubs at the top of most expert’s blindly predicted final standings. What’s more surprising: Two teams have joined them to create an early haves, have nots scenario.

That Boston and Sky Blue are undefeated is neither alarming nor remarkable this early in the season, but the quality gap between them and the league’s bottom four is surprisingly large:

  • Washington Spirit’s attack could click at any time, but until it does, they have no consist means of producing goals. More troubling: A defense expected to be the team’s backbone just allowed two goals at home against Sky Blue.
  • The Western New York Flash, thanks to being drastically short-changed in allocation, just don’t seem to the quality. Aaran Lines has done well to keep his team competitive in their three games, but the team’s yet to find a solution.
  • Like the Flash, the Chicago Red Stars’ allocation was lacking, though they did get a national team quality player in free agency (Lori Chalupny). Unfortunately, she’s the only Red Star that’s meaningfully distinguished herself through two games.
  • And just like Washington, the Seattle Reign just don’t have any goal scorers. Megan Rapinoe is coming, but it remains to be seen if they can scrape together enough points to stay close while she’s gone.

It’s too early to make any long-term assumptions about the league’s bottom half, but Week 3 gave us a lot of information about the chasm dividing the league’s eight teams. Not only did the scoreboards favor the league’s better half, the teams’ actual quality reinforced the notion of haves and have nots.

UNSUNG HERO

Washington may not have a reliable goal scorer, but in Diana Matheson, they have somebody who can create chances, like this one Saturday for rookie Caroline Miller:

It was her own Lauren Cheney moment, and although the Canadian international doesn’t have Cheney’s renown, she carries some of the same qualities: Somebody who can orchestrate play from the middle of the park. At 5’0″, though, Matheson has to go about her business much differently then the 5’8″ Cheney, with her willingness to turn on a ball and burst forward in attack feeding the natural description ‘spark plug’.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 3 7 +3 1
2 Sky Blue FC 2 6 +2 3
3 Kansas City 2 4 +2 2
4 Boston 2 4 +1 4
5 Washington 3 2 -1 7
6 W. New York 3 1 -2 6
7 Chicago 2 1 -2 8
8 Seattle 3 1 -3 5

In that way, Matheson is more Jessica Fishlock (last week’s Unsung Hero) than Cheney, with both the Canadian and Welsh internationals serving as examples of a women’s professional league ancillary benefits. While much of women’s soccer fandom in the U.S. is tied to the popularity (and exposure) of the women’s national team, there’s an array of underappreciated talent fans see to thanks to the NWSL’s arrival. At some point, women’s soccer might be about more than the Olympics and whomever’s the latest Mia Hamm.

Matheson’s 150 caps for Canada mean she’s well-known to most long-term women’s soccer fans, but newer fans drawn in by the U.S.’s World Cup and Olympic runs may know little about her. But with NWSL, Matheson may not be unsung for long.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

Can Kansas City take their act on the road? … How much patience should Cindy Parlow Cone have with Portland’s midfield? … Why did it take until Saturday to hear the word “concussion” from Abby Wambach or the Flash? … Can Kelley O’Hara stop tackling like Paul Scholes? … Is Sydney Leroux: Left Winger a real thing? … Will fans turn out for Seattle’s home opener?

LOOKING FORWARD

Reign FC finally get that opener his weekend when FC Kansas City show up in Tukwila, a match we’ll feature as this week’s NWSL Game of the Week. With some factions of Seattle fandom balking at supporting a non-Sounders FC brand, owner Bill Predmore has a marketing challenge ahead of him. On Saturday, we’ll see the first product of his efforts.

And for the first time this season, the NWSL is going mid-week:

Wednesday, May 1
Western New York Flash vs. Sky Blue FC

Saturday, May 4
Boston Breakers vs. Chicago Red Stars
Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns
Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City

Transfer grades: How did Premier League teams do this summer?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The summer transfer window is shut.

That was fun.

[ MORE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

A record $1.5 billion was spent on new players by all 20 Premier League teams this summer as stars like Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz, Islam Slimani, Sofiane Boufal and Jack Wilshere were on the move.

Let’s take a look at the deals and give each PL team a grade based on the business they did this summer.


TEAM GRADE
source:  A Man United: The Red Devils went big and did their business early as Jose Mourinho just beat Pep Guardiola to win the summer window. A world record fee for Paul Pogba, plus Zlatan on a free, Bailly is a beast in defense and Mkhitaryan will deliver assists. Mourinho cut out plenty of bit-part players and has a tight squad who area already being as ruthless on the pitch as their manager is off it. Box office rebuild from United.
source:  A Man City: A huge overhaul for City as Hart, Bony, Mangala and Nasri left, as Sane, Gundogan, Nolito, Stones and Bravo arrived for almost $200 million. Guardiola has been ruthless in his recruitment but you can already see his clear style of play flowing through this team. When you hire Guardiola, you let him rip the team apart and start again. He has done that this summer and City look much better for it. Great window.
source:  A- Chelsea: What a Deadline Day for Chelsea. David Luiz arrived in a sensational deal from PSG and he will give Antonio Conte the option of playing a three-man defense and he’s a huge character. Marcos Alonso is a solid buy, plus N'Golo Kante has slotted in seamlessly and Batshuayi is already contributing. Conte hasn’t changed much but the players he has signed will contribute massively. No big names left either. Bellissimo.
source:  B+ Leicester City: The Foxes focused on keeping all of their stars this summer and the only one they lost was N’Golo Kante. Signing Vardy and Mahrez to new deals was massive but then adding Slimani for a club record deal plus Musa was the icing on the cake. Mendy and several depth players will also help them in their UCL quest. Brilliant business, once again, from Leicester.
source:  B Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere arrived on Deadline Day on loan from Arsenal. Incredible signing and the biggest in club history by far. Eddie Howe has pulled of a masterstroke but his side did start the season poorly after he put all his trust in youngster Jordon Ibe and others. That said, getting in Wilshere and beating the likes of Roma and AC Milan to his signing is a major coup. Wilshere will suit the Cherries’ style and as a leader he will make their young team tick.
burnley fc crest  B Burnley: The Clarets broke their transfer record twice during the window as Defour and Hendrick arrived in midfield and suddenly Burnley look much better suited to staying up this season than they did two years ago. With Gray and Vokes up top, they can score goals. Now they need to stay tight and let Hendrick and Defour build a partnership. Well done, Sean Dyche.
source:  B Stoke City: Strong Deadline Day saved Stoke’s window. Wilfried Bony is perhaps the missing piece of the jigsaw, as he joined on loan from Man City. The Ivorian striker is the clinical finisher they’ve been searching for. Martins Indi was also a good buy, as was Joe Allen. All in all, very good business from a very well run club.
source:  C+ Arsenal: Arsene Wenger spent a record amount for a summer window as Xhaka, Perez and Mustafi arrived for a combined total of $115 million. Some Arsenal fans still won’t be happy but the Gunners added a striker and center back, plus shipped out some squad players on loan. Overall, a decent window.
source:  C+ Crystal Palace: The Eagles saved themselves late in the window after signing Christian Benteke for a club record fee and then adding Loic Remy on loan. Alan Pardew sold Bolasie for big money and missed out on Jack Wilshere, which was disappointing, but overall Palace addressed their needs with two international strikers.
source:  C+ Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp still has plenty of issues in defense, especially at left back. The signing of Sadio Mane was expensive but already looks like good business and Klopp has cut so much deadwood he could be a lumberjack in his spare time. Seriously though, the jury is out on Wijnaldum, Klavan and Matip although the latter has showed signs of promise. All in all, good outs but could’ve done with two marquee defenders arriving.
source:  C Everton: A solid summer of business for Ronald Koeman, who was the biggest signing by far, but you get the sense Everton’s fans were a little underwhelmed. They sold Stones for a huge fee which covered the costs for Bolasie and Williams. Lukaku is staying around but they missed out on Sissoko and Lucas Perez late in the window. Close, but no cigar. This squad is stronger than last May, though.
source:  C West Ham: The Hammers had a rough summer with injuries and we have to remember that, but Slaven Bilic had plenty of deals fall down after early Europa League exit. Feghouli, Zaza and Arbeloa will become starters but you worry about their strikers staying fit, especially after letting Valencia leave.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest  C Middlesbrough: Some very shrewd signings from Aitor Karanka as newly-promoted Boro added firepower with Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez plus adding depth all over the pitch. They didn’t spend a huge amount of money but they did enough business to give their fans plenty of hope they will survive this season.
source:  C Southampton: Sofiane Boufal was fine pickup for Saints for a club record fee but Claude Puel‘s other arrivals are also young but Redmond and Hojbjerg have shown promise. Losing Mane, Pelle and Wanyama was a big blow but Saints should be okay and they kept hold of captain Jose Fonte. They needed one more striker in the window to make it a success.
source:  C Tottenham: Spurs somewhat salvaged their transfer window by snapping up Moussa Sissoko but he’s still a temperamental character. Let’s see how this goes. Vincent Janssen will take time to settle and Wanyama is a midfield destroyer but they already had that in Dier. After qualifying for the UCL and having a great campaign last season, Spurs missed a chance to go big and solidify their title credentials. That said, they do have a new stadium to pay for…
source:  D Swansea City: The Swans have lost Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew, their talismanic captain and top scorer from last season. Guidolin didn’t really replace them. Swansea are really lacking up top with Llorente experienced but unproven in the PL, while you also worry about them in central defense. New American owners may have to pump money in during the January window.
New Hull City Club Crest  D Hull City: It has been a turbulent offseason for the Tigers and although they tried incredibly hard in the latter days of the window to rectify their sluggishness, there wasn’t much quality let for them to hoover up. Ryan Mason, Will Keane and Mbokani have arrived but Mike Phelan will feel like it was too little too late. More strengthening was needed to save them from a relegation battle but with a takeover deal close, it was a difficult situation.
source:  D Watford: New manager Walter Mazzarri has done plenty of business this summer but you have to argue if many of the signings strengthen the Hornets at all. It will largely be the same starting lineup which faded badly last season and after a shaky start this season, it could be a long campaign at Vicarage Road.
source:  D- West Brom: The Baggies signed Hal Robson-Kanu on Deadline Day but will he really add more than 5/6 goals? Nacer Chadli was a decent signing but it feels like the Baggies have got so many central midfielders. A poor window for West Brom, especially with new owners in charge. Pulis won’t be happy.
source:  F Sunderland: There’s no two ways about this. It was a shocking window for Sunderland. David Moyes came in late after Sam Allardyce left for England and he managed to keep hold of Kone but signed a handful of Man United youngsters and a DM in Didier Ndong. With no experienced goalkeeper, holes in central defense and a lack of firepower, Moyes and the Black Cats are struggling.

 

Chelsea sends USMNT’s Miazga on loan to Eredivisie side Vitesse

SWANSEA, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City and Matt Miazga of Chelsea compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
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Matt Miazga is off to the wide-open world of the Eredivisie.

Miazga, 21, is heading to Vitesse on loan, one year after joining Chelsea.

Vitesse counts American striker Kai Koreniuk in its reserves, and has fellow Blues loanees Lewis Baker and Nathan on the roster.

[ MORE: Luiz rejoins Chelsea ]

The center back left the New York Red Bulls last January and appeared in a pair of league matches for the Blues.

But Antonio Conte brought in Deadline Day signings Marcos Alonso of Fiorentina and David Luiz, and wants Miazga to see regular playing time.

Chelsea also loaned Christian Atsu to Newcastle for the entire season, and Lucas Piazon to Fulham until January.

It was never going to be straight into the Starting XI of a UEFA Champions League power for Miazga, so this move will help his development as the defender continues to adapt to Europe.

Vitesse knows what Chelsea expects in development, having been a regular loan destination for Blues prospects.

It’s happening, folks: Chelsea has bought David Luiz… again!

CARSON, CA - JULY 30:  David Luiz #32 of Paris Saint-Germain in action against Leicester City during the 2016 International Champions Cup at StubHub Center on July 30, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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He’s back.

Versatile Brazilian veteran David Luiz has rejoined Chelsea from Paris Saint-Germain in a shocking Transfer Deadline Day move.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

The move is reportedly a $40 million deal. Chelsea sold Luiz to PSG for more than $65 million in 2014.

The 29-year-old won both the Champions League and Europa League with Chelsea before leaving for Ligue 1, where PSG won every domestic title there was to be won.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I’m delighted to return to Chelsea. We had a fantastic story during my first time at the club and I want to help the team and Antonio Conte achieve a lot of success.

“I always had a wonderful relationship with the fans and I am looking forward to wearing the blue shirt at Stamford Bridge once again.”

How’s this for a stat?

Sissoko confirms Spurs switch, leaving Newcastle and spurning Everton

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Georginio Wijnaldum of Newcastle United celebrates with Moussa Sissoko as he scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Norwich City at St James' Park on October 18, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Unhappy Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko is now smiling Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Moussa Sissoko, signing a five-year deal with the club on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Frenchman was at the center of a deadline window battle between Everton and Tottenham, and chose the latter.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Sissoko has been eager to find a Champions League side, but relegated Newcastle was happy to wait until someone reached its evaluation of the player.

Reports said Sissoko was headed to Everton for a medical, but Spurs reportedly matched the Toffees’ $39 million bid and landed the player.