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

Top 15 new signings in the Premier League, so far

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Do you remember back in the summer when Premier League clubs were splashing the cash, new players were flooding in and fans of every single team believed they’d just signed either the “next big thing” or a “superstar” for the 2017-18 season?

Yeah, about that…

[ VIDEO: PL Saturday roundup ]

Regardless of how many new boys have so far been duds after arriving at their new team in the summer transfer window, plenty of players have made very impressive starts to life at their new clubs.

With that in mind, below is a look at the top 15 new guys in the PL after they arrived at their new PL clubs in the summer.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 14 goals in 18 games for Liverpool in all comps. has surpassed all expectations. A bargain at $45 million. Superb start.
  2. Ederson (Manchester City) – The missing piece of the jigsaw for Man City. Confident goalkeeper capable with his feet and eager to rush off his line.
  3. Richarlison (Watford) – Brazilian was an unknown before the season but youngster has five goals and two assists so far and has been a revelation.
  4. Kyle Walker (Manchester City) – $70 million for a right back? $70 million for a right back. Walker’s pace and power has added proper balance to City’s defense along with left back Benjamin Mendy before his unfortunate injury.
  5. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – Spaniard has scored 8 goals and added 4 assists and is the main man at Stamford Bridge. $90 million well spent.
  6. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) – 12 goals in all comps, 8 goals in 12 in the PL, yeah, Lukaku’s doing well. His recent drought a little worrying.
  7. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – Six goals and 1 assist, Lacazette has settled in very well at Arsenal. His runs open up space for Ozil, Sanchez.
  8. Pascal Gross (Brighton) – 5 assists and three goals this season for the German playmaker make him an absolute bargain for the new boys.
  9. Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) – Colombian arrived with a big reputation but the 21-year-old is exceeding it. Calm, powerful center back.
  10. Harry Maguire (Leicester City) – Towering defender is an elegant ballerina on the ball. Now an England international and key for the Foxes after leaving Hull for $22 million.
  11. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town) – Australian makes Huddersfield tick after making his loan move from Man City permanent. Smooth on the ball.
  12. Mario Lemina (Southampton) – Stunning start to life at Saints curtailed by injury. Combative midfielder looks like a $20 million bargain from Juventus.
  13. Jack Cork (Burnley) – Shrewd pickup by Dyche with Cork’s early season form earning him an England call-up. Tidy, direct player with vast experience.
  14. Mikel Merino (Newcastle United) – His loan move from Dortmund was quickly made permanent and he has class as well as guile in midfield.
  15. Erik Maxim Choupo-Moting (Stoke City) – Has provided extra quality up top for Stoke with 3 goals and 3 assists. Superb free transfer.

Notable mentions: Chris Wood (Burnley), Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City), Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Kurt Zouma (Stoke City, on loan from Chelsea), Tammy Abraham (Swansea City, on loan from Chelsea)

Report: Mesut Ozil to return to Schalke

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Is Mesut Ozil heading home?

The German playmaker from Gelsenkirchen is said to be contemplating a return to his hometown club Schalke 04 next summer.

[ MORE: 3 things from Arsenal, Spurs ]

Ozil, 29, has just over six months left to run on his current Arsenal contract and is a free to talk to non-English clubs on January 1 about a free transfer on July 1, 2018.

After coming through Schalke’s youth system, Ozil helped the Bundesliga side challenge for the title in 2006-07 and reach the UEFA Champions League before moving on to first Werder Bremen after a contract dispute with Schalke, then Real Madrid following his star displays at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Perhaps Ozil feels like there is unfinished business at Schalke? Their president Clemens Tonnies wants Ozil to return home but admits it may be difficult financially.

“I still have a great relationship with Mesut,” Tonnies told German outlet Kicker. “We would definitely consider it [a return]. If it fits for both sides, it would be nice. The player could say that he returns to his roots, and that he plays football in this stadium and for those fans and the region once again. But it will certainly not happen next season.”

Schalke are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence this season with the club currently in second-place in the German top-flight and a young, talented squad impressing (shoutout to USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie!) ahead of their Revierderby clash with bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund this weekend.

Would this be a good move for Ozil?

Several of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with a move for the mercurial midfielder, while the likes of Arsenal’s Premier League rivals Manchester United are also said to be monitoring his situation closely, but it would seem he is closer than Alexis Sanchez to remaining at Arsenal beyond this season.

At the weekend Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sung the praises of Ozil and fellow Arsenal contract rebel Alexis Sanchez, with Ozil having an assist on Arsenal’s opening goal and putting in a superb display in their 2-0 North London derby win against Tottenham Hotspur.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

It is clear that Ozil and Sanchez have enjoyed being at Arsenal, for the most part, but perhaps Ozil’s love for another club, his boyhood team Schalke, will see him head back to the Veltins-Arena to finish up his playing days?

So often lambasted for not caring enough or working hard enough, you can’t argue with Ozil’s stats in the attacking third since he arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2013. He has earned the right to decide where he goes next as he prepares to sign the biggest, and perhaps last, contract of his career.

That could be the sticking point for Schalke (especially with their president saying a move for Ozil is unlikely this summer) but if they don’t have to pay a transfer fee to bring home a local hero, surely it would be smart business to do it now rather than wait few years after he joins another club.

The myth that Schalke is some small Bundesliga club remains out there, even though they have one of the largest fanbases in Europe and are able to compete financially with the Bundesliga’s best.

Ozil heading home makes sense on many levels but we all know the deciding factor: $$$.

Louis van Gaal to take over at Everton?

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Bookmakers have slashed the odds of Louis Van Gaal becoming Everton’s new manager.

Van Gaal, 66, is now the second favorite to be the next permanent Toffees boss with Watford manager Marco Silva still the favorite to take charge at Goodison Park despite Everton having two bids for the Portuguese manager knocked back.

David Unsworth continues to lead Everton on an interim basis but with unimpressive results and performances, the jury is out on him being handed the job on a permanent basis.

LVG has been out of work since being fired by Manchester United in the summer of 2016, a few days after he won the FA Cup. The Dutchman and his unconventional methods led United to fourth and fifth place Premier League finishes in his two season at Old Trafford but he was often criticized by fans for their slow, predictable style of play.

Would van Gaal be a good fit for Everton?

His “name” would perhaps suit owner Farhad Moshiri who is looking to push Everton onto the next level and LVG’s penchant for developing young talent throughout his managerial career certainly aligns with Everton’s philosophy. Given the large number of talented youngsters they currently have (Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate to name a few) this may not be the worst appointment in the world.

Is van Gaal a bit odd? Yes, he’s pretty nuts. Would he be hungry to prove everyone in England wrong? Yes, he would be. Are Everton a team which has hit rock bottom and can easily improve in the coming months? Yes, that’s true. The lack of current candidates for the job do suggest that Everton’s expectations are perhaps a lot higher than their currently playing squad (assembled by LVG’s nemesis Ronald Koeman) can achieve.

Given his experience at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man United, plus leading AZ Alkmaar, who had similar expectations to Everton, to a Dutch league title, perhaps the Toffees could do a lot worse than appointing LVG. That may be an unpopular opinion but if Everton can’t get Silva, can they really keep caretaker boss Unsworth in charge for much longer?

Plus, he’s always good value in press conferences and there would be plenty of added intrigue at Everton.

Niasse first-ever PL player to be charged with “deception”

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Oumar Niasse will go down in the history books. Not for a good reason.

[ RECAP: Palace 2-2 Everton

On Tuesday the English Football Association announced that Everton’s striker had succeeded in “successful deception of a match official” when winning a penalty kick for the Toffees at Crystal Palace on Saturday during their 2-2 draw.

In charging Niasse with simulation, he becomes the first-ever Premier League player to be sanctioned under new rules introduced in May.

Players in the lower-tiers of English soccer have already been banned for two games during this season for simulation and Niasse can either accept his automatic two-match ban or appeal the decision.

Niasse went down under minimal contact from Palace’s Scott Dann in the box and won a sixth-minute penalty kick which Leighton Baines scored. Niasse, who came close to joining Palace in the transfer deadline day in the summer, later scored an equalizer to make it 2-2.

The FA had the following to say about the decision to charge Niasse.

 “Incidents which suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation are referred to a panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player. Each panel member will be asked to review all available video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it was an offence of ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official.’ Only in circumstances where the panel are unanimous would the FA issue a charge.”

Niasse did go down very easily and was looking straight towards referee Anthony Taylor for a penalty kick, which he received. If he appeals, it’s unlikely he will win it.

There is no place in the game for simulation and although it won’t get two points back for Crystal Palace, hopefully these bans will stamp it out of the game.

I’m all for more of these bans being dished out to stamp out the problem of simulation.