NWSL Game of the Week: Seattle Reign FC vs. FC Kansas City

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In a league with eight clubs and a 22-game schedule for each team, there’s always a chance at redemption for a result that may have previously slipped away. For Seattle Reign FC, the wait to turn the table on FC Kansas City is a mere seven days.

On Saturday, the two teams face off for the second time in a week when Kansas City travels to Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash., for a late 11 p.m. ET kickoff. FC Kansas City won the first-ever meeting between the two clubs 2-0, with goals from Renae Cuellar and Sinead Farrelly.

Despite the quick rematch, it’s a game of firsts for each team, with Seattle opening its home slate and Kansas City boarding a plane for the first time this season.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1 – Welcome home Seattle; say hello to the road, KC

Seattle is the last of the eight clubs to play its home opener, now in Week 4 of the season. Reign FC have come away with just one point in three road matches to open the season (a 1-1 draw with Chicago Red Stars) but a trip to the intimidating JELD-WEN Field in Portland and rain-soaked pitch in Kansas City last weekend are tall tasks for any team. Now Seattle comes home for the first time this season, and while the 3,800-seat venue is not sold out — a point of concern given the lead-in time and the strength of Seattle’s soccer fan culture — it finally offers a chance at some regularity to life for Reign FC.

The travel began almost the moment the team arrived to training camp in early March. Seattle embarked on an ambitious two week preseason tour in Japan – including a match against L. League power INAC Kobe Leonessa – while the other seven clubs humbly stayed home and trained in domes or cold weather, scrimmaging college teams. Now, nearly two months after leaving for the Far East and then trekking to Portland and twice to the Midwest, the sight of the Emerald City for a full week is a welcomed one for Reign FC.

NWSL Standings

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

“That’s been the biggest positive this week is we’ve just been able to settle in and not get on an airplane and not go to an airport, which has been a nice change for us,” Seattle head coach Laura Harvey said.

Likewise, as impressive as FC Kansas City has been thus far, the Blues are yet to play on the road this season. They’ve gotten comfortable in their Kansas confines and look like one of the best teams in the league. But all that gets put to the test on the road, where a Seattle team hungry for its first win and not far off from putting the pieces together offers a trap game for FC Kansas City, which sits in third place on 4 pts.

“We haven’t had a chance to get the feeling and the rhythm of being on the road,” Blues defender and captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. “It’s a little different without having a set schedule, which we’ve had here, fortunately, the last three weeks or so. That’s going to be a challenge, just being able to find that comfort level [like] at home. And then just playing Seattle again, the game here they were high pressuring and they had a lot of energy. I think that can only be magnified by the fact that they are playing at home and it’s their home opener.”

[MORE: Looking back at Week 3 of the NWSL season]

Harvey thinks that, to an extent, the advantage lies with Seattle having not gotten the result last week. She doesn’t anticipate changing much in the game plan and said her side hasn’t struggled to create opportunities, but rather, to finish them.

FC Kansas City coach will look to replicate last week’s performance, but is well aware of the dangers of his team’s first road match.

“We’re working on the psychological aspect and we’re working and getting ready for those first 15-20 minutes of the game, because usually in a home opener those first 15-20 minutes are crucial,” he said.

2 – Buczkowski and Scott holding down the middle for KC

Two of the league’s best players early in the season have been FC Kansas City’s pair of holding midfielders, Jen Buczkowski and Desiree Scott. Both serve as an extra line of defense in front of an already solid back four for the Blues, which includes Sauerbrunn alongside Canadian international Lauren Sesselmann.

“They make our jobs so much easier at the back line, specifically for me as a center back with Sesselmann, just having them in front – they sweep in front of us so they break up plays, but they are also so good at finding the ball and keeping it that they are our outlet,” Sauerbrunn said. “Both defensively and offensively they’ve been such a help in there.”

FC Kansas City has come together quickly across the pitch. The back line is solid, but there is no stronger unit than the Blues’ loaded midfield, in which Buczkowski and Scott sit in and first round college draft pick Kristie Mewis, U.S. international Lauren Cheney and Sinead Farrelly have freedom to roam and push forward at will.

The system is cohesive, free-flowing and flat-out effective thus far. Mexican international Renae Cuellar, who has two goals this season, utilizes world-class speed to run off that five-woman midfield as the lone striker.

And the tendencies of the Blues’ midfielders to play more centrally at times opens up the wings for outside backs Merritt Mathias and Leigh Ann Robinson, something Seattle learned last week.

Round one of this matchup in Overland Park, Kan., last week was won and lost in the midfield. The same will be said about Saturday’s rematch.

3 – Fishlock the engine of a team close to clicking

source: APSeattle hasn’t overly wowed anyone with their opening three performances, but there have been moments – flashes – where Reign FC have pieced together sequences that show their potential.

At the heart of most of that is Welsh midfielder Jessica Fishlock (pictured above, right).

[MORE: Fishlock the unsung hero in Week 2 vs. Portland]

Without a doubt she has been Seattle’s engine and best player, creating attacking opportunities sometimes out of nothing from her advanced midfield role and doing so in place of a front line that hasn’t come to fruition yet. Harvey admits she  is yet to figure out who is best suited in the lone striker role of Seattle’s 4-5-1 formation, she knows where her foundation is.

“Prior to any ball being kicked we knew we had a strong midfield,” Harvey said.

Harvey says Fishlock will be “a massive success” for the team and the league. But Fishlock’s fellow central midfielders, Keelin Winters and Canadian Kaylyn Kyle (pictured left), have also been instrumental. The trio is a perfect combination of defensive ball-winning and attacking flair.

On Saturday, the midfield will need to stay connected with its backs. Cheney was able to find pockets of space between those lines last week and while neither of her two assists came from a built-up attack (one was a corner kick, the other a clearance turned through ball), she had far too much time on the ball.

As for the battle of two strong midfield units – a crowded one with two teams that prefer three central midfielders – Andonovski said he was “very happy” with how Buczkowski and Scott contained Fishlock, but the Welsh international isn’t sweating the rematch.

“A lot of teams nowadays play with the two holding, so it’s not something knew that we’ve come up against or I’ve come up against,” Fishlock said. “But they do it very well. I tip my hat to them tremendously; they did it very well against us when we played them away.”

Harvey said Lindsay Taylor and Tiffany Cameron have returned to fitness and could be options at forward, where Seattle has struggled.

QUICK HITS

Seattle Kansas City
Star to Watch Jessica Fishlock – She’s the focal point of an attack lacking a pure striker and often pushes beyond the lone forward from her attacking midfield role. Can she get support from a forward who rises to the occasion? Lauren Cheney – Lit up Seattle last week. Her two assists weren’t even her most impressive contributions. Three of Cheney’s free kicks were dangerous, including one in the second half that that forced a huge save.
Still Important Michelle Betos – The young goalkeeper has done a solid job filling in for Hope Solo, who is out until June or July after having wrist surgery. Betos needs to continue to come up big to keep her team in matches, including this home opener. Renae Cuellar – Lost in all the praise of Kansas City’s midfield is a 22-year-old star who has scored in both games, including the first goal in NWSL history. Her pace is electrifying and she showed it last week, out-running the Reign’s defense in a 50-yard sprint.
Win if … … they stay compact and win the midfield battle. They’ll need this to be a 1-0 kind of game. … Buczkowski and Scott can dictate play and if Cheney is given too much space again.

Other games in Week 4:

Western New York Flash 2-1 Sky Blue FC (Wednesday) The Flash finally picked up their first win in the first midweek game of the season, which also ruined Sky Blue FC’s previously perfect record and bid to go top of the league. Abby Wambach scored the game-winner in the 20th minute for Western New York in front of a paltry 2,127 fans.

Chicago Red Stars at Boston Breakers (Saturday, 6 p.m. Eastern) The Breakers return to Somerville, Mass. for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings (which canceled their trip to Kansas City and deeply affected defender Kia McNeill). Boston comes in riding high on the heels of a big three points in Western New York last week, while Chicago begins a brutal stretch that has them on the road for four of the next five games.

Portland Thorns FC at Washington Spirit (Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern) – The Alex Morgan Show is in town and a sellout crowd of over 4,500 is expected at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Washington has exceeded very low expectations early on, but Portland – and the Thorns’ engine, Christine Sinclair – seem to have hit their stride. Ashlyn Harris will need another big game in net for Washington, which can’t afford to get into a shootout with the Thorns.

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

You can watch all the games live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Arsenal welcome Crystal Palace, Man United head to Burnley, West Ham host Bournemouth, Stoke and Huddersfield clash, while Leicester welcome Watford and Everton do battle with West Brom.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Brighton 0-4 Chelsea: Magic Hazard runs the show

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  • Chelsea snap run of five-straight draws
  • Brighton have one win in last 13 PL games
  • Hazard scores twice, rips Brighton apart
  • Chelsea have won 11 of last 16 games

Chelsea beat Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 at the Amex Stadium on Saturday as Eden Hazard scored twice and tore the Seagulls apart.

Two goals in the opening six minutes from Hazard and Willian set Chelsea on their way to victory, then Hazard capped the win off with a fine individual goal late on and Victor Moses added a fourth.

Brighton battled hard and hit the woodwork and had penalty shouts but Chris Hughton‘s men were outclassed by Hazard in dazzling form.

Without the suspended duo of Alvaro Morata and Pedro, plus injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea deserved the win and moved level on 50 points with second-place Manchester United, while the Seagulls are just three points above the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Less than three minutes into the game Chelsea took the lead as Moses’ cross from the right deflected into Hazard’s path and the Belgian took a touch to settle himself before he rifled home.

It got worse soon after for Brighton as Chelsea pounced to double their lead via Willian. The Brazilian surged forward, played the ball into Eden Hazard and he then flicked the ball into Michy Batshuayi with the back of his heel and Batshuayi followed suit to play in Willian who fired home. 2-0 with six minutes on the clock.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Brighton responded well and should have had a penalty kick as Willy Caballero rushed off his line and appeared to catch Ezequiel Schelotto, but no penalty kick was given and Chelsea cleared the danger. Moments later a high ball into the box caused Cabellero problems again as he flapped at a cross but his defense bailed him out.

On the break Batshuayi had an effort stopped by Mat Ryan as Hazard ran riot, while at the other end Caballero then made a superb save to deny Tomer Hemed and Shane Duffy nodded wide as Brighton had their chances in a action-packed first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

In the second half, Brighton continued to push for a goal back and Davy Propper‘s header hit the post and came out. Andreas Christensen was then forced off after being involved in a nasty clash of heads as David Luiz came on.

At the other end Willian had his free kick pushed onto the post by Ryan as Chelsea looked to end any hope of a Brighton comeback.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hazard (who else?) did just that in the closing stages as he sauntered towards goal and send Ryan the wrong way with a fine finish to make it 3-0.

Charly Musonda then made a great impression as he jumped off the bench and clipped a fine ball forward for Moses who controlled and finished for Chelsea’s four goal to hammer the final nail in Brighton’s coffin.

Report: Arsenal bid $61 million for Aubameyang

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It has begun.

According to German outlet Kicker, Arsenal have made an opening offer of $61 million to Borussia Dortmund for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Dortmund’s star striker, 28, has been left out of their last two matchday squads amid discpilinary problems and question marks over his future at the Westfalenstadion.

The leading goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season (31 goals in 32 games) has been linked with a move to Arsenal over the past week as they get ready to sell Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United. Reports linking Aubamyenag to Arsenal have seen Dortmund’s sporting director hit out at Arsene Wenger and called the Gunners’ behavior disrespectful.

Talking of disrespect…

Aubameyang was spotted playing five-a-side with friends in Dortmund on Friday while his teammates drew 1-1 with Hertha Berlin (something his manager Peter Stoeger had a less than positive reaction to) as the Gabonese striker wore a BVB shirt with Ousmane Dembele’s name on the back. Dembele was suspended by the club back in the summer as he tried to force through his move to Barcelona, which eventually happened for a fee of $130 million.

I’m sure the Dortmund hierarchy were pleased about that…

When it comes to Aubameyang and where he would fit in at Arsenal, this would be a great fit. He’d be the target forward they’ve needed for some time and imagine Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang in tandem, plus Mesut Ozil and maybe his former teammate at Dortmund, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, (if his move from Man United goes through) threading through balls.

Aubameyang is prolific and has scored 141 goals in 212 games for Dortmund over the past five seasons, including 21 goals in 23 games in all competitions this season.

Olivier Giroud was said to be offered as part of the deal, but his name isn’t mentioned in this report and the Frenchman is said to want to stay at Arsenal at least until the end of the season.

It’s likely Arsenal will have to pay closer to $70 million for a player who has three years left on his current contract, but his goal output is certainly worth that amount, even if his off-pitch antics and somewhat disruptive nature could be an issue for Wenger. At this point, Arsenal need all the help they can get to finish off games they dominate.

Barcelona issue statement on Antoine Griezmann

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Hmm, this is an interesting tactic from Barcelona.

On Saturday the Catalan club released a statement about Atletico Madrid and France striker Antoine Griezmann.

The forward has long been linked with a move to Barca and media reports in Spain have gone into overdrive regarding a move to the Nou Camp for the 26-year-old.

Below is the statement from Barca in full.

FC Barcelona strongly denies the information that has appeared over the course of the last few hours in different media regarding Atletico Madrid player, Antoine Griezmann, and an alleged deal with our club.

FC Barcelona expresses its objections in the face of these events and reiterates its full respect for the institution of Atletico Madrid.

This feels very similar to the situation with Virgil Van Dijk between Liverpool and Southampton.

Media speculation reached incredible levels back in June 2017 that VVD had agreed to sign for Liverpool, but the Anfield club then issued a public apology to Saints and ended their pursuit of Van Dijk. He then signed for Liverpool in January in a $100 million move.

With Atletico said to be incredibly unhappy that Griezmann continues to be linked with a move to Barca, plus reports suggesting the Madrid club want to report Barcelona to FIFA for an alleged approach for their star striker, it’s not too surprising to see Barca take this very unusual approach to try and calm the situation down.

Will it work? Who knows. Is it likely Griezmann will end up at Barcelona anyway? This statement suggests that the two clubs are in dialogue and Barcelona are trying to patch up their relationship to try and move for Griezmann in the summer.

Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see this.