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Looking back at Week 4 of the NWSL Season

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Through the first four weeks of the NWSL season, life on the road has proven very forgiving for the league’s eight clubs, a minor surprise for those expecting transcontinental travel and the challenges of the league’s various surfaces to give home teams an edge. Yet through 14 games, teams are 5-5-4 away from home, and while that figure may be skewed by Portland’s three games on the raod, home teams have still yet to see any significant advantage from their friendly confines.

That’s in aggregate, though. For individual teams, there were still questions, particularly surrounding Kansas City and Chicago – two teams who ventured away from home for the first time in Week 4.

For the Red Stars, the questions were ominous ones. One point from home games against Seattle and Portland confirmed doubts about Rory Dames’ team, none of which were assuaged by Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Boston. League-wide results may not show a home field advantage, but for Chicago, life went from bad to worse on the road.

For FC Kansas City — a team living at the other end of the standings — the story was much different. Their 1-0 result at Starfire Sports Complex may be superficially less impressive than last week’s 2-0 over Reign FC in Overland Park, but on the road against a Seattle team that played better than they did a week ago, Kansas City gave arguably their most convincing performance of the season. Vlatko Andonovski’s team dominated the first half-hour, executed one of the season’s best goals in the second half, and went on to sully the Reign’s home opener.

Most convincing was the continuity. Lauren Cheney is FCKC’s key player, somebody whose constant, steady movement in the attacking phase churns the team, with fellow midfielder Sinead Farrelly filling in the spaces Cheney vacates. As defenders adjust, Renae Cuellar’s given areas to exploit, while Kristie Mewis can pick spots to attack. It isn’t explosive, it isn’t overbearing, but with patience and prodding, Kansas City eventually opens you up, just as they did on Cuellar’s 69th minute score, her third of the season.

Andonovski, beaming after the convincing performance, was easy with his praise, saying “There was nothing more I could ask” of the team.

“Every line was working great,” he said, shortly after Saturday’s final whistle, “The goal that we scored was just a pleasure to watch.”

“It was our first road game, and we didn’t know how we were going to respond. If [we] want to be a contender for a playoff spot and move up from there, we have to win games on the road. We came out, worked hard and did what we did.”

What they did was stay undefeated, now 2-0-1. They also may have answered the last, faint question about their potential. Through the season’s first three weeks, our internal cynics could wonder whether they’d be as strong on the road. Now we know.

Here’s what else happened in Week 4:

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

It was the league’s first four-goal game, the first time any team’d won by at least three goals, and for the Boston Breakers, it was the second straight week where they stood out. Last week, a convincing road victory in Rochester made their post-Boston Marathon return a successful one. On Saturday, their result to Dilboy Field produced the league’s first rout.

For as much talk as there’s been about the NWSL’s Big Two (Portland and Kansas City), Boston’s giving us some reason to think they can keep up. After an opening day stumble at home against Washington, the Breakers have put together two convincing wins, the second showing off the depth of one of the league’s deepest attacks. Though there were concerns about their goalkeeping and defense at the beginning of the season, central defenders Kia McNeill and Cat Whitehill are capable of providing some stability. And thanks to the insertion of rookie Mariah Nogueira into the lineup, Lisa Cole has a formidable presence in front of the defense – somebody who can destroy play before it hits the back line. Put the package together, and you have the most likely challenger to the league’s still-unproven duopoly.

At a minimum, the Breakers are dangerous, and with a player like Syndey Leroux, they have a way to steal games they don’t otherwise control. That could come in handy against the likes of Portland and FCKC.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

The Red Stars were unfortunate to be exposed to the whole Sydney Leroux arsenal – an array of skills that leaves her atop the league’s scoring list after Saturday’s onslaught. Her scoring instincts were on display when she opened her account (and gave Boston their final lead), redirecting a Nogeuira flick past Erin McLeod in the 26th minute. In the 74th minute, Leroux flashed her near-unmatched speed and tenacity, taking a ball off defender Camelina Moscato and racing near-half the field for her second. Ten minutes later, she reminded everybody of the finishing that’s made her one of the world’s best per-minute scorers, putting home a ball from Kyah Simon to record the league’s first hat trick.

Because of her place in the national team, Leroux doesn’t get as much publicity as Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, but in some ways, she’s more dangerous. While she doesn’t have Wambach’s aerial presence or Morgan’s finishing, she’s still an elite player in both regards, and with her speed, tenacity, and pure physicality, she better equipped to create opportunities for herself (as evidenced by her second goal on Saturday).

Just as in the men’s game, national team performance isn’t the be-all, end-all of a player’s profile, yet for internationals in the NWSL, that’s all they’ve had since WPS folded. For a player like Leroux — someone who’s in the middle of her first professional season — getting regular playing time could broaden people’s perceptions. She’s just as dangerous as Morgan or Wambach, and the Breakers are allowing her to prove it.

(Note: Tuesday is Sydney Leroux’s birthday. Happy 23rd birthday, Ms. Leroux.)

Also of note: Diana Matheson’s still a jewel for Washington; as is Jessica Fishlock for Seattle; Becky Sauerbrunn went on an 80-yard run out of central defense to set up Kansas City’s only goal; Sophie Schmidt is the one thing that is working for Sky Blue; and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Wed., May 1 W. New York 2-1 Sky Blue
Sat., May 4 Boston 4-1 Chicago
Sat., May 4 W. New York 1-2 Boston
Sat., May 4 Chicago 0-2 Portland

ROUND’S BIG STORY

Abby Wambach returned to the field on Wednesday, a highly-anticipated home debut after a week of speculation surrounding her health created the league’s first major controvery.

Two weeks ago, Wambach was nailed in the face by a kicked ball and played out the last five minutes of the Flash’s visit to Washington with what was later conceded to be a concussion. Unfortunately, Western New York was late to diagnose the injury, leading the criticism of the team, league, and the official who oversaw the Spirit-Flash match. U.S. Soccer eventually conceded the situation was handled incorrectly.

Chalk it up as a leaning experience, albeit a very disturbing one. While flakey live streams and organizational issues at facilities can be categorized as growing pains of a new, small league, players’ health can’t be allowed to suffer amid those mistakes. Professional standards demand you provide for the basic care of your workers. In the realm of athletics, that means being able to treat your employees when they suffer injuries on the field.

Undoubtedly, the Flash will learn from this experience. They didn’t diagnosis Wambach properly on site. They allowed her to travel back to Western New York without full knowledge of her condition. They didn’t promptly see she was treated when they returned to Rochester. The word “concussion” wasn’t even used until a week after it was inflicted when Wambach revealed it during an on-field interview.

U.S. Soccer stepped up, confessed there was a problem, and acknowledged this can’t happen again. That it was allowed to happen at all, however, is disturbing. This isn’t a web stream where you can justify improving as you go. Everything should have been in place before hand.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 4 10 +4 1
2 Boston 3 7 +4 3
3 Kansas City 3 7 +3 2
4 Sky Blue 3 6 +1 5
5 W. New York 4 4 -1 4
6 Washington 4 2 -2 7
7 Seattle 4 1 -4 6
8 Chicago 3 1 -5 8

UNSUNG HERO

Nineteen-year-old Samantha Kerr knew what she was up against on Wednesday. She’s been playing with Caitlin Foord since the 18-year-old defender joined the Australian national team two years ago, so when the two Matildas met mid-week in Rochester, Kerr knew exactly how to pick apart her Sky Blue counterpart.

Shifted over to the left wing, Kerr was able to continuously get behind Foord, SBFC’s isolated right back. With Jim Gabarra starting Danesha Adams at right wing in Sky Blue’s 4-3-3, Foord was given no help, stranded while deciding when to come up to stop the ball or lay back to contain Kerr. Between Flash left back Katherine Reynolds and help from midfielder Veronica Perez cutting across the Western New York formation, Foord was overrun.

But it was Kerr who made the tactic really pay off almost immediately, assisting on Spanish international Adriana’s sixth minute opener. Shortly after, a cross mishandled by Christie Rampone set up Wambach for what became the game-winning goal.

With Wambach and Adriana in the middle, Wednesday’s could be a regular occurrence for Kerr, who has already shown she can beat players down both the left and right flanks. That gives head coach Aaran Lines a lot of tactical flexibility, flexibility he used to get the Flash’s first win last Wednesday.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

Did Portland’s midfield finally wake up? … Or is Washington regressing after a feisty start? … Who will win first: Seattle or Chicago? … When will Lisa De Vanna start finishing some of those chances? … How many people were really in attendance last Wednesday in Rochester? … Is the Big Two really a Big Three?

LOOKING FORWARD

The NWSL has its first five-match week, with another Wednesday match serving as the opening act for a four-game weekend. The marquee event is on Saturday, with FC Kansas City visiting Western New York – this week’s PST Game of the Week.

Wednesday, May 8
Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago

Saturday, May 11
Washington vs. Boston
Sky Blue FC vs. Seattle
Western New York vs. FC Kansas City

Sunday, May 12
Chicago vs. Portland

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”

Soccer hooliganism still a threat heading into Euro 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 26:  UEFA President Michel Platini and French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet speak during EURO 2016 Logo & Slogan Launch on June 26, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) Hooliganism is making a comeback, and the timing could be bad with four high-risk matches in the first week of the European Championship in a country where the police force is already under huge strain.

Should one or more of these matches – England vs. Russia in Marseille on June 11; Turkey vs. Croatia the next day; and England vs. Wales and Germany vs. Poland both on June 16 – descend into violence, the football itself could quickly become overshadowed.

Police forces in France have been stretched since last November’s deadly terror attacks that killed 130 people. The last thing French authorities need is thugs causing mayhem. However, in the last two months alone there has been an increase in soccer violence around Europe.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

At the French Cup final, fans managed to sneak flares and objects into the Stade de France, despite a two-meter high security wall and triple security checks, while others tried to invade the pitch, raising serious concern ahead of Euro 2016, where the opening match between France and Romania takes place on June 10. In Germany, too, several hundred fans from Dynamo Dresden were held back by riot police to stop them attacking bitter rivals Madgdeberg in a third-division match in April, and mass arrests were made in May during the troublesome local derby between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.

In Sunday’s League One playoff final at London’s Wembley, fights broke out among supporters; Rangers and Hibernian fans poured onto the field to do battle at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final – a worrying throwback to the mid-1980s when hooliganism blighted Britain – Liverpool and Sevilla fans traded punches in the Europa League final in Switzerland; FC Zurich thugs charged down the tunnel last Wednesday to try to attack their own players following relegation from the Swiss Super League, and then battled riot police outside.

Although centered on inter-club rivalries, these troubles highlight how hooliganism has been creeping back after several years of good behavior.

In November, 2014, 43-year-old Deportivo fan Francisco Javier Romero Taboada died in hospital after emergency services had rescued him from a river where he was dumped after being heavily beaten during a fight against rival hooligans from Atletico Madrid.

This season, the Europa League has been hit with football violence. Heavy fighting at night between Italian side Napoli and Polish club Legia Warsaw, street battles between Spanish side Athletic Bilbao and Marseille; city center riots in Amsterdam between Ajax played Turkish club Fenerbahce. Other trouble involving, Lech Poznan from Poland; Belgian side Anderlecht, and Moscow-based sides CSKA, Lokomotiv and Dinamo.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

A further 10 matches at Euro 2016 are identified as risky – including Germany vs. Ukraine; Slovakia vs. England, and Russia vs. Wales – and there will be increased border controls and tighter security at train stations and airports, in addition to eight police spotters from each country to identify potential hooligans.

“All of those who are subject to a banning order will be prevented from leaving their country by their local police in so far as their legislation allows,” said Antoine Boutonnet, the head of French police’s anti-hooliganism division. “Furthermore, we have gathered information on potential risks and will continue to do so during the tournament.”

But hooligans show determination and ingenuity to avoid police detection.

—-

A LOOK AT THE 5 HIGH-RISK GAMES AT EURO 2016 AND OTHER RISK FACTORS:

ENGLAND VS. RUSSIA: JUNE 11 IN MARSEILLE:

The match is being held in the sunny seaport of Marseille and the fact that English and Russian football fans are likely to be drinking in the sun adds to the risk. As well as potential for violence between English and Russians, there is history between the English and the local Arab population of Marseille stemming from the 1998 World Cup, where Marseille’s old port and nearby beach were turned into battle zones in two days of fighting around the England-Tunisia game.

“That is a considerable time ago and the behavior of England fans has improved markedly since,” assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, who leads soccer policing in Britain, told The Associated Press. “(But) we need to be careful not to assume.”

The risk of confrontation with Russian groups could be higher because their traditional inter-club rivalries will have been put aside, with a new hooligan’s charter explaining how they should stick together. One bulletin point reads: “During Russian national team matches, all groups must be united, without fighting each other. This is cease-fire.”

TURKEY VS. CROATIA: JUNE 12 IN PARIS:

This match also carries risk, on a historical and geo-political level.

“When Turkey played Croatia in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals in Vienna (Austria), there were incidents in Mostar (Bosnia) where the Bosnians were supporting Turkey,” Loic Tregoures, a lecturer in world politics at Lille university and a specialist in Balkans football, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Croatians have a few virulent groups, notably Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB (Bad Blue Boys) and Hajduk Split’s Torcida.

Another potential problem could arise from PSG hooligans, who were among the most active in Europe in the past 20 years until a massive clampdown five years ago. Banned from their own Parc des Princes stadium, PSG hooligans have targeted Champions League fixtures, clashing violently with Zagreb’s BBB in the Bastille area of Paris the night before a Champions League game in Dec. 2012. As well as the potential for clashes between PSG’s hooligans and BBB – another dark threat exists.

“There are Serbs among the former PSG hooligans, so you can imagine what could happen,” Tregoures said. “This kind of tournament is the opportunity to measure oneself.”

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

ENGLAND VS. WALES: JUNE 16 IN LENS:

Among the more prominent hooligan elements in Britain are Chelsea’s “Headhunters” and Cardiff’s “Soul Crew”- and hundreds fought on the Kings Road in London before an FA Cup match between the sides in 2010. Such inter-club rivalries may potentially resurface on the international scene, where hooligan groups have followed the national team. This means potential scope for trouble between thugs from Wales and other English hooligan groups should they come across each other; and also Welsh in-fighting between sworn enemies Cardiff and Swansea.

The location of Lens, in northern France, makes it easy and quick to reach from Paris.

“Given the proximity to France there is the potential for people to make multiple trips out there,” Roberts told The AP. “If we identify someone who causes problems we will seek a banning order immediately to prevent them traveling again to France.”

GERMANY VS. POLAND: JUNE 16 IN PARIS:

Polish and German hooligans seeking to clash at the 2006 World Cup were foiled when police intercepted Polish hooligans trying to enter Germany. The hooligan culture in both countries tends more toward pre-arranged meets – “Fights” – often in forests or deserted areas.

There has been a revival in hooliganism in Germany, especially in the east with teams from Dresden and Liepzig, while Poland has some of Europe’s most violent hooligan groups (Lech Poznan, GKS Katowice, Legia Warsaw, Cracovia and Wisla Krakow).

The main threat here would be a confrontation of a pre-arranged type, rather than a sporadic outbreak of violence.

“(Polish hooligans) will try and make contact, offer to arrange meetings – but whether anyone accepts is a different matter,” Tregoures says.

UKRAINE VS. POLAND: JUNE 21 IN MARSEILLE

While football violence in Ukraine is prominent at club level among hooligans from Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk, Meltalist and Dnipro, Ukrainian hooligan groups don’t usually travel to national team games. However, they have put aside club feuds and have extra incentive to come to France.

“This is the first tournament since the war, and the Russian presence may increase their motivation to travel,” Tregoures said.

MOTIVATION LEVELS:

So long as they manage to enter the country, journeying to France should not pose a problem for thugs because their motivation goes a long way – sometimes literally.

Last November, hooligans from Red Star Belgrade drove for hours in white minivans – slipping the police by claiming they were on a wedding-party trip to Athens – in order to attack Balkan rivals from Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB hooligans at Athens airport.

Zagreb fans were flying back from the airport following a Europa League game against Olympiakos. So Red Star teamed up with thugs from Olympiakos – friends from a long-standing alliance – to attack BBB hooligans.

The explosion of ultra-violence, in broad daylight and captured on Greek TV, ended with two BBB hooligans lying on the floor, blood pouring from their heads.

When Dynamo Kiev hosted Dinamo Zagreb in 2012, Russian hooligans from Spartak Moscow travelled nearly 900 kilometers to fight with BBB.

“They left three days before, saying they were going to a concert,” Tregoures said.

POLICE OVER-REACTION

Unlike other countries like Germany, the French riot police do not initiate dialogue with troublemakers. It is more about repression than defusing a situation, and police over-reaction can escalate a rowdy situation into a dangerous one. When Lille hosted Everton in the Europa League in October, 2014 beer-fueled Everton fans, singing songs and dropping the odd glass, were baton-charged and had CRS gas sprayed on them. When PSG faced Chelsea in the Champions League in February, there were reports of Chelsea fans being tear-gassed during their goal celebration.

There will be multiple situations during Euro 2016 where large groups will gather, drinking and singing – without necessarily posing a threat.

“We have got to understand that the numbers going, some of them may not have been to football before,” Roberts said. “They will have been encouraged to go by the festival atmosphere. And when you get that number of people taking drink there is always the potential for some issues.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.

Injury reveals kidney cancer for Richmond Kickers striker

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A Richmond Kickers striker will hopefully be able to credit a back injury with saving his life.

Matthew Delicâte has been with the USL side for 10 years, and picked up a knock in training that required an MRI.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released | Germany, too ]

That scan revealed a mass on his kidney, and Delicâte is now set for 8-12 weeks on the sidelines and major surgery.

From RichmondKickers.com:

“I was frustrated after hurting my back and not being able to train and feature for the team, but in hindsight, I am very fortunate to have caught this at an early stage,” commented Delicâte. “I hope the team continues to work hard in my absence and I am aiming for a full recovery as quickly as possible.”

“Events such as this immediately put the importance of winning soccer matches into perspective,” added Leigh Cowlishaw, Richmond Kickers Director of Soccer.  “We wish Deli a successful surgery, speedy recovery and look forward to having him score more goals for the Kickers in the months to come.”

The 34-year-old English forward played at Virginia Commonwealth University before embarking on a pro career with Richmond and the Rochester Rhinos, briefly heading home to England for a spell with National League side Ebbsfleet United.

All our best to Delicate, his family, and the Kickers.

Pele to conduct $5-plus million auction of unique items

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MAY 29: Pele looks on during the England Footballers Foundation charity event at Sopwell House on May 29, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent
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No surprise here: the most famous footballer of all-time has acquired a wide variety of extraordinary items, many of them as unique as Pele himself.

The 75-year-old Brazilian is going to auction a lot of those items come June in England, with at least part of the money going to a pediatric hospital in his come country.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

Some of these items are going to get crazy money. Consider: He’s selling a one of a kind Jules Rimet Trophy given to him after the 1970 World Cup, and the boots he wore in “Victory”.

Here’s what Pele says of the sale, expected to fetch at least $5 million, according to a BBC Business story:

“It was a difficult decision to make but it takes a lot to properly care for these artefacts, and I felt I could do much more good by sharing these items with the world, as well as helping my causes that are important to me.”

Less expensive items, like a match-worn New York Cosmos jersey, are still expected to have purchase prices as high as $8-10,000. So, yeah, a lot of us are going to be left out of the process.

Then again, they’re just Earthly possessions, no? If Pele doesn’t need them, I can be content in also being shut out.