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Looking back at Week 5 of the NWSL Season

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The NWSL went into its fifth weekend with three undefeated teams, but with wide play that gave them the ability to draw back FC Kansas City’s wingers, Western New York should have always seen as a threat to hand the Blues their first loss. Unfortunately, Vlatko Andonovski’s wingers didn’t do much to protect his fullbacks, and when direct play from the Flash took advantage of a bad night from K.C.’s central defense, Western New York had an easy route to a 2-1 win.

The Flash deserve amount of credit for recovering from a slow start, but after Kansas City’s performance last week in Tukwila, the game telling reverted the Blues’ narrative. Against Reign FC, Kansas City rebuked the notion that a new team playing away from home for the first time would struggle to adapt. Although the result was close (a 1-0 win), FC Kansas City gave their best performance of the season. “There was nothing more we could have done,” a beaming Andonvski said post-match.

On Saturday, all those concerns came back into focus. Kansas City looked like a team that didn’t know how to play on the road, their aggression tempered as the home side came out stronger. At the beginning, they held the ball reasonably well, but the Flash’s decisiveness dictated the match. With Veronica Perez underneath the strikers creating an overload on Sam Kerr’s side, Western New York was again able to double down on their wide play, with right back/team president Alex Sahlen having her best night of the season. By the time FCKC woke up, they were down two, their lack of composure at the back digging too deep of a hole.

For Kansas City, while Western New York will always present a series of specific and serious problems, the game seemed like a one-off, in performance if not result. And it’s the type of thing that happens on the road. You’ve traveled, you’re in a new place, playing on an unfamiliar surface, against a team usually close to their peak conditions. Bad results happen.

Despite their strong performance in Seattle, the Blues are not immune to those challenges. As a result, the league is down to two undefeated teams.

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

It’s not just that Western New York won, or that they beat FCKC, or that Kansas City is considered one of the league’s two preeminent contenders. It’s how Aaran Lines’ team won, displaying a formula that could make them a dark horse contender.

As discussed last week, 19-year-old Sam Kerr’s going to be a problem for most of the league’s fullbacks. That Australian international can function on the left or right flank lets Lines pick on the weaker defender. With Veronica Perez’s ability to come across the field and play underneath, the Flash can overload . That leads to balls into the area and chances for Abby Wambach (who scored twice on Saturday) and Adrianna Martin.

And Carli Lloyd, who came on late against Kansas City, is back. Sarah Huffman was on the bench. McCall Zerboni’s drawing attention for her work in midifeld and holder Angela Salem just gave her best performance of the season. Even when they don’t have the tactical advantages they had against the Blues, Western New York has enough strength in the middle to compete.

Lines has steered his team through a tough start, and after their second straight win, the Flash sit in fourth place. If remains to be seen if their defense can hold up (especially with goalkeeper Adrianna Franch coming back to earth), but having weathered an opening storm, the Flash may be ready to embrace their upside.

Here’s the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s coverage from Sahlen’s Stadium, with Lines, Wambach, Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn speaking after the Flash’s big win:

MVP … OF THE WEEK

It wasn’t a great week for individual performances; at least, as far as a Player of the Week-type performance is concerned. Amid the myriad strong displays across the week’s five games, nobody distinguished themselves as the outright star, even if Wambach’s double in Rochester means she’s destined to win the league-wide honors.

PST’s award, however goes to Lori Lindsey, whose performance in central midfield for the Washington spurred the Spirit to a draw against unbeaten Boston. Crucial to Washington’s buildup play (that often resulted in Diana Matheson torching the Breakers down the right), Lindsey put in her strongest performance of the year, a day that was capped by one of the league’s best goals to date:

(GIF courtesy of the Tumblr site USWNTGIFs)

Goals are often overrated, with stats columns and the passage of time allowing easy scores off a terrible turnovers to carry the same weight as incredible finishes from tough angles. But now, in this not-so-far-removed moment, we can acknowledge Lindsey’s goal and admire the skill in the hit. We can marvel that it drew Washington even with an unbeaten foe, and we can acknowledge her as our Player of the Week.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Wed., May 8 Sky Blue 1-1 Chicago
Sat., May 11 Washington 1-1 Boston
Sat., May 11 W. New York 2-1 Kansas City
Sun., May 12 Chicago 0-2 Portland

Also of note: Christine Sinclair seems to have an obligatory spot here, especially after that ball that led to Portland’s second goal; Christie Rampone may be the league’s first libero, and teammate Lisa De Vanna’s found a scoring touch to match her all-energy menace; Kristie Mewis nearly broke out (and almost broke a Sahlen’s Stadium crossbar); Heather O’Reilly became a fixture in Robyn Gayle’s nightmares; Diana Matheson continues to be a game-defining presence; and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

ROUND’S BIG STORY

The reports from Yurcak Field after Seattle’s Saturday 2-0 loss depict a broken Seattle team, one that may be the first to bow out of NWSL contention. With four losses in a row, Reign FC sit at the bottom of the league, their combination of missing stars (Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Amy Rodriguez), tough schedule (having played Portland and Kansas City a combined three times) and one home date in five leaving the team deflated and, potentially, hopeless.

According to those at Yurcak, frustrating goals conceded early in New Jersey left head coach Laura Harvey deflated. After the match, she took her team to task, and while her post-game comments have been pointed after each of her team’s losses, the newly-imported boss was particularly frank on Saturday – her conclusions short and too-the-point:

(from Equalizer Soccer)

“We were nowhere near good enough in the first half,” Harvey said. Asked to expand she said, “Everything. We weren’t good enough in possession. We weren’t good enough defensively. We looked completely (dis)organized. We looked like we haven’t trained. We did pretty much the exact opposite of what we prepared for. We just looked like a team that had never played together before.”

It was an Olsenian diatribe that leaves Seattle in the same place as MLS’s D.C. United: desperate, clueless, and searching for answers. With one point through five games, Seattle now face two pivotal home games – games that could restore the notion that circumstances have conspired against the new club. On Thursday, Reign FC host Washington before welcoming Sky Blue on Sunday night.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 5 13 +6 1
2 Sky Blue 5 10 +3 5
3 Boston 4 8 +4 3
5 W. New York 5 7 +0 4
5 Kansas City 4 7 +2 2
6 Washington 5 3 -2 6
7 Chicago 5 2 -7 7
8 Seattle 5 1 -6 8

It’s two games in four days (with no travelling) against beatable sides. At least, on talent alone, Seattle should be favorites at home this week (though opinion’s decided on second place Sky Blue, see below). If they get full points, Harvey’s team will be on seven through as many rounds. Then they can convince themselves they’re surviving their spring ordeal.

But Saturday’s loss – giving away two early goals to Sky Blue – was heartbreaking. Michelle Betos’s weak punch to Danesha Adams for an open net goal? The inexplicable giveaway that allowed De Vanna an easy finish? These are the type of things bad teams let happen.

After that display at Yurcak on Saturday, Harvey’s task shifted from survival to salvation.

UNSUNG HERO

Sky Blue may be in second place, but look to their schedule (not their squad) for explanations. They’ve yet to face Portland. They’ve yet to face Kansas City. They haven’t played Boston, and their win over Western New York came before the Flash started piecing things together. They are the anti-Reign. Their record is outpacing their performance.

That could change, though. Kelley O’Hara has been unexpectedly (and unsustainably) disappointing, and while Lisa De Vanna’s work rate matches any striker’s in the league, her finishing has let her down. If it weren’t for one player’s timely contributions, Sky Blue wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting for answers.

That player is Sophie Schmidt, whose role high in Jim Gabarra’s midfield has already led to three goals – half of her team’s output. The Canadian international has never been a big scorer, finding goal only once in 17 professional games between magicJack and Sweden’s Kristianstads, but benefitting from the work of de Vanna, Schmidt’s become Sky Blue’s most dependable option.

Last Wednesday, the 24-year-old was in the right place at the right time, heading Kendall Johnson’s late cross past Erin McLeod to give Sky Blue a late lead against the visiting Red Stars. Sky Blue would eventually concede an equalizer, but the goal was another example of Schmidt’s timely contributions.

Curiously, Canadian internationals seem to be making a home playing behind their team’s strikers. Christine Sinclair’s been forced to drop into the position in Portland. The Reign have recently used Kaylyn Kyle behind their striker, while Diana Matheson, while doing damage down the Spirit’s right, has also had a presence underneath.

Schmidt’s also occupying that spot, one that is providing a disproportionate amount of Sky Blue’s output. If she can continue chipping in goals, Sky Blue may prove playoff contenders … once de Vanna and O’Hara can find net, too.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

Have we seen the last of Angie Kerr in Portland? … What is going on with Kelley O’Hara? … How close is Boston’s holding duo (Joanna Lohman, Mariah Nogueira) to Kansas City’s (Desiree Scott, Jen Buczkowski)? … Or Seattle’s new duo (Jess Fislock, Keelin Winters) … Who goes to the bench once Carli Lloyd and Sarah Huffman are fully fit? … How long until one of Tiffany McCarty, Stephanie Ochs, or Caroline Miller find goals in Washington? … And are these teams ready for the approaching international break?

LOOKING FORWARD

There are two mid-week matches on Thursday, with Portland and Seattle hosting the first of their Thursday-Sunday double dips. Though Boston’s trip to Kansas City may prove the week’s most-telling (and competitive) match,  JELD-WEN’s second NWSL game gives us a change to examine the young Spirit’s visit to league-leading Portland.

Thursday, May 16
Seattle Reign FC vs. Washington Spirit
Portland Thorns FC vs. Sky Blue FC

Saturday, May 18
FC Kansas City vs. Boston Breakers

Sunday, May 19
Seattle Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC
Portland Thorns FC vs. Washington Spirit

Premier League “Goal Rush” to debut this weekend

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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App and on NBCSports.com as goals from all six matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occurs around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM GOAL RUSH HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Campionshi Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

More info is available here, plus the quick snippet below explains what is coming up on Goal Rush and how to access it.


Premier League host John Dykes will host the program, which focuses on one match and features live look-ins on action at all the grounds. The show will follow the most important stories and include a round-up of all the first-half action at halftime. Viewers will also be kept updated with graphics, headlines and statistics.

“We are excited to offer Goal Rush, which will provide fans with a unique Premier League viewing experience during windows with simultaneous matches,” said Rick Cordella, SVP and General Manager, Digital Media, NBC Sports Group.

Goal Rush will feature Watford v. Arsenal, and include live look-ins at the other five matches in the Saturday 10 a.m. ET window. All Premier League matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be made available on NBCSN or on Premier League Extra Time, a bonus television package available to MVPDs at no extra cost for customers who receive NBCSN. All games preceded and followed by Premier League Live pre- and post-match shows from the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.

All Premier League games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs. Coverage will be streamed via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to for their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. The NBC Sports app is powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal 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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  • Hull last beat United in November 1974
  • United have won 3 of last 4 games at Hull in the PL
  • Zlatan has 3 goals in his first 2 PL games

Hull City host Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports) with both teams perfect through two games.

That’s right. The Tigers have stunned everyone in the opening weeks of the season with caretaker boss Mike Phelan only having 13 fit senior players to choose from but they beat Leicester City and Swansea City to make it six points from six. Quite remarkable.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Phelan was United’s assistant manager under Sir Alex Ferguson from 2008-13 and won three Premier League titles with the Red Devils. He still hasn’t been handed the Hull job permanently despite an incredible start to the season after Steve Bruce left in the summer and the Allam family continue to push ahead with plans to sell the club to Chinese investors.

As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho and his newly-assembled side have gone about their opening PL games in workmanlike fashion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring three goals in two games and Paul Pogba impressing on his debut.

United will be confident they can make it three wins on the sin and Mourinho’s biggest problem is keeping everyone his massive squad happy. Newsflash: that isn’t going to happen.

In team news Hull are gradually getting more players back with Harry Maguire available but they are still looking to add plenty of new faces before the transfer window shuts with Ryan Mason and others close to securing moves to Yorkshire. As for United, they have no new injury worries and Mourinho has a massive selection headache.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on the the final days of the transfer window: “I think we’re going to have a very quiet week, not surrounded by helicopters, waiting for somebody to leave or to arrive. I am more than happy with the squad I have. I have 23 players in the squad and, in principle, there is nobody leaving and nobody is coming.”

“It’s more than enough and, if you have a problem or an opportunity, then I have a few young players in the academy that I will be more than happy to give acceleration to in their process.”

Phelan on Zlatan joining United in past: “There have to be moments, in a career span like Sir Alex Ferguson had, when you come across and think about such star players as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The size of Manchester United means you want to recruit the very best. It demands it. He had to be a target. I am sure he was on the radar many times. But he was at top, top clubs and because of that, even though it was Manchester United, the prospect of him moving to the Premier League was always very slim — he was at the best anyway.”

Prediction

Hull’s bubble will finally burst and United will get on with the job with ruthless efficiency. Zlatan is on fire and will torment Hull’s makeshift defense, while Pogba will drive the Red Devils on from midfield. 3-1 to Manchester United.

Local lad Matt Targett aims to kick on at Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United closes down Matt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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There’s nothing like having a homegrown hero in your team and Southampton certainly knows all about that.

[ MORE: Saints to play Inter ]

Matt Targett is the latest product of Saints’ famed academy to break into the first team and the 20-year-old was born and bred in Southampton.

The England U-21 left back impressed under Ronald Koeman and and broke into the team as a 17-year-old during the 2014-15 Premier League campaign.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk ahead of Southampton’s clash with Sunderland this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Targett revealed his pride at representing his team in the Premier League.

“I am immensely proud to be able to play for the club that I grew up watching and following,” Targett explained. “It has played such a big role in my life, having progressed through the academy to the first team. It’s a really special feeling to be able to run out on the St Mary’s turf and play for my hometown team.”

It has been a slow start for Saints this season with one point from their opening two games but new manager Claude Puel is putting his stamp on the team with a new diamond formation in midfield.

Targett — an attacking left back who is comfortable on the ball and can also operate as a wing-back and at left midfield — and his teammates know they must improve in the weeks and months ahead but they are confident they can improve as the season goes on.

“There are areas we know we can improve on as well as positives that we can build on,” Targett said. “Our new signings have integrated well into the group and there is a good feeling in the squad. We know the quality that we have in the team and we’re confident that quality will show.”

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Nordin Amrabat of Watford battle for possession with sMatt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Watford at St Mary's Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Looking ahead to the game against Sunderland this weekend, Targett knows it would be a nice feeling to head into the international break with a win and says Saints have been “working hard in training” to get a positive result against David Moyes‘ men.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Saints’ loss at Man United ]

At the ripe age of 20, Targett has now appeared in each of the last three PL campaigns for Saints and has racked up 33 appearances in all competitions despite having England international left back Ryan Bertrand ahead of him in the pecking order.

Target feels like he is ready to keep pushing on this season.

“Every Premier League season is a big one but clearly I am aiming to continue developing and progressing as a player,” Targett said. “I want to keep adding different elements to my game and listening to the coaches on what areas I can work on. It’s a big season for the club with Europa League football too, so I am very much looking forward to that.”

AVIGNON, FRANCE - MAY 29: James Ward Prowse, Jack Stephens and Matthew Targett, all of Southampton and England pose with the trophy during the Final of the Toulon Tournament between England and France at Parc Des Sports on May 29, 2016 in Avignon, France. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
James Ward Prowse and Matthew Targett (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

As is usually the case at Southampton, Targett is just one of a number of promising youngsters currently in the system. After selling on the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana to powerhouse clubs, Saints continue to churn out young internationals.

This summer Targett was part of a England U-21 side which had five Saints academy graduates — Arsenal’s Calum Chambers and Saints’ James Ward-Prowse (captain of England), Jack Stephens, Nathan Redmond and Targett himself — and won the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France.

Does he think he and Saints’ other youngsters are ready to play week in, week out in the PL?

“It was fantastic to be part of the winning Toulon team and great for Southampton Football Club to have several players gain that experience on the international stage. The club has a great reputation for nurturing talent and that success with the England under 21 side can only help us,” Targett said. “Although it obviously depends on several factors, the club has consistently shown that it gives youth that opportunity to go out and play in the biggest league in the world.”

On Friday Southampton were drawn against Italian giants Inter Milan, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Beer-Sheva in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

It is the first time Saints have ever reached this stage of the competition and local lad Targett is looking forward to some memorable nights ahead.

“It will be good to test ourselves against some of the best clubs on the continent and I’m sure we’ll be playing in front of some special atmospheres, especially at St Mary’s.”

Premier League preview: Tottenham vs. Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Spurs haven’t beaten Liverpool in seven PL games (0-5-2) 
  • Liverpool have the most PL goals in 2016 (45)
  • Liverpool first PL team since 1997-98 to open season with 3 away games

Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in an early season clash between two top four contenders.

Spurs have started the season in a solid manner, gaining four points from their opening two games but Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have yet to get going. As for Liverpool we’ve seen their Jekyll and Hyde persona at its finest as Jurgen Klopp‘s side ripped apart Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a 4-3 opening day win but they lost at Burnley last time out.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

This fixture has seen Liverpool go unbeaten in their last seven games against Spurs, scoring an average of 2.7 goals per game. This is also the third highest-scoring fixture in PL history. So, expect plenty of entertainment.

Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool last season was at Spurs in October in a rather dull 0-0 draw. Liverpool won’t be involved in many scoreless draws this campaign as their top-heavy side possesses plenty of fine attacking talents in Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi to name but a few.

In team news Spurs are still without captain and star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, while Mousa Dembele is still suspended. Liverpool will be without Emre Can after he was injured in midweek and Philippe Coutinho is doubtful.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs improving: “Sometimes people don’t realise how important last season was. To be involved in the title race and to try to win the Premier League, many things happened that meant we improved a lot and learned a lot throughout the season. Now we will be tougher than last season when we try to challenge again.”

Jurgen Klopp on Sturridge playing out wide: “I don’t want to play Daniel as a wide player but of course he can start there and of course he can play there but in the decisive moments he needs to be involved in all of the finishing situations.  I think he scored both goals [when he was] inside the box so he wasn’t on the wing in this moment. That is flexible football. Daniel is a very smart player. He’s good at getting himself into positions where it’s not easy to defend. Both game Burton and Burnley were games where we didn’t need offensive wingers in these positions. It’s not a fixed position for him. There is absolutely no problem. I don’t know exactly what he said but when I talk to him there is absolutely no issue.”

Prediction

I think Liverpool’s defensive frailties are too severe right now for them to do anything other than attack. That will leave plenty of space for Kane, Vincent Janssen, Alli et al. to exploit and I see Pochettino’s side winning this. 3-1 to Spurs.