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

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”