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Looking back at Week 6 of the NWSL season

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Scheduling-wise, Week 6 was the strangest yet on the NWSL calendar; either a horrible idea that shook up the routine of all but two of the league’s team or a welcome way of breaking up to monotony of the league’s scheduling treadmill. In a competition comprised of only eight teams, two didn’t see action, yet the league still scheduled five games, four taking place in the Pacific Northwest. That meant while Chicago and Western New York were enjoying early-season reprieves, Seattle and Portland were hosting Thursday-Sunday dyads against continent-crossing Sky Blue (New Jersey) and Washington.

Though the games produced the season’s first major surprise, Sky Blue stifling Portland at JELD-WEN for a 1-0 victory, it was Thorns FC’s Cascadia partners, Reign FC, that ultimately stole the week’s headlines. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons. On Thursday, Laura Harvey’s squad became the first team to give up four goals in a game at home, losing 4-2 to what was previously thought to be an attack-challenged Washington Spirit. Three days later, Seattle lost 3-0 to Sky Blue, completing a week that evoked the worst of comparisons.

Before the last year of Women’s Professional Soccer, the Atlanta Beat traded away almost all of their star players, an apparent reaction to a 2011 season that would see most quality internationals spend their summer in Germany, at the World Cup. The argument put forth at the time by head coach James Galanas was that the competition for spots and the resulting continuity would help the Beat overcome their talent deficiencies. Atlanta went on to score seven goals in 18 games, lose 13 times, and finish last, 12 points behind their closest competition.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Thur., May 16 Seattle 2-4 Washington
Thur., May 16 Portland 0-1 Sky Blue
Sat., May 17 Kansas City 2-0 Boston
Sun., May 18 Portland 2-0 Washington
Sun., May 18 Seattle 0-3 Sky Blue FC

The Beat, however, have one thing the Reign do not: A win. Through seven games, Seattle is 0-6-1. They’ve allowed a staggering 15 goals while scoring only four times, and after being outscored 7-2 last week, the trend line’s about to hit rock bottom. All six of their losses have come in succession, and in five of those games, Seattle has given up at least two goals.

Megan Rapinoe will be back from Lyon in a month. Hope Solo will be there, too. Once those U.S. internationals join the team, Seattle actually has a decent squad on paper, one that complements their two most-prominent faces with Jess Fishlock, Keelin Winters, Teresa Noyola (one of the few sparks this week), and Christine Nairn. As Harvey and owner Bill Predmore search for solutions to their present, they can take some solace in their future.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s two big names may arrive too late. Thoguht Reign FC are only six points back of the playoff line (fourth place), the two teams sitting on that boundary – Boston and Western New York – have both played two fewer games. As the league quickly sprints away from its quarter pole, Seattle’s hole may already be too big.

Here’s what else happened in Week 6:

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

On paper, the team has little that stands out, especially with U.S. international Kelley O’Hara struggling to have an impact for Sky Blue FC. But in their organization at the back, the rotations of their midfielders and attackers, and the play of their two young fullbacks, you see SBFC coach Jim Gabarra has amassed a team that’s fulfilling that old-timey cliché. Right now, Sky Blue is greater than the sum of its parts.

They’re also 5-1-1 and, thanks to their new tiebreaker advantage over Thorns FC, the surprise leaders in the NWSL. That advantage was earned late Thursday night when a gruff display in Portland was blown open by substitute Taylor Lytle, whose first NWSL goal came from 24 yards in the 80th minute, sending Portland to their first defeat of the season.

Combined with a rout at Seattle (a more impressive performance, though a less notable outcome), Sky Blue collected six validating points. While you can look at a team that lacks game-breaking talent and is getting relatively little production from its attackers (O’Hara, Lisa De Vanna, Danesha Adams combining for three goals), their results are beyond reproach. They’re tied for the league’s best attack, and only one team has conceded fewer than Sky Blue’s four goals allowed.

The explanations aren’t easy, but it’s happening, and at some point, you have to give Gabarra credit. You have to credit a back four that’s rebounded from their May 1 loss at Western New York. You have to credit a midfield which has supplied six of the team’s goals.

And at some point, we have to stop doubting Sky Blue. Or, at least, we have to start imagining this team as more than a plucky upstart that could snatch a playoff spot. When they post results like last week’s, we have to start asking: Are we seeing a contender?

MVP … OF THE WEEK

There have been many ‘Ali Krieger is back’ moments since the U.S. international blew out her knee during in January 2012. There was her return to live action with Frankfurt II on September 2. There was her first team appearance a week later, and five months later, there was her return to the U.S. women’s national team.

source: Getty ImagesAt various points along the way, fans have used “she’s back” to claimed she’s returned to her former form, but if there were scarce, lingering doubts as to whether the 28-year-old right back had fully returned, she blew those out of the water last week.

In Seattle, Krieger scored her first goal of the season, charging through the Reign defense on a Lori Lindsey free kick to put home the rebound. It was part of a performance that has become customary in Mike Jorden’s set up. Playing a wing back’s role in a fullback’s spot, Krieger teamed with Diana Matheson to torment Seattle’s left flank, a tactic Washington’s leaned on against each of its recent opponents.

In Portland, that plan was on full display. In a first half that saw the Spirit dictate the game’s terms, Krieger constantly took advantage of Thorns FC’s narrow midfield, switches to her side allowing her to gain steam as she charged past Allie Long before beating Portland left back Nikki Marshall. Multiple times, she was able to get in crosses for Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs. Multiple times, she was able to threaten Karina LeBlanc’s goal from the right side of the box.

In this league, you don’t see many fullbacks who can provide a credible, consistent threat going forward. Krieger is not only one of them, she’s somebody Washington has come to lean on. And in Week 6, her performance in that role made her the NWSL’s best player.

Also of note: Never aging Christie Rampone has put together four strong games in a row; Caitlin Foord was a part of two shutouts and created a nice goal against Seattle; Lauren Cheney continues to play the No. 10 role better than anybody in the league; obligatory mention of Christine Sinclair, this time for one of the week’s most skillful goals (as well as her contributions at the top of midfield); oh, poor Jess Fishlock; and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

ROUND’S BIG STORY

With the U.S. national team set to face Canada on June 2, some team’s rosters are going to get real thin, real quick. The United States are scheduled to play three times between June 2 and June 20, while Canada has two friendlies in that time. Given some teams are leaning heavily on the countries’ allocated players, early June will test the league’s depth.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Diana Matheson (WAS) 4 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 3
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 4 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 3
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 4 5 tied with 2
Alex Morgan (PTFC) 4
Renae Cuellar (FCKC) 4

So coaches can’t be thrilled that, a week before players start leaving for national team camps, injuries are starting to take their toll:

  • Sky Blue FC saw Brittany Bock, out since the season opener, leave Sunday’s game after five minutes after apparently breaking her left wrist. She had just recovered from a rib injury. Goalkeeper Jill Loyden still hasn’t played a game, recovering from a broken hand, while Lisa De Vanna picked up a knock late in Seattle.
  • FC Kansas City were forced to scratch WPS iron women Becky Sauerbrunn for Saturday’s win over Boston with what was reported as a hamstring injury. Late in the match, center back partner Lauren Sesselmann picked up a right ankle injury and was forced from the game.
  • For Washington, Ashlyn Harris was kept out of Sunday’s game for what was originally identified as a “coach’s decision.” Later the Spirit clarified, saying the U.S. international failed a late fitness test.
  • And in Seattle, where defenders Kate Dienes and Elli Reed had joined Hope Solo as injury absences, Keelin Winters is still not fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury 12 days ago in New Jersey. She may have hurt her shoulder late Sunday, compounding troubles for a team that will miss Jenny Ruiz in their next match after the defender picked up the league’s first red card.

Portland and Boston were able to escape this week’s action without any additional injuries (the Breakers got their share out of the way in preseason). Chicago and Western New York? If they have new injuries, we won’t know the extent until Friday.

For the league’s other four teams, though, the season’s stresses are starting to be felt. Unfortunately, they may need to get healthy before next week, when their rosters will really be thinned out.

UNSUNG HERO

source:  It says something about the lack of awareness of Canadian internationals that this, a section designed to shine light on a player casual fans may not know, has turned into a tribute to CONCACAF’s second power. It also says something about the quality the Canadians have brought to this league that Sophie Schmidt, Diana Matheson, and Desiree Scott have already been honored in this space.

Desiree Scott, however, deserves further recognition. As far as pure destroyers at the base of midfield, there’s nobody better than the diminutive Canadian, somebody whose job became more difficult on Saturday when partner Jen Buczkowski was moved into central defense. Scott, however, didn’t miss a beat, wandering midfield slightly less than she would have were Buczkowski next to her, instead protecting Vlatko Andonvoski’s makeshift defense. Making like difficult for Lianne Sanderson and the Breakers’ attack, Scott helped turn around the Blues’ slow start and keep one of the league’s deepest attacks off the scoresheet. FC Kansas City went on to win, 2-0.

Depending on what you want from a sitter, you might prefer another NWSL deep midfielder to Scott. If you like more of a holder, somebody who can act as a pivot, Portland’s Becky Edwards is probably your woman. Like more of a box-to-box profile? Maybe Lori Lindsey’s your choice. If you want a versatile, all-arounder, Keelin Winters is an option.

But if you’re looking for a pure destroyer – somebody who can imitate a Claude Makelélé in more than just relative stature – there’s no question who best fits that profile. Desiree Scott is one of the keys to a K.C. team that’s kept three clean sheets in five games. On Saturday, with their captain and best defender (Sauerbrunn) on the sideline, Scott played the most important role in the Blues’ shutout of Boston.

At some point, Desiree Scott becomes so good and so acknowledged, she can no longer be ‘unsung.’ But we’re not at that point. Today, a few people will click on this post and read about her for the first time. But in the future, hopefully the near future, her quality will be old news.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 5 Sky Blue 7 16 +7
2 2 Portland 7 16 +7
3 1 Kansas City 5 10 +4
4 3 Boston 5 8 +2
5 4 W. New York 5 7 +0
6 6 Washington 7 6 -2
7 7 Chicago 5 2 -7
8 8 Seattle 7 1 -11

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Can Sophie Schmidt keep making up for her forwards’ lack of production? … Will Sunday’s win continue to mask Portland’s problems connecting Edwards to Sinclair? … Will Kansas City be able to hold on when they lose six starters next week? … Is Sydney Leroux wearing down? … Can Washington’s attack sustain this output? … How often does Laura Harvey dream of London?

LOOKING FORWARD

The NWSL returns to business as usual in Week 7: eight teams; all active; each playing once. While Portland’s first visit to Seattle will draw the attention of the those hoping for a rivalry atmosphere, the ProSoccerTalk Game of the Week will take place in Overland Park, where FC Kansas City, number one in our rankings, takes on the league’s number one – Sky Blue FC.

Friday, May 24
Western New York vs. Chicago Red Stars

Saturday, May 25
Boston Breakers vs. Washington Spirit
Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC
FC Kansas City vs. Sky Blue FC

WATCH: Zlatan scores on Man Utd debut; Rooney gets two as Man United win big

Manchester United, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd)
Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is off and running for Manchester United.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The big Swede was fully expected to immediately provide a Zlatan-sized impact from the outset of his time in the Premier League, but four minutes into his Man United tenure? It was unthinkably quick, even by Zlatan’s otherworldly standards and expectations. Good to see the scissor-kick make an appearance so far in advance of the PL season, which kicks off two weeks from today.

As for the rest of Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils, seeing Wayne Rooney bag a second-half brace, just three minutes between goals, could well be the most welcome sign of all for the red half of Manchester. His positional deployment on this day? The no. 10 role, just behind Zlatan.

Man United went on to defeat Galatasaray by the final score of 5-2.

New video arrives showing Lloris injured before Eder’s EURO goal

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Hugo Lloris of France dives in vain as Eder of Portugal scores the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
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At the risk of tooting my own horn, count me among the few who thought Hugo Lloris might’ve done a bit better on Eder‘s EURO winning goal.

It wasn’t a howler. But the French goalkeeper, one of the best in the world, seemed a tad slow to explode toward the right post when Eder let rip with a new legendary Portuguese shot.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

It seems there’s good reason for this, as Lloris was injured just before the goal. Raphael Guerriero bent a gorgeous free kick off the cross bar, as you might remember, one that sent the goalkeeper clattering into the goal post.

This new video shows the Spurs goalkeeper favoring his right side or leg for the next minute, and that’s the leg he uses to drive his body low toward Eder’s bounding shot.

What do you think? Did it make a difference? Or was Eder’s shot plenty good on merit?

New England’s Davies reveals cancer fight, remission

New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 2
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New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies is in remission after being treated for liposarcoma this Spring.

The 30-year-old striker took some time off from the team this Spring, and revealed his battle on Saturday.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

According to the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative, “Liposarcoma is a rare cancer of connective tissues that resemble fat cells under a microscope. It accounts for up to 18% of all soft tissue sarcomas. Liposarcoma can occur in almost any part of the body, but more than half of liposarcoma cases involve the thigh, and up to a third involve the abdominal cavity.”

Davies has had his fair share of obstacles to overcome, having been involved in a massive car accident in 2009 that lacerated his bladder, left bleeding on the brain and broke several bones.

He missed six months for then-club Sochaux, and struggled to regain the form that saw him score four goals in 17 caps for the USMNT. He enjoyed a renaissance last summer with 10 goals for the Revolution.

From a release:

“Today, New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies shared that earlier this spring he was diagnosed and treated for liposarcoma and that he is now in remission. It was important for Charlie to concentrate on his family and treatment during the past few weeks and the club honored his wish for privacy. The New England Revolution will continue to support him through full recovery and are looking forward to seeing him back out on the pitch. Any fans who wish to share support should tweet or tag messages to Charlie at @CharlieDavies9 or use the hashtag #CD9.”

All our best to CD9 and his family, who braved two children born three months premature.

Klopp says, “This is my team now”; Does Sturridge Dance (video)

PASADENA, CA - JULY 27:  Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp looks on prior to the start of the match against Chelsea during the 2016 International Champions Cup at Rose Bowl on July 27, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images
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Make no mistake about it, Jurgen Klopp has his team at Anfield.

The Liverpool manager, 49, took over for Brendan Rodgers in January and made some encouraging strides given that he was left with players who weren’t all designed for his system.

[ MORE: Januzaj wants United exit ]

Enter Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. Bring on Ragnar Klavan and Marko Grujic.

Enter Klopp’s squad, from Sky Sports:

“This is my squad now,” Klopp said. “After all the transfers…this time it is my team. There are probably no players here anymore I don’t want. There are no signings I didn’t want, we have not sold anyone I didn’t want to.”

“I’m not afraid of making decisions – it’s part of the job,” Klopp added. “I am happy with my team now – all I can say is we will be a challenger.

That “not sold anyone I didn’t want to” part sounds a bit like some sour grapes from Borussia Dortmund, where Klopp watched several of his best skip town.

On a lighter note, Klopp cut a rug for a group of young fans at Liverpool, and the Reds were good enough to film it for us.

“If you do it long enough, you can fly”. Head down for some classic, but ultimately very misleading, Klopp.