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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

VIDEO: Man City, Chelsea players clash as Aguero, Fernandinho sent off

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Things got very lively in the closing stages of Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Manchester City on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

With Sergio Aguero launching into a late, high challenge on David Luiz in stoppage time with Chelsea 3-1 ahead, a huge melee broke out as Aguero was sent off by referee Anthony Taylor.

As players and coaches piled in, the mass of players pushed towards the stands as Cesc Fabregas and Fernandinho got into it. The latter pushed Fabregas into the stands and over the advertising boards and was sent off, reducing City to nine men on a bad afternoon for Pep Guardiola‘s side.

[ MORE: Chelsea beat City, win eighth-straight ]

Click play on the video above to see the entire incident develop.

Chelsea-Man City: Five stars who shone (and five more who went dim)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea celebrates his team's third goal scored by Eden Hazard (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Selecting Chelsea’s best from an all-around strong game was a struggle, certainly harder than identifying the men who hurt Manchester City’s chances of going atop the Premier League in a 3-1 match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday .

City had a lot of passengers, to be sure, as Antonio Conte got the better of Pep Guardiola in their first ever match-up (one that tactically delivered even if City’s players didn’t hold up their end of the bargain).

[ MORE: Match recap | Chelsea’s decisive goals ]

Forgive us for not going 22-deep with the player ratings this fine American morning, but here are 10 players who sincerely impacted the match for better or worse.

Stars who shone…

Diego Costa — Chelsea’s big forward was an absolute force, and would deserve his shine on the basis of his goal alone. His classy chest trap of Cesc Fabregas’ fantastic long offering allowed him the moment to boss Nicolas Otamendi, and the finish past Claudio Bravo was no problem. Then he turned well to play Willian in for the second goal, completing his day with an assist before walking off injured.

N'Golo KanteWe’re unsure the Chelsea engine has truly poor games, to be honest, and the French midfielder again showed his class (even if there’s some debate as to whether his risky but successful first-half tackle on Ilkay Gundogan could’ve been ruled a penalty). This is the sort of player who bears watching off the ball, because he’s likely going to where the opposition is trying to place it.

Cesc Fabregas — Set up Costa’s opening goal, and could’ve easily had a second assist when Eden Hazard darted around Bravo only to opt for a pass rather than a tight-angled shot on goal. Conte’s inspired decision to start him will be lauded in the fallout.

Cesar Azpilicueta — The least heralded of Chelsea’s backs was lively in the win, and had spells in which he was in charge of his side of the field. Well done, Dave.

Kevin De Bruyne (for 89 minutes and 59 seconds) — Hear me out… Can one moment quash a match with plenty of bright moments? The Belgian star was very good for Chelsea, apart from missing a sitter on the doorstep. De Bruyne’s lunging effort could’ve made it 2-0, as KDB was inches from scoring but couldn’t keep his body forward enough during the lunge. He’s gotta slide, unfortunately, and doesn’t (doubly so).


 

…And those who went dim

Nicolas Otamendi — He’ll need to turn the page on this one in a hurry. Otamendi was victimized by Costa on the first goal, and then caught in no man’s land on the second. A rough day for a strong player.

Gary Cahill — Yeah, it’s a bit easy to call out a man who scored an own goal, especially one who cleared a later effort off the line, but the Englishman’s finish behind his keeper was a poor decision to use the wrong foot. And it put his team down a goal.

Sergio Aguero — Far too little to like from the Man City man, who added a heaping of injury to his insulting night when he committed a horror tackle on David Luiz late. Sent off, this means a chance for Kelechi Iheanacho to shine in perhaps several matches. A striker of his quality has to find a goal in matches like this, or face criticism.

Fernandinho — On the same note, here’s a man who didn’t have a poor match on the pitch but cost his team big with a hands to the throat of Fabregas and a shove over the advertising boards that made the red card unavoidable for Anthony Taylor. These next few games will be difficult for City.

Claudio Bravo —  Perhaps a bit harsh, but City wants to win the Champions League and Premier League. A top-end goalkeeper has to find a way to stop that second goal. Dare-we-say that Joe Hart is a better shot-stopper than the Chilean?

Follow @NicholasMendola

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man City

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Chelsea beat Man City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday with Antonio Conte‘s men putting down a big marker in their title push.

[ MORE: Recap as Chelsea win ]

Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard scored Chelsea’s goal as the Blues have now won eight-straight games and in turn they put Pep Guardiola and City in their place.

Here’s what we learned from a gripping, absorbing encounter.


WING BACK BATTLE

Both teams opted for wing backs and the result was a bit chaotic.

For Man City they had attacking wingers in Jesus Navas and Leroy Sane in the wide position and they just looked so uncomfortable in those defensive positions. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses grew in stature as the game wore on, although they had plenty more defensive work in the first half than they’ve had in recent months since Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

Guardiola has switched between a three-man central defense and four at the back and it’s quite clear his players aren’t comfortable with either as of yet.

After making uncharacteristic mistakes in the first 50 minutes, Conte’s Chelsea looked very comfortable in the second half and Moses and Alonso both surged forward and looked much more adept defensively.

Guardiola’s gamble to match Chelsea’s wing backs backfired. Out of the four wing backs on the pitch, there’s no doubting that Chelsea’s two prevailed.


COSTA PUTS CHELSEA ON HIS BACK

With Chelsea trailing 1-0 at half time and barely having a sniff at goal in the first half, plus struggling defensively, it was time for Diego Costa to step up. He did. Big time.

The Spanish striker chased, harried and bullied his way into the game and Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones had no answer for his clever movement, persistent pressure and rambunctious behavior.

Costa has quality too.

The 28-year-old latched on to Cesc Fabregas’ perfect through ball (is this the 2014-15 season!?) and chested down before finishing to make it 1-1 and less than 10 minutes later he played in Willian to put Chelsea ahead. Costa has now scored 11 goals and added five assists this season as he continues to be Conte’s main man.

Late on Costa had to come off injured with what looked like an injured lower back and the Spanish international will be nursed back to fitness as his importance to Chelsea is clear.

If Costa goes down injured or gets suspended — he’s been on four bookings for quite some time and a fifth will mean a suspension, but he seems more controlled and mature this campaign — Chelsea will be struggling. If he stays fit and in form, they will continue to be favorites to win the league.


CITY NEED NEW CENTER BACKS

Quite simply, Man City were all over the place in defense.

With Otamendi, Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov pushed to play from the back by Guardiola, they never looked comfortable on Saturday and with two wingers playing at full back, they didn’t have the cover they needed when they pushed forward into midfield when on the ball.

Tactically, Chelsea got at City’s defense in the second half and with Otamendi on a yellow card for scything down Costa in the first half, he was walking a tightrope for the rest of the game. Stones was subbed out with 15 minutes to go and without Vincent Kompany in central defense, City couldn’t stop Chelsea flooding forward and getting in-behind them.

This game had everything. City could’ve scored more goals with Kevin De Bruyne somehow hitting the bar from four yards out and Sergio Aguero being denied by Thibaut Courtois and goal line clearances, but the biggest issue for Guardiola is sorting his side out defensively.

With all of their spending on forwards and midfielders over the summer, it’s clear City need to spend big in January on a center back (or find a better solution from within) if they’re going to finish in the top four and challenge for the title. City are just four points off the top but they’ve lost to Tottenham and Chelsea this season in a very similar fashion.

Man City 1-3 Chelsea: Eight-straight wins for table-topping Blues

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  • Cahill own goal gives City the lead
  • Costa, Willian, Hazard scores
  • City finish game with nine-men
  • Chelsea win eight-straight in PL

Chelsea passed their biggest test yet as Antonio Conte‘s side fought back from 1-0 down to beat nine-man Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to seal their eighth-straight Premier League win.

An own goal from Gary Cahill right on half time gave Man City the lead but two goals in 10 minutes from Diego Costa and Willian turned the game on its head as City squandered chances and Chelsea put in a perfect away display with Eden Hazard adding another in stoppage time, plus Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho were both sent off in stoppage time as tempers flared.

With the win Chelsea remains top of the PL table on 34 points, while City remain on 30 points after they suffered a second defeat of the season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

City had a penalty shout early on as David Silva tried to squirm free of Cahill and the Chelsea defender knocked the ball with his arm, but referee Anthony Taylor waved away the claims.

Chelsea then went close as Hazard curled a low shot just wide and moments later the first booking of the game arrived as Nicolas Otamendi clattered into Costa and received a yellow card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Aguero then went close as he took two touches to settle himself and smashed a high effort in on goal but Thibaut Courtois pushed the effort over.

The game then exploded into life as Fernandinho finished Kevin De Bruyne‘s free kick but he was in an offside position and the flag went up. Seconds later Hazard raced clear and took the ball past Claudio Bravo but instead of shooting into an empty net from a slightly tight angle, he instead tried to pick out a teammate and City cleared.

A controversial moment than arrived as Aguero and David Luiz collided with the Chelsea man the last line in defense but Taylor didn’t award a foul. Aguero was denied from close-range by Cesar Azpilicueta’s block and before the break City were ahead.

Jesus Navas’ cross from the right was hooked towards his own goal by Cahill as he tried to clear with his right foot and it flew into the opposite top corner of the net. 1-0 to Man City.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

At the start of the second half City had a good chance to double their lead as Leroy Sane surged forward and set up De Bruyne but his shot was blocked down low by Courtois. Then at the other end a mistake by Sane allowed Costa to run into the box but his shot went wide of the near post.

At the other end Aguero nipped in to seize on a moment of hesitation between Cahill and Courtois but Cahill then cleared Aguero’s effort off the line. De Bruyne then somehow hit the crossbar from four yards out with the goal gaping after a flowing City move and that miss was to prove costly.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

In the 60th minute Chelsea were level as Cesc Fabreags (only in the team because Nemanja Matic was injured) sent through a perfect long ball which Costa chested down and fired home. 1-1.

Aguero was denied by Courtois once again soon after the scores were level as Chelsa continued to make uncharacteristic mistakes at the back but they broke with pace and punished City to take the lead.

Costa’s hold up play was sublime, once again, and Willian raced clear drilling home a low shot to put Chelsea 2-1 ahead.

Chelsea continued to live life on the edge in defense with Luiz and others making blocks and last-ditch tackles in the box. However, Conte’s men held on comfortably for the win and added to the scoreline as Marcos Alonso‘s long ball forward set free Hazard who raced clear and finished emphatically. 3-1.

Late on Aguero was red carded for a horrible challenge on Luiz and in the melee which ensued Fabregas was pushed into the stands by Fernandinho who was also sent off and City finished the game with nine-men.

All of that nonsense aside, this was a stunning second half display from Chelsea which keeps them top of the Premier League and underlines their title credentials, plus it left Guardiola and his players with plenty of work to do.