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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

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Norwich City

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Arsenal is unbeaten in last six matches
  • Teams drew 1-1 back in November
  • Norwich has lost two straight

Arsenal hosts Norwich City on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) with the Canaries seeking life in their relegation battle.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Three matches remain and Arsenal sits in a precarious position, despite occupying third in the Premier League. Level on 64 points with Manchester City, the Gunners are in search of three points in order to create separation in the battle for the final automatic Champions League qualification spot. In the event Arsenal finishes fourth, Arsene Wenger‘s side would have to go through qualifying in the competition.

[ MORE: Sunderland travels to Stoke looking to extend unbeaten run to three ]

The Canaries have lost two straight to bottom half sides, following a thrilling 3-2 victory over Newcastle in early-April. With only three wins to back them up in the new year, Norwich really needs to turn up the dial as the PL season winds down. Sunderland’s form has increased and a string of Newcastle results has Norwich scrambling. Being on the road at the Emirates doesn’t necessarily help their case either.

What they’re saying…

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “I have no doubt because I am committed and when I do something I do it 100%. I am always committed to give my best as long as I am at the club. I don’t worry too much about the rest, what other people say.”

Norwich boss Alex Neil : “The bottom line is we have to go there with the intention of bringing something back, be it three points, which would be great, or a point. Whatever the case may be. We just want to go there and play as well as we can, and if we do that then we have a chance against them.”

Prediction

It’s quite simple. Norwich needs a victory, and as much as they have shown this season, it simply doesn’t seem like they have enough to complete the task. Arsenal wins 2-0, a massive gut-punch to the Canaries with three games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Sunderland

during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Sunderland at Carrow Road on April 16, 2016 in Norwich, England.
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  • Stoke is winless in last four matches
  • Four points in two games have Sunderland in 17th

Stoke City hosts Sunderland on Saturday from the Britannia Stadium as the Black Cats look to stay afloat in the Premier League (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

With Stoke sitting in the midst of mediocrity this season, Mark Hughes and his side have very little to play for when they meet Sunderland. Hughes’ men have allowed 12 goals in the past three matches, while only a single finish themselves. Despite boasting powerful names like Marko ArnautovicXherdan Shaqiri and U.S. National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, the Potters have certainly underachieved and Sunderland will look to capitalize.

[ MORE: PST discusses Leicester’s success and how they got here ]

Sunderland has caught a bit of a hot streak over recent weeks, pulling off key results against Norwich City and Arsenal. Striker Jermaine Defoe has been a savior for the Black Cats, posting 13 goals on the season for a side that has only mustered up 39 as a team. With Sunderland lumped together with Norwich and Newcastle in the relegation battle, Sam Allardyce and his squad need a result to keep momentum rolling forward.

What they’re saying

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes: “I’m not one to hide behind injuries – I’ve never done that – but the reality is that we haven’t been at our best form because maybe key individuals aren’t available and we’ve had to make changes within games at times.”

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “We are in good form at the moment… but I would expect Mark will have Stoke really revved up and he will want to stop this very poor run of performances. But I do hope they’re as bad as they have been in the last three games!”

Prediction

While Stoke may be playing for a top-half finish this season, the pressure remains firmly on Sunderland with four games left to play. Last week’s 0-0 draw against Arsenal has the Black Cats believing they can stay up next season, and I believe they’ll put out a result on the road. The two sides will finish in a 1-1 draw, leaving Sunderland fans to turn to Crystal Palace-Newcastle and Arsenal-Norwich.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 36

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23:  Louis van Gaal manager of Manchester United celebrates with winning goalscorer Anthony Martial of Manchester United after victory in The Emirates FA Cup semi final match between Everton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Week 36 is a huge one in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

Leicester City can win the title, the top four race is intense, there’s a scramble for the top six and the relegation battle is stressing fans out.

Everything is on the line with three weeks of the season to go. This is magic.

[ MORE: Week 36 TV schedule

So, let’s take a look at each game this weekend with previews of all of them below.


Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom vs. West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford vs. Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: This is it, don’t get scared

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Week 36 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Newcastle United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]