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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

Van Gaal doubles down media criticism; Rooney won’t Dab

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24:  Wayne Rooney (L) and Louis van Gaal manager of Manchester United in discussion during the Manchester United training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group B match against PSV Eindhoven at Aon Training Complex on November 24, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Louis Van Gaal was asked whether he really, truly believes that media members are making up stories about his club and its interest in Jose Mourinho (amongst other things).

His answer is not open to interpretation: “Yes.”

From the BBC:

“I said it many times,” he said. “A lot of media is inventing stories. You don’t have to answer.”

[ MORE: Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

LVG says the club remains focused on the Top Four, and that a string of wins can help them make the Top Four due intra-Top Four clashes like this weekend’s Arsenal-Leicester and Man City-Spurs matches.

Captain Wayne Rooney has expressed similar optimism, noting that the Red Devils have handled their business in recent history at Sunderland.

One thing Rooney was negative on? Jesse Lingard‘s use of the Dab celebration. Rooney also revealed that he’s not exactly up on current events.

From ManUtd.com:

“He’s been trying to get me to do it with him. Maybe if I was ten years younger I’d do it with him,” said the 30-year-old. “I think it’s something going around on the internet and I suppose Jesse’s jumped on the bandwagon!”

WATCH: Premier League stream links, TV schedule – Week 26

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Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here. Get ready for some huge battles at the top and bottom of the table.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

It all kicks off at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as Sunderland host Manchester United (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Sam Allardyce‘s side are four points adrift of safety and badly need a win to help their battle against relegation. As for United, they’re six points off the top four. Plenty on the line. Then it is Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Toffees aiming to keep their top six hopes alive against a struggling Baggies outfit. At the same time relegation haunted Norwich City try to snap a five-game losing streak as they host West Ham United at Carrow Road (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra). With star man Dimitri Payet signing a new contract in the week, can he guide the Hammers back up to fifth with a victory?

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Chelsea welcome Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to Stamford Bridge with Guus Hiddink’s side 11 games unbeaten in all competitions but still only seven points above the drop zone. If the relegation-battling Magpies get a win away at Chelsea — they have won five of their last nine games against the Blues — they will only be three points behind the defending champs.

On Sunday, a huge day awaits and kicking it all off is the big one at the Emirates Stadium: Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). The Foxes are five points clear of the Gunners and all of a sudden are the heavy favorites to win the Premier League. Can they follow up a win at Man City by beating Arsenal? Then we travel to Villa Park as Aston Villa host Liverpool (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with Remi Garde’s men desperate for points. Villa won last time out but are still eight points off safety with 13 games to go. As for Liverpool, their faint top four hopes are fading fast as Jurgen Klopp‘s side continue to struggled with injuries up top and in defense.

Rounding off Week 26 is another huge top four clash as third-place Manchester City host second-place Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Etihad Stadium. Manuel Pellegrini‘s side will have Vincent Kompany back fit and if they’re going to stay in the title race winning this and jumping ahead of Spurs is vital. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s team prove they’re the real deal?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and theNBC Sports Live Extra App.

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

7:45 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich City vs. West Ham United – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Southampton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:15 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]

Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VIII: Taking stock before a massive weekend

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There’s a trick with the idea of power rankings in a league with a balanced schedule, and that’s identifying who’s performed the best in recent matches without looking at what lies ahead.

That’s something that could’ve kept someone from holding Leicester City down their given list.

Yet the idea of power rankings is to identify who is faring the best right now, and would be picked to finish first should a given season’s slate start today. Still, you can’t ignore the table as it stands and the likely fate of a season.

[ MORE: All of this season’s Premier League Power Rankings ]

TEAM RANKING Up/Down
source: 1 Leicester City: Learned from the late December gauntlet, where they went 2-1-1 against Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Man City. This time, the Foxes have beaten the Reds and City, and can make it 3-0 against Arsenal on Sunday. Believe.
source: 2 UP 5 Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs are riding high after beating up four struggling clubs, and face a massive test in a Man City side that, well, hasn’t beaten anyone of form or merit in a while, either.
source: 3 UP 9 Manchester United: It really is a season of “What ifs?” for Louis Van Gaal‘s crew, which has lost just once since Boxing Day. Making lots of dough, too.
source: 4 DOWN 1 Manchester City: United’s derby rivals need to get off the mat after their shockingly lethargic 3-1 loss to Leicester City. Bring on Spurs.
source: 5 DOWN 3 Arsenal: Beating Bournemouth snapped a four-match winless skid. A defeat of Leicester on Sunday is as close to “must” territory as you can get with this much left in a season. Will they take part in the MLS All Star Game as reigning PL champions?
source: 6 UP 8 Southampton: Ronald Koeman‘s side looks a lot like the Saints we remember from last season, having four wins and a draw in its last five matches including a 1-0 win that included a long while with 10 men.
source: 7 UP 4 Everton: Back-to-back 3-0 wins for the Toffees have Roberto Martinez’s men within six points of fifth place.
source: 8 UP 7 West Ham United: Last weekend’s failure to break down 10-man Saints is alarming, but Slaven Bilic‘s side is legit. Still, they need to erase performances like that, and the 2-1 loss to Newcastle a few weeks back. Great look to lock up Dimitri Payet for the long term.
source: 9 UP 8 Chelsea: Badly need to turn draws into wins, but the embarrassment of being booed after the Jose Mourinho sacking has turned into cheers for, well, actually doing their jobs. With Kurt Zouma out, is it already Miazga time at Stamford Bridge?
source: 10 DOWN 2 Liverpool: Five points from their last six matches should have them further down the list, but frankly no one’s daring us to put them above the Reds. But Daniel Sturridge could help them rise.
source: 11 DOWN 6 Watford: Four losses in six, but deserved better in a 1-0 loss to Spurs. That followed a win and a draw, so perhaps the Hornets have steadied themselves.
source: 12 UP 6 Swansea City: Unbeaten in four, but the 1-1 draws against West Brom and Crystal Palace weren’t what they could’ve been.

source:
13 DOWN 7 Stoke City: At the risk of over-simplifying, turns out Geoff Cameron is really important to the Potters. Stoke is 1W-1D-3L since the USMNT defender went down, and has allowed three goals in losses to Leicester, Manchester United and Everton. The win? Against struggling Norwich City.
source: 14 DOWN 5 Bournemouth: Doing enough to survive this first season back in the Premier League.
source: 15 DOWN 11 Crystal Palace: Alan Pardew‘s Eagles are wandering through the desert right now, with losses to Villa and Bournemouth contributing to a six-match run with a single point. Now closer to 19th than 4th.

source:  
16 UP 3 Newcastle United: Jonjo Shelvey looks like an inspired signing, and the former Swans midfielder has assists in four matches for the Magpies. Up next is a trip to Chelsea.
source: 17 DOWN 7 West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies have scored one goal in their last four matches, and Tony Pulis‘ charges are just six points above the drop zone.

source:
18 UP 2 Aston Villa: Still dead last with a dire schedule looming, you can’t say Remi Garde’s players have quit. Points in four of five including wins over Norwich and Palace.
source: 19 Sunderland: Injuries are piling up around the Stadium of Light, and Sam Allardyce may need USMNT back DeAndre Yedlin to be a big part of their push for safety. At least big January signing Wahbi Khazri looks legit.
source: 20 DOWN 4 Norwich City: The backline looks quite leaky again, as their five-match losing skid includes the following score lines: 2-0, 3-0, 5-4, 3-0, 3-1.

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.