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Looking back at Week 7 of the NWSL Season

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In this infancy before the competition can cultivate its own stars, the NWSL has been defined by those renowned talents the U.S. and Canada are paying to be in the league. So it’s perhaps apt that, days before those talents left to join their national teams, two of The N’s biggest names snared weekend headlines

The good came in Seattle, where Hope Solo’s early return from wrist surgery captivated hardcore U.S. Women’s National Team fans. Buoyed by their icon’s returned, Reign FC gave one of their most complete performances of the season, avoiding the type of in-game collapses that saw them enter Week 7 with a six-match losing streak. Unfortunately, an officiating error intervened to ruin Solo’s return, with Reign FC left to embrace a moral victory while their losing ways continue.

The bad news came in Boston, where Lisa Cole picked a team without attacking star Sydney Leroux. After the game, the Breakers’ coach alluded to a “bazillion” reasons why Leroux was held out, but having pulled the international off late the previous week in Kansas City, it was clear this might may have been a performance-related decision. From the outside, this looks like an attempted attitude adjustment, with Cole using an old coaching standard to send a message to one of her biggest stars.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Fri., May 24 W. New York 2-1 Chicago
Sat., May 25 Boston 3-0 Washington
Sat., May 25 Kansas City 0-1 Sky Blue FC
Sat., May 25 Seattle 0-1 Portland

Any time you bench a talent like Leroux, you’re taking a risk, yet Cole was vindicated in Somerville, with Boston’s win keeping the Breakers among the league’s one-loss teams. With Sky Blue and Portland also winning, the league has a small caste of near-unbeaten teams at the head of its standings. Right on their heels, Western New York finished a perfect May with a Friday win over Chicago.

Here’s what else happened in Week 7:

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

For the second time this season, Boston routed a team at Dilboy Stadium, pasting a 3-0 result on Washington that could have been much worse. Late, with the game already decided, Katie Schoepfer drew a penalty that should have made it a four-goal game, but perhaps still smarting from being takendown, the Breakers striker left a thigh-high try within reach of Chantel Jones, a relatively easy ball to keep out.

source:  But nobody’s going to remember the penalty kick. What they’ll remember is the lofted ball that led to Heather O’Reilly’s opener. They’ll remember the easy finish Schoepfer had for the second. They’ll especially remember the blistering shot Kyah Simon put in the far side netting from the right of the box, deflating the already demoralized Spirit.

The league didn’t need Boston to show off the depth of their attack, but with Leroux riding the pine, that’s exactly when happened. Mike Jorden was undoubtedly disappointed with a poor performance from his defense, but as Chicago found out while giving up four to Boston on May 4, the Breakers can explode on anybody who takes a disorganized defense into Dilboy.

With 11 goals in six games, Boston has the best attack in the league (goals per game). And rebounding off their 2-0 loss in Kansas City, the Breakers showed they still need to be considered among the league’s elite.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

source:  Breaker Lianne Sanderson has always been considered a highly skilled forward, but after joining Boston this winter, she’s been fully converted to an attacking midfielder. Playing behind the striker in what functions as a 4-2-3-1 formation, Sanderson has rivaled Lauren Cheney and Christine Sinclair as the league’s best at that position. The reputations of that company speak to how well Sanderson’s played.

On Saturday, she had her best performance of the season, collecting three assists as Boston routed visiting Washington, 3-0. The highlight was her first, a ball looped back over her head as she stood with her back to goal. Near the edge of the 18-yard box, Sanderson hit a bouncing ball back and to her right, dropping her pass between the defense (about 12 yards out) and goalkeeper Chantel Jones. Heather O’Reilly, cutting in from the left, leapt onto her volley, the top of her shin putting home Boston’s opening goal.

Sanderson now leads the league in assists, and it’s not even close. Her six helpers double the total of second place Cheney, forcing us to consider where she ranks among that elite group of NWSL playmakers. She may not possess Sinclair’s threat toward goal or provide Cheney’s all-the-little things contributions, but she’s contributing more to the bottom line. Her actions are creating goals; lots of them.

And in Week 7, she was the clear player of the week.

Also of note: Sanderson teammate Kyah Simon contributed to the season’s huge, early Australian influence; Abby Wambach’s up to four goals after scoring on Friday, with teammate Brittany Taylor contributing two assists; Lauren Cheney did everything but kind an equalizer for Kansas City; Karina LeBlanc may have been the weekend’s best `keeper; and don’t forget about our Unsung Hero, below.

ROUND’S BIG STORY

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 5 Sky Blue 8 19 +8
2 4 Portland 8 19 +8
3 3 Boston 6 11 +5
4 2 W. New York 6 10 +1
5 1 Kansas City 6 10 +3
6 6 Washington 8 6 -5
7 7 Chicago 6 2 -8
8 8 Seattle 8 1 -12

You’re not a real league until your fans hate your officials. NWSL followers naturally did so from the beginning, an apparent blind obligation of every soccer fan, but in Week 7, the league gifted the curmudgeons two game-defining controversies.

In Kansas City, first place Sky Blue saw their game all but sealed mid-way through the first. Lisa De Vanna, her relentless effort getting the best of yet another center half tandem, forced Lauren Sesselman to grab her jersey as she linded up a nine-yard shot. The whistle blew, the official pointed to the spot, and to the surprise of KC’s Canadian international, a red card was shown. Sophie Schmidt converted for her league-leading fifth goal of the year, and after an hour of playing against 10, Sky Blue finished off a 1-0 win.

But should it have been a red card? The cynicism of Sesselmann’s move convinced many, but if that challenge occurs outside the penalty area, it’s a yellow card-worthy, professional foul. Players go into matches with that expectation, which is why Sesselmann was so surprised to be dismissed. Inferentially, the referee must have seen it as a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity, but De Vanna was neither behind Sesselman nor moving toward goal. As De Vanna said after the match, a yellow card would have been enough.

The situation in Seattle was much worse. In the 83rd minute of a 0-0 game, Christine Sinclair chipped a ball to the edge of the area, the last part of a give-and-go with Allie Long. Long then ran into defender Kiersten Dallstream ahead Kaylyn Kyle’s clearance, only after which did the whistle blow. Occurring just inside the area, an otherwise innocuous collision drew a penalty, one that seemed a clear make-up call for the hand ball missed 15 minutes earlier. Moments later, Sinclair beat Hope Solo for the game’s only goal, and Seattle had their seventh loss in a row.

The call in Kansas City happens. It was a reasonable, if debatable interpretation on what was obviously a foul. The play in Seattle, however, was inexplicable – one that Laura Harvey justifiably (and perhaps, understatedly) labelled “a joke.”

Unfortunately, as bad as the call was, no post hoc solution will give Seattle the point they deserve.

UNSUNG HERO

source:  Chicago and Seattle have been coupled since their 1-1 result in Week 1. Unfortunately, since that draw, the two clubs been linked for all the wrong reasons. They remain the NWSL’s only teams without a win, each struggling to find goals in lieu of obvious attacking threats. As their winless runs persist, the sides risk carving an unfortunate niche for themselves at the bottom of the NWSL’s standings.

But just as Seattle has Jessica Fishlock, Chicago has one player whose performance has transcended the Red Stars’ standing, and while in former years Lori Chalupny wouldn’t have qualified as unsung, the relative obscurity of the Red Stars’ start combine with her exile from the U.S. National Team means new fans know little about her.

Chalupny has 92 caps for the U.S. and has the honor of wearing the team’s armband, but since concussion symptoms sidelined her from the team in 2009, Chalupny hasn’t been called in. While she’s been cleared to play for the St. Louis Athletica (right), Atlanta Beat, Sweden’s AIK and Chicago, U.S. Soccer still hasn’t green lighted the former Tar Heel.

This being a health issue, we’re unlikely to ever hear U.S. Soccer’s side of the story, but in the professional ranks, Chalupny’s career goes on. On Friday, she helped spark and finish the counterattack that gave Chicago an early lead in Rochester, her activity and quality through the middle serving as the key to the Red Stars’ upset bid.

That bid fell flat, but as has been the case all year, Chalupny did not. For a team that was hamstrung by an unfavorable allocation, she’s provided national team quality. Whether deployed wide or playing through the middle, Chalupny has been one of the season’s unsung stars.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 6 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 6
6 tied at 4 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 3
6 tied with 2

What will it take for Portland to start changing things up? … How good can the Flash be with Carli Lloyd playing behind Abby Wambach in their 4-2-3-1? … How much of this is luck, and how much of this is Jim Gabarra manufacturing luck for Sky Blue? … Are Washington’s scoring problems back? Were they ever truly gone? … Can Brittany Cameron hold off Jill Loyden in goal for Sky Blue? … Which teams are best-situated to survive the national team callups? … Will Megan Rapinoe be able to build on Seattle’s Hope Solo boost?

LOOKING FORWARD

It’s a slow weekend in the NWSL, with only two matches ahead of two-mid week games next week. While Boston takes their high-octane attack to New Jersey to face a ever-stringy Sky Blue, Chicago makes a trip west, visiting JELD-WEN Field. We’ll use that game as an opportunity to take our first look at Rory Dames’ Red Stars in Friday’s PST NWSL Game of the Week feature.

Saturday, June 1
Sky Blue FC vs. Boston Breakers
Portland Thorns FC vs. Chicago Red Stars

Wednesday, June 5
Boston Breakers vs. Western New York Flash
Portland Thorns FC vs. FC Kansas City

Chastain, McMillan, Garber make Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11:  Brandi Chastain attends the Annual Charity Day Hosted By Cantor Fitzgerald And BGC at the Cantor Fitzgerald Office on September 11, 2013 in New York, United States.  (Photo by Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
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CHICAGO (AP) — World Cup champions Brandi Chastain and Shannon MacMillan, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber have been elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Chastain, who scored the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup final shootout against China, was selected on the player ballot. MacMillan, her teammate on that squad, was voted in on the veteran ballot. Garber was chosen on the builder ballot.

Chastain played 12 seasons of international soccer, scoring 30 goals in 192 matches. She also won a World Cup in 1991, and earned Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004. She was the first U.S. player to score five goals in one match, in 1991 World Cup qualifying as a forward. She later became a mainstay on defense.

“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame and have my name read in the same sentence with our country’s best is truly humbling,” Chastain said Thursday. “The opportunity to play the game was given to me by my parents; my competitiveness and enthusiasm was fostered by every coach who I was blessed to be taught by; and my passion was shared and heightened by all of my teammates over my career. It is not enough to say how grateful I am with words, and therefore, I continue to share the game with anyone and everyone.”

MacMillan also was on the 1996 Olympic team. She scored 60 goals in 12 international seasons and was the 2002 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

“Playing for the USA was always an honor and privilege for me, and that could only be topped by being selected for the Hall of Fame,” MacMillan said. “I am incredibly humbled and honored by this selection. I will forever be grateful to the great game of soccer for all of the life lessons it has taught me along the way, and for all the friendships I built along the way. I want to thank U.S. Soccer and my teammates for all of the support throughout the years.”

Garber, in his 17th year as MLS commissioner, was cited for his work growing the sport in the United States.

“Thanks to the commitment and hard work of many people, our sport has grown significantly during the last few decades, and there is no doubt the United States is a true soccer nation,” Garber said. “It is an honor to be inducted alongside Brandi Chastain and Shannon MacMillan, two iconic figures in U.S. Soccer history who have impacted the sport at so many levels.”

MLS Preview: Can anyone separate from the pack? Western leaders get big tests

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Shkelzen Gashi #11 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With last week’s draw-fest in the past and both conferences still jumbled, all eyes are on the top of the Western Conference with this week’s list of matchups.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Three teams – Colorado, Real Salt Lake, and FC Dallas – are all tied atop the standings on 17 points. The first two respectively play each other. The final one crosses sides to play the 3rd place team in the East. Should this week go differently than last – meaning, fewer than the eight draws we were handed across Week 8 – some teams could find themselves with some valuable separation atop the standings.

So, who has the opportunity to make moves?

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake — 9:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Each with 17 points at the top of the West, there’s plenty at stake at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colorado is four games unbeaten, although it dropped points for the first time in a month last time out. The Rapids feasted upon underachieving teams during its three-game winning streak, but when faced with the leaders of the Eastern Conference last weekend, they needed a pair of comebacks to earn a point. Nonetheless, the Rapids have put their early-season struggles firmly behind them.

The Rapids have struggled against RSL in the recent past, losing the last time out in Salt Lake City, and sporting a 1-4-2 record against RSL in the last seven meetings at DSG Park. Shkëlzen Gashi continues to be the key for Colorado’s attack, having pumped 25 shots on target this season so far. For RSL, last week’s win put the demolition at the hands of Los Angeles firmly in the past, changing the narrative to five wins in their last six, a significant rise in form.

Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas  7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FC Dallas also has a chance to go atop the West with a result on the road at BMO Field. Dallas’s grip on the West is gone thanks to a pair of flunks against two eighth-placed teams – a bad sign as the Jeckyll and Hyde season continues. They’re in a great place, but have also looked lost at times. All three heavy defeats have come on the road, and wouldn’t you know it, now they’re serving as Toronto’s May home opener.

The East has been a mire thus far, but for Toronto to sit third after three wins in an eight-game road trip, Sebastian Giovinco and company have put themselves in great position. Nonetheless, Greg Vanney said the club still needs to “prove itself” in front of its home fans, and those fans are sure to be up for it after the long wait.

D.C. United vs. New York City FC  7:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Two of the four teams stuck on 10 points in the middle of the Eastern Conference have a critical matchup at RFK Stadium Saturday. D.C. has gutted things out through the softer part of its schedule, but now a meeting with a team in the hunt will test D.C., who will be without the suspended Chris Rolfe after his dangerous challenge on Nick LaBrocca. If anything, the break could give Rolfe a chance to collect his thoughts after a slow start to the season.

They face a NYCFC team that picked up just its second win of the season last time out. Draw-happy early on, NY had lost three of four before the 3-2 win over Vancouver, a gritty win that took overcoming adversity after Vancouver went ahead, then came back to tie things up before Steven Mendoza tied things up with 17 minutes to go. This one’s a big one in the East mix, can anyone come out on top?

Elsewhere

Orlando City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — 7 p.m. ET Friday
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET Saturday
Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10 p.m. ET Saturday
L.A. Galaxy vs. New England Revolution — 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Men in Blazers podcast: Jurgen Klopp pod special

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog sits down with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to give you a taste of his new documentary on the eccentric German boss.

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Klopp hails “unbelievable” player performance to send Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool gives instructions to captain James Milner of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp didn’t want any of the credit after Liverpool defeated Villarreal 3-0 at Anfield to send the Reds to Basel with a spot in the Europa League final.

“Wonderful night – a brilliant game from my side,” Klopp said to BT Sport after the game. “What power, what a performance, what attitude with the readiness, motivation, emotion in the game – everything.”

Liverpool held 60% of the possession and out-shot Villarreal 25-6, including 12-2 among shots on target.

“We go to Basel. We take 50,000, 60k, 70k Liverpudlians with us – maybe 100k – not in the stadium, but in the city,” Klopp said of the upcoming final. “Everybody is invited. It is a nice city by the way, close to my home! Let’s go there, create an atmosphere and do our best again. It is well deserved and I am really, really pleased for all the boys.”

Klopp, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany which is under a three hour drive from Basel, made the call to start Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can.

Sturridge was on the bench for the first leg against Villarreal when Liverpool was held scoreless and played the full 90 minutes in their loss to Swansea over the weekend. This time, he forced the opening own-goal and scored the second. Can, meanwhile, hasn’t played in a month due to an ankle injury, but he was a force in front of the Reds back line.

“The only thing we said at half time was that the first half an hour was a big emotion,” Klopp said after the game. “It was great but then the last 15 minutes of the first half we lost patience. We didn’t move them over the pitch as much and tried to go down the middle, but there was no space so we lost balls. We defended well though so nothing happened. The second half plan was to keep going with the emotional football plus using your brain little a bit more and in the end it was brilliant – wonderful goals. The whole night was unbelievable.”

“We have to create atmospheres like this in each Premier League game too.”