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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

Mike Francesa rants about Sports Illustrated’s Copa America coverage, Lionel Messi cover

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - MAY 11: Copa America 2016 is displayed during the Soccerex Americas Forum Mexico City Day 1 at Camino Real Polanco Hotel on May 11, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images for Soccerex)
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Clueless clown Sports talk host Mike Francesa is known for being a crotchety, opinionated old man who has trouble adapting to changing times.

He’s had plenty of sparkling moments where he displays his ignorance room to grow when it comes to the world outside of New York sports, such as his knowledge of the Catholic hierarchy or his love for synergistic network promotion. He is the Tommy Wiseau of sports broadcasting.

So when Mike’s beloved childhood magazine Sports Illustrated soiled its cover with a picture of Lionel Messi, whom apparently he nor any of his staffers know anything about beyond his last name, the man was enraged.

You can listen to the whole segment here. Let’s break this gold mine down.

I got my SI, and the cover is “Summer of Soccer.” Where is the summer of soccer going to be? I have no idea. Now, I know I get accused of knowing nothing about soccer, because I don’t. I know absolutely zero about soccer, and that’s more than I want to know. Sorry! Just being honest. It’s a little late for me and soccer.

So…uh…why are you talking about it then?

On the eve of ‘Copa America’ SI has how many pages in its magazine this week…1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…pages on this event. 11 pages, and I can’t find anybody who’s ever heard of it. 11 pages…you gotta be kidding me! No wonder they can’t give them away. This is a magazine that, as a child, I used to read it from cover to cover.”

So Mike thinks magazines don’t sell because they cover soccer, and he thinks that because he never read about soccer as a child, he shouldn’t have to read about that dang sport now.

He proceeds to then ask his cohost/producer/sidekick if he’d ever heard of Lionel Messi, to which his cohost/producer/sidekick sheepishly says he’s heard of him but only by his last name. Let’s just skip that part.

I’m sure to soccer fans this is an enormous event, which God bless them, I have no issue with. But mainstream America is not paying…doesn’t even know…if I go out and poll the newsroom, no one’s ever heard of this event. My guys in here didn’t even know what it was…nor have I! Nobody’s ever mentioned it. Has anyone ever called you [producer] to promote the Copa America on my show? [he says no]. If you’re going to promote something in sports you’re going to do it on this show. Bottom line is no one’s ever done that.

Guys, we should all just go home, we forgot to promote soccer on Francesa. Fuggetaboutit.

He then stumbled through reading what the Copa America actually is and what it entails, with an overly forced exasperated tone just to prove how frustrated he is with Sports Illustrated. Shame on them! Oh, and in this part he calls FIFA “Fie-fuh,” confuses the Olympics with an actual team that’s playing, and thinks it will be played in France. Yawn. Let’s wrap this up.

To spend 12 pages in SI on that? I mean, listen, I understand there are people here who love soccer, and they’ll be glued to it, and watch it on TV, which I understand, but man, how is that going to be part of mainstream America? I don’t get it.

You know, I don’t get it either. We should all just go home. Go home everyone! Fun’s over, we’ve been found out.

I left out the part where he calls Sports Illustrated “a sad reminder of the of a different world.” Ironic considering who it’s coming from.

For the record, callers lit Francesa up after this, so some justice was served. If you can’t get enough of the Francesa soccer shenanigans, check out this MLS read he attempts to get through, which takes him two and a half minutes and our hero realizes that NYCFC doesn’t have a “nickname” and that David Villa is pronounced like Pancho Villa. Stuff of legends.

Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A