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Looking back at Week 9 of the NWSL season

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TUKWILA, Wash. – Good luck predicting how Seattle will lose their next game. The first-year club, whose combination of poor play and continual misfortunate leaves them winless at the bottom of the NWSL, lost another heartbreaker on Sunday. Two weeks after a penalty call, later judged to be erroneous, gave Portland a 1-0 win at Starfire Sports, a Hope Solo own goal left Reign FC on the wrong end of a 1-0 result against FC Kansas City.

The play was a combination of brilliant and bizarre. Mid-way through the second half, Kansas City’s Lauren Cheney danced on the ball above the Seattle penalty area, a sublime display of light touches and subtle turns creating time to play a ball behind right back Kiersten Dallstream. Erika Tymrak’s overlapping run tracked the ball down near the byline, where she fired a ball toward the six-yard box.

What resulted was a rare exhibition of the paradox that is Hope Solo. Her success is based on her unmatched athleticism, a trait that’s allowed her to overcome technical faults. On Sunday, however, when she came off her near post to overplay the cross, the technical side got the best of her. She mishandled a ball fired right at her, directed it over her own line, and cost her team a point.

Technical faults or not, it was an error you never see Solo (or many goalkeepers) commit. After the game, she took responsibility for her mistake, before sprinting off, stopping to sign a handful of autographs for fans prescient enough to claim an early spot on the path toward the Reign’s dressing room.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Wed., June 5 Boston 2-2 W. New York
Thu., June 6 Portland 4-3 FC Kansas City
Sat., June 8 Sky Blue 0-3 W. New York
Sun., June 9 Chicago 1-0 Boston
Sun. June 9 Seattle 0-1 FC Kansas City

“There’ll be no one hurting more than Hope,” Reign head coach Laura Harvey said after the game. “The good thing about her and the professionalism that she has and the type of character that she is, she comes straight off the field and takes responsibility and is accountable.

“I don’t really believe [the result was] her fault. I think we have to flip it and say we have far too much possession to score (no) goals.”

Her fault or not, there is an undeniable irony to Solo, of all people, being the one to cost the Reign points, especially given how influential she’s been at the back since her late-May return. And with Solo being vocal, public presence trying to rally support for an under-attended team, there was a feeling of unfairness as she was left to stand alone, bent at the waist in a time-killing stretch, knowing she had probably cost her team the game.

In front of 1,377 in Tukwila, Seattle fell to 0-8-1. Even with the resurgence of former cellar dwellers Chicago providing reason for optimism, Reign FC’s prayers are looking increasingly futile. They’re 12 points out of a playoff spot.

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

source:  Road games at Boston and Sky Blue would present significant challenges for any team, but crammed into a week where the team would have little first-team preparation coming off the international break, Western New York were facing significant challenges.

Aaran Lines’ team responded. Against a team that had beat them earlier this season at Sahlen Stadium, the Flash went into Somersville Wednesday and got a 2-2 result from the Boston Breakers. Three days later, Western New York handed first place Sky Blue their worst loss of the season, beating the league leaders 3-0 at in Piscataway.

With Kansas City’s dip in form, Portland’s uneven play, and the week’s results from Boston and Sky Blue, Western New York are now the form team in the league. We bumped them up to number two in our power rankings last week, an evaluation that ultimately understated their quality.

As of Saturday, the Flash are the league standard. We’ll see how long it lasts.

MVP …. OF THE WEEK

source: Getty ImagesIf you were waiting for Alex Morgan to have an NWSL breakout, congratulations. On Thursday, it arrived, Morgan giving the best performance of her club career in Portland’s 4-3 victory over FC Kansas City.

The U.S. international was at her relentless best, carrying over the international form that saw her score twice last week in Toronto. Taking advantage of an early Becky Sauerbrunn slip, Morgan blasted a first half shot into Nicole Barnhart’s upper 90, tying her with Sophie Schmidt for the league lead in goals. In the second half, conjuring nightmares for Kansas City right back Merritt Mathias, Morgan created Danielle Foxhoven’s goal. And the mid-way through the period, Morgan nearly got completed a brace, but her shot’s deflection off Allie Long leaving the Thorns star with a one-goal, two-assist night at JELD-WEN.

In a week where others play twice, it takes a special showing to claim Player of the Week honors in 90 minutes. But on Thursday, Morgan was undeniably special, almost single-handed collapsing one of the league’s better defenses.

ALSO STOOD OUT

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 2 Sky Blue 10 22 +9
2 3 Portland 10 22 +7
3 1 W. New York 8 14 +4
4 4 Kansas City 8 13 +3
5 5 Boston 9 12 +0
6 6 Chicago 8 8 -5
7 7 Washington 8 6 -5
8 8 Seattle 9 1 -13

Chicago continues their rise – The Red Stars’ first win of the season came against an international break-depleted Portland. There was nothing shorthanded about Boston on Saturday, with the Sonja Fuss-led Chicago defense holding the high-powered Breakers scoreless in a 1-0 victory. Now 2-4-2, Chicago’s only five points back of fourth.

Portland’s adjustments show through – We’ve been hard on Portland in recent weeks, the Thorns looking unimaginative as they had trouble creating chances. Against Kansas City, everything changed, with three of Portland’s four goals the result of Thorns FC working wide-to-in. It’s a tactic the team’s rarely shown throughout the season, but as coach Cindy Parlow Cone explained post-game, it’s one she’s implored her team to use for some time. On Thursday, something finally clicked. And the Thorns exploded.

Sydney Leroux back in Boston team – It was definitely a message-sending move. Before the international break, Boston coach Lisa Cole benched her best attacker, alluding to a “bazillion” reasons for doing so. Among those bazillion may have been dwindling form and lack of intensity in training. This weekend, Leroux was back in the XI, nearly scoring a goal after putting a ball off the bottom of Chicago’s crossbar.

FC Kansas City just doesn’t look right – Break out the milk carton, because the possession-hogging Kansas City team that consistently dictated their first months’ matches? They’ve gone missing. They lost at home to Sky Blue (while playing with 10), were outgunned in Portland, and as head coach Vlatko Andonovksi conceded after Sunday’s match, were outplayed in Seattle. Blame losing Renae Cuellar, who left in the first half against Portland. Without her, Lauren Cheney has moved to forward, with Kansas City losing their midfield focal point.

Don’t read too much into Sky Blue’s loss – Give credit to Western New York, but if you’re looking for hints Saturday’s 3-0 loss is the beginning of a Sky Blue slide, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. The first goal allowed was aided by a blown offside call. The second was caused by an aberrational Manya Makoski error. The Flash’s final goal came after Jim Gabarra had pulled defender Coco Goodson in an attempt to chase the game. Sky Blue may not be better than Western New York at the moment, but they’re not three goals worse.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Will the lopsided loss have a lasting effect for Sky Blue? … How long will Kansas City be without Renae Cuellar? … Will the Washington Spirit ever play again? … What nefarious demon is contriving new ways for Seattle to lose games? … How will teams like Portland, Kansas City survive the latest international distraction? … Is this season really almost halfway over? … And is it too late to add more games?

LOOKING FORWARD

With one mid-week kickoff, the NWSL has a five-game set in Week 10, with Kansas City and Chicago pulling a home-and-home between Thursday and Sunday. Portland and Seattle play their third derby of the season, while Boston and Sky Blue will try to bounce back from disappointing losses at Dilboy Stadium.

Thursday, June 13
Chicago Red Stars vs. FC Kansas City

Saturday, June 15
Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash

Sunday, June 16
Portland Thorns FC vs. Seattle Reign FC
FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars
Boston Breakers vs. Sky Blue FC

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.