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

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

CONCACAF
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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.