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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

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN.

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The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson admits child sex charge

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Adam Johnson arrives with girlfriend Stacey Flounders at the Crown Court on February 10, 2016 in Bradford, England. The Sunderland FC midfielder, aged 28 and from Castle Eden, County Durham, is on trial having previously denied three counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming. He has one daughter.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
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Premier League winger Adam Johnson has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child, but the Sunderland player has denied two other charges.

Johnson, 28, appeared at Bradford Crown Court in Yorkshire, England on Wednesday and admitted the sex count and another count of grooming.

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The former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger is an England international but has denied two other charges of having sex with a girl under the age of 16.

Up until Wednesday Johnson had pleaded not guilty but following legal talks he agreed to admit to two of the charges.

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal” ]

The trial over the charges Johnson has denied will be held this Friday and a jury has been sworn in. The initial trial date of Aug. 3, 2015 was adjourned.

Johnson was originally arrested in March 2015 over allegations he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

He played eight times in the final months of last season after the allegations became public, plus he has made 20 appearances in all competitions for Sunderland this season.

Report: Mourinho tells friends he will be new Man United manager

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Numerous reports from the British tabloids claim former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has told close friends he will take charge of Manchester United this summer.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Both the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror have plastered headlines such as “Mourinho: Takes it as red” and “United job is mine” across their backpages on Wednesday morning, while the Daily Mail say Mourinho believes it’s a “done deal” for him to take over at Old Trafford.

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea in December just seven months after leading the Blues to the Premier League title.

The Portuguese coach has won three PL trophies in five full seasons in England but Chelsea’s dramatic collapse this season saw them floundering towards the relegation zone rather than fighting to defend their crown.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to contend for PL title? ]

With Louis Van Gaal‘s long-time future at United in question — the veteran Dutch coach, 64, has a deal through the end of the 2016-17 season — and the Red Devils six points off the top four in the PL despite sepnding over $375 million on new players in the past 18 months, it is believed that United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is under pressure to appoint a manager capable of returning United back to title contenders and perennial challengers in Europe.

On Tuesday it was reported that United had reached out to reps of Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, and it certainly seems like they’re assessing their options before giving LVG even more money to spend this summer, if he’s still around.

If United decide to make a change, Mourinho fits the bill.

At least in terms of winning trophies and attracting the best players on the planet which will be increasingly necessary for United to stay in touch with crosstown rivals Manchester City who will be managed by one of Mourinho’s great managerial foes, Pep Guardiola, from next season. After winning the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto and Inter Milan, the eccentric yet brilliant coach has also won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. Following the debacles on and off the pitch this season at Chelsea, Mourinho needs a chance to prove himself and be in charge of a rebuilding project. He wants to stay in England and after being fired by Chelsea twice in his career, you get the sense that United is the only other club befitting of his reputation that can offer him a job he deems up to his standards.

After Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, it is believed the United’s hierarchy turned down the chance to appoint Mourinho as they didn’t want the media circus and the antics which come from hiring Mourinho. Now, though, it’s all about winning and Mourinho will be United’s best chance of transitioning from the disappointing David Moyes era and the so far underwhelming spell since Van Gaal’s been in charge.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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