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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

MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 0-2 New York City FC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): With one goal already accomplished for New York City FC this season, Patrick Vieira’s group made positive strides in capturing another on Friday night in Houston. David Villa’s 20th and 21st tallies of the season gave the visitors the lead after halftime and NYCFC managed to hold onto the points from there. With just two matches remaining following the win over the Dynamo, NYCFC currently sits atop the Eastern Conference on 51 points. Meanwhile, the Dynamo remain nine points out of the final spot in the West with four matches to play.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira gets big praise from Dynamo counterpart ]

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Harrison tests Willis from distance — Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, but Joe Willis had to get down quickly here to deny Jack Harrison on this blast.

52′ — Villa hits his 20th on the season — The Dynamo defense won’t be pleased when they watch this one again, but in his typical fashion, David Villa found his way in on goal.

73′ — Saunders watches as Rodriguez hits post — It can be a game of inches at times and the Dynamo were certainly on the wrong end of this one as Raul Rodriguez’s effort struck the post and stayed out.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: David Villa (52′, 90′)

SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal

JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 24:  Besart Berisha action during the AFC Champions League Round Of 16 match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Melbourne Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on May 24, 2016 in Jeonju, South Korea.  (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.

The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.

A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.

An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.

The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC heads over to take a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.

A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.

You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.

[ MORE: JPW talks with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).

Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.

“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.

“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”

Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.


[ MORE: Wisconsin sophomore set to face Mexico, USMNT ]


Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.

The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.

It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.

“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.

“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”

Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10: Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.

Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.

The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.

“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”


[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]


The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.

The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of an international friendly match between Bolivia and the United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.

Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.

“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.

“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”

You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.


The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.

And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.

But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.

“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.

“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”

Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.

Orlando City's Kaka, center, battles with Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, as Amando Cooper looks on during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).

“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.

“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”


[ MORE: MLS Playoff picture — Who can clinch? ]


To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.

Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.

Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.

Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.

But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)