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State of the NWSL, after Week 11: Midseason awards, rankings of power, and a look ahead to Week 12


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So this is blogging, right? We all agree I don’t have to speak as if this is a 4,000-word Sports Illustrated feature? Good, because I need to break down the fourth wall, the third dimension for a moment and explain what’s going on with the NWSL coverage some of you have come to expect on this blog. And I promise not to do this too often (this is my first time in 15 months).

Through the first two months of the season we were chugging along. Friday previews and Monday recaps. It was all good. We had a consistent audience, and the clubs were helping us out. We were living out our excessively verbose, typo-laden dreams!

Then came June, with its transfer window madness, U.S. men’s national team onslaught, and those mid-season NWSL callups. In its wake, we’ve had to make some adjustments.

Starting now, we’ll wrap up each weekend with a quick look at the results then circle back on Wednesday with something a little more ambitious – something talking about the issues around the league as well as the week’s upcoming games. That will be my contribution, Jeff Kassouf will chime in as his time permits. Life won’t be that different. And don’t worry: Mommy and Daddy still love each other.

Hopefully this will carry us through the season, because now that we’re at the half-way point, we’ve got to look at our situation the same way the NWSL’s teams look at their’s. It’s time to figure out what’s working, what needs to be tweaked, and lay out a plan for the season’s home stretch.

… and start reading here

Perhaps paradoxically, the first thing we’re going with our plan for the future is look to the past. Especially for people who haven’t been able to watch every game, a nice (if trite) midseason awards piece is a quick way to get up to date. And with the NWSL gone from PST for a few weeks, we definitely need to get back up to date.

Using the awards handed out at the end of Women’s Professional Soccer:

source:  COACH OF THE HALF-SEASON – Jim Gabarra, Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue was supposed to be a borderline playoff team. With teams like Portland, Kansas City, Western New York and Boston carrying greater star power on paper, the New Jersey-based club were thought to have drawn a short allocation straw.

Gabarra has helped make up the difference. Although Christie Rampone has stood out, the team’s success has been more a reflection of the team’s organization then any individual performances. With help from Rampone, Gabarra has his parts transcending their whole, the reason why Sky Blue sit top of the league going into tonight’s match.

Runner up: Aaran Lines, Western New York

source:  ROOKIE OF THE HALF-SEASON – Kathryn Williamson, D, Portland Thorns

Portland played one preseason game, a exhibition at Merlo Field against the University of Portland. In that game, Pilot attacker Amanda Frisbee got the best of the Thorns’ number one draft pick, leading many to think Emilee O’Neil would eventually start in central defense next to Rachel Buehler.

Cindy Parlow Cone, however, has never wavered in her support for the former Florida Gator, who has arguably been the team’s best defender. And because she hasn’t missed any time with national team commitments, she’s been one of the most valuable defenders in the league, part of a team that has the NWSL’s lowest goals against average.

Right now, if you define the field in terms of college draftees, the Rookie of the Year race isn’t particularly close.

Runner up: Kendall Johnson, LB, Sky Blue FC

source:  GOALKEEPER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Karina LeBlanc, Portland Thorns

There’s been no standout goalkeeper over the season’s first half. Western New York’s Adrianna Franch was first out of the gates. Ashlynn Harris has been given plenty of chances to shine for Washington. Kansas City’s Nicole Barnhart has been the most consistent keeper.

Karina LeBlanc, however, edged ahead of the logjam on Sunday. Her Player of the Week-caliber performance preserved a draw in New Jersey when the loss of midfielder Becky Edwards (gone for the season with an ACL tear) made Portland’s defense into a row of sitting ducks. Giving the league’s best goalkeeping performance since Franch’s debut, LeBlanc salvaged a point for the Thorns, lowering her league-best GAA to 0.64.

Runner up: Barnhart

source:  DEFENDER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC

This one isn’t particularly close. Along with Kansas City’s Becky Sauerbrunn, Rampone is one of the two central defenders who’ve really stood out. Add in her influence as a de facto assistant coach, helping to bring along a starting defense featuring 19, 22, and 23 year olds, and you have the league’s best defender.

A little voice in the front of my head tells me this is where I’m supposed to reference her age. Rampone is, after all, 38 years old, though any allusion to her longevity ends up confounding the picture. This isn’t somebody that’s inexplicably defying the odds, holding on to success during a Maldini-esque fade into a legend’s deserved sunset. Rampone somebody who could easily play through Rio 2016.

As quickly as we’ve seen Rampone track the likes of Alex Morgan (as she did in shutting her out last week), it’s not difficult to imagine a 41-year-old captain pushing for a fourth gold medal.

Runner up: Sauerbrunn

source:  PLAYER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Lauren Cheney, FC Kansas City

Second in the league in both goals (six) and assists (five), it’s easy to make a statistical case for Cheney. That would be a disservice, though, to a player whose value so obviously transcends her numbers. Boiling Lauren Cheney down to goals and assists is lazy. It’s boring! It takes the joy out of the league’s most-watchable player.

From day one, head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s instilled the sometimes striker, winger, and deep midfielder as his playmaker, making one of the team’s off-field leaders into the focal point of Kansas City’s attack. The result is textbook display of how to play a 4-2-3-1’s number 10. Her intelligence, always a strength of her game, is on display in each of her team’s movements, her skill and vision helping to make striker Renae Cuellar one of the league’s early goal scoring leaders. Her off the ball movement, better than anybody’s in the NWSL, helps key teammates even when she’s not pulling the strings, and lest anybody forget the goalscoring talents she’s shown at UCLA and internationally, Cheney’s been good for two goals every three games.

In a league of Morgans, Wambachs, and Solos, there’s no more enjoyable player to watch than Lauren Cheney, and no matter how you define most valuable – either by raw performance or importance to the team – Cheney has been the league’s standard.

Runner up: Rampone


Pos. Player, Team
G Karina LeBlanc, Portland Thorns FC
RB Ali Krieger, Washington Spirit
CB Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC
CB Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City
LB Katherine Reynolds, Western New York
DM Desiree Scott, FC Kansas City
CM Lori Chalupny, Chicago Red Stars
RW/AM Diana Matheson, Washington Spirit
AM Lauren Cheney, FC Kansas City
LW/AM Samantha Kerr, Western New York
ST Abby Wambach, Western New York

Others of note:  Barnhart, Jen Buczkowski (Kansas City), Kate Deines (Seattle), Edwards, Jessica Fishlock (Seattle), Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue), CoCo Goodson (Sky Blue), Joanna Lohman (Boston), Alex Morgan (Portland), Heather O’Reilly (Boston), Leigh Ann Robinson (Kansas City), Lianne Sanderson (Boston), Christine Sinclair (Portland), Williamson, Keelin Winters (Seattle)


In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit – The Spirit were particularly ineffectual in Overland Park, giving Kansas City their easiest win of the season. You want to give the Blues some credit, but other teams have put up more resistance against similar KC performances. Washington’s attack has never come around, though the addition of German international Conny Pohlers can’t hurt.

7. Seattle Reign FC – Seattle are still winless and four points back of Washington, but a poor call awarding Western New York a penalty kick was the only thing that kept them from their first win. If this team isn’t cursed, their season sure is.

6. Boston Breakers – Have not won a game since May 25, going 0-3-1 during a spell that’s seen their defense give up 11 goals. It’s approaching now-or-never time for a team that’s seven points back of a playoff spot.

5. Chicago Red Stars – With three wins in five games since Inka Grings and Sonia Fuss signed up, Chicago’s turned their season around, but seven  back with 10 to play, it may be too late for the Red Stars to crack the top four.

4. FC Kansas City – Andonovski’s team showed signs of snapping out of their funk, but ultimately, Washington didn’t pose much of a challenge. We won’t know where a rebounding Kansas City stand until they face more stalwart competition.

3. Portland Thorns FC – A new look met with mixed results in New Jersey. The team got a point at Yurcak but were fortunate to avoid a loss. It’s unclear they’ll be able to replace Edwards.

2. Western New York Flash – Had we published them last week, our rankings would have had the Flash at number one. But a draw at Chicago followed by a lucky tie against visiting Seattle see the Flash cede their spot.

1. Sky Blue FC – Another impressive performance against Portland allows Gabarra’s group to claim to the top spot. The only worrisome part about Sky Blue’s season: They seem to match up particularly poorly against Western New York.


Wednesday, June 26

Boston Breakers vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:00 p.m. EDT) – If Seattle pushed the Flash, they can beat Boston. The team has been on the road for almost a week, however, and there could be a carry-on effect from a frustrating result in Megan Rapinoe’s return.

Sky Blue FC vs. FC Kansas City (8:00 p.m. EDT) – The last time these two met, Lauren Sesselman’s early, controversial red card left the Blues shorthanded for most of the game. This one should be a better test for Sky Blue.

Friday, June 28

Western New York Flash vs. Washington Spirit (7:05 p.m. EDT) – Samanatha Kerr and Adrianna Martin will be with their national teams, but this one shouldn’t be much trouble for the Flash, who need to win games like these to maintain hopes of a semifinal in Rochester.

Saturday, June 29

Seattle Reign FC vs. Chicago Red Stars (11:00 p.m. EDT) – So Seattle makes the longest road trip in the league, get only three days rest, and are forced to face a team that hasn’t played since last Wednesday? This team really is cursed.

Sunday, June 30

FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns FC (4:10 p.m. EDT) – At the beginning of the season, this matchup was speculated as a possible final preview. Sunday’s still is, but both teams look far more vulnerable than we imagined in April.

Boston Breakers vs. Sky Blue FC (6:30 p.m. EDT) – This will be the third time these teams have met this month but the first occasion where both sides will have their U.S. and Canadian internationals. Sky Blue has won both meetings by a combined score of 8-3.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.

Top 5 Premier League storylines — Manchester clubs look to get back on track

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The Premier League title race is shaping up to be the closest race ever, which leaves little room for error for the top clubs. Going into Matchday 10 the top five teams are separated by just one point and any misstep could result in a quick drop from the top of the table.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Trouble in Manchester?

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)
Manchester United vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Pep Guardiola has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Manchester City only has two points from its last three Premier League matches and seems to still be adjusting to the style of their new manager. This past weekend, it was an error from John Stones that gave Southampton a goal and the eventual point. City came roaring out of the gates with six straight wins to start the Premier League season., but now that the team is facing its first rough patch under Guardiola, a positive response will be essential for the Citizens to keep pace in the title race. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Man City is still at the top of the Premier League table.

Over at Old Trafford, Manchester United is facing even more hardship with their new manager. Jose Mourinho and United were embarrassed in their trip to Stamford Bridge as the team was beaten from the starting whistle by Chelsea. Similar to Manchester City, United started the Premier League season in good form winning its first three matches. However, the Red Devils have won just one of its last six Premier League matches and is five points off the pace of the top five. Man United seem to lack an identity as Mourinho struggles to find the right mix of players and high-priced signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba have made little impact in the team’s recent matches.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Have Conte, Chelsea figured it out?

Southampton vs. Chelsea — Sunday, 12:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Chelsea have won its last three Premier League matches, including a dominating performance against Manchester United last weekend. Antonio Conte has recently made a change to his preferred system of three center backs and the move has worked as Chelsea has three straight clean sheets. The offense has also flourished for the Blues with seven goals in their last two matches. Chelsea is just one point from the top the table and has looked as good as any team in the Premier League throughout the last month. A trip to Saint Mary’s Stadium on Sunday is another good test for Chelsea and Conte.

Bradley looks to keep Swansea afloat

Stoke City vs. Swansea — Monday, 4:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Bob Bradley earned his first point as Swansea City manager with a 0-0 draw against Watford last weekend. While it was a good result for a Swansea team that had lost four straight, Bradley will need to start winning matches soon to get the Swans out of the relegation zone. Swansea has just one win this season and is currently two points from safety. The biggest issue for Bradley to solve is on defense where Swansea have earned just two clean sheets this season, including last week’s result against Watford. Swansea’s defense faces a tough task on Monday against a Stoke City side that appears to have found its goal scoring form.

Sunderland’s dreadful start likely to continue

Sunderland vs. Arsenal — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Sunderland is off to one of the worst starts the Premier League has ever seen. There’s no way around that statement. The Black Cats have just two points this season and are in danger of creating too deep a hole to dig themselves out of. It doesn’t get any easier for David Moyes and his players as Arsenal pay a visit to the Stadium of Light this weekend. If Sunderland cannot get a result against Arsenal, the team will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City side for the worst start through 10 matches in Premier League history.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Christian Benteke takes on Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Christian Benteke welcomes his old teammates to Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace faces Liverpool. Benteke was a big summer signing for the Reds prior to the start of last season, but the Belgian striker never seemed comfortable at Anfield. Benteke scored nine goals in 29 matches for Liverpool, his lowest total in his four Premier League seasons, and moved to Crystal Palace in the summer. In his first seven games for Palace, Benteke has three goals and has played all but six minutes for the team in the Premier League. Benteke will undoubtedly want to score against his old side and a goal would be welcomed by Palace which has dropped their last two matches.

VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 10

Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur FC and Jamie Vardy, Leicester City FC
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Week 10 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

With plenty of intriguing clashes to look out for, let’s take a quick look at all of the major storylines across the league.

Tottenham vs. Leicester City, Southampton vs. Chelsea and Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool seem to be the frontrunners for the games of the weekend.

Click play on the videos below to see the previews, while you can stream every single game live by clicking on the link above.

Is it Saturday yet?

Tottenham vs. Leicester City

Manchester United vs. Burnley

Southampton vs. Chelsea

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

West Brom vs. Manchester City

Sunderland vs. Arsenal

Everton vs. West Ham

Watford vs. Hull City

Stoke City vs. Swansea City

Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth