Photo by Meg Linehan

With Rapinoe, Solo, Seattle Reign FC finally putting the pieces together

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Standing on the pitch in suburban Boston after nearly a third full 90-minute match in a hot, muggy week of East Coast weather was a shock to the system for Megan Rapinoe.

Until these past 10 days, the crafty United States and Seattle Reign FC midfielder hadn’t played in the heat and humidity this calendar year. She went from winter in the U.S. to more moderate temperatures in France, spending the spring with UEFA Champions League runner-up Lyon.

She would be within reason to take a break after a busy six months with Lyon, but instead Rapinoe decided to jump right in and help her struggling National Women’s Soccer League team.

“I think that show’s what she’s like as a character,” Seattle coach Laura Harvey said after Wednesday’s match.

Wednesday was Seattle’s first win (1-9-2), ending a frustrating 10 weeks that saw the club lose nine-straight games after an opening weekend draw.

Rapinoe played 90 minutes for the United States on June 20 – delivering the corner kick to Abby Wambach’s head for a record-breaking goal – and then joined her Seattle teammates in Rochester, N.Y., last weekend. Ninety minutes of out-playing the fourth place Western New York Flash only produced a draw, but Seattle’s maiden victory finally came on Wednesday against a slumping Boston Breakers team, a 2-1 win in which Rapinoe played 87 minutes and created the equalizing goal.

“I think coming off a season in France, knowing I was going to be tired, was meant to be managed a little bit more,” Rapinoe said. “But after I got onto the field, when it got to the time that I was meant to come off I looked at Laura and I was like, ‘I’m fine.’ My competitive juices catch up.”

It’s no coincidence that Seattle’s first victory comes just five days after Harvey finally met Rapinoe.

Brimming in confidence, the instantly recognizable 27-year-old platinum blonde struck a shot off the woodwork – the corner where the post meets the crossbar – in the 80th minute, four minutes after nearly catching Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off her line with a dipping volley nearly from the center circle.

It was a knuckling, driven Rapinoe free kick that Naeher spilled for Jessica Fishlock to tap-in for the 78th minute equalizer.

“We constantly thought we weren’t showing people how good we felt we were as a group,” Harvey said. “And now we’ve added the extra quality of Hope (Solo), the extra quality of Megan and you start to see a difference with us now.”

It’s not that Seattle were as bad as their 0-9-2 record coming into Wednesday’s match suggested. Lady luck just seemed to be against them. Almost nothing went right for Reign FC since January.

Solo and Rapinoe were two of the three United States women’s national team allocations acquired by Seattle in January. Rapinoe had already signed to play the spring with Lyon in France, where she fell one victory short of a UEFA Champions League title. Forward Amy Rodriguez soon after allocation found out she was pregnant, and Solo in early March underwent surgery to repair cartilage in her left wrist.

All that left Seattle without their stars – players around which to anchor a team.

Solo’s return between the pipes on May 25 brought a sense of calm, but the misfortunes continued with a dubious handball call in the box late in the match against Portland and a strange misplay from Solo in another 1-0 loss in the following match vs. Kansas City.

Still, Seattle showed signs of hope, but never had enough to finish. Seattle has scored just seven goals in 12 games.

“Megan Rapinoe is a special player, but even before she got here, we were starting to play well together,” Solo said.

“I am proud even before Megan got here (in) our ability to hold the ball. You can see we’re a team that can play.”

Rodriguez, a forward, is that final piece that Seattle desperately could have used. When – and if – Rodriguez turns up in a Seattle jersey, Reign FC will welcome a forward with international experience.

But for now, Rapinoe – whose flair is peaking following a half-season with the world’s best club team – is clearly ready to serve as an attacking threat, even if it comes from the left wing. She took nine of Seattle’s 18 shots on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling really, really confident coming off my season there,” she said. “I think it was a different style. I think it was a different kind of game. Definitely not emphasized on the physical attributes, but kind of where I could find myself in the game. More of the technical and the tactical side and just feeling like when I get the ball I can kind of impact the game in different ways, not just the physical.”

Roma slips in 3-1 derby loss to Lazio

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The Derby della Capitale went Lazio’s way, all but shattering any hopes Roma had of catching Juventus for the Scudetto as Keita Balde scored a brace in the 3-1 win.

Balde is absolutely on fire, with now five goals in his last two matches. His brace comes on the heels of a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Palermo last time out.

The 22-year-old Senegalese international scored his first just 12 minutes in thanks to some horrid defending from Roma’s Emerson, and Balde cut the ball inside the near post to the surprise of Wojciech Szczesny. His second killed off the game in the 85th minute on the break, as Senad Lulic unselfishly gave it up to Balde on the 2-on-1 for an easy finish.

With Balde’s first the only score of the first half, Roma had momentarily pulled back level on a Daniele de Rossi penalty moments after the break, but it was Dusan Basta to provide the eventual winner just five minutes later. The goal was a bit generous, as his hit at the top of the box took a huge deflection off Federico Fazio and looped into the top corner.

Roma dominated possession throughout, but they were locked down, as Lazio matched them on the shot count despite finding themselves on the back foot for much of the game. Roma also saw Antonio Rudiger sent off in the dying minutes of the game for a very high boot that caught Lazio substitute Filip Djordjevic directly in the shin.

The loss paired with Rudiger’s impeding suspension means that Roma must now change its focus from looking ahead towards Juventus and instead over their shoulder. With a brutal run-in for Roma remaining, including games against AC Milan, Juventus, and Chievo Verona left on the schedule, they will be tested to hold their four-point lead over Napoli, who also has a game in hand.

Stream Live: Lukaku, Everton welcome title favorites Chelsea

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Everton hopes to have a better showing than the reverse fixture as welcome leaders Chelsea to Goodison Park live at 9:05 a.m. ET on CNBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Toffees fell 5-0 on their visit to Stamford Bridge in early November, part of a furious Chelsea run and the beginning of a poor run of form for the home side. Now, Everton is flying to finish the year, led by Romelu Lukaku, who is surrounded by rumors of a return from whence he came to Merseyside, from today’s opponents.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Chelsea live online at NBCSports.com ]

Lukaku has 12 goals in his last 11 games, on absolute fire to the end of the campaign, only feeding the rumors. He heads the attack, with support from Enner Valencia who returns to selection after a short suspension last time out. Aaron Lennon, Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori are all injured with long-term problems, but Everton has no other issues.

For Chelsea, the Blues continue with the decorated back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill. Despite his positive performance last time out against Southampton, Cesc Fabregas is rotated back to the bench in favor of first-choice attacker Pedro, who supports Diego Costa along with Eden Hazard.

With the Blues four points clear at the top, this game represents one of the tougher fixtures remaining on their soft finish to the season. Chelsea has lost a whopping six of its last 10 trips to Goodison Park across all competitions.

LINEUPS

Everton: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Calvert-Lewin, Baines, Gueye, Davies, Barkley, Valencia, Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Kenny, Pennington, Barry, Lookman, Mirallas, Kone.

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs: Begovic, Zouma, Ake, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

Stream Live: Man City can strengthen Top 4 spot at Middlesbrough

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A week after Manchester City struggled to finish on net, the torrid Gabriel Jesus returns to the lineup as the Citizens travel to Middlesbrough at 9:05 a.m. ET live online at NBCSports.com.

Jesus scored three goals in five Premier League appearances after arriving in the winter, but broke a bone in his foot and faced a long spell on the sidelines. He is back from injury and starts alongside Sergio Aguero in the City attack. Raheem Sterling drops to the bench as Pep Guardiola produces a flat 4-4-2 to fit both attackers in the formation.

[ WATCH LIVE: Middlesbrough vs. Man City live online at NBCSports.com ]

City is also now forced to play with Willy Caballero in goal after Claudio Bravo was injured in the Manchester derby. On the bench to back up the goalkeeper is 21-year-old Manchester City youth product Angus Gunn.

For Middlesbrough, they were forced into a change as Fabio comes into the lineup in place of the injured Daniel Ayala who drops out with an ankle problem. Gaston Ramierz was reportedly available for selection after missing the win over Sunderland due to suspension, but he does not appear in the lineup or on the bench.

Boro has served as City’s boogey team in the past, without a win in their first 14 Premier League meetings, but they have turned that around, with wins in four of their last seven against Boro.

LINEUPS

Middlesbrough: Guzan, Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, De Roon, Forshaw, Downing, Stuani, Negredo.
Subs: 
Dimi, Bernardo, Barragan, Fischer, Traore, Bamford, Gestede.

Man City: Caballero, Kompany, Kolarov, Otamendi, Clichy, Navas, Fernandinho, Garcia, De Bruyne, Jesus, Aguero.
Subs: 
Gunn, Sagna, Zabaleta, Fernando, Sterling, Nolito Sané.

Man United 1-1 Swansea: Sigurdsson rescues a point for Swans

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Swansea City went controversially behind, but they always remained a threat, and Gylfi Sigurdsson was again the man to pull them from the cold, dark waters.

Wayne Rooney had bagged a highly controversial penalty at the stroke of halftime, but Sigurdsson delivered his specialty: a beautiful curling free-kick with 11 minutes to go as Swansea grabbed a point and doomed the home side to yet another single point at Old Trafford.

Swansea began with much of the early possession, with Manchester United sloppy on the ball. The home side, which has been struck by countless injuries of late, was forced into yet another early change as Luke Shaw was unable to make it out of the opening 10 minutes with an ankle injury, replaced by Antonio Valencia.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A furious chance for the Swans saw Fernando Llorente shake free of Eric Bailly and force a good save from David De Gea on 14 minutes. Down the other end two minutes later, Jesse Lingard timed a run well and received a brilliant ball from Anthony Martial, but he couldn’t bag the opener, with Lukasz Fabianski there to smother the ball.

On the half-hour mark, Martial burst into the box and took it on himself, cutting across three defenders to find space and firing on net but it was right at Fabianski who held on nervously.

Just before halftime, United found the breakthrough as Marcus Rashford went down near the endline on a challenge from Fabianski. The decision was poor, as Rashford dove amid hardly any contact from Fabianski off his line, but with the referee in a poor position to see the magnitude of the challenge, he pointed to the spot after a long deliberation. Wayne Rooney, who had been mostly invisible in the first 45 minutes, buried the chance from the spot with the final kick of the first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Rooney nearly had a second just minutes after the halftime break, but his effort on the empty left side of the net thumped into the back of Martial and harmlessly away. United then suffered yet another injury to its defense, with the reliable Eric Bailly unable to continue after whacking the back of Llorente’s leg.

Injuries were a concern for both sides throughout the contest. Swansea had just brought on Jefferson Montero, who has been plagued by hamstring problems all season. Montero was on the pitch just five minutes before pulling up after a physical contest between he and Antonio Valencia, forced back off the pitch and needed a stretcher to reach the tunnel. Martin Olsson came on, and was immediately thumped in the air full tilt by Ashley Young, but thankfully Olsson could continue despite the heavy clatter to his ribs.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Swansea fired a warning shot at the Red Devils on the break as Jordon Ayew cut back for Gylfi Sigurdsson, but he thumped the ball acres over the bar. That was a harbinger of things to come, as Ayew was fouled on the edge of the penalty area, and Sigurdsson stepped up to conjur the ball into the back of the net, with David de Gea failing to even produce an attempt at a save.

The visitors nearly snagged the win in six minutes of stoppage time, on a free-kick from Sigurdsson yet again, which he lofted into the box, and with Llorente’s defender Daley Blind falling to the turf, the Swans striker was completely free, but he bungled the wide-open chance and saw it harmlessly into the arms of De Gea.

The point for United only moves them within a point of the top four, failing to snag the chance to jump Manchester City, who have yet to play today. For Swansea, they fail to pull out of the relegation zone, still sitting two points below Hull City despite owning a slightly better goal differential.