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.”

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.