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Walking through Week 12 of the NWSL season

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A before-and-after of the NWSL’s standings would tell you little about the league’s 12th week of the season. Sky Blue and Portland disappointed, but they remained one-two come Sunday night. FC Kansas City and Western New York, however – three-four in the league – gave strong performances, furthering the perception that the league’s four playoff teams have already stepped forward.

At the bottom of the table, Boston got a much-needed win over the league leaders on Sunday, a victory that keeps their long shot playoff hopes alive. Seattle is surging, a phrase people thought they would never read, while the Red Stars’ climb was haulted by their former cellar dwellers.

Let’s walk through the games, shall we?

Wednesday, June 26

Boston Breakers 1, Seattle Reign FC 2 – Seattle’s being improving for a month, but thanks to the depths to which they’d sunk and some terrible luck, the Reign remained winless. Then Wednesday came.

Though they gave up the opener, goals from Christine Nairn and Jessica Fishlock brought the visitors back, giving Seattle five points on the road this season (and none at home). Though neither Hope Solo nor Megan Rapinoe gave match-winning performances, you can’t help but thing the confidence they’ve brought to a floundering squad helped enable this comeback. It also prolonged a Breaker slide which, by the time they took the field on Sunday, Boston 10 points back of a playoff spot.

Implications: Seattle’s not going to make the playoffs, but right now, they’re playing as good as anybody. Sometimes, good soccer makes everything worthwhile. Boston, meanwhile, is grossly underperforming their talent and have to hope the integration of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will eventually pay off.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 3 Sky Blue 14 27 +9
2 4 Portland 13 26 +7
3 2 Kansas City 12 23 +7
4 1 W. New York 12 22 +10
5 6 Boston 12 15 -1
6 7 Chicago 12 12 -7
7 5 Seattle 13 8 -12
8 8 Washington 11 6 -13

Sky Blue FC 2, FC Kansas City 2 – Two very late goals from substitute Monica Ocampo salvaged a result for the league leaders, the Mexican international continuing to make her case for playing time in place of the underperforming Danesha Adams and Kelley O’Hara (who continues to deal with an ankle problem). Where it not for her outburst, FC Kansas City would have gotten revenge for a their May 25 loss in Overland Park, one in which the Blues played most of the match with 10.

Regardless, Vlatko Andonovski’s starting XI shakeup looks to be paying off. Melissa Henderson, Courtney Jones, and Erika Tymrak are in. Renae Cualler, Sinead Farrelly, Merritt Mathias are out, and Kansas City looks like their former selves. Lauren Cheney has pulled into a tie for the league lead in goals (seven), while Tymrak looks like one of the year’s best draft picks.

Implications: We covered FCKC, but for Sky Blue the result highlights the problems they have with teams that can play wide. Western New York has given them problems all season, and FC Kansas City had the better of play on Wednesday. Both teams are capable of stretching that compact Sky Blue defense.

Friday, June 28

Western New York 4, Washington Spirit 0 – Three goals from Carli Lloyd and some extra time frosting from Brittany Taylor made for one of the most lopsided results of the season, one that had Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris fuming after the game. Harris called out her defense (“How are you going to give someone like Carli Lloyd the amount of space and time she had”), potentially called out her coach (“we need some guidance, we need some leadership and until we get that, nothings going to change”), while expressing disappointment in “my team and myself.”

Implications: Mike Jorden was fired on Sunday.

Saturday, June 29

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 8 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 7 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 5
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 7 Leigh Ann Robinson (FCKC) 5
Sophie Schmid (SBFC) 6 Abby Wambach (WNY) 4
3 tied at 5 Katy Freels-Frierson (SBFC) 4

Seattle Reign FC 3, Chicago Red Stars 1 – On three days rest, one of which was spent on the return trip from Boston, Seattle got their second win of the season, climbing out of the cellar on the strength of their season’s first home points. While more focus will go to Rapinoe and Solo (Rapinoe didn’t start), Seattle’s other standouts did the damage. Kaylyn Kyle, whose move to central defense has salvaged her season, opened the scoring from the spot, while Jessica Fishlock’s ball under the cross bar from outside the penalty area sealed the victory. Rapinoe would add extra time insurance.

Implications: Seattle’s unbeaten in three, and you really can’t understate the quality and confidence it took to overcome the travel to knock off a team playing on nine days rest. For Chicago, if may have been the most disappointing result since the arrival of Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss, but it’s nothing they shouldn’t shake off.

Sunday, June 30

FC Kansas City 2, Portland Thorns FC 0 – For the second game in a row, Portland couldn’t stop their opponents from hitting their defense with momentum coming out of midfield. Unfortunately for them, FC Kansas City didn’t show the same mercy Sky Blue did last week. A brilliant goal from Lauren Cheney (her second of the week, eighth of the season) and an insurance tally from Merritt Mathias capped FC Kansas City’s best performance since May 18 (2-0 home win over the then-good Boston). The Thorns, on the other hand, gave arguably their worst performance of the season.

Implications: Without Becky Edwards, Portland’s no longer playing like a title contender. They have nine weeks to find a way to replace her. FC Kansas City, on the other hand, have rekindled their May selves. Many may have wondered what Andonovski was doing benching Cuellar and Matthias (many meaning me), but it’s worked. Go figure: A professional coach who’s worked with his players all year knows his squad better than we do.

Boston Breakers 3, Sky Blue FC 2 – Did I just imply (above) the Breakers are no longer good? Well then this happened, a win over a legitimately good team. As encouraging: The two goals from Sydney Leroux, who is suddenly only one goal behind Cheney for the league lead. For Sky Blue, it was their second disappointing performance of the week, falling to a team they’d handled two previous times this month.

Implications: For the first time since before the win in Portland, we’ve reason to believe Jim Gabarra’s team may fall back to the pack. Boston, on the other hand, is seven points out of the playoffs with 10 to play. They’ll need help, but it’s still possible.

And finally … our Player of the Week

source:  Ashlyn Harris may want to blame the Spirit defense, but Carli Lloyd deserves some credit. As we see in the missed chances racked up every weekend, scoring goals is never a given, and when you’re playing a midfielders role (albeit an attacking one).

That’s not to say Lloyd did everything on her own. Strong play from Sarah Huffman and Alex Sahlen created the first, a header from within Washington’s six-yard box. Abby Wambach crafted the final two, the first from wide left and the second with a flicked through ball that saw a Lloyd run open up the Spirit defense.

Lloyd, however, did her part. The first goal was relatively easy, but her finished on the second took advantage of the only ball width Ashlyn Harris gave her. On her final goal, Lloyd started and finished the movement, feeding Wambach before sprinting from the center circle during a play that ended in front of goal.

The role that Aaran Lines has Lloyd playing, the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, is different that the job that’s made her famous for the national team, but just like Lauren Cheney in Kansas City, it may be the spot she’s best suited for. In six games, she’s notched four goals while helping to make the Flash a title contender.

Honorable mentions: Abby Wambach would have won this award other weeks; as would have Lauren Cheney (but seriously, we could say that every week); Hope Solo was ‘Hope Freakin’ Solo’ for much of the week; while Solo teammate Jessica Fishlock deserves as shout.

Chastain, McMillan, Garber make Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11:  Brandi Chastain attends the Annual Charity Day Hosted By Cantor Fitzgerald And BGC at the Cantor Fitzgerald Office on September 11, 2013 in New York, United States.  (Photo by Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
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CHICAGO (AP) — World Cup champions Brandi Chastain and Shannon MacMillan, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber have been elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Chastain, who scored the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup final shootout against China, was selected on the player ballot. MacMillan, her teammate on that squad, was voted in on the veteran ballot. Garber was chosen on the builder ballot.

Chastain played 12 seasons of international soccer, scoring 30 goals in 192 matches. She also won a World Cup in 1991, and earned Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004. She was the first U.S. player to score five goals in one match, in 1991 World Cup qualifying as a forward. She later became a mainstay on defense.

“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame and have my name read in the same sentence with our country’s best is truly humbling,” Chastain said Thursday. “The opportunity to play the game was given to me by my parents; my competitiveness and enthusiasm was fostered by every coach who I was blessed to be taught by; and my passion was shared and heightened by all of my teammates over my career. It is not enough to say how grateful I am with words, and therefore, I continue to share the game with anyone and everyone.”

MacMillan also was on the 1996 Olympic team. She scored 60 goals in 12 international seasons and was the 2002 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

“Playing for the USA was always an honor and privilege for me, and that could only be topped by being selected for the Hall of Fame,” MacMillan said. “I am incredibly humbled and honored by this selection. I will forever be grateful to the great game of soccer for all of the life lessons it has taught me along the way, and for all the friendships I built along the way. I want to thank U.S. Soccer and my teammates for all of the support throughout the years.”

Garber, in his 17th year as MLS commissioner, was cited for his work growing the sport in the United States.

“Thanks to the commitment and hard work of many people, our sport has grown significantly during the last few decades, and there is no doubt the United States is a true soccer nation,” Garber said. “It is an honor to be inducted alongside Brandi Chastain and Shannon MacMillan, two iconic figures in U.S. Soccer history who have impacted the sport at so many levels.”

MLS Preview: Can anyone separate from the pack? Western leaders get big tests

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Shkelzen Gashi #11 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With last week’s draw-fest in the past and both conferences still jumbled, all eyes are on the top of the Western Conference with this week’s list of matchups.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Three teams – Colorado, Real Salt Lake, and FC Dallas – are all tied atop the standings on 17 points. The first two respectively play each other. The final one crosses sides to play the 3rd place team in the East. Should this week go differently than last – meaning, fewer than the eight draws we were handed across Week 8 – some teams could find themselves with some valuable separation atop the standings.

So, who has the opportunity to make moves?

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake — 9:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Each with 17 points at the top of the West, there’s plenty at stake at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colorado is four games unbeaten, although it dropped points for the first time in a month last time out. The Rapids feasted upon underachieving teams during its three-game winning streak, but when faced with the leaders of the Eastern Conference last weekend, they needed a pair of comebacks to earn a point. Nonetheless, the Rapids have put their early-season struggles firmly behind them.

The Rapids have struggled against RSL in the recent past, losing the last time out in Salt Lake City, and sporting a 1-4-2 record against RSL in the last seven meetings at DSG Park. Shkëlzen Gashi continues to be the key for Colorado’s attack, having pumped 25 shots on target this season so far. For RSL, last week’s win put the demolition at the hands of Los Angeles firmly in the past, changing the narrative to five wins in their last six, a significant rise in form.

Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas  7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FC Dallas also has a chance to go atop the West with a result on the road at BMO Field. Dallas’s grip on the West is gone thanks to a pair of flunks against two eighth-placed teams – a bad sign as the Jeckyll and Hyde season continues. They’re in a great place, but have also looked lost at times. All three heavy defeats have come on the road, and wouldn’t you know it, now they’re serving as Toronto’s May home opener.

The East has been a mire thus far, but for Toronto to sit third after three wins in an eight-game road trip, Sebastian Giovinco and company have put themselves in great position. Nonetheless, Greg Vanney said the club still needs to “prove itself” in front of its home fans, and those fans are sure to be up for it after the long wait.

D.C. United vs. New York City FC  7:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Two of the four teams stuck on 10 points in the middle of the Eastern Conference have a critical matchup at RFK Stadium Saturday. D.C. has gutted things out through the softer part of its schedule, but now a meeting with a team in the hunt will test D.C., who will be without the suspended Chris Rolfe after his dangerous challenge on Nick LaBrocca. If anything, the break could give Rolfe a chance to collect his thoughts after a slow start to the season.

They face a NYCFC team that picked up just its second win of the season last time out. Draw-happy early on, NY had lost three of four before the 3-2 win over Vancouver, a gritty win that took overcoming adversity after Vancouver went ahead, then came back to tie things up before Steven Mendoza tied things up with 17 minutes to go. This one’s a big one in the East mix, can anyone come out on top?

Elsewhere

Orlando City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — 7 p.m. ET Friday
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET Saturday
Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10 p.m. ET Saturday
L.A. Galaxy vs. New England Revolution — 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Men in Blazers podcast: Jurgen Klopp pod special

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog sits down with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to give you a taste of his new documentary on the eccentric German boss.

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Klopp hails “unbelievable” player performance to send Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool gives instructions to captain James Milner of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp didn’t want any of the credit after Liverpool defeated Villarreal 3-0 at Anfield to send the Reds to Basel with a spot in the Europa League final.

“Wonderful night – a brilliant game from my side,” Klopp said to BT Sport after the game. “What power, what a performance, what attitude with the readiness, motivation, emotion in the game – everything.”

Liverpool held 60% of the possession and out-shot Villarreal 25-6, including 12-2 among shots on target.

“We go to Basel. We take 50,000, 60k, 70k Liverpudlians with us – maybe 100k – not in the stadium, but in the city,” Klopp said of the upcoming final. “Everybody is invited. It is a nice city by the way, close to my home! Let’s go there, create an atmosphere and do our best again. It is well deserved and I am really, really pleased for all the boys.”

Klopp, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany which is under a three hour drive from Basel, made the call to start Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can.

Sturridge was on the bench for the first leg against Villarreal when Liverpool was held scoreless and played the full 90 minutes in their loss to Swansea over the weekend. This time, he forced the opening own-goal and scored the second. Can, meanwhile, hasn’t played in a month due to an ankle injury, but he was a force in front of the Reds back line.

“The only thing we said at half time was that the first half an hour was a big emotion,” Klopp said after the game. “It was great but then the last 15 minutes of the first half we lost patience. We didn’t move them over the pitch as much and tried to go down the middle, but there was no space so we lost balls. We defended well though so nothing happened. The second half plan was to keep going with the emotional football plus using your brain little a bit more and in the end it was brilliant – wonderful goals. The whole night was unbelievable.”

“We have to create atmospheres like this in each Premier League game too.”