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.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.