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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.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.

VIDEO: What will Southampton’s new star Boufal provide?

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Sofiane Boufal is a name many will be familiar with.

After his $21 million move to Southampton on Monday for a club-record fee, plenty of people are getting excited about seeing Boufal in the Premier League.

The Moroccan international is the type of player who has already become a cult figure due to the “Football Manager” video game, as his potential to become a star of European soccer has been well documented with huge teams interested in signing him over the past six months.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

That’s because Boufal, 22, shone for Lille last season, scoring 12 goals and his trickery, pace, set pieces and direct running saw him named as the best African player in Ligue 1.

He chose Southampton and it seems like a very wise choice after they helped turn the likes of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, plus many more, into top international players.

So, what have Southampton got in Boufal?

Take a look at the video above which gives a great overview of Boufal from his time at Lille after making the step up from Angers in Ligue 2 in January 2015.

That’s right, those comparisons with Riyad Mahrez seem pretty legit.

Late show? Chelsea linked with transfer deals for James Rodriguez, Alonso

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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Chelsea may be set to do some late business in the summer transfer window.

According to Marca in Spain they will sign Fiorentina defender Marcos Alonso for $27 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.

Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.

The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.

[ MORE: McCourt to buy Marseille ]

James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.

In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.

Nacer Chadli signs for West Brom

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Weston Homes Community Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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West Bromwich Albion have signed Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal said to be worth $17 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.

The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.

Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.

“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”

Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

With Spurs possessing Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son in the central and attacking midfield areas, Chadli wasn’t guaranteed minutes at White Hart Lane.

West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.

This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?

Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.