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State of the NWSL, after Week 12: Reign FC’s narratives, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 13

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If an NFL team went 0-8, we’d only watch for the train wreck. Once they broke through, we’d move on. Nobody’s interested in a 1-8 team.

But what if J.J. Watt all of a sudden appeared on their roster? And Adrian Peterson arrived a couple of weeks later? Like the record would matter, at that point. That injection of new talent on a wayward team? We’d tune in just for the spectacle.

That’s why the Seattle Reign have become must-see soccer. Midway through the season, they’ve finally added two of the league’s four most recognizable players, players whose absences had contributed to the team’s 0-9-2 first half. Hope Solo, sidelined through the season’s first two months while recovering from wrist surgery, has returned to solidify a defense that was overwhelmed through May. And Megan Rapinoe, having finished her Lyon sojourn, returned for Seattle’s draw in Rochester, the start of the team’s three-game unbeaten run.

Since Rapinoe returned, Seattle is 2-0-1.

“We’re starting to see the hard work paying off,” Seattte coach Laura Harvey told Equalizer Soccer. “We felt that we played okay in some previous games and decisions and luck hasn’t gone our way.”

That’s an understatement. Between a phantom penalty call (May 25), an out-of-character Solo error (June 9) and another phantom penalty call (June 23), Seattle recently had four points taken in aberrational circumstances. That’s not to say Seattle “should have had those points.” They did, after all, contribute to those circumstances. But it does hint Seattle’s current resurgence started before Megan Rapinoe galloped into town.

It just illustrates the fickle nature of narratives – the angles people like me choose when telling these tales. When Megan Rapinoe returns and Seattle stars getting results, it’s easy to see the correlation and think Rapinoe’s meant so much. And she’s certainly helped, but Seattle was on the verge of a breakthrough before her arrival. Any tale of Rapinoe’s illustrious contributions should note: Seattle’s been decent for a while.

It’s a shame there’s no pithy saying about correlation and causation, because it often bears reminding: They’re not the same. And while the Reign have certainly seemed to get a confidence boost from Rapinoe’s return, her performances haven’t defined Seattle’s wins. People like Christine Nairn, Jessica Fishlock, Keelin Winters and Kaylyn Kyle deserve more credit that they’re being given.

Then again, that may just be my narrative.

RANKINGS OF POWER

In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – An embarrassing loss Friday at Western New York saw Mike Jorden lose his job, replaced by Mark Parsens. The move came after goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s post-match comments said the team lacked leadership and direction. Jorden’s response, via Equalizer Soccer: “I hope the Spirit fine her and sit her down.”

7. Chicago Red Stars (5) – A loss at Seattle sees the Red Stars lose two spots, but they’re much closer to 5 than 8 in terms of quality. They’ll be a problem tonight for Western New York.

6. Boston Breakers (6) – A Sunday win over visiting Sky Blue keeps their playoff hopes alive, but with games this week at Seattle and Portland, those hopes could be extinguished by Saturday.

5. Portland Thorns FC (4) – We could write this every week: Portland still hasn’t figured out how to replace Becky Edwards. Against Kansas City, it showed. They’re not the same team defensively, lacking somebody to protect the back line. They’re not the same offensively without that strong holder at the base of midfield. With the attack having slipped to fifth in the league, players are starting to get frustrated. There are rumblings in the house that Merritt built.

4. Seattle Reign FC (7) – It’s not an exaggeration to say two huge wins have turned the club around. The whole club.

3. Sky Blue FC (1) – Were second best in both of last week’s games, and although they got a miraculous point from FC Kansas City, their luck ran out at the boots of Sydney Leroux. They’re a rocket that’s coming back to earth.

2. FC Kansas City (4) – Two more goals from Lauren Cheney have the Blues’ midfielder running away with the MVP race. It’s not even that interesting to talk about, right now. Slightly more interesting: The comparison between her success and Christine Sinclair’s struggles.

1. Western New York Flash (2)- Carli Lloyd scored three times. Abby Wambach added two assists. And Sam Kerr wasn’t even in the country. I feel obligated to remind you: I picked this team to finish seventh.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Wednesday, July 3

Seattle Reign vs. Boston Breakers (10:00 p.m. Eastern) – Seattle’s strength in the middle guarantees a shakey Boston defense will have to deal with Rapinoe and Nairn. Newly acquired Renae Cuellar could play, a perfect addition to an attack that lacked a true striker.

Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City (7:30 p.m. Eastern) – The Spirit haven’t scored since May 16, and as a team, they’ve only scored one more time than Lauren Cheney, who will miss this game and Sunday’s as she marries Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holliday. That leaves the door open for Washington to spring an upset.

Thursday, July 4

Chicago Red Stars vs. Western New York Flash (2:00 p.m. Eastern) – The teams’ last meeting ended in a draw in Chicago, but with the Flash hitting for four on Friday, Aaran Lines’ team has recaptured their momentum. Their chase for a home playoff game is on.

Saturday, July 6

Sky Blue FC vs. Washington Spirit (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – If Sky Blue’s descent has started, a visit from Washington could give them a needed boost. If they can’t win this, we’ll know they’re in trouble.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Boston Breakers (10:30 p.m. Eastern) – Depending what happens mid-week in Seattle, this may be a must-win game for the Breakers. Cindy Parlow Cone shouldn’t relish the idea of her midfield against Mariah Nogueira, Joanna Lohman, Heather O’Reilly, and Lianne Sanderson.

Sunday, July 8

Western New York Flash vs. FC Kansas City (3:10 p.m. Eastern) – It’s one versus two, per our Power Rankings. The first time Kansas City visited Rochester, they came away with their first loss of the season. The short rest between two artificial surface games could have an effect on Wambach.

UCL wrap: Vardy gives Leicester lifeline; Juve wins

Leicester's Jamie Vardy, left, celebrates after he scores a goal during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Jamie Vardy‘s late goal helped dominated Leicester City make amends for a rough hour in Sevilla, as the Foxes took an away goal from Spain in one of two UEFA Champions League Round of 16 legs on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Round of 16 ]

Elsewhere, Porto nearly handled an early red card all the way to 0-0. Alas, Juventus.


Sevilla 2-1 Leicester City

Jamie Vardy’s late goal gives Leicester City hope after Joaquin Correa and Pablo Sarabia helped the hosts to a two-goal lead on Wednesday at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium.

Wes Morgan gave away a penalty with an out-of-position challenge, but Correa’s take was poor and Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly to snare the low shot.

Schmeichel then robbed Sergio Escudero, only to be burnt by Sevilla’s No. 17. Escudero swept a cross over the Leicester back line and a leaping Christian Fuchs, and Sarabia headed home for a deserved 1-0.

Fuchs’ dicey day continued in the 56th minute, as Sarabia had plenty of time for a strong attempt only to miss near post.

Substitute Demarai Gray injected some life into Leicester, and Danny Drinkwater forced Sevilla into conceding a corner in the 60th minute. The Foxes played it short to no success.

Moments later, Sevilla were up a pair through Correa. Ex-Man City striker Stevan Jovetic, on loan from Inter Milan, teed up Correa for the shot.

Vardy pulled back what could be a huge away goal for the Foxes, belting a Drinkwater square ball home in the 74th minute.


Porto 0-2 Juventus

Alex Telles’ 27th minute yellow card was his second for Porto in 74 seconds, giving the impression that Juventus would waltz back to Italy with the tie well in-hand.

Instead, Iker Casillas and Porto closed up shop to great success, and Juventus didn’t break through until the final 20 minutes. Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves netted two minutes apart to give Juve a solid foothold in the quarterfinals.

VIDEO: Manchester United dispatches Saint-Etienne, Mkhi injured

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Florentin Pogba of Saint-Etienne walks on the pitch next to his brother Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Juan Mata‘s 16th minute service found Henrikh Mkhitaryan score the only goal of Manchester United’s 1-0 second leg Europa League Round of 32 win at Saint-Etienne, but the win came at a price.

Mkhitaryan left the match with a leg injury, casting him in doubt for Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley Stadium. Michael Carrick also left the game with an injury.

[ MORE: Two year bans for penalty protest ]

Krasnodar and Schalke also clinched berths in the Round of 16, which will be played March 9 and 16.

UCL AT HALF: Leicester trails in Spain, Porto down a man (video)

Sevilla players celebrate the goal of Sevilla's Pablo Sarabia, second left, during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Leicester City will be happy to get to halftime down by a mere goal, while Porto will be simply hoping to be alive after 90 minutes at home to Juventus.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

That’s because Porto will play more than an hour down a man against The Old Lady.

Sevilla 1-0 Leicester City

Wes Morgan gave away a penalty with an out-of-position challenge, but Joaquin Correa’s take was poor and Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly to snare the low shot.

Schmeichel then robbed Sergio Escudero, only to be burnt by Sevilla’s No. 17. Escudero swept a cross over the Leicester back line and a leaping Christian Fuchs, and Pablo Sarabia headed home for a deserved 1-0.

Porto 0-0 Juventus

It didn’t take long for Juventus fans to feel rightly confident, as Porto’s Alex Telles took a pair of yellow cards in 74 seconds.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET