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.

Klopp: Liverpool supplied “angry, full of desire” performance

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Liverpool played a near-perfect contest in posting a stylish 4-1 win over West Ham United on Saturday at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Reds 4-1 West Ham ]

“It was intense, it was aggressive, it was angry, it was full of desire,” said manager Jurgen Klopp. “I saw everything I wish to see in a game of football and it’s not often you see that.”

The Reds went second thanks to goals from Emre Can, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, conceding a lone goal courtesy of a Cheikhou Kouyate turnover of Can.

The result made Liverpool’s Spanish training camp look like genius, and put to bed fears that the Reds would not build off a 5-0 dismantling of Porto in the UEFA Champions League.

The win moves Liverpool into second place before Manchester United’s Sunday tilt with Chelsea. If the Red Devils fail to beat the Blues, Liverpool will finish the match week in second.

Here’s more from Klopp, from the BBC:

“I don’t think as a manager you can expect a game like this, you can hope for it but it’s very rare you get it. We got it. It was a joy to watch.

“The boys delivered, it makes me really happy. It helps us when we have time to train and prepare but we don’t often have the time. I saw a lot of things today we did in training which makes me happy.”

Klopp’s reference of preparation time is another sign that schedule congestion has not escaped the minds of the managers, and the Reds would not have had as much time off had they not been upset by West Brom in the FA Cup.

A visit from Newcastle is next, and the Reds can focus on the league because the following visit from Porto carries such a lopsided first leg score line.

West Brom 1-2 Huddersfield Town: Terriers climb

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  • Van la Parra gives Terriers lead
  • Mounie makes it 2-0
  • Dawson pullback not enough

Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie scored second half goals to boost Huddersfield Town four points clear of the drop zone with a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

Craig Dawson scored to give the Baggies hope of a comeback, but it was deflated and West Brom is now seven points back of safety with 10 matches to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom saw an early chance fall to Salomon Rondon, but the Venezuelan blazed over the bar.

Huddersfield were unlucky with a chance produced by Florent Hadergjonaj, as an Alex Pritchard shot caught a teammate in the face and the Terriers couldn’t clean up the loose ball.

Matt Phillips provided a typical fine cross to James McClean near the halftime whistle, but the Irish attacker belted it high.

Town took the lead after halftime, as Van la Parra’s mishit cross was rescued by Collin Quaner and sent into the goal by the same man who bungled the cross.

And Mounie made West Brom’s short-term and long-term fate look dim by putting down a second Town marker off an assist from club record signing Pritchard.

Hold on, though.

Dawson had an answer for the hosts off a Chris Brunt cross, and it was nearly level when Jonas Lossl denied Brunt late on.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Burnley 1-1 Southampton: Gabbiadini to the rescue

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  • Burnley without a PL win in 11
  • Saints with just one win in their last 15 games
  • Gabbiadini’s first goal in 17 games

Southampton struck late to grab a 1-1 draw against Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday.

Ashley Barnes bundled home in the second half to give Burnley the lead but Sean Dyche‘s side succumbed to a predatory finish from Manolo Gabbiadini who jumped off the bench to grab a valuable point for Saints.

With the draw Burnley move on to 37 points and back up to seventh, while Southampton move out of the bottom three and have 27 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saints had a decent chance on the break early on as Dusan Tadic, making his 150th appearance for the club, drilled a low effort towards the far corner which Nick Pope saved superbly.

Burnley were dangerous when crosses flew into the box but Saints had another chance to go ahead but Nathan Redmond‘s shot from outside the box was saved by Pope.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The home side improved drastically before half time as they pinned Southampton back but failed to really generate any clear-cut chances.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half the encounter continued to be a tight, tense affair as Ashley Barnes nodded wide and Southampton struggled to get going in attack.

Burnley took the lead as Barnes bundled home from close range following a cross from Aaron Lennon on the left which initially saw Alex McCarthy save well form Gudmundsson but then Southampton’s defense stood still and allowed Barnes to score.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Substitute Josh Sims then thought he had equalized as the youngster cut in, smashed on goal but Pope tipped the ball onto the post with a magnificent save.

In the 90th minute Saints did equalize as Burnley felt that referee Bobby Madley got in their way in the middle of the pitch, but Redmond found Sims who crossed from the right and Guido Carrillo nodded the ball down to Gabbiadini to swivel and smash home. 1-1.

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham: Reds run Irons ragged

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  • Can opens scoring, 30′
  • Reds build 3-0 lead
  • Antonio scores lone Irons goal
  • Liverpool goes second

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all scored second half goals as Liverpool went second with a 4-1 win over visiting West Ham United on Saturday.

Emre Can gave Liverpool the lead en route to a 3-0 start, before Michail Antonio answered for West Ham.

The Reds are a point ahead of Manchester United before the Red Devils play Chelsea on Sunday. West Ham is 13th, four points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Salah touched a Firmino pass past flat-footed James Collins, and his 15-yard shot was pushed off the far post by Adrian.

It was Marko Arnautovic chipped Loris Karius but not the cross bar as West Ham looked to answer the bell.

The breakthrough came before the half-hour mark, as Salah settled his blocked corner to help win a second. This time, it was Can heading home a back post offering to make it 1-0.

Arnautovic found even more danger before half, but Karius was there to get the job done.

Salah doubled the advantage in the 51st minute, shooting low past a flat-footed Adrian.

Can set up Liverpool’s third, playing a ball over the top for Firmino to push past a charging Begovic and slide into the goal. 3-0.

Cheikhou Kouyate picked Can’s pocket within minutes to play Antonio down the right for the Irons’ opener, but Mane settled the affair soon after the Liverpool concession.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]