How U.S. women’s national teamers have done, past the mid-point of the NWSL season

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Just over halfway through the NWSL season, here’s how prominent U.S. national team members have fared during the first year of the new women’s domestic league.

… WITH FLYING COLORS

Lauren Cheney Holiday, FC Kansas City – Perhaps surprisingly, Holiday has been the league’s best player, sliding into a playmaker’s role in which she’s rarely been used in before. The product leaves her second in the league in both goals and assists. The former Lauren Cheney missed last week’s games while getting married to Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday, hence the name change.

Bottom line: 11 games, eight goals, five assists, and the league’s leading MVP candidacy

Sydney Leroux, Boston Breakers – A strong week has Leroux up to a league leading 10 goals, and while some midseason questions gave the impression Leroux’s professional debut was becoming a rocky one, her response has led the Breakers back into playoff contention. Talent-wise, she is the full package, and since summer arrived, she’s been converting those talents into goals.

Bottom line: 11 games, 10 goals, one assist

Heather O’Reilly, Boston Breakers – As performances start to wane with the busy summer schedule, O’Reilly’s renowned intensity remains undeterred. Playing two games in four days last week, O’Reilly’s energy was vital to Boston’s four-point week. While much of her effort is being still applied down the flanks, O’Reilly’s also bolstered Boston’s efforts through the middle, making her one of the more valuable players in the league.

Bottom line: 12 games, three goals, five assists

Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC – The U.S. captain has been the league’s best defender, and while her team has leaked goals at times, it’s to be expected given the youth that surrounds her. There’s no way Sky Blue’s at the top of the league without her.

Bottom line: 13 starts, only three fouls committed

Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Has been the leader of one of the league’s best defensive pairings, her ability on and off the ball making her Rampone’s only rival for league’s best defender.

Bottom line: 12 games, one assist, only one foul committed

source: Getty ImagesAbby Wambach, Western New York Flash – You may have heard more about when Wambach wasn’t playing than what she’s done on the field, but between the lines, Wambach has been one of the league’s best players, and certainly its best forward.

Bottom line: 11 starts, seven goals, four assists

IF ONLY THEY WERE HERE MORE

Carli Lloyd, Western New York Flash – Has been one of the league’s best attacking midfielders, but a shoulder injury’s seen her limited to eight games. One of those featured a hat trick, though.

Bottom line: Eight games, seven starts, four goals

Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – Has been solid since returning in the middle of June, though her real effects have been on the team’s confidence and lineup. Seattle’s playing like a team that knows it has the talent to match its ambitions, and with Rapinoe at one wing spot (and some other moves), the Reign now have an XI capable of challenging anybody’s.

Bottom line: Four games, three starts, one goal

Hope Solo, Seattle Reign FC – Gave her team an immediate boost when she returned in late May from wrist surgery, then had a memorable mistake that cost her team a game against FC Kansas City. Since she’s ranged from great to good, more than you’d get out of most goalkeepers.

Bottom line: Six games, 39 saves, 1.00 GAA, no shutouts

GETTING THE JOB DONE

Nicole Barnhart, FC Kansas City – Until this last week, Barnhart’s solid but unspectacular performance still made her one of the league’s best keepers. Lately, however, the unspectacular tag has been dropped as Barnhart’s made some crucial plays for the Blues.

Bottom line: 13 games, 46 saves, 0.85 GAA, seven shutouts

Rachel Buehler, Portland Thorns FC – Part of the joint-best defense in the league, and while she’s still prone to the occasional error, her leadership has been valuable next to rookie center back Kathryn Williamson.

Bottom line: 12 starts, playing every minute she’s been available

Ali Krieger, Washington Spirit – Had a strong start to the season and is one of the few fullbacks in the league that’s providing a consistent, credible threat going forward. Like her teammates, has shown some signs of disillusionment as her club’s struggled.

Bottom line: 12 starts, one goal

source:  Alex Morgan, Portland Thorns FC – At times, she’s struggled, making her broader success look like the product of the U.S. national team’s approach. But as the year’s gone on, her game’s started to round out. Unfortunately, it has yet to yield the kind of numbers that will draw fan attention. Like Krieger, her fortunes (or, misfortunes) are starting to reflect her team’s.

Bottom line: 12 starts, five goals, three assists, league leading 51 shots and 29 shots on goal

MIXED BAGS

Ashlyn Harris, Washington Spirit – The popular goalkeeper has been betrayed by an inexperienced and ineffective defense, but she hasn’t done herself any favors while trying to organize them. Mix in a couple of soft goals, a few great saves, and you have Harris’s uneven season.

Bottom line: 11 starts, 50 saves, 1.73 GAA, no shutouts

Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – Has struggled as much as any allocated player. Has played left wing and struggled, showing her present and future are probably at left back. Too bad her team has a rookie (Kendall Johnson) that’s performing well in that position.

Bottom line: 12 games, 10 starts, three assists

Others: Heather Mitts was allocated to Boston but retired before the season started; Amy Rodriguez announced her pregnancy before the season started and will not play this year; Amy LePeilbet’s knee inury has kept her out all season; Jill Loyden’s has returned from a broken hand but has failed to make an appearance for Sky Blue; Tobin Heath joins the Portland Thorns this week after playing in Paris until June; Shannon Boxx made two appearances for Chicago before undergoing surgery; Lori Lindsay (Washington) and Keelin Winters (Seattle) are both U.S. allocations but have failed to figure in recent national team camps.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Wenger called ref Dean “not honest,” “a disgrace” to earn ban

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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused a referee of being “not honest” and called him “a disgrace” in a rant inside the match officials’ changing room that led to a three-match touchline ban for one of English soccer’s most experienced coaches.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

The English Football Association published Tuesday the written reasons behind its decision to ban Wenger for being abusive toward referee Mike Dean after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Dec. 31.

In his match report given to the FA, Dean said Wenger “was pointing aggressively at me saying, ‘You’re not honest’ on numerous occasions.” Dean then said Wenger said “you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace.”

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

Wenger had been incensed at Calum Chambers being penalized for a handball and West Brom converting the resulting penalty to equalize late in the game.

The FA said “there is simply no justification for this behavior” and considered a stadium ban for Wenger.

Wenger was also fined $54,200 for his conduct.

FA Cup: Leicester, West Ham survive replays to reach 4th round

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Two more Premier League sides reached the fourth round of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Tuesday, winning their respective replays and joining 10 other top-flight clubs already through to the next round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kelechi Iheanacho moved to Leicester from Manchester City for $33 million this summer and has, through his first half-season in the East Midlands, failed to live up to that price tag. In nine PL appearances, he is yet to score his first league goal. Tuesday, however, saw the 21-year-old Nigerian international put forth a bit production and performance more befitting a player of his promise and pedigree.

Manager Claude Puel picked a side consisting of first-team regulars and lesser-used squad players for the Foxes FA Cup third-round replay against League One side Fleetwood Town. It was Iheanacho, who started alongside/just behind target man Islam Slimani, who shown brightest with a pair of goals, in the 43rd and 77th minutes, to send Leicester into the fourth round. Iheanacho’s second, the one that put the game away for Leicester, was originally ruled out for offside, but was eventually after consultation of the video-assistant referee.

Leicester will travel to League One side Peterborough in the fourth round, on Sat. Jan. 27.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town

It took far longer than Hammers fans would have liked — or expected — but West Ham, over the course of 120 minutes, survived the Cupset bid of third-division Shrewsbury Town. With eight minutes remaining before Tuesday’s replay went to penalty kicks at the London Stadium, 21-year-old defender Reece Burke fired home from inside the box to break the scoreless deadlock.

West Ham will be away to the winner of the replay between Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic (Wednesday), on Sat. Jan. 27.

Elsewhere in FA Cup replay action

Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Wednesday’s FA Cup replay schedule

Chelsea vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 2:45 p.m. ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Bournemouth — 2:45 p.m. ET

Report: Newcastle sale talks between Ashley, Staveley collapse

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Talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley over the much-desired and -rumored sale of Newcastle United are off, according to a report from Sky Sports and various other UK news outlets.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Sky has quoted a source close to Ashley as having said: “Attempts to reach a deal (with Staveley) have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” (Full quote below)

Ashley, the club’s current and long-beleaguered owner, has been seeking a potential buyer since putting the club up for sale back in October. Staveley emerged as the front-runner (the only runner, perhaps) in the days following Ashley’s announcement, and reportedly tabled an offer of $335 million in early December before reportedly offering something closer to $400 million a couple weeks later.

Ashley selling the club — and doing so before the end of the January transfer window, which now appears nigh impossible — appeared to be one the few scenarios in which Rafa Benitez would remain the Magpies’ manager beyond the end of the current Premier League season (Newcastle currently sit 15th, just three points clear of relegation) after constant rumors of his discontent and lack of financial backing last summer.