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State of the NWSL, after Week 13: Leroux in the news (and the nude), Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 14

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Four days in Cascadia, and all of a sudden Sydney Leroux was top of the scoring charts, the apex of what’s been a roller coaster year for the U.S. international. Her first professional season has featured hat tricks, a brief benching, controversy in her birth nation, but after a goal in Seattle and two in Portland, it also features an ongoing run as the league’s preeminent striker. Not to mention some national attention for some extra-athletic activities.

The 23-year-old was the U.S. women’s national team’s annual selection to ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, following in the footsteps of Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and others. Put aside all the reasonable qualms you have about athletics for nudity’s sake and Leroux’s selection represents a type of professional breakthrough. It’s one thing to achieve fame among the isolated following of women’s professional soccer. There, Leroux’s akin to a household name. Among a broader audience, however, opportunities like The Body Issue represent a chance to transcend that niche demographic; a pathway to join the likes of Alex Morgan, Solo, Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe as names recognized by general sports fans.

source:  Leroux has an undeniable appeal to that audience, one that tends to skew male, away from women’s sports, and contains a population who could be lured to watch women’s soccer if they think a Solo or Morgan is playing. Nobody ever lost money betting on guys’ affinity for attractive women, but if Leroux gives that large, influential demographic a reason to tune into an NWSL stream, look up where their local team plays, or even talk about a player they were unaware of before, her layout becomes more than another excuse to confound women’s athletic achievements with sexuality.

Back in the NWSL world, things are simpler. We can look at what Leroux’s done for the Breakers – five goals in three games; matches which have claimed seven points for Boston – and see the influence of the league’s hottest player, one that’s led her team’s surge back into playoff contention.

With the latest NWSL Player of the Week award in her pocket, Leroux’s shown how important her finishing is to a resurgent Breakers’ squad.

“We need to have performances like tonight from Syd,” head coach Lisa Cole said after Boston’s 2-0 on Saturday in Portland. “Not just with her finishing but with her work off the ball, getting in and pressuring … When we can get Syd chances and she’s putting them away, we’re going to be tough to beat.”

For Leroux, her performances have been as much about Heather O’Reilly, Lianne Sanderson, and the rest of the teammates that have enabled her run. Normally that kind of attitude’s a deflection – athletes reflecting a modesty the public expects them to portray – but for a Boston team that needed results on the west coast to preserve their playoff ambitions, it needs to be about the team.

“I wouldn’t be here without my teammates,” Leroux said, asked to explain her recent surge. “Heather has assisted on so many of my goals, same with Lianne Sanderson … I’m just trying to do my job, trying to do the best that I can, and hope our team wins.”

And with the attention she’s drawn this week, both on and off the field, perhaps a few more people will follow Boston’s quest to reclaim a spot in the league’s top four.


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

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – They’ve made progress since letting Mike Jorden go, but that’s progress from the four-goal defeat they suffered in their former coach’s last game. In a league where almost everybody can beat anyone, they remain the reason for the ‘almost.’

7. Portland Thorns FC (5)- The most discouraging part of their 2-0 home loss to Boston were the early jitters from a defense that couldn’t handle Boston’s pressure. If the back line goes, Portland have nothing to hang Cindy Parlow Cone’s hats on.

6. Boston Breakers (6) – After their strong week, Boston deserve better than this ranking, but the fact the Breakers can’t rise above six reflects a league which, all of a sudden, has become very deep.

5. Chicago Red Stars (7) – Perhaps I’m over valuing their win over Western New York given it played out as a rare home team’s smash-and-grab, but the Flash went into last week at number one in our rankings. The Red Stars deserve some credit for that.

4. Seattle Reign FC (4) – Seattle were probably the slightly better team in their mid-week draw with Boston, one defensive mistake-type-thing costing them two points. A midfield three of Jessica Fishlock, Keelin Winters, and Kate Deines could quickly become the league’s best.

3. Sky Blue FC (3) – Beat Washington this weekend, but failed to impress while doing so. The reason: The squad was utterly depleted, between suspensions, international duty, and injuries. Jim Gabarra had one healthy sub for the Spirit game. The returns of Lisa De Vanna, Sophie Schmidt and Caitlin Foord will help, but Monica Ocampo is out. The Mexican internationa’s shoulder injury means she will not start. She’s questionable to even play Saturday against Boston, an AC-joint injury keeping her from returning to training.

2. Western New York (1) – Finished the first half of a tough road trip with one point from Chicago and Kansas City. As they turn to Cascadia, their failure to score in either game is a bigger concern than dropping points to two strong teams.

1. FC Kansas City (2) – How do you go a week without winning and jump to the top spot? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe do it without the league’s best player. Congratulations Lauren Cheney on your nuptials. Your team, however, will be happy to have Mrs. Jrue Holiday back into the squad.


Wednesday, July 10

Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars (7:30 p.m. Eastern) – If Chicago are serious playoff contenders, they can’t drop points to Washington. It doesn’t matter that this is on the road. It doesn’t matter that Washington’s improving. Chicago need these points. All of them.

Thursday, July 11

Seattle Reign FC vs. Western New York Flash (10:00 p.m. Eastern) – This is a tough matchup for the Flash, with Seattle’s midfield capable of cutting off access to Abby Wambach. But with Western New York more than capable of building wide or going over the top, Laura Harvey’s midfield’s going to have to do more than disrupt the game. They’re going to have to control it.

Saturday, July 13

Sky Blue FC vs. Boston Breakers (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Boston’s current surge started with a 3-2 win over Sky Blue at Dilboy, Leroux scoring twice as the Breakers defibrillated their playoff hopes. Sky Blue will have de Vanna, Schmidt, Foord, and Brittany Bock available. They’ll be ready.

Sunday, July 14

Chicago Red Stars vs. FC Kansas City (4:00 p.m. Eastern) – Lauren Holiday is back as Kansas City hope their leading scorer will transform strong play from draws to victories. With Chicago coming off a win over Western New York, there’s reason for the Red Stars to be confident, but the Blues are capable of closing the doors on the Lori Chalupny show.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Western New York Flash (5:00 p.m. Eastern) – Alex vs. Abby! Sinclair vs. Carli! And Tobin Heath’s Portland debut. It’s as marquee a matchup as you’ll get all year, must see soccer for anybody with even a tangential interest in the women’s game.

Seattle Reign FC vs. Washington Spirit (8:30 p.m. Eastern) — So brash! So bold! So … why is FOX Soccer debuting their NWSL coverage with this game, again? I mean, who wants to see Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach in front of possibly 14,000 people at a more east coast accessible time when they can watch the league’s seventh and eighth place teams (albeit with Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe) with a night time start?

Who needs victory more in EFL Cup: Man United or Man City?

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 592215668 and 596883044) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City.  Josep Guardiola brings his Manchester City team to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in their first Manchester derby in the Premier League on September 10, 2016.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City encourages his players during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester’s two teams aren’t quite in turmoil, but they are in a tricky patch.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave?

Perhaps the last thing both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would’ve wanted is another massive derby game so early on in their respective careers at United and City but they will clash again in an EFL Cup last 16 tie on Wednesday. 

But they’ve got it.

In September the two teams met at Old Trafford with Kevin De Bruyne the star of the show as he scored and grabbed an assist in City’s 2-1 win.

Since then City have stumbled in recent weeks and Guardiola is without a win in his last five games in all competitions. That’s only happened to him once before in his managerial career and after the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday he kept his side locked in the dressing room for 50 minutes after the game.

For Mourinho, he will still be seething from the 4-0 defeat at his former club Chelsea on Sunday as the Portuguese coach suffered his worst-ever defeat in a Premier League game and also lashed out at Antonio Conte with a bizarre post-match embrace.

Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Guardiola played up the special atmosphere of derby day in Manchester.

“I always expect the best from United,” Guardiola said. “They are strong team with quality. They are six points behind – just two games. Derbies are always special. We are going to try to play seriously and try to win the game.”

That said, Guardiola revealed that he will rotate his squad and that De Bruyne is out injured for the clash. So, that will be a boost for Mourinho and United.

With both the Red Devils and the Citizens having a heck of a week following big Premier League games and European action, it is likely both teams will rest plenty of players but can either really afford to do so?

So early on in their careers at the two hugely expectant clubs, both are experiencing wobbles. You can argue that perhaps Mourinho needs a win here more than Guardiola.

The latter already has City playing his way and in his style. Even if silly defensive errors from Claudio Bravo and John Stones in recent games have cost them results, there is a clear direction City is heading in. They’re on their way and are top of the Premier League on 20 points.

For United, where do we start?

The Wayne Rooney situation has taken center stage once again as questions continue to crop up about his future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, while dressing room unrest is also being reported with some players “surprised by how hands off he’s been” on the training ground. It is never good when things like that start to leak out. Add to that 14 points from their first nine games of the PL season with Mourinho has the same record as David Moyes did in his first nine league games in charge, plus Paul Pogba struggling and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ice-cold and things are stacking up against the Red Devils.

Yeah, Mourinho and United need this EFL Cup win more, especially after losing the derby at home last month. A victory will build confidence and give Mourinho extra games to use all of his squad and try and get his message across.

In the past Mourinho has had great success in the EFL Cup, winning it three times in his five full seasons as a manager in the Premier League. He values its importance and although his rivalry with Guardiola goes way back, he may want to (and perhaps needs to) win this game much more than City’s manager does.

Premier League Player Power Rankings: Top 20 in Week 9

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke City (L) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Geoff Cameron of Stoke City (R) during the Premier League match between Hull City and Stoke City at KCom Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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We had ourselves some very tight games in the Premier League in Week 9.

[ VIDEO: Tight title race? ] 

With Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham all drawing, there are plenty of new names in this list below of the top 20 players to grace the PL on Matchday 9.

Let us know if you agree with the selections in the comments section below.

  1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – New entry
  2. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) – New entry
  3. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New Entry
  5. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Up 9
  6. Victor Wanyama (Tottenham) – New entry
  7. Tom Heaton (Burnley) – Up 12
  8. Adam Lallana (Liverpool) – New entry
  9. Kelechi Iheanacho (Man City) – New entry
  10. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 10
  11. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – New entry
  12. Dimitri Payet (West Ham) – Down 2
  13. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 11
  14. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – New entry
  15. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – Down 7
  16. Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton) – Up 1
  17. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) – Down 1
  18. Oriol Romeu (Southampton) – New entry
  19. Harry Arter (Bournemouth) – New entry
  20. Gary Cahill (Chelsea) – New entry

Former World Cup winner, Brazil legend Carlos Alberto dies

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BAHIA - DECEMBER 05:  Former Brazil footballer Carlos Alberto Torres attends the FIFA World Cup Ambassadors Press Conference during a media day ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 5, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Brazilian soccer legend Carlos Alberto has died at the age of 72.

He died in Rio de Janeiro following a heart attack.

Alberto, a marauding right back in his playing days, was best known for his role as Brazil’s captain as he led his team to glory in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

He is also remembered fondly for one of the greatest team goals ever scored.

Take a look at the video below to see Albero arriving like a steam train at the back post in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy to hammer home a shot following a marvelous team move from a famous Brazilian side which included the likes of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Roberto Rivelino and Jairzinho.

Alberto played for Fluminense and Santos in his homeland and the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League before going on to many coaching roles in the game both in Brazil and across the planet.

Without doubt he is regarded as one of the finest defenders to ever play the game as his attacking instincts from full back were seen as revolutionary.

Five Manchester United players to leave in January?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Manchester United and Club Brugge at Old Trafford on August 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is a ruthless individual. That’s one of the reasons why he’s won so much over the years.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

And after a slow start to life at Old Trafford as Manchester United’s manager, it has been reported that he’s had enough of several first team stars.

Various reports, rounded up by the Manchester Evening News, say that five first team players will leave Old Trafford in January as Mourinho wields the axe following a start to the Premier League season which has seen them pick up 14 points from their opening nine games.

Per earlier reports, Rooney will be allowed to leave if he doesn’t want a bit-part role in Mourinho’s plans, plus Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian will all be cut loose.

In the case of Schweinsteiger, we all know what Mourinho thinks of the legendary German midfielder who has been forced to train with the reserve team as the new United boss deemed him surplus to requirements. As for the others, well, it is the same story.

Memphis has made six appearances for United this season, while Schneiderlin has yet to appear in the Premier League, Schweinsteiger hasn’t appeared at all and Darmian has played in only two Europa League games.

With Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, it is clear Mourinho sees his central midfield better off with the power of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini plus the poise of Ander Herrra and Michael Carrick. Schweinsteiger is widely expected to move to Major League Soccer in January but his huge wages of over $200,000 per week may be a stumbling block.

At full back, Darmian is up against Antonio Valencia and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, while Phil Jones can also play at right back, and out wide Memphis has fallen behind Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in the pecking order.

Mourinho is used to operating with a relatively small squad and after the win against Southampton on Aug. 19 this season he spoke about how he was happy for the win but sad at the amount of top players in suits sat in the stand watching.

This is a massive squad but it is one Mourinho obviously feels like he can cut down. If these five players aren’t regulars in United’s current team which is struggling to perform, then they have no chance of edging their way in long-term.

Expect plenty of clubs to come in with loan moves for Memphis, Darmian and Schneiderlin in January if Mourinho can’t offload them for good.