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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.

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) – 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.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

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?

Sam Allardyce fired as England manager after 67 days

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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After one game as England manager, Sam Allardyce has a 100 percent record and that’s how it will remain.

Forever.

On Tuesday the English FA confirmed that Allardyce, 61, has been fired as England’s manager just 67 days in charge.

Allardyce was at the center of a sensational undercover investigation by The Telegraph which was released on Monday and key figures of the English FA were locked in meetings at Wembley Stadium all day with many reports stating that Allardyce offered to resign.

He wasn’t given the chance as the English FA released a statement which confirmed Allardyce’s departure as well as the appointment of Gareth Southgate as caretaker boss for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers next week and the rest of their games in 2018.

The FA can confirm that Sam Allardyce has left his position as England manager. Allardyce’s conduct, as reported today, was inappropriate of the England manager. He accepts he made a significant error of judgement and has apologised. However, due to the serious nature of his actions, The FA and Allardyce have mutually agreed to terminate his contract with immediate effect.

This is not a decision that was taken lightly but The FA’s priority is to protect the wider interests of the game and maintain the highest standards of conduct in football. The manager of the England men’s senior team is a position which must demonstrate strong leadership and show respect for the integrity of the game at all times.

Gareth Southgate will take charge of the men’s senior team for the next four matches against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain whilst The FA begins its search for the new England manager. The FA wishes Sam well in the future.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle and Bolton manager had previously described the England job as his “dream” but it has turned into a nightmare after being fired in hugely controversial circumstances.

He also released a statement via the FA’s website on Tuesday.

Further to recent events, The FA and I have mutually agreed to part company. It was a great honor for me to be appointed back in July and I am deeply disappointed at this outcome. This afternoon, I met with Greg Clarke and Martin Glenn and offered a sincere and wholehearted apology for my actions.

Although it was made clear during the recorded conversations that any proposed arrangements would need The FA’s full approval, I recognize I made some comments which have caused embarrassment. As part of today’s meeting, I was asked to clarify what I said and the context in which the conversations took place. I have co-operated fully in this regard. I also regret my comments with regard to other individuals.

In video clips released by the Telegraph, Allardyce was seen meeting with fictitious businessmen and discussing how to get around rules of third-party ownership (TPO) of players. He was also seen negotiating a fee of over $518,000 for becoming an ambassador for the company he believed to be from the Far East.

When asked about TPO — which was banned by the English FA in 2008 and by FIFA in 2015 — and ways to get around the current system, Allardyce replied to the businessmen that it was “not a problem” and revealed he knew agents who are “doing it all the time.”

Allardyce was also seen criticizing former England boss Roy Hodgson and assistant manager Gary Neville, and his employers at the FA among others, with the whole episode causing the England manager huge embarrassment.

 

England will now start their search for a new permanent manager, while The Telegraph has promised more information will be released in the coming days as they say their 10-month investigation into the murkier side of English soccer has also “unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.”

LIVE – UCL group stage: Leicester-Porto, Spurs-CSKA; Real, BVB clash

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Islam Slimani of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Burnley at The King Power Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The second round of UEFA Champions League group stage games kick off on Tuesday and both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur is in action.

[ MORE: UCL schedule ]

Leicester welcomes the UCL for the first time in their history, as they host FC Porto at the King Power Stadium with the Portuguese giants set to be their toughest test in group play. Claudio Ranieri‘s side beat Club Brugge 3-0 away from home in their opening Group G game and if they topple Porto then they’ll have a great chance of advancing to the UCL knockout rounds.

As for Spurs, they’re in a tighter spot after losing their opening Group E game to AS Monaco at Wembley. Mauricio Pochettino has plenty of injury problems with Harry Kane, Mousa Dembele, Danny Rose and Eric Dier all out for the long trip to CSKA Moscow. Nothing but a win will do against the Russian champions, as Spurs aim to get back on track.

Elsewhere some tasty clashes see Borussia Dortmund host Real Madrid at the Westfalenstadion, as the reigning champions go up against the German giants. It will be quite the atmosphere in Dortmund.

All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.


Tuesday’s UCL matches

Sporting Lisbon vs. Legia Warsaw
Sevilla vs. Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Juventus
CSKA Moscow vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen vs. Club Brugge
Leicester City vs. Porto

Makeshift bomb explodes on Cypriot referee’s car

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24:  Referee Mark Clattenburg shows a red card to Per Mertesacker of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) The Cyprus Football Association has condemned a bomb attack against the car of a top referee, calling it a blight on the island’s footballing family and society in general.

[ MORE: Allardyce in big trouble ]

The association says it stands by referee Georgios Nicolaou and urges police to track down and bring the culprits of Tuesday’s pre-dawn bombing to justice.

Police say the explosion occurred while the car was parked outside the 41-year-old’s home in the Larnaca area. The front of the car sustained extensive damage.

A string of attacks against the property of Cypriot referees have occurred in the past two years.

The most recent previous attack took place in March 2015 against the car of another referee that was set ablaze after being doused with flammable liquid.

VIDEO: Top Premier League goals – Matchday 6

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We were spoiled with stunning strikes in Macthday 6 of the Premier League.

[ MORE: What now for Chelsea? ]

From Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner to Junior Stanislas‘ powerful drive and Demarai Gray‘s delicious strike, there was no shortage of top notch goals.

Watch the best of the bunch in the video above and let us know which was your favorite in the comments section below.