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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?

STREAM LIVE: Stoke vs. Man United; Five games at 10am ET

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (2R) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 15, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Stoke City host Manchester United, Everton head to Crystal Palace, Bournemouth host Watford, while Middlesbrough welcome West Ham and Sunderland travel to West Brom.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being very similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend on “Goal Rush” will be Stoke City vs. Manchester United and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below. You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Everton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Liverpool 2-3 Swansea: Swans shock Klopp with historic win

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  • Liverpool’s first defeat at home in 25 games
  • Llorente, Firmino both score twice
  • Swansea’s first-ever league win at Anfield
  • Swans out of relegation zone

Swansea City beat Liverpool 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday as they secured their first-ever league win away at Liverpool.

Fernando Llorente put Swansea 2-0 up with strikes early in the second half, but then Liverpool came roaring back with Roberto Firmino scoring twice to make it 2-2. However, Gylfi Sigurdsson scored the game-winner with 15 minutes to go to seal a vital win for Paul Clement’s side in their battle against relegation.

As for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, their title bid took a huge hit with their first home defeat in the PL in almost a year as they could fall 10 points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday. Swans move on to 18 points and out of the bottom three with their third away win of the season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool took the game to Swansea from the off and Firmino broke free down the right and dinked a delicious ball to Adam Lallana but his bicycle kick went over.

The Reds kept pouring forward but were caught on the break as debutant Tom Carroll saw his cross deflect off Dejan Lovren but hit the near post with Simon Mignolet beaten.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

As half time approached Firmino was free in the box again but Alfie Mawson blocked his shot and then Nathaniel Clyne miscontrolled in a good position on the right as the home fans at Anfield started to grow anxious.

0-0 at the break with Liverpool having 72 percent of the possession but neither team having a shot on target.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The second half started with a bang as loose defending from Lovren saw him concede a corner and from that Swansea took the lead.

Federico Fernandez nodded the ball back in and at the second attempt Llorente poked home the opener. 1-0 to Swansea as Anfield was stunned.

Four minutes later it was 2-0 to Swansea as the two new boys Martin Olsson and Carroll combined on the left and the latter sent in a superb cross which Llorente headed home. Anfield was in shock.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Three minutes after going 2-0 down Liverpool pulled a goal back. James Milner‘s left-wing cross was swung into the box and Firmino rose above Olsson to nod home. 2-1. Game on.

After that crazy spell of three goals in seven minutes things settled down as Mawson glanced a header just wide to almost put Swansea 3-1 up but with 20 minutes to go it was 2-2.

Georginio Wijnaldum clipped a ball in from the left side of the box and Firmino controlled beautifully before slamming home. 2-2.

Up the other end Swansea then when 3-2 up as a shot deflected into Sigurdsson’s path and he slotted home. Madness with 15 minutes to go.

Late on Liverpool pushed for the equalizer as Lukasz Fabianski denied Divock Origi but the Swans held on as Lallana headed a glorious chance over.

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie