Tobin Heath

Morgan faces Wambach, Heath makes her NWSL debut as Thorns, Flash draw

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PORTLAND, Ore. — When the NWSL schedule came out, it was one of the most anticipated games of the season: Portland-based Abby Wambach visiting JELD-WEN Field with her home town Western New York Flash to face the one team with Major League Soccer backing – Portland Thorns FC. With Portland’s typical standout crowd, the Wambach versus Alex Morgan matchup was sure to be one of the most interesting of the season.

And in front of a 13,201-person audience that was given reason to erupt when Canadian international Karina LeBlanc saved a late Wambach penalty kick, Portland and Western  New York played one of the most entertaining matches of the year, the 34-shot affair ending in a 1-1 draw.

Those who showed up to see Wambach’s first NWSL visit to Portland were rewarded in the 37th minute when the U.S. international reached her right leg around rookie defender Kathryn Williamson to put home a ball from winger Samantha Kerr. One minute later, Thorns midfielder Meleana Shim fired home from 19 yards, the last goal of a game that once promised to be a shootout.

But for all the Abby versus Alex anticipation the matchup once garnered, Sunday’s kickoff had become anticipated for an entirely different reason. After spending the first months of the season in France playing for Paris Saint-Germain, U.S. international Tobin Heath made her much-anticipated Portland debut, starting in midfield for Cindy Parlow Cone’s side.

“She helped us so much today,” Cone explained, her team showing some of the attacking spark fans expected at the beginning of the season. “[Heath’s] a world class player … She’s one of the most tactical players and also one of the most technical, creative players playing the game today.”

The impact was obvious, if ultimately inconsequential. Heath’s skill on the ball helped Portland play a possession game they’ve struggled to implement all season, while her ability to play anywhere across the width of the pitch allowed the Thorns to utilize wide areas that have been neglected throughout much of the season. Even in her physical presence, something for which she’s not especially known, Heath made an impact, her pure soccer instincts helping her win balls for the Thorns.

“Tobin has great mobility,” Cone said after the game, asked about Heath’s various positioning within Portland’s midfield. In the team’s 4-4-2 formation, she started on the left, switched to the right, and played the second half in the middle.

“She has such a great fitness base,” Cone said, “wherever she’s moving, we have other players who will fill in other positions.”

That great fitness Cone alluded to also played into the move centrally, according to Heath. As the central, attacking midfielder, Heath’s need to track back decreased, allowing her to see out a match despite some apparently rubbery legs.

“I think that was kind of the plan: to go 45 (minutes), see how I was feeling, switch me to attacking mid so I didn’t have to do as much up-and-down running,” Heath said after her NWSL debut. “I was a little surprised. My fitness base is pretty good, but taking a few weeks off and coming back , I was pretty happy, especially with the heat. Overall, I was happy to be able to go 90 [minutes].”

The game’s style also represented a transition for Heath, who spent the last six months in France’s Division Feminine. Whereas European soccer is characterized by a more tactical style, Saturday’s Portland-Western New York match embodied the characteristics regularly associated with the North American game.

“Obviously it’s very physical, athletic, fast pace, transitional type game,” Heath said, asked how the NWSL’s level of play compares to France’s. “I think you saw that today, especially with the heat. It gets pretty stretched out.”

That type of game helped leverage Heath’s strengths as well as revitalize Portland’s attack. Despite the presence of Morgan and Canadian icon Christine Sinclair, Portland’s only scored 19 goals in 15 games. Only two teams in the eight-team league have been less productive, yet with Heath in the team, Portland was able to generate 20 shots, including 10 on goal.

“[Cone] gives me a lot of freedom,” Heath said, describing her role. “I think she knows I’m a player that needs a little room to be creative and make something happen. But the midfielders that are around me are very good with the ball. I think it’s just a matter of getting that confidence and belief in one another in the midfield to play, because we really can play.”

That was evident on Sunday. Ultimately, Portland dropped points at home, but compared to the stretch that’d seen them shutout in three straight games, the performance against Western New York  was progress, portending well for Heath’s contributions throughout the rest of the season.

One week left: Shopping lists for each Premier League side

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and Jose Fonte of Southampton compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on January 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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We are one week away from the transfer window slamming shut on Premier League clubs, some of whom have a lot of glaring holes.

Others? Not-so-much, but all 20 teams certainly have areas their managers would love to see strengthened for the other 36 games of this grueling season.

[ MORE: Jack Harrison in his own words ]

It’s hard for some teams to assess at this point, with players coming off busy summers, and adapting to new leagues, coaches and roles. Some teams, like Hull City, are off to a dream start but surely also no illusions. Others, like Arsenal, know things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem after a 1-point start to the campaign.

Although things are indeed bad. Just not relegation bad.

Let’s wait no more…

Arsenal — I’m starting to consider that Arsene Wenger‘s defensive preparations involve using a club to whack at his defenders’ bodies. Depth in the back is key, and Arsenal sure could use that high-profile, effective forward they’ve needed for a long, long while.

Bournemouth — In a pretty good spot now, but an added defender capable of playing any position on the back line is not a bad idea.

Burnley — While the addition of Steven Defour is fantastic, another weapon like him wouldn’t be bad. Honestly, it’s too bad Danny Ings didn’t stick around!

Chelsea — Defensive depth in the center park would be useful. The long time link with Napoli center back Koulibaly isn’t going anywhere.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

Crystal Palace — All set on target strikers, someone to run off Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham could be useful.

Everton — What’s needed is much different from what would be appreciated, and Ronald Koeman wouldn’t mind an upgrade at goalkeeper, insurance at center back, and depth at striker.

Hull City — Name a position, and Hull could likely use an addition. We’re not trying to be mean, it’s simply the name of the game for the 2-0 Tigers.

Leicester City — With Europe on the horizon, any depth would be useful for the Foxes. Another outside back or a contract extension for Danny Simpson wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Liverpool —  We forget how many players have yet to debut for the Reds, who really don’t have to add at this point (but may, perhaps at left back).

Manchester City — Pep Guardiola has shaken up everything, so who knows what else could happen? We suspect offloading, if anything.

Manchester United — Jose Mourinho would like to strengthen his center back depth, and signing Jose Fonte would certainly help United contend in both England and Europe.

Middlesbrough — The Boro have added plenty this offseason, and might just be done. Though with Jordan Rhodes looking increasingly likely to leave, another forward isn’t a bad idea.

Southampton — An attacking center mid and striker depth will be important, as will confidence in its center back corps if and when Jose Fonte leaves town.

Sunderland — Keeping Lamine Kone would be as big a victory as any player David Moyes could add, though the Black Cats need help almost everywhere. Center back is the biggest concern, Kone or not.

Stoke City — Center back help is needed here, too, but let’s not forget that Geoff Cameron is indispensable and yet to debut.

Swansea City — See above, as Ashley Williams‘ move to Everton really hit Francesco Guidolin‘s team where it was already thin.

Tottenham Hotspur — Depth moves here, perhaps most likely in the midfield.

[ MORE: West Ham to add Swiss mid? ]

Watford — Likely done, though another defender wouldn’t hurt.

West Bromwich Albion — Tony Pulis has made a couple very good pick-ups in underrated QPR man Matty Phillips and Everton loanee Brendan Galloway. That said, he’d love to get better at every spot on the pitch. Anything is possible if the bosses open their wallets.

West Ham United — A striker would help with injuries to Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew. Otherwise, the Irons are sneaky deep everywhere.

Watford adds marauding Dutch back Janmaat from Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Daryl Janmaat of Newcastle in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Newcastle United at Craven Cottage on August 5, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Watford has added value with the transfer of Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle United.

Janmaat, 27, is a marauding right back with size who made 77 appearances for the Magpies. The fee is reportedly in the $10 million range.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

In Janmaat, Watford has scooped a former Newcastle Player of the Year who is terrific down the wing and an excellent crosser of the ball. He has 27 caps for the Netherlands.

From WatfordFC.com:

“I’m really happy to be here, it’s a new adventure for me. I was really pleased that Watford showed interest in me because I wanted to play in the Premier League.

“We [Newcastle] lost three times to Watford last season. They had a good season and I hope we can do the same again this year.

“The club is showing great ambition and wants to improve, and I want to be part of that.”

The Hornets have drawn Southampton and lost to Chelsea this season, and were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Gillingham on Tuesday.

West Ham adds big $7.5 million midfielder from Swiss League

THUN, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 26: James Ward-Prowse of England U21 (R) fights for the ball with Edimilson Fernandes of Switzerland U21 during the European Under 21 Qualifier match between Switzerland U21 and England U21 at Stockhorn Arena on March 26, 2016 in Thun, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is not done in the transfer market.

According to Sky Sports, the Irons have added another midfielder to their potent attack.

Edimilson Fernandes, 20, comes from FC Sion, and will reportedly cost Slaven Bilic‘s side about $7.5 million.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The 6-foot-3 20-year-old has made 48 league appearances for Sion, and has an assist in five matches this early season.

West Ham has added Havard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore to the mix, and already had a talented mix with Cheikhou Kouyate, Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini.

Suffice to say the Irons are well-stocked for the Premier League and Europa League. West Ham picked up a road goal in a 1-1 draw last week in Romania, and are 90 Thursday minutes away from advancing to the group stage of UEL.

Fernandes is the cousin of current Rennes and ex-Man City man Gelson Fernandes.

CCL Update: Vancouver seizes control; FC Dallas in Nicaragua tonight

Vancouver Whitecaps' Cristian Techera celebrates his second goal against Sporting Kansas City, during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Things do not look good for Sporting KC in CONCACAF Champions League play.

Vancouver worked SKC 3-0 on Tuesday night, using a pair of goals from Cristian Techera and a goal and assist from Erik Hurtado to gain a five-point lead on both KC and Central in Group C.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The ‘Caps beat Central 1-0 in Trinidad and Tobago, and still get to host them and visit Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Thanks to Central’s 1-1 draw with Sporting KC, Vancouver is in fine shape to advance with another win, another draw between SKC and Central, or a few other scenarios.

MLS in CCL

FC Dallas at Real Esteli — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday
Vancouver at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 13
Portland at Deportivo Saprissa — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 14
Alianza at New York Red Bulls — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 15
New York Red Bulls at Antigua GFC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 27
Portland at CD Dragon — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 27
CD Suchitepequez at FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Vancouver — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 19
Deportivo Saprissa at Portland — 10 p.m. ET Oct. 19
FC Dallas at CD Suchitepequez — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 20