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Walking through Week 15 of the NWSL season

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Just as the playoff picture was on the verge of becoming muddled beyond distinction, the skies have cleared in the NWSL. Three of the league’s top four teams won this weekend, and with only league-leading Sky Blue dropping points, the top four inched slightly closer to confirming their playoff destinies.

It’s par for the course in this inaugural season. The preseason favorites soared, then swooned, and now appear to be rising again. The league’s quality started with a surprisingly high standard, descended a bit in the summer months, but now sees a handful of teams performing at near season highs. And the playoff picture — at one point a clear top four; then muddled over the last two weeks — has again reached a point of clarity.

Teams now have five or six games left in the their seasons, which means the time for tweaking may be done. Soon you’ll have to roll with what you’ve got or start frantically pressing buttons on the controller, provided you’re still in the game. After Week 15 of the NWSL season, a second team may have joined the now eliminated Washington on the outside looking in.

Here’s what happened this weekend in the NWSL:

Saturday, July 20

Chicago Red Stars 1, Washington Spirit 0 – This was a must-win game for the playoff-chasing Red Stars, and although they filled out that bottom line and claimed full points, theirs wasn’t the most convincing effort. Against a team that has the league’s worst defense and hasn’t scored an open-play goal since May, Chicago couldn’t manage a goal of their own, with rookie forward-sum-defender Tiffany McCarty’s own goal the only thing that separated the league’s eighth place team from a squad that’s played its way back into postseason contention. If it wasn’t for Washington goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, the score would have been worse, but ultimately, it was a lackluster show in suburban Chicago.

Implications: For one day, the Red Stars were within two points of a playoff spot, and while their recent form hasn’t exactly been dominant, it has been effective. The one-time bottom dwellers are 6-6-4 with six games to go. With Washington, we can skip over the same story (part of which was reiterated above). There’s little to say until they prove themselves capable of scoring goals, though for McCarty, the second overall pick in this year’s college draft, an already frustrating rookie season may have gone from worse to worst.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 6 Sky Blue 17 31 +7
2 2 Portland 16 30 +6
3 1 Kansas City 17 29 +9
4 3 W. New York 17 27 +11
5 5 Chicago 16 22 -3
6 7 Boston 16 20 +0
7 4 Seattle 17 15 -12
8 8 Washington 16 7 -18

FC Kansas City 2, Seattle Reign FC 0 – Seattle’s six-game unbeaten run was put to rest by Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak, currently the league best one-two punch. Holiday’s beautiful opener from distance to the left of goal in the first half gave the Blues a one-goal lead, while a great individual effort from Tymrak in the 86th minute sealed Kansas City’s victory. Tymrak’s sixth goal of the season helped affirm her Rookie of the Year (and U.S. Women’s National Team) credentials, while every time you think a Abby Wambach might be stealing some of Holiday’s MVP buzz, the league’s best player reminds you why the award may be locked up.

Implications: Kansas City is clearly the league’s best team, handling the other club that entered Week 15 with a claim to that ever-shifting title. With Holiday and Tymrak, they have the virtue of having two game-breaking players, something other teams have in name only. Entering the season’s home stretch, Vlatko Andonovski’s mid-season shakeup has the potential to reap huge reward. Seattle, on the other hand, have nothing to hang their heads about, though their snapped streak means the playoff whispers can stop. Given the how much Laura Harvey’s team leans on their midfield, it’s no surprise they struggled against a team capable of matching up with, through the middle. Unfortunately, the matchup left the Reign 12 points out of a playoff spot with 15 games left, and there’s little change they drastically outplay all of Western New York, Chicago, and Boston over the next four weeks.

Sunday, July 21

Western New York Flash 3, Sky Blue FC 0 – Sky Blue has been terrible all season against Western New York. Even their 1-0 win over Aaran Lines’ team on the league’s opening weekend saw them outplayed. Unfortunately for Sky Blues, that pattern continued on Sunday. A dominant first half saw the Flash stake Carli Lloyd and Brittany Taylor to a 2-0 halftime lead, one that grew when Samantha Kerr scored early in the second half. Spoiling Jill Loyden’s NWSL debut, the Flash handed the league leaders’ their fourth loss of the season, one that continues Sky Blue’s string of lackluster performances.

Implications: Only Kelley O’Hara was missing from Sky Blue’s choice starting XI, leaving the squad with few excuses for another down performance. Only two points up on third place, it might be time to shake things up, fitness permitting.  For the Flash, while the win was impressive, they’ve matched up particularly well against Sky Blue all season, outscoring them 8-2 while taking nine points from four matches. There may be only so much we can glean from their performances against Jim Gabarra’s side. Still, the result was progress after coming off a two-point, four-match road trip. And more importantly, it leaves the Flash five points up on a playoff spot with as many matches remaining.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 6
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 6
4 tied at 6 3 tied at 5

Boston Breakers 1, Portland Thorns 2 – Portland may not have won last weekend against New York, but the momentum from a much-improved performance carried them to success in Somersville. Despite conceding early to Lianne Sanderson, Portland responded quickly through Alex Morgan and eventually claimed a game-winner through the increasingly prescient Meleana Shim, whose 86th minute goal propelled the Thorns back into second place.

Implications: It’s a huge result for both clubs. All of a sudden, Portland’s a dangerous team again, and one point back of Sky Blue with a game in hand (though not the tiebreaker between the teams), the Thorns can be seen as favorites to take the regular season title (what a difference two games make). For Boston, however, it’s a crushing loss. The Breakers are now sixth in the league, six points back of the playoffs, but even if they do somehow track down Western New York, Boston will also have to outplay the Red Stars to finish in the league’s top half.

Late show? Chelsea linked with transfer deals for James Rodriguez, Alonso

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Chelsea may be set to do some late business in the summer transfer window.

According to Marca in Spain they will sign Fiorentina defender Marcos Alonso for $27 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.

Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.

The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.

[ MORE: McCourt to buy Marseille ]

James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.

In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.

Nacer Chadli signs for West Brom

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Weston Homes Community Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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West Bromwich Albion have signed Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal said to be worth $17 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.

The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.

Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.

“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”

Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

With Spurs possessing Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son in the central and attacking midfield areas, Chadli wasn’t guaranteed minutes at White Hart Lane.

West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.

This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?

Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Hart to Torino, Gabbiadini to Everton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Joe Hart of Manchester City looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League Play-off Second Leg match between Manchester City and Steaua Bucharest at Etihad Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart is said to be mulling over an offer from Serie A side Torino.

It is widely reported that both Sunderland and Torino want to loan Hart for the rest of the season after Pep Guardiola revealed the England international is free to leave City with Claudio Bravo City’s new number one and Willy Caballero also ahead of Hart.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

Hart, 29, has been at City for over a decade and is said to be devastated at being dropped in this manner, however his focus must now switch to finding somewhere he can play regularly. A move to Sunderland would see him stay in the PL but the Black Cats look destined for a season of struggled as David Moyes has already warned fans to get ready for a relegation battle. Does Hart really want to switch the UEFA Champions League and a title battle for a relegation scrap?

A move abroad may give Hart time to experience a new culture, plus play regularly out of the firing line of the PL. Hart will be allowed to leave City if he finds the right option for himself and the club but his hefty wages of over $156,000 a week will certainly provide an issue for any team willing to take him on board.


Reports in Italy say that Napoli striker Manolo Gabbiadini, 24, could be leaving the Serie A outfit for Everton. Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that the Toffees are locked in talks with Napoli after initially having a $25 million bid rejected.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

The 24-year-old scored 20 times for Napoli following his $14 million move from Sampdoria in January 2015 and it is believed the Naples club now want in excess of $32 million for him.  Gabbiadini can also play out wide and in a deeper position just behind a central striker, which would be useful for Ronald Koeman as he continues to revamp his Everton side.

With Romelu Lukaku to stay at Goodison at least for this season, plus Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Yannick Bolasie, Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone around, Everton will certainly have a whole host of attacking options if they do get a deal for Gabbiadini over the line.


According to multiple outlets Arsenal center back Calum Chambers is likely to move to Middlesbrough on a season-long loan deal.

Chambers, 21, has fallen behind Rob Holding in the pecking order at Arsenal and with Laurent Koscielny back fit, plus Skhodran Mustafi about to sign from Valencia and Gabriel close to a return from injury, Chambers’ chances of playing for Arsenal this season look limited.

The England international made his debut as an 18-year-old for the Three Lions but since joining from Southampton for $15 million in 2014 he really hasn’t got going at Arsenal. Able to play at right back, center back and in central midfield, Chambers will provide newly-promoted Middlesbrough with plenty of option as Aitor Karanka aims to further bolster his squad who have made a fine start to life back in the PL with five points from their opening three games.

Premier League Playback: Who needs what before deadline? New ideologies clear

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HUGE CLUBS, HUGE IMPACTS

When it was announced that Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte would be taking charge of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, pursuits drooled for days at the thought of the tweaked tiki-taka, ruthless efficiency and passionate counter attacks all three would respectively bring to their teams.

In fits and starts we are already seeing the style of each manager seeping through his team.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Three teams in the Premier League have 100 percent records: Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. And three weeks into the season we are already clearly seeing the ideologies of Pep, Jose and Conte in their teams. That, my friends, is exciting and is also exactly why they are world-class managers.

Mourinho is under no illusion that a fast start means nothing.

“We don’t want to start well, we want to finish well. We want to be champions,” Mourinho said after United’s last-gasp win at Hull City.

Of course Mourinho and Co. have been handed vast amounts of money to overhaul their squads. That helps massively and although Conte has spent big on Michy Batshuayi and N'Golo Kante, he has totally transformed the mentality of the same under-performing group of Chelsea’s players from last season. That deserves huge credit and is testament to the huge job he’s done in preseason to turn things around.

All three are box office, all three bring something unique in their coaching styles and all three are ruthless perfectionists. Even though their teams are perfect in terms of points gained, they won’t be happy as performances haven’t been of the highest caliber in the full 90 minutes of each of their three wins.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Guardiola’s City purred in the first half against West Ham United and Stoke City with fast-moving attacking interchange boggling the mind, but faded in the second. Mourinho’s United started fast against Southampton as they got the ball wide often and delivered telling crosses but labored against Hull before winning it late on. Conte’s Chelsea have struggled to break down stubborn West Ham and Watford outfits but have been solid defensively and their pacey counter-attacks blew away a lackluster Burnley.

All three coaches have a clear philosophy of playing and we’ve already seen that their methods are working in the short space of time they’ve been with their new group of players.

There have been moments for real optimism for all three superstar coaches but there’s also been enough moments of underachievement to keep them on edge. They all live on the edge. It is what makes them great. Until one of Guardiola, Mourinho or Conte has the PL trophy in his grasp on May 24, 2017, they won’t be content. Even then, they’ll already be planning out how to replicate their success.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Premier League Schedule – Week 3

Result Recap & Highlights
Chelsea 3-0 Burnley Recap, watch here
C. Palace 1-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Everton 1-0 Stoke Recap, watch here
Hull City 0-1 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Leicester 2-1 Swansea Recap, watch here
Man City 3-1 West Ham Recap, watch here
Saints 1-1 Sunderland Recap, watch here
Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Watford 1-3 Arsenal Recap, watch here
West Brom 0-0 M’boro Recap, watch here

These three are born winners. These three are at massive clubs. These three already looked destined for a straight shoot-out for the Premier League title this season with any questions marks about Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool to suggest they’ll be playing for fourth.

It’s early days yet but the early signs suggest the powerhouse gaffers will deliver at the powerhouse clubs.

Only one manager can win it all but philosophically they’ve already made their mark. That’s impressive in just over eight weeks.


WHO NEEDS WHAT?

As we enter the final two days of the summer transfer window in the Premier League, plenty of teams are still scrambling to sign players before the deadline at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats

Below is a handy checklist to have as the needs for PL teams are clear to see. Will the following clubs splash the cash to get more cover in the following areas?

Chelsea: Central defender
Liverpool: Left back/Goalkeeper
Tottenham: Winger
Arsenal: Center back/Striker
Man United: Central defender
Man City: Full backs
Everton: Striker, central midfielder
Southampton: Striker
Watford: Central defenders/Striker
West Ham United: Winger
Hull City: Center back/Winger/Striker/Attacking midfielder/Goalkeeper
Sunderland: Center back/Striker/Central midfielder/Goalkeeper
Stoke City: Striker
Leicester City: Striker
Burnley: Striker/Winger
Bournemouth: Center back
Swansea City: Striker/Center back
West Brom: Striker/Attacking midfielder
Crystal Palace: Attacking midfielder
Middlesbrough: Central defender

Plus here a few other things to keep an eye as the deadline approaches…

Team who could do with selling a few: Man City, Everton Leicester City, Middlesbrough, Chelsea, Man United

Big deals to watch: Manolo Gabbiadini to Everton from Napoli, Marcos Alonso to Chelsea from Fiorentina, Joe Hart loan move to Sunderland. Jose Fonte to Manchester United, Islam Slimani to Leicester City, Wilfried Zaha to Tottenham Hotspur, Loic Remy to Crystal Palace


USMNT: CAMERON, GUZAN, GOOCH IN ACTION; PULISIC ON THE MOVE?

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29: Christian Pulisic #11 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

With the U.S. national team playing two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers in the next 10 days, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men still have plenty of work to do. The USMNT roster for the games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 and Trinidad and Tobago on Sept. 6 was announced on Sunday and there were no real surprises. It will certainly hurt Klinsmann to be without forwards Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes who are both unavailable due to injury.

[ MORE: How are USMNT looking? ]

Two Premier League players have been called up to the squad with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron and Middlesbrough’s Brad Guzan both included, and some could’ve argued that a third, Lynden Gooch, could’ve been called up.

It is most likely the Sunderland midfielder will be called up in October for the friendly matches against Cuba and New Zealand after the California native has become a regular fixture in the heart of the Black Cats’ midfield. Gooch, 20, has started all three games for Sunderland this season and has impressed with his poise on the ball, positional sense and passing ability. Klinsmann will surely be ready to hand the U.S. U-20 star a call up to the full national team in the coming months.

As for Cameron and Guzan, the former has started the last two games at center back for Stoke as they beat Stevenage Town 4-0 in the EFL Cup and lost 1-0 at Everton in the PL. After having flu-like symptoms at the start of the season, Cameron is back in as a regular for the Potters and has looked as solid as ever at the heart of the defense. In his fifth season with Stoke, Cameron is a guaranteed starter for the U.S. and was the only man to play every single second of their fourth-place finish at the Copa America this past summer. With John Brooks missing through injury, Cameron will hold the U.S. defense together.

[ STREAM: Every PL game via NBC Sports  ]

Guzan didn’t start Boro’s first PL game but with Victor Valdes out injured the former Aston Villa goalkeeper has played well in their win over Sunderland last week and a draw at West Brom. Guzan was called into action on plenty of occasions against the Baggies and will remain the USMNT’s undisputed numero uno. On a related note, we lost another U.S. national team player from the PL as DeAndre Yedlin left Tottenham Hotspur and made the move down to the Championship with Newcastle United.

Another U.S. international rumored to be on the move is teenage sensation Christian Pulisic.

The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder has been linked with a move to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga and Stoke City in the Premier League. I can confirm the latter were never in for Pulisic, but an interesting rumor has cropped up linking the Hershey, Pennsylvania native with Liverpool.

Pulisic was signed by former Dortmund manager, and current Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp in January 2015. With whispers going around about Liverpool making a $14 million bid for Pulisic late last week, I spoke to Klopp and asked if Pulisic was a player Liverpool were interested in.

Here is his response to ProSoccerTalk:

“No transfer rumors. I have no comment for this. Absolutely nothing to speak about,” Klopp said. “That’s for all the other cases too. When we know something and when we are close to doing something then we will inform you… or a little bit later.”

It is believed Pulisic wants to move elsewhere to play regularly but quite frankly Dortmund would be foolish to sell him right now, especially after they nurtured him for the past two years and he’s already shown he has supreme quality on the ball and an innate ability to pop up in the right spots in attack.

Watch this space.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here