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Walking through Week 15 of the NWSL season


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
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.

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

GENT, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  Mathieu Valbuena of Lyon runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between KAA Gent and Olympique Lyonnais held at Ghelamco Arena on September 16, 2015 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 4-0 on Sunday in an unhappy return to Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho.

[ RECAP: Chelsea batter United ]

First half goals from Pedro and Gary Cahill set them on their way and then Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante added gloss to the scoreline as United unraveled as Chelsea went into the top four.

Here’s what we learned from a humbling afternoon for Mourinho back in west London.


“You’re not special anymore!”

“You’re getting sacked in the morning!”

“Who are ya? Who are ya?”

Those were just sum of the chants directed at Manchester United’s manager Jose Mourinho on his first return to Chelsea since he was sacked last December.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon for Mourinho as his side fell behind after 30 seconds and never truly recovered.

A man who has been revered around the Kings Road for over a decade had the indignity of being torn apart in front of them. Only once had a Mourinho side conceded four or more goals in a Premier League game, but his side simply waved the white flag when it came to their defensive responsibilities. Going forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard were denied by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois, but United were never truly in this.

A shocking display was summed up by N’Golo Kante’s goal to make it 4-0. The French midfielder waltzed into the box and past a token challenge from Chris Smalling and then Paul Pogba made no effort to track Kante as he held his arms in the air. That one action alone summed up Mourinho’s return to Chelsea.

Chelsea’s fans sung Jose Mourinho’s name loudly after they went 4-0 up. But instead of the happiness it was usually sung with during the three PL titles he delivered in five full seasons in charge, there was a smugness in the tone. The Blues have moved on without Mourinho and the toxic atmosphere his departure created last season. After this abject display, Mourinho will have to work incredibly hard to move on from this.

Standing on the halfway line for the final 20 minutes of the game with his hands in his pockets, the Portuguese coach looked lost in a place where it always felt like he would be a champion forever. With 14 points from his opening nine games this season, maybe the fans are right. Maybe he isn’t special anymore…


United simply couldn’t get to grip with Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation. They got it all wrong defensively. A United side which was able to shut down Liverpool expertly on Monday at Anfield were set up to defend resolutely once again, but Pedro’s goal after 30 seconds changed all of that.

The gaps between center backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly were huge. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia couldn’t cope without Pedro and Eden Hazard cutting in from the flanks and both Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford provided no defensive help out wide.

Conte’s Chelsea have now scored nine goals, won three-straight games and conceded none since he switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

It was always going to take the Italian coach time to find his feet in the Premier League and adapt his defensive methods but he’s found the correct formula to get the best out of his players. Chelsea looked perfectly balanced but United’s inability to shut their wide players down certainly made them look much more effective.


Racing around his technical area like a madman throughout, Antonio Conte is a born winner. You can see it in his eyes.

It’s tough to see know how much of a difference his antics make to his team on the pitch, but how would you not want to play for him? He is a hard task master, even for the fans. With United’s fans singing away as their side trailed 4-0, Conte took his eyes off the game and urged the home fans to sing.

The entire stadium began to chant. The Italian has an infectious desire and drive within him and thinking back to Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal last month, he’s made big changes to the way they play and it’s paying dividends.

You could almost say it reminded you of a certain Portuguese coach in his early days.

At the final whistle Mourinho and Conte embraced but the former lent in and had plenty to say to Conte. The Italian boss didn’t seem impressed. He has that swagger about him.

Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United: Blues carve up United defense from start to finish

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Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge to a warm reception, but was soundly beaten at his own game by Antonio Conte.

Comprehensive defense and cutting-edge finishing left Chelsea with all three points as they topped Manchester United 3-0. Pedro scored just 30 seconds into the match, and goals from Gary Cahill, Hazard, and N'Golo Kante put it away. On the other end, Manchester United defense put in an embarrassing performance, caught sleeping under a minute in and left red-faced by a scything run from a defensive midfielder near the end.

That early goal came in stunning fashion and left Mourinho’s gameplan in tatters. Marcos Alonso lofted a searching ball over the top for Pedro alone against three defenders, but the ball fell to the Spaniard and with Chris Smalling out of position and completely confused, Pedro broke free and clipped home the opener.

[ WATCH: Pedro scores Chelsea opener 30 seconds in ]

Manchester United seemed to respond immediately, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed just over the bar from close range with 7 minutes gone by. Marcus Rashford was a threat down the left as well.

Eden Hazard had a chance on 14 minutes off a corner, but his low volley skittered just wide of David De Gea‘s right post. Set pieces looked dangerous for Chelsea, and they bagged a second via that route. Hazard swung in a 21st minute corner, and it clipped Ander Herrera, falling right into the path of Gary Cahill who blasted it into the back of the net with little contest.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United continued to have issues at the back as Pedro dispossessed Daley Blind in a dangerous position, but De Gea was there to stop the ensuing cross with a 2-on-1 developing. The visitors had another chance forcing Thibaut Courtois into action, saving off a long swerving shot from Herrera and again on the rebound from Jesse Lingard.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The hosts were lucky to remain with 10 men five minutes before the break when David Luiz shoved his studs into the thigh of Marouane Fellaini with an ugly, high-footed challenge, but the referee only showed him into the book with a yellow.

After the break, Manchester United got away with one as Eric Bailly – already on a yellow card – downed Hazard on the edge of the area for a clear foul, but it was waved away by the referee. The 22-year-old then went down injured minutes later, replaced by Marcus Rojo.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

United pushed for something, anything in front of net to try and get back into the game. Lingard forced a save by Courtois with a shot from distance just before the hour mark, but instead of building on the possession, it would get worse. Eden Hazard put Chelsea 3-0 up thanks to a beautiful feed from Nemanja Matic slicing up the United defense, and the Belgian superstar was there for a cutback and a shot into the back of the net. The fourth came on a beautiful run on the ball by Kante to leave the defenders in his wake and bag his first goal with the Blues with 20 minutes to go.

The win for Chelsea moved them up to 19 points, remaining in fifth but just a point off the top in the crowded Premier League table. Manchester United is stuck in seventh, left with 14 points and falling further behind the top bunch.

Brad Davis announces retirement at the end of the MLS season

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 27:  Brad Davis #14 of the United States in action against Azerbaijan during their match at Candlestick Park on May 27, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The 15-year career of Brad Davis will come to an end at the end of the MLS season, Sporting Kansas City announced Sunday.

The 34-year-old has spent his entire career domestically, currently with Sporting KC for a season after spending ten years with the Houston Dynamo where he won two MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. The club made it to the final again in 2011, but Davis missed it with an injury and the team fell to Los Angeles.

Davis also collected 17 caps with the U.S. National Team. He debuted in 2005 in a Gold Cup win over Cuba, but was a late bloomer with the national team, making 12 of his 17 appearances from 2013 or later. He earned his final cap for the Stars & Stripes in the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup.

“I can’t believe that the last 15 years have gone by so fast and that this journey has come to an end,” Davis told the official Sporting KC website. “Along the way, I have met a lot of great people and have had the privilege to play alongside many great players. There are so many individuals that I look forward to thanking who have made me the person and the player I have become.”

The announcement came just hours before Sporting KC finishes its regular season against San Jose in front of the home fans at Sporting Park. With Kansas City teetering on the edge of the playoff picture, it’s likely they wanted to allow Davis the opportunity foir a sendoff should they fall short of extending the season.

Sporting sits in the final playoff spot on 44 points, level on points with Portland but above on goal difference by a single goal. The Timbers finish their regular season on the road at 9th-placed Vancouver.