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State of the NWSL, after Week 16: Homestretch arrives, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 17

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Maybe it’s the calendar. Maybe it’s the state of the standings. Maybe it’s the fact that Western New York, the team currently sitting on the right side of the NWSL’s fourth-fifth divide, is back in action tonight, potentially rejuvenated after nine days off. Whatever the reason, there’s now the distinct feeling that the homestretch has arrived.

For the first time, people are meaningfully considering Sky Blue’s slide. Time’s running out for the former league leaders to correct course. Portland’s lack of consistency’s been seen with new urgency, Boston and Chicago are finally considered playoff long shots rather than parts of a viable race, while FC Kansas City may soon be the consensus favorites to claim the league’s first title. These are the types of conclusions you become comfortable in the season’s final throes.

Just consider the implications of tonight’s games. If Western New York defeats Washington in Rochester (and it would be a mild shock if they didn’t), the Flash would be seven points up on Boston and Chicago, each team left with four to play. The race wouldn’t be dead per se (there’ve been too many times in sports where we see a team get hot, another get cold at the right time), but with Western New York closing their season with three at home, the race would be one in name only.

Then there’s Wednesday’s nightcap in Portland. If Sky Blue can beat Portland for the second time this season, they’ll have stemmed the tide of disappointment and positioned themselves to not only challenge Kansas City for the regular season title but take a huge stride toward a home playoff game. Thorns FC, on the other hand, would move within one of first and have a match in hand on league-leading FC Kansas City as they try to snap the Blues’ nine-match unbeaten run Sunday in Portland.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 19 35 +13
2 6 Sky Blue FC 18 31 +6
3 4 Portland 17 31 +6
4 3 W. New York 17 27 +11
5 7 Boston 18 23 -0
6 5 Chicago 18 23 -6
7 2 Seattle 18 18 -9
8 8 Washington 17 7 -21

That schedule highlights the extent to which Portland’s up-and-down form will influence the top four. In addition to playing Sky Blue and Kansas City over the next five days, Thorns FC visit the Flash on August 10, making them the only playoff-sitting team with games remaining against the other postseason favorites. If the Thorns can put their Sunday collapse behind them and continue the improvement they’ve shown since Tobin Heath’s arrival, they can win the league. If their uneven performances persist, the future of postseason soccer at JELD-WEN Field will be in Sky Blue’s hands, while a nose dive could see them starting the playoffs in Kansas City, a place where they’ve had almost no success this season.

With the league’s trade deadline passing tonight and only three weeks until the playoffs begin, we’re reaching a what you see is what you get point of the season. And with Sky Blue, Portland, and Western New York all in action tonight, we’ll quickly have a better idea of which teams are capable of competing with Kansas City.


In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – On Saturday, Washington became the second team to allow five goals in a game, but rather than toil on that demoralizing fact, Spirit fans focused on the two goals they scored against visiting Boston, the first time they’d scored from open play since mid-May. For a team that’s struggled more than expected, it’s all about the silver linings.

7. Boston Breakers (7) – The Breakers’ mid-week 3-0 loss in Overland Park was telling. Yes, Kansas City’s a buzz saw right now, but given the point we’re at in the season, that was a back against the wall game for Boston. Though they kept the game scoreless for over 70 minutes, they were second-best for 90 (decidedly so).

6. Sky Blue FC (6) – Their match against FC Kansas City was closer, a converted second half corner all that separated the Blues from their hosts, but it still showed Sky Blue’s limitations. Now that midfielder Sophie Schmidt’s cooled off, striker Lisa De Vanna is the team’s only consistent goal-scoring threat, but if she can’t get her hamstring right, Sky Blue will need a new idea to stop this slide.

5. Chicago Red Stars (5) – One point in two games on the road has killed their playoff momentum, but in Sunday’s second half comeback at Portland, the Red Stars gave their best performance in two weeks.

4. Portland Thorns FC (2) – Who knows with this team? In all likelihood, those final 15 minutes against Chicago were aberrational, but for a team that’s had trouble with consistency throughout the year, it may the latest blip in a scattered, erratic, yet potentially winning pattern.

3. Western New York Flash (3) – Among their final five games, Saturday’s trip to Boston will be their last on the road. If Portland or Sky Blue trip, the Flash are in a great position to catch them.

2. Seattle Reign FC (4) – Chicago’s result in Portland put the Reign’s 4-1, mid-week win over the Red Stars in perspective. Oh for a longer season, Seattle fans lament.

1. FC Kansas City (1) – Four points clear but with only three to play, the Blues can consolidate their first place claim with a result in Portland. Given Portland’s remaining schedule, they don’t necessarily need a win, but particularly if the Thorns beat Sky Blue on Wednesday, they’ll need a draw to defuse a potential surge from Portland.

[MORE, Looking back: Walking through Week 16 of the NWSL season]

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 8
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 6
Diana Matheson (WAS) 7 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
4 tied at 6 3 tied at 5


Wednesday, July 31

Western New York Flash vs. Washington Spirit (7:05 p.m. Eastern) – The last time Washington visited Rochester, the Spirit took a Friday night beating (4-0), leading them to change coaches by Monday. This game could be just as ugly, even if that doesn’t end up reflected in the score. Washington’s back line’s decimated by injuries, while the Flash have had nine days off.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Sky Blue FC (10:30 p.m. Eastern) – Sky Blue’s also has a number of injuries (Caitlin Foord, Kelley O’Hara, and Manya Makoski all out for tonight’s match). Those absences, however, can be accounted for, and against a Portland team that’s been unable to break them down in two previous meetings, organization will be as important as personnel. If, however, Lisa De Vanna isn’t fully healthy, Sky Blue will be left reliant on more wonders from the likes of Taylor Lytle and Monica Ocampo.

Saturday, August 3

Boston Breakers vs. Western New York (3:00 p.m. Eastern) – This is Boston’s last stand. Coming into this game, they’ll likely be trailing the Flash by seven, meaning a loss will mathematically eliminate them from the playoff picture. The other side of that coin gives the Flash a chance to clear the path to a playoff spot (at a rival’s expense). Given Western New York’s quick turnaround from their mid-week game, Boston has a chance to prolong their playoff hopes, even if a win will still leave them waiting for more (and bigger) Western New York stumbles.

Sky Blue FC vs. Washington Spirit (4:00 p.m. Eastern) – Sky Blue has two matches against Washington in their run-in, both of which look like must wins if the Piscataway club hopes to host a playoff game. Both teams, however, are struggling for goals, making a 0-0 a greater likelihood than Jim Gabarra would like. With Washington’s newfound struggles in defense (10 goals allowed in four games), the Spirit may prove a tonic to Sky Blue’s ill. If not, Sky Blue’s problems are even greater than we’ve described.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Seattle Reign FC (6:00 p.m. Eastern) – At what point do the Reign stop caring? Or, said without cliché, at what point do we see a dip in effort commensurate with their games’ reduced stakes? Because nobody would fault them if, traveling to a game that should mean nothing to them (Western New York could eliminate them from contention by the time this game kicks off), they start going through to motions. It’s not that they won’t want to win. It’s more that, having that spark of hope extinguished, they may regress a little. Will that be enough to turn around Thursday’s 4-1 home win over Chicago? Given Seattle’s get to let up, Chicago could see their playoff quest end on Saturday night.

Sunday, August 4

Portland Thorns FC vs. FC Kansas City (8:30 p.m. Eastern) – The side have split their three previous meetings, with no team having won on the road. Kansas City, however, is performing an unmatched level. Whatever the previous meetings tell us about this matchup, it’s almost rendered irrelevant by the Blues’ form. If there’s ever a time in the regular season Portland’s going to step up, this has to be it. A win gives them the inside track to home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Premier League preview: Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur (video)

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  • Spurs won both matches in 15-16
  • Cherries unbeaten in three overall
  • Spurs 2W-2D on road this season

Tottenham’s treatment of new boys Bournemouth was downright disrespectful last season, and the improved Cherries would love a measure of payback (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports).

Spurs handled Bournemouth 3-0 at home last season after belting the Cherries 5-1 at Vitality Stadium in October.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Holiday has tumor removed ]

Almost exactly one year later, Bournemouth sits 11th with 11 points and is closer to the top of the table than the bottom.

Meanwhile, Spurs are again in a title race despite the continued absence of striker Harry Kane, who is back training but won’t be available for Saturday’s contest.

What they’re saying

Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe on facing Tottenham“I think we’re better prepared for these kind of games. We’re more hardened to Premier League football and our belief and confidence levels are better than what they previously were, but we have to prove it on the pitch. It’s going to be a real test for us. They have an outstanding manager who in my opinion is up there with the very best. The intensity at which his sides play makes them difficult opponents. They are general title contenders.”

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino on Vincent Janssen“Always we need to give time. He’s young, he’s come in from the Netherlands and always the players that come from outside need time. He’s a striker that brings to the team different characteristics but I am happy with his behavior, his professionalism and how he is playing.”


It’ll be far from easy, and Howe certainly has a motivated team in form. Spurs’ quality will be on display as well, and both managers like to see their teams play free. Call it 2-2.


WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 9

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Week 9 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

It all kicks off with Bournemouth hosting Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN andonline via NBC Sports.com) at the Vitality Stadium with two teams full of young English players to go head-to-head.

Then Arsenal welcome Middlesbrough (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) to the Emirates with Arsene Wenger‘s side searching for a seventh-straight win in the PL, while Boro have won just one of their opening eight games.

Rounding things off on Saturday, Liverpool and West Brom clash at Anfield (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) in a battle between two different styles. Can Tony Pulis‘ pragmatic approach shut down Jurgen Klopp‘s fluid offensive machine?

On Sunday Manchester City host Southampton at the Etihad (8:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both teams coming off the back of disappointing defeats away in European action. Then comes the big one: Chelsea vs. Manchester United at Stamford Bridge (11 a.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Jose Mourinho is returning to the Bridge for the first time since he was fired last December and he’ll likely get a very warm reception from the home fans. Will his United side again frustrate a big-name opponent away from home?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.



7:30 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC [STREAM]


8:30 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]

Wenger on Arsenal: “We are all in that jungle together”

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal training session on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group A match against Ludogorets Razgrad at London Colney on October 18, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
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Maybe he just got sick of the criticism, and of (relatively) keeping his cool.

Maybe he just doesn’t care anymore.

Regardless of the “why”, there’s a lot to love about this season’s Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

Wenger has slowly built up his hope and expectations for the club. The Gunners “have a better chance” to win in the Champions League. They’re “stronger with every win“, and need humility.

And Wenger is taking it to the jungle to explain that last part.

From Arsenal.com:

“I believe that humility is to understand that you start again from zero and that you are in a jungle. We live in a jungle where everybody wants to eat you, and you have to survive by keeping your vigilance. That’s what competition is about. Every day you have to fight again to survive.

“The love to win and the competitiveness of the Premier League is very exciting. We are all in that [jungle] together.”


Arsenal hosts Middlesbrough on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool-West Brom (video)

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Darren Fletcher of West Brom closes down Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at The Hawthorns on April 25, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time: 59W-37D-32L
  • Teams drew both matches last season
  • WBA last won at Anfield in 2013

West Brom has hope for a big Anfield upset when it visits Liverpool this weekend (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBC Sports).

The Baggies are have picked up points in three of their last five trips to Anfield, and have a 4-4-4 league record against the Reds since returning to the Premier League in 2010.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Holiday has tumor removed ]

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp refused to rule anyone out for Saturday’s match, and the in-form Reds will have to break down a side that’s unbeaten in four.

What they’re saying

Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren“Every game is a ‘win’ game for us – we have the quality to beat everyone, when you look at the teams we have played already. It’s just about a winning mentality. If we can keep that, at the end of the season we can be proud.”

West Brom boss Tony Pulis“We know Liverpool is going to be a really tough game. Their front five are exceptional. Jurgen Klopp is passionate and that is important in the game and important for Liverpool. They’ve got a good chance this year. The games that are coming up are difficult but ones we should embrace. Anfield is wonderful.”


Pulis has done a fine job setting his team up to defend, and his counterattack will think well of breaking down Liverpool. But this one’s at Anfield, with the Reds in the international spotlight to end Saturday’s Premier League slate.

It doesn’t feel like an upset is in the cards, especially with the Reds still seething from last week’s scoreless draw vs. Manchester United. Call it Liverpool, 3-0.