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Walking through Week 17 of the NWSL season

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Certainty. For a league whose top four hasn’t changed for some time, we’ve had a shocking lack of it in the NWSL. Sure, the order of Kansas City, Portland, Sky Blue, and Western New York has changed over the last month or so, but the membership of that group has remained the same for most of the summer. The thing we were really in the dark about: Their order of finish

For most of the season, Sky Blue have occupied the top spot, but their July swoon combined with Kansas City’s 10-match unbeaten run now have the Blues four clear at the top of the league. With Sunday’s 3-2 win at Portland, FCKC became the first team to clinch a playoff spot, providing our first hint as some much-needed clarity. There’s every reason to think the road to this year’s title goes through Overland Park.

That, however, is the only piece of certainty we have. After Week 17, Portland and Sky Blue are tied for second place, and while the Thorns have a match in hand, their inconsistent form means anything can happen (particularly with Thorns FC finishing with three matches on the road). Western New York, three points behind in fourth, may be the best team for the bunch, but a league-leading seven draws shows a tendency to leave points on the table.

At the top, we have more clarity thanks to an increasingly dominant FC Kansas City. Beyond that? It’s still chaos.

Here’s what happened in Week 17:

Wednesday, July 31

Western New York Flash 3, Washington Spirit 0 – Washington’s second straight three-goal loss was actually a type of improvement. The last time the Spirit visited Rochester, they lost 4-0 and changed their coaching staff. This time, Adriana Martin, Sam Kerr, and Carli Lloyd forged the winning margin by the 68th minute. Although the Spirit were able to keep it a 1-0 game for 59 minutes, they were outshot 23-1 on the night.

Implications: 23-1? “What kind of improvement is that, Farley?” Maybe I shouldn’t judge things on score alone, right? Because that’s certainly not a competitive game. I know you could have said that about other Spirit games, and the final margin here wasn’t the most lopsided as other matches we’ve seen this year. But 23-1? How have things gotten to this point for Washington?

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 20 38 +14
2 3 Portland 19 34 +7
3 7 Sky Blue FC 20 34 +5
4 2 W. New York 19 31 +14
5 4 Chicago 19 26 -4
6 6 Boston 19 24 +0
7 5 Seattle 19 18 -11
8 8 Washington 19 7 -25

Portland Thorns FC 3, Sky Blue FC 1 – Sky Blue had been Portland’s bogey team, holding them scoreless over the teams’ previous 180 minutes, and when an early own goal off Nikki Marshall gave the visitors another lead, Jim Gabarra’s club seemed poised to continue their voodoo. But before half, Portland took advantage of a visiting team momentarily down a player (Danesha Adams suffering an injury) to equalize through Alex Morgan. Second half goals from Meleana Shim (fourth in four) and Allie Long fully exorcised Portland’s SBFC demons, helping them to a relatively easy victory.

Implications: For Sky Blue, it wasn’t an unexpected result, but with another player going down, the game exemplified their current state. They’re not playing well, they can’t stay healthy, and even the things they were doing right before seem difficult, now. Portland, however, carried some redemption out of this game, not only defeating Sky Blue for the first time but quelling doubts that had crept in after their late capitulation to Chicago.

Saturday, August 3

Boston Breakers 2, Western New York 2 – Having fired head coach Lisa Cole during the week, Boston took to the field with interim coach Cat Whitehill in central defense, the legendary Kristine Lilly serving as her former teammate’s sideline assistant. The change seemed to inspire Boston to a 2-0 lead, with play off corner kicks leading to goals from Kyah Simon (17′) and Lianne Sanderson (65′).  Then came the collapse, a defensive Breakers side unable to prevent Vicki DiMartino and, five minutes from time, Carli Lloyd from snatching a point for Western New York.

Implications: For the Flash, the comeback is nice, but the result won’t help their quest for a home playoff game. It did, however, eliminate Seattle from the playoffs.

For Boston, Lisa Cole walked the line between being liked and getting results. The organization felt she was underachieving, and although they pulled the trigger on the move three weeks too late to have an meaningful impact on their playoff chances, Boston felt this was their hail mary chance to save their season.

There were questions about her tactics. There were questions about her ability to manage the team’s bigger egos. There were questions about her preferences, carrying over so many Breakers from last year’s WPSL Elite team into this year’s squad. All those quandaries were answered by a bottom line that sees Boston in sixth place, a standing that cost Cole her job.

Chicago Red Stars 3, Seattle Reign FC 1 – Just over one week earlier, Chicago was being routed in Tukwila, 4-1. Consider this the Red Stars’ revenge. Early, dubious penalties converted by Sonja Fuss and Kaylyn Kyle (two central defenders taking PKs) meant a Hope Solo mistake in the 41st minute would be the difference at halftime. The Seattle keeper’s bad pass gifted Inka Grings an easy 41st minute conversion.  In the 72nd, Grings completed her double, keeping Chicago on the fringe of the postseason.

Implications: Chicago stays in position to take advantage if Western New York stumble, though with the team moving back to “five hundred”  (7-7-5), there was some personal pride to be taken from the result. They can also take heart in their first sellout crowd of the season.

For Seattle, the run had to end sometime, though seeing it end after a couple of preventable goals is unlikely to placate Laura Harvey. This was an unexpectedly sloppy performance from the Reign, but having been eliminated from playoff contention at halftime (by the Western New York result), maybe their run was over before Grings sealed their coffin.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 6
Alex Morgan (PTFC) 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
2 tied at 7 5 tied at 5

Sky Blue FC 1, Washington Spirit 0 – After giving up 23 shots in Rochester, Washington gave up 17 to a Sky Blue team that didn’t even have to break the glass on the hobbled Lisa De Vanna. Monica Ocampo, quietly up to six goals on the year (scoring every 120 minutes), notched the game’s only goal, though it took the home side 58 minutes to break through on the normally generous Spirit. Chantel Jones, stepping in for the injured Ashlyn Harris, helped stem that tide, though with only one shot on Sky Blue’s Jillian Loyden, Washington couldn’t solve their problems going forward.

Implications: Sky Blue snapped their three-game losing streak, but as was the case with Western New York, this game was an obligatory three points. A 1-0 against the Spirit isn’t exactly a rallying point. For Washington, however, the game was an improvement on the battering they took in Rochester, though after scoring twice last weekend, their goal-scoring problems seem to have returned.

Sunday, August 4

Portland Thorns FC 2, FC Kansas City 3 – The most important game of the season saw the league’s top team visit a record crowd at JELD-WEN Field, with the 17,619 attendance hoping to see their Thorns leapfrog Kansas City into first place. Lauren Holiday, however, was having none of that, scoring twice as the Blues counter attack picked apart Portland’s defense, giving FCKC their second win of the year over the preseason favorites. Portland did get goals from Danielle Foxhoven (a second half equalizer to make it 1-1) and Alex Morgan (a late score to make it 3-2), but with a leaking defense that could seemingly be picked apart whenever Kansas City found the initiative, Thorns FC missed their chance to move top.

Implications: There’s no doubt who the best team is in the NWSL, and if Sunday’s any indication, it’s not really close. There’s also little doubt who the league’s best player is, with Lauren Holiday’s double affirming her league lead in goals and assists. If she doesn’t play another game this season, she’s still the league’s MVP.

Portland is subtly experiencing a minor crisis. The team had high expectations coming into the match but found themselves chasing two goals as control of home field advantage slipped away. Despite having the league’s best talent, they’re not the league’s best team, with a small rift in the team undermining their ability to improve.

Foxhoven mentioned the rift post game, something that’s existed since early in the season  (“there’s been a little bit of a separation in our team and that’s why we’ve struggled in the past”). It’s an ideological divide, with a significant number of players believing the team should be playing differently. The late substitute of Elizabeth Guess for Foxhoven only highlighted the chasm’s persistent influence.

With internal attempts to resolve the divide having failed, Portland’s left to hope their talent will win out.

Transfer grades: How did Premier League teams do this summer?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The summer transfer window is shut.

That was fun.

[ MORE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

A record $1.5 billion was spent on new players by all 20 Premier League teams this summer as stars like Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz, Islam Slimani, Sofiane Boufal and Jack Wilshere were on the move.

Let’s take a look at the deals and give each PL team a grade based on the business they did this summer.


TEAM GRADE
source:  A Man United: The Red Devils went big and did their business early as Jose Mourinho just beat Pep Guardiola to win the summer window. A world record fee for Paul Pogba, plus Zlatan on a free, Bailly is a beast in defense and Mkhitaryan will deliver assists. Mourinho cut out plenty of bit-part players and has a tight squad who area already being as ruthless on the pitch as their manager is off it. Box office rebuild from United.
source:  A Man City: A huge overhaul for City as Hart, Bony, Mangala and Nasri left, as Sane, Gundogan, Nolito, Stones and Bravo arrived for almost $200 million. Guardiola has been ruthless in his recruitment but you can already see his clear style of play flowing through this team. When you hire Guardiola, you let him rip the team apart and start again. He has done that this summer and City look much better for it. Great window.
source:  A- Chelsea: What a Deadline Day for Chelsea. David Luiz arrived in a sensational deal from PSG and he will give Antonio Conte the option of playing a three-man defense and he’s a huge character. Marcos Alonso is a solid buy, plus N'Golo Kante has slotted in seamlessly and Batshuayi is already contributing. Conte hasn’t changed much but the players he has signed will contribute massively. No big names left either. Bellissimo.
source:  B+ Leicester City: The Foxes focused on keeping all of their stars this summer and the only one they lost was N’Golo Kante. Signing Vardy and Mahrez to new deals was massive but then adding Slimani for a club record deal plus Musa was the icing on the cake. Mendy and several depth players will also help them in their UCL quest. Brilliant business, once again, from Leicester.
source:  B Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere arrived on Deadline Day on loan from Arsenal. Incredible signing and the biggest in club history by far. Eddie Howe has pulled of a masterstroke but his side did start the season poorly after he put all his trust in youngster Jordon Ibe and others. That said, getting in Wilshere and beating the likes of Roma and AC Milan to his signing is a major coup. Wilshere will suit the Cherries’ style and as a leader he will make their young team tick.
burnley fc crest  B Burnley: The Clarets broke their transfer record twice during the window as Defour and Hendrick arrived in midfield and suddenly Burnley look much better suited to staying up this season than they did two years ago. With Gray and Vokes up top, they can score goals. Now they need to stay tight and let Hendrick and Defour build a partnership. Well done, Sean Dyche.
source:  B Stoke City: Strong Deadline Day saved Stoke’s window. Wilfried Bony is perhaps the missing piece of the jigsaw, as he joined on loan from Man City. The Ivorian striker is the clinical finisher they’ve been searching for. Martins Indi was also a good buy, as was Joe Allen. All in all, very good business from a very well run club.
source:  C+ Arsenal: Arsene Wenger spent a record amount for a summer window as Xhaka, Perez and Mustafi arrived for a combined total of $115 million. Some Arsenal fans still won’t be happy but the Gunners added a striker and center back, plus shipped out some squad players on loan. Overall, a decent window.
source:  C+ Crystal Palace: The Eagles saved themselves late in the window after signing Christian Benteke for a club record fee and then adding Loic Remy on loan. Alan Pardew sold Bolasie for big money and missed out on Jack Wilshere, which was disappointing, but overall Palace addressed their needs with two international strikers.
source:  C+ Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp still has plenty of issues in defense, especially at left back. The signing of Sadio Mane was expensive but already looks like good business and Klopp has cut so much deadwood he could be a lumberjack in his spare time. Seriously though, the jury is out on Wijnaldum, Klavan and Matip although the latter has showed signs of promise. All in all, good outs but could’ve done with two marquee defenders arriving.
source:  C Everton: A solid summer of business for Ronald Koeman, who was the biggest signing by far, but you get the sense Everton’s fans were a little underwhelmed. They sold Stones for a huge fee which covered the costs for Bolasie and Williams. Lukaku is staying around but they missed out on Sissoko and Lucas Perez late in the window. Close, but no cigar. This squad is stronger than last May, though.
source:  C West Ham: The Hammers had a rough summer with injuries and we have to remember that, but Slaven Bilic had plenty of deals fall down after early Europa League exit. Feghouli, Zaza and Arbeloa will become starters but you worry about their strikers staying fit, especially after letting Valencia leave.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest  C Middlesbrough: Some very shrewd signings from Aitor Karanka as newly-promoted Boro added firepower with Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez plus adding depth all over the pitch. They didn’t spend a huge amount of money but they did enough business to give their fans plenty of hope they will survive this season.
source:  C Southampton: Sofiane Boufal was fine pickup for Saints for a club record fee but Claude Puel‘s other arrivals are also young but Redmond and Hojbjerg have shown promise. Losing Mane, Pelle and Wanyama was a big blow but Saints should be okay and they kept hold of captain Jose Fonte. They needed one more striker in the window to make it a success.
source:  C Tottenham: Spurs somewhat salvaged their transfer window by snapping up Moussa Sissoko but he’s still a temperamental character. Let’s see how this goes. Vincent Janssen will take time to settle and Wanyama is a midfield destroyer but they already had that in Dier. After qualifying for the UCL and having a great campaign last season, Spurs missed a chance to go big and solidify their title credentials. That said, they do have a new stadium to pay for…
source:  D Swansea City: The Swans have lost Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew, their talismanic captain and top scorer from last season. Guidolin didn’t really replace them. Swansea are really lacking up top with Llorente experienced but unproven in the PL, while you also worry about them in central defense. New American owners may have to pump money in during the January window.
New Hull City Club Crest  D Hull City: It has been a turbulent offseason for the Tigers and although they tried incredibly hard in the latter days of the window to rectify their sluggishness, there wasn’t much quality let for them to hoover up. Ryan Mason, Will Keane and Mbokani have arrived but Mike Phelan will feel like it was too little too late. More strengthening was needed to save them from a relegation battle but with a takeover deal close, it was a difficult situation.
source:  D Watford: New manager Walter Mazzarri has done plenty of business this summer but you have to argue if many of the signings strengthen the Hornets at all. It will largely be the same starting lineup which faded badly last season and after a shaky start this season, it could be a long campaign at Vicarage Road.
source:  D- West Brom: The Baggies signed Hal Robson-Kanu on Deadline Day but will he really add more than 5/6 goals? Nacer Chadli was a decent signing but it feels like the Baggies have got so many central midfielders. A poor window for West Brom, especially with new owners in charge. Pulis won’t be happy.
source:  F Sunderland: There’s no two ways about this. It was a shocking window for Sunderland. David Moyes came in late after Sam Allardyce left for England and he managed to keep hold of Kone but signed a handful of Man United youngsters and a DM in Didier Ndong. With no experienced goalkeeper, holes in central defense and a lack of firepower, Moyes and the Black Cats are struggling.

 

Chelsea sends USMNT’s Miazga on loan to Eredivisie side Vitesse

SWANSEA, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City and Matt Miazga of Chelsea compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
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Matt Miazga is off to the wide-open world of the Eredivisie.

Miazga, 21, is heading to Vitesse on loan, one year after joining Chelsea.

Vitesse counts American striker Kai Koreniuk in its reserves, and has fellow Blues loanees Lewis Baker and Nathan on the roster.

[ MORE: Luiz rejoins Chelsea ]

The center back left the New York Red Bulls last January and appeared in a pair of league matches for the Blues.

But Antonio Conte brought in Deadline Day signings Marcos Alonso of Fiorentina and David Luiz, and wants Miazga to see regular playing time.

Chelsea also loaned Christian Atsu to Newcastle for the entire season, and Lucas Piazon to Fulham until January.

It was never going to be straight into the Starting XI of a UEFA Champions League power for Miazga, so this move will help his development as the defender continues to adapt to Europe.

Vitesse knows what Chelsea expects in development, having been a regular loan destination for Blues prospects.

It’s happening, folks: Chelsea has bought David Luiz… again!

CARSON, CA - JULY 30:  David Luiz #32 of Paris Saint-Germain in action against Leicester City during the 2016 International Champions Cup at StubHub Center on July 30, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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He’s back.

Versatile Brazilian veteran David Luiz has rejoined Chelsea from Paris Saint-Germain in a shocking Transfer Deadline Day move.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

The move is reportedly a $40 million deal. Chelsea sold Luiz to PSG for more than $65 million in 2014.

The 29-year-old won both the Champions League and Europa League with Chelsea before leaving for Ligue 1, where PSG won every domestic title there was to be won.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I’m delighted to return to Chelsea. We had a fantastic story during my first time at the club and I want to help the team and Antonio Conte achieve a lot of success.

“I always had a wonderful relationship with the fans and I am looking forward to wearing the blue shirt at Stamford Bridge once again.”

How’s this for a stat?

Sissoko confirms Spurs switch, leaving Newcastle and spurning Everton

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Georginio Wijnaldum of Newcastle United celebrates with Moussa Sissoko as he scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Norwich City at St James' Park on October 18, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Unhappy Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko is now smiling Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Moussa Sissoko, signing a five-year deal with the club on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Frenchman was at the center of a deadline window battle between Everton and Tottenham, and chose the latter.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Sissoko has been eager to find a Champions League side, but relegated Newcastle was happy to wait until someone reached its evaluation of the player.

Reports said Sissoko was headed to Everton for a medical, but Spurs reportedly matched the Toffees’ $39 million bid and landed the player.