Walking through Week 17 of the NWSL season


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
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.

Watch Live: Three Premier League games, 11am ET

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Three Premier League games are coming your way at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Huddersfield host Crystal Palace, West Brom head to Bournemouth and Stoke welcome Everton to the Potteries.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 11 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 11 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.

11 a.m. ET: Huddersfield vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM

Tottenham beat Swansea to reach FA Cup semis

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Tottenham Hotspur beat Swansea City 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to book their spot in the FA Cup semifinal for the second time in as many seasons.

With Harry Kane out injured, plus the likes of Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele on the bench, Christian Eriksen was the star of the show as he scored twice, while Erik Lamela added another in a game Mauricio Pochettino‘s men dominated from start to finish as their final chance of silverware this season remains intact.

The semifinals of the FA Cup being held at Wembley Stadium on April 21-22 also give Spurs a big advantage as Wembley has been their temporary home ground for the 2017-18 season.

Swansea will now focus on staying in the Premier League as Carlos Carvalhal‘s men are battling against relegation.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ] 

Early on Nathan Dyer burst through and although it looked like he could’ve won a penalty kick as Michel Vorm raced out, neither the referee or VAR awarded the Swans a penalty kick.

Spurs then took the lead with a moment of magic as Eriksen ran towards goal and curled home a superb effort into the far corner to give his side the lead. That was his seventh goal in 10 games against the Swans.

Tottenham then dominated much of the game after going ahead as Eriksen’s perfect ball over the top found Heung-Min Son and he finished magnificently off the crossbar but the South Korean star was flagged offside and VAR decided that was the correct call. Another moment of controversy surrounding VAR…

Chances kept coming for Spurs. A cross from the left almost found Lucas Moura at the near post but he couldn’t quite get on the end of it, then Eriksen had a curling effort tipped onto the bar by Nordfeldt and Eric Dier nodded just over as Tottenham totally dominated the first half.

Lamela made it 2-0 right on half time as he ran towards goal and curled home a low shot past the unsighted Nordfeldt.

At half time Luciano Narsingh came on for the Swans as they tried to get back into the game.

Martin Olsson had a rasper pushed away by Vorm and the former Swansea goalkeeper then denied Tammy Abraham with a fine double stop. At the other end Dier’s long-range shot was tipped wide by Nordfeldt brilliantly as the game opened up.

Eriksen then finished the game off as Moura found him on the edge of the box and his low shot crept past several Swansea defenders and in. Game. Set. Match.

Tottenham could’ve added more goals late on but they settled for three goals as Swansea were in full damage limitation mode.

FIFA budgets $6.56BN income for 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA expects to earn $6.56 billion in a four-year financial cycle to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite a drop in ticket and corporate hospitality sales.

FIFA’s 2019-2022 budget projects rises of more than $400 million each in broadcasting and marketing income over the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Still, FIFA says “smaller stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup” should mean ticket and hospitality sales of $500 million will be $75 million less than in 2015-18.

More than half of FIFA’s revenue will come from broadcasting rights, “86 percent of which is already contracted.”

FIFA plans to spend $6.46 billion from 2019-2022, including a $250,000 annual raise for member associations. Each will get $1.5 million annually.

FIFA expects to end the 2022 World Cup with reserves of $1.9 billion.

VIDEO: Eriksen curls home screamer for Spurs

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Christian Eriksen, take a bow.

Tottenham’s Danish magician waltzed towards Swansea’s goal early in their FA Cup quarterfinal on Saturday and curled home a stunning effort into the far corner to give his side the lead.

Eriksen stepped up to the plate with Harry Kane out injured, plus Dele Alli and Fernando Llorente on the bench, as the playmaker has now scored seven goals in 10 appearances against Swansea.

Check out the video below to see Eriksen at his very best.