Alex Morgan, Nate Berry

NWSL Championship: Five storylines to watch

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC face off on Saturday night in the National Women’s Soccer League Championship, and the league got its star power matchup in its inaugural season. Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd lead the Flash against a Thorns side expected to see Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath return from injury for the final, not to mention Christine Sinclair.

We’ve already given you snapshots of what to know about the Western New York Flash and what to know about Portland Thorns FC. Here are five stories to follow in the buildup to and during the final:

• There’s no escaping talk of Morgan’s health, in particular. The face of the league, Morgan sprained her left MCL on August 7 and hasn’t played since. She hasn’t played since, but was available during Saturday’s 3-2 extra time semifinal win over FC Kansas City. Portland has actually, by their own admission, played some of their best games of the season without Morgan, who is more of a direct player. Whether or not she plays will affect both the marketing hype of the match and the Thorns’ style of play. Morgan trained with a knee brace on Thursday at Sahlen’s Stadium and expects to be ready for the final. Coach Cindy Parlow Cone expects Morgan and Heath, who injured her right foot in the semifinal and did not train on Thursday, to play “significant roles” in the match.

“The knee feels good. I’ve been training now for a couple of days. We came early to kind of get adjusted to the time and recover our legs. I think that was good for my knee, personally, because it didn’t react to well to the flight. So getting on the field feels really good and I’m hoping to be full-go for Saturday.”

The Flash’s dominance of any and every women’s soccer league of the last four years is on the line. Western New York has won three straight championships in three different leagues, including the 2011 WPS triumph with Morgan and Sinclair. Flash head coach Aaran Lines says this Flash team has the most leadership of any of the previous three champions.

“Playing their roles as senior players and being good role models and leaders on and off the field has been an integral part of budding young players into the season,” Lines said.  “It’s been a good ride.”

• Wambach and Morgan will easily dominate the headlines, but the midfield battle will be critical. Carli Lloyd has been one of the best midfielders in the league since returning from injury on May 11, but was snubbed from even an all-league second team selection. She’ll have that chip on her shoulder as she aims to continue her stellar form. Lloyd scored both goals for the Flash in their semifinal win. Allie Long will be tasked with tracking Lloyd through the midfield, but whether or not Heath can play – and how healthy she is – will determine just how much of a counter-punch Portland will have to Lloyd. Heath is the catalyst of the Thorns’ midfield.

• Which Thorns defense will show up? Portland’s back line, anchored by U.S. international Rachel Buehler, breakout rookie Kat Williamson and Canadian goalkeeper Karine LeBlanc, had one of the better defenses in the league, but a late season stretch saw Portland give up nine goals in four games, a stretch in which they went 1-2-1. Issues in the back seemed to have been sorted out in the final two games of the regular season – including a 0-0 draw at the site of the final vs. the Flash – but two goals conceded to FC Kansas City in the opening half hour in the semifinal is yet again cause for concern. The Flash, meanwhile, statistically had the best defense in the league and showed few signs of breaking down during the regular season.

 The Aaran Lines vs. Cindy Parlow Cone coaching matchup is enticing. Lines is the man who has guided the Flash to these three consecutive titles and is well aware of the Morgan-Sinclair partnership, having coached the two alongside Marta to a 2011 WPS crown. Recognition of Lines for the impressive feat continues to be lacking, but the Kiwi continues to put together great teams. This year’s is perhaps the most impressive, having not gotten too much help in allocation beyond Lloyd and Wambach. Parlow Cone meanwhile is in her first final and first full season as a head coach. If she can guide the Thorns to a title after the adversity of what looked mid-season like a big-expectations year set for disappointment. Much of what she’ll be judged on in the final is how she manages Heath and Morgan, who are obvious game-changers.

Which Liverpool players are “playing for futures” with Klopp?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Loris Karius of Liverpool after the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Following Liverpool’s humbling defeat at Leicester City on Monday the post-game comments of manager Jurgen Klopp hit home.

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“It’s getting more serious now. We all play for our future, myself included. We get judged every day, especially on match days,” Klopp told Sky Sports after the 3-1 loss which saw Liverpool put in a truly woeful display.

Liverpool currently still sit in fifth place, four points off second place, but a team which led the Premier League earlier in the season have won just one of their seven PL games so far in 2017 as they’re now battling for their lives just to finish in the top four.

Klopp was handed a new six-year contract in the summer, so he will stick around, but there are some big concerns for him to address if Liverpool are to become anything more than just a top four contender.

It begs this question: how many of these current Liverpool players will be around next season?


Let’s take a look at the best starting lineup for Klopp this season…

—– Mignolet —-

— Clyne — Matip — Lovren — Milner —

—- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– Firmino —–

Heading into next season, here are the areas he needs to address…

—– ? —-

— Clyne — ? — Lovren — ? —

—- Henderson —- ? —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– ? —–


Defensively is where the biggest improvements are needed.

In goal both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have made high-profile mistakes, so surely someone like Joe Hart would be a good pickup and help turnaround Liverpool’s woeful defense? Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne will stick around but the jury is out on Joel Matip and although James Milner puts in a great shift at left back that just isn’t his natural position. Liverpool need at least one quality center back and a new left back.

Those defensive issues just haven’t been addressed over the past few seasons. They’ve conceded an average of 1.3 goals per game in each of the past four PL campaigns, and they are well on track to do that again. In simpler terms, Liverpool concede 50 goals every season and expect something to change. It won’t.

In midfield they’re pretty set although you can question Jordan Henderson‘s role as a true holding player at times. He is much better playing alongside a destructive force and with Lucas set to leave and Emre Can hot and cold, he hasn’t got that. Georginio Wijnaldum has impressed at times this season but his attacking instincts often leave Henderson outnumbered. Klopp has yet to find the correct balance in midfield, especially defensively.

We all know how good they are going forward and the only change you could argue is either playing Daniel Sturridge up top or bringing in a prolific goalscorer as Roberto Firmino is far from a poacher in front of goal. Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s top scorer this season with 11 goals.

Premier League announces schedule changes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Premier League have released new dates and times for games throughout April, as domestic broadcasters in the UK line up their schedules for the business end of the 2016-17 season.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Plenty of derbies, top four battles and relegation scraps will take center stage in April as a busy month of action will be pivotal in deciding the fate of teams across the league.

Remember, you can watch every single Premier League game live online via NBCSports.com.

Just click on the link above to keep up to date on when and where you can watch each game.

Below is the new schedule for games in April, and on on May 1, with all times listed as Eastern Standard Time.


Saturday 1 April
7:30am Liverpool v Everton
12:30pm Southampton v AFC Bournemouth

Sunday 2 April
8:30am Swansea City v Middlesbrough
11am Arsenal v Manchester City

Tuesday 4 April
3pm Manchester United v Everton

Wednesday 5 April
2:45pm Arsenal v West Ham United*
*Consequent to Arsenal v Manchester City moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Hull City v Middlesbrough*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
3pm Chelsea v Manchester City

Saturday 8 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v Watford*
*Subject to movement to Sunday 9 April should Arsenal or Leicester City play in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.
12:30pm AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea

Sunday 9 April
8:30am Sunderland v Manchester United
11am Everton v Leicester City*
*Subject to Leicester City’s possible participation in the Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.

Monday 10 April
3pm Crystal Palace v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 15 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth
12:30pm Southampton v Manchester City

Sunday 16 April
8:30am West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
11am Manchester United v Chelsea

Monday 17 April
3pm Middlesbrough v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 22 April
7:30am Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion*
*Subject to Manchester City’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals

Sunday 23 April
7am Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Subject to Tottenham Hotspur’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Burnley v Manchester United*
*Subject to Manchester United’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Chelsea v Southampton*
*Subject to Chelsea’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
11:30am Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Saturday 29 April
12:30pm Crystal Palace v Burnley

Sunday 30 April
7am Manchester United v Swansea City
9:05am Everton v Chelsea
11:30am Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League semi-finals

Monday 1 May
3pm Watford v Liverpool

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.