NWSL Championship - Portland Thorns FC v Western New York Flash

Portland Thorns FC win NWSL title: Moments to remember from league’s first championship game

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At the onset of the NWSL season, the Portland Thorns were widely picked to take home the new women’s league’s first title. Somewhere along the way, that favorite’s status waned, with the team finishing the season in third place despite talents like Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Tobin Heath.

But on Saturday in Rochester, that talent — along with inspired play from the team’s defense — won out. Heath’s first half bomb from 30-plus yards gave Portland a lead at regular season champion Western New York. In second half stoppage time, their team playing with 10, Portland saw Sinclair ice the club’s improbable title run, a 2-0 win rendering a season of promise and frustration a distant memory.

Portland stayed near the league lead most of the season, but by mid-August, their hopes of winning the regular season title had faded. Ultimately, they’d have to claim their crown on the road, with matches at FC Kansas City and Western New York — thought to be the league’s two best teams — seemingly setting the team up for a disappointing finish.

But forgetting regular season disappointment to find the type of unity that’s eluded them all season, Portland proved the best team over the two weeks that mattered. They overcame injuries (to Heath and Morgan), two excellent teams, and ultimately, doubt. As a result, the team most picked to claim the first NWSL title fulfilled their destiny, shutting out the regular season champions to do so.

Here are the moments to remember from today’s 2-0 result at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, NY:

source: Getty Images1. Goalkeepers come up big, early

Karina LeBlanc (right) and Adrianna Franch were tested high all day, the first major chance coming in the 12th minute. When Abby Wambach went left and lobbed a ball far post, right wing Samantha Kerr had her way with Nikki Marshall, out-jumping the Portland left back to head what could have been a goal. But LeBlanc reacted quickly, pushed the shot onto the bar, and managed to grab a rebound that nearly went in off her back in. The Portland keeper kept it 0-0.

Ten minutes later, it was Franch’s turn. Portland right back Marian Dougherty was given all the room she wanted to fire a cross in from the right. Sinclair, streaking across the face of Western New York’s central defense, redirected a ball toward the top of Franch’s goal. But the rookie for Oklahoma State, called on to make a pure reflex save, pushed it over, matching LeBlanc save-for-save early on.

2. Abby Wambach gets Kathryn Williamson sent off

Pity the rookie her opponent — the first year defender from Florida matching-up up against a former Gator who just happens to be the world’s best player — but Kathryn Williamson knew what she was getting into. In two games against Abby Wambach in the regular season, the Thorns central defender had held her own. On Saturday, Wambach targeted her in the second half, eventually drawing two yellow cards.

The first came in the 49th minute, when Williamson was lucky to avoid a straight red after a ball over the top looked set to send Wambach in on goal. Four minutes later, Williamson deservds a second yellow for a nasty challenge on hte Flash number nine, but the official had pity. In the 56th minute, however, that pity ran out, with Portland defender taking down Wambach at the edge of the area, drawing a second yellow card.

Portland would play the final 34 minutes with 10, eventually bringing on former U.S. international Tina Ellertson to partner Rachel Buehler in central defense. Remarkably, the teams was still able to keep the league’s best attack off the board, maintaining their clean sheer despite Wambach getting Williamson sent off.

source: Getty Images3. Carli Lloyd shoots. Again. And again.

Counting her double in the semifinals, Carli Lloyd scored 10 goals this season, one of four players to reach double-digits this year. In Saturday’s first half, she had numerous opportunities to add her 11th, including a 25th minute chance set up by Adriana Martin that saw her push her shot wide right despite being one-on-one with LeBlanc.

As the game went on, Lloyd seemed to single-mindedly look for that 11th goal. A try from the edge of the area set up by Wambach. Dead balls from distance around the Portland area. Predatory runs into the box. Lloyd was an attacking midfielder with a sniper’s mentality, racking up eight shots by the final whistle.

Every time she let loose, there was a chance she would equalize. It was worth a gasp. She has that kind of talent. And as her Olympics performances have shown, Lloyd also has that kind of timing.

Tonight, however, it never happened. Ultimately, Lloyd’s most important goal of the season was the one that never came.

source: Getty Images4. Tobin Heath wins the title for the Thorns

Watch her in warm ups and you’ll see the power in Heath’s shot. Released quickly with a slightly more topspin than a normal player’s, Heath can be a special kind of trouble when given too much room within 24 yards.

In the 40th minute, she was far beyond 24 yards. After a Western New York foul just inside Portland’s attacking third, Heath was closer to 32 yards from Franch’s goal, but with one of the most spectacular strikes of her career, Heath paved Portland’s title path.

Opting for power over precision, Heath straight-on approach launched the ball above the Flash wall with that typical top spin, her heavy strike dipping below Franch’s cross bar as the rookie goalkeeper leapt under the ball. Having set herself up to defend the left side of goal, Franch had no chance, eventually clattering against the opposite post as Heath’s shot bend the net and recoiled out. The most important goal of the season was also the best.

Heath was scoreless in seven regular season games after joining the Thorns from mid-season Paris Saint-Germain. In two playoff games, she scored twice, each time overcoming an injured right foot to help push Portland to their title.

5. Christine Sinclair seals it

As full time approached, there was something about Portland that made you believe they were going to close this out. Despite being down a player; despite the presence of Wambach and Lloyd; despite being on the road; and despite the occasional lapses of their defense this season, it was hard to imagine the Flash finding and equalizer. In the last game of a tumultuous season, Portland had finally looked the part. They finally looked like a team that would pull away from the pack.

One minute into stoppage time they sealed it. Sinclair — a Portland resident and a University of Portland alum — was put in alone on goal after a long throw in deep in Western New York’s half. The huge gap between right back Katherine Reynolds and the next defender was a complete breakdown by a team pressing for the equalizer, one that left Franch with no chance to stop Sinclair as the former Flash forward pulled up from 15 yards.

With the shot headed far post, Western New York’s only hope was for “Sinc’s” shot to catch the post. No chance. The insurance goal nestled against the left side netting as the 30-year-old Canadian ran for the sideboards, celebrating in front of fans silenced by her title-clinching goal.

It was her ninth of the season, and certainly her most memorable. Seeing her team come together after an inconsistent, often frustrating season, Sinclair had captained her hometown club to the NWSL’s first title, the Thorns’ 2-0 win Saturday in Rochester allowing the preseason favorites to finish an improbable if expected championship run.

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET

Alex Ferguson praises Mourinho as Man Utd boss

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 13:  Head Coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid and Manager Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United look on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 13, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Four years ago, Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United manager with a fitting finish as Premier League champion.

The legendary manager has since watched hand-picked successor David Moyes struggle for a season before Louis Van Gaal hit similar managerial speed bumps over campaigns.

Now Jose Mourinho is in charge of Manchester United, and Ferguson is… pretty happy with the guy.

[ MORE: Premier League Player Power Rankings ]

Mourinho has United in sixth place, four points out of fourth and 14 back of pack leaders Chelsea. Ferguson sees a few too many draws in the bunch, but says the side is really coming along.

From the BBC:

“You can see he has got to grips with the club,” he said. “The team is playing really well and he has been very unlucky. He has had six 1-1 draws and in every game he has battered the opposition.

“If they hadn’t had all these draws, they would be there challenging Chelsea. That is the unfortunate part but he is going to have to live with that.”

Ferguson also spoke about new club record scorer Wayne Rooney and how Mourinho has settled down on the touchline, a feature he thinks has filtered down to the players onto the field.

One week left: Transfer needs for each Premier League team

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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This time next week the January transfer window will be set to close.

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The next seven days could see plenty of teams scrambling around frantically to sign new players, but so far it has been a quiet month across the Premier League in terms of transfers.

A new trend? The calm before the storm? However it ends up, here’s a look at what each PL team needs in the final week of the window.


Arsenal: None – Yep, they really need nothing. With long-term absentees Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck returning, Arsene Wenger looks set. It will be a quiet week for Arsenal. Well, expect for the impending touchline ban for Wenger and Granit Xhaka potentially being in all kinds of trouble.

Bournemouth: Striker, center back, goalkeeper – After losing Nathan Ake (his loan from Chelsea was terminated early) Eddie Howe has a large whole in his defense. Conceding eight goals in the last three games suggests that. Asmir Begovic could be arriving from Chelsea to boost the goalkeeping position significantly, while an experienced striker up top may help steer the Cherries away from any relegation danger.

Burnley: Center back, winger – If Ben Mee or Michael Keane go down injured, you worry about the drop off for the stingy Clarets. Also, another creative tricky winger would be a great pick up. Andre Gray and Sam Vokes can score in the PL but imagine what they could do with more chances presented to them?

Chelsea: Striker – Diego Costa is running the show and Michy Batshuayi is an able deputy but some experience would be great in position. It seems like Fernando Llorente will be remaining at Swansea City for now, so could Antonio Conte will have to get creative to bring in a short-term solution to help ease the pressure on Costa.

Crystal Palace: Center back, full back – Basically, as many defenders as they can get. Sam Allardyce hopes to sign Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland which shores up the left back area, but two new center backs wouldn’t go amiss.

Everton: Winger – Ronald Koeman has done his best early with Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman arriving. That’s good but with Gerard Deulofeu leaving, perhaps a new winger could arrive, especially with Yannick Bolasie now a long-term absentee.

Hull City: Everywhere – Look, Hull has an honest squad of hardworking players but they need more quality. New manager Marco Silva has already brought in Evandro, Lazar MarkovicOmar ElabdellaouiOumar Niasse and signed Markus Henriksen permanently in January. One more striker and a winger would improve the Tigers’ chances of being successful in their battle against relegation.

Leicester City: Center backs – Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have been all over the place and Claudio Ranieri needs some PL quality defenders to steady the ship. Simply put, Leicester need to stop conceding goals early and new defenders may help with that.

Liverpool: None – Apart from maybe a new center back, the Reds are in very good shape and if anything they have too many options in midfield and up top. Long-term, getting a new left back will be a priority alongside a new center back.

Manchester City: Center backs – A long time need which probably won’t be fixed in January, Pep Guardiola needs to improve his defense. Virgil Van Dijk would be an absolutely perfect fit.

Manchester United: None – Like Arsenal and Liverpool, the main issue with United is that they have too many players around. Jose Mourinho likes a small squad. Don’t expect much action but they could do with a new center back in the summer. Along with Liverpool and City, another club van Dijk would be a great buy for…

Middlesbrough: Strikers – Aitor Karanka needs a couple of new strikers or any kind of attacking talent which can improve their chances of staying up. Traore, Ramirez and Negredo are dangerous when they’re on form but that’s not too often.

Southampton: Striker, center back – Saints continue to struggle to score goals but with Charlie Austin potentially returning in early March, they may stick with Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez. Mamadou Sakho could be an option at center back after Jose Fonte left for West Ham.

Stoke City: None – Stoke addressed their biggest need already by signing striker Saido Berahino. Finally they have a “fox in the box” who can finish the chances Shaqiri, Arnautovic and Co. create.

Sunderland: Everywhere – David Moyes needs big help. Help for Jermain Defoe up top is key so he needs some strikers. In defender they’ve added Joleon Lescott, but extra quality in central midfield would be helpful in the run-in. Khazri and Ndong will return from AFCON but injuries have not been kind for the Black Cats. Moyes doesn’t have much money to spend but Robbie Keane on a short-term deal sounds intriguing…

Swansea City: Striker – Fernando Llorente can’t do it all on his own, so the Swans need to add one more body up top. Adding Tom Carroll, Martin Olsson and Luciano Narsingh so far in January will prove to be shrewd business.

Tottenham Hotspur: Striker – Vincent Janssen just hasn’t worked the Premier League out. Pochettino needs some help for Harry Kane with a busy few months coming up in Europe, the PL and in the FA Cup. Defensive injuries are a concern but Spurs have sufficient backups.

Watford: Playmaker – Walter Mazzarri‘s side have plenty of numbers in midfield (they’ve already added Tom Cleverley) and defense, plus options up top with Deeney, Ighalo and Okaka, but they’re lacking quality in that key playmaking area. Having a classy No.10 behind Deeney and Okaka would be a joy to watch.

West Bromwich Albion: Striker – Like so many teams, West Brom could do with an experienced forward. They finally sold Berahino to Stoke so now there’s a spot open. Pulis will no doubt be sat by the phone with his baseball cap on as the deadline nears next Tuesday…

West Ham United: Playmaker – Depending on whether or not Dimitri Payet leaves for Marseille, West Ham must have another playmaker lined up to arrive if their star man does depart. Fonte was a key addition to bolster their backline. Hammers looked okay apart from the Payet saga.