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.

STREAM, TV: Full Premier League schedule

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The Premier League season is in full flow and plenty of tasty games are coming your way in Week 6.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold 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.

Kicking things off on Saturday is a big London derby at the London Stadium between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Hammers aim to make it three home wins on the spin against Spurs.

Manchester City then host Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Roy Hodgson looks to grab his first points as Eagles boss and Pep Guardiola‘s men aim to stay top of the table.

At the same time Stoke City host Chelsea at the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) with Mark Hughes‘ Potters aiming to add the reigning champs to their big scalps at home so far this season after beating Arsenal and drawing with Man United.

To round things off on Saturday, Leicester City host Liverpool at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp hopes Liverpool’s defensive issues dissipate.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Sunday sees one game with Brighton & Hove Albion hosting Newcastle United at the Amex (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the two newly-promoted teams squaring off.

Week 6 ends with Arsenal hosting West Bromwich Albion on Monday at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Can Arsene Wenger‘s men get back on track?

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday 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 for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Chelsea – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Liverpool — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
11 a.m. ET: Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion – NBCSN [STREAM]

Eric Wynalda for US Soccer president?

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“President Eric Wynalda” has a ring to it, right?

It isn’t clear if the current Fox Soccer analyst, coach and Hall of Fame former U.S. national team striker will challenge 11-year incumbent Sunil Gulati for the title as U.S. Soccer President in an upcoming vote in February 2018 but it certainly seems like the 48-year-old is thinking about it.

Boston-based attorney Steve Gans has said he will challenge Gulati for the position as the leading man in U.S. soccer’s governing body, while a New Englanders John Motta and Paul Lapointe are both said to be considering a bid to challenge the previously unchallenged Gulati.

In an interview with the Guardian former USMNT forward Wynalda had this to say about his intentions to change things at the top of the USSF.

“I’ve stood back for two decades waiting for things to get better,” Wynalda says. “What I’ve realized is that there is not a whole lot of people who are willing or even wanting to invoke change. Out of moral obligation, I think I’m finally at the point where I’m asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ I don’t want to tweet something or write an article or start a fight. I want to roll up my sleeves.”

Wynalda also had some pretty scathing words about Gulati who he says has an “agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”

I don’t think it is healthy [to have someone in charge for 11 years] unless there is a clear vision or a plan,” Wynalda says. “Right now, it is just one guy who not only professes to be the smartest guy in the room and has an answer for every single question you throw at him but he has an agenda and that is why there is a lot of people saying enough is enough. His agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”

Would Wynalda get your vote?

Following the Jurgen Klinsmann debacle and a bad spell for Bruce Arena which has the USMNT struggling to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, plenty of supporters of the game in the U.S. believe changes to the way the game is governed at the top may bring about positive change.

February is a long way away but it’s not too far-fetched to say that if the U.S. do not qualify for the World Cup in Russia then Gulati will have opponents lining up to try and replace him as the main decision maker.

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi nominees for FIFA prize for 3rd year

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LONDON (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the contenders for FIFA’s top player award for the third straight year.

The nominations for the FIFA Best awards were announced Friday in London, where the ceremony will take place next month. Ronaldo is favored to join Messi as a five-time winner.

While Ronaldo won the Spanish league and Champions League last season at Real Madrid, Messi and Neymar only collected the Copa del Rey title with Barcelona.

Off the field, the three players have all been embroiled in tax cases in Spain over the last year.

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Tottenham

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  • West Ham have 14 PL wins vs. Spurs, more than against any other opponent
  • Spurs have lost 3 of their last 4 trips to West Ham
  • Since the start of 2015-16 Spurs have won the most points (164) and matches (47) in the PL
  • Harry Kane has five goals in his last five PL games vs. West Ham

West Ham United host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at the London Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a big London derby.

The Hammers have won both of their last two home games against Spurs 1-0 to scupper Tottenham’s title bids which has added extra spice to this rivalry in recent months.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

With West Ham winning their first home game this season against Huddersfield Town, Slaven Bilic is looking to make the London Stadium a fortress. Spurs will be eager to play another game away from their temporary home for the season, Wembley, after Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have failed to win any of their opening three home PL games at Wembley.

If Tottenham prevail in east London it will mean they have won their opening three away games in the league for the first time since 1991-92.

In team news West Ham will be without injured duo Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini but skipper Mark Noble is available. Ben Davies could return for Spurs, while Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose remain out.

What they’re saying

Slaven Bilic praises Christian Eriksen in The London Evening Standard: “They have many excellent players but the one who is maybe the unsung hero is Christian Eriksen. I don’t want to say he is under-rated because everyone in Europe is aware of the talent that he possesses. Apart from being a vital link in their team, he is also making clever little moves into pockets of space or into the box.”

Mauricio Pochettino on taking his players out for dinner: “We need time for the players that we signed to engage with everyone, know everything. It’s only a few weeks that they are involved in the dynamic of the team, the club. You need time to create a good dynamic. Not only tactics but outside too. We had a dinner in a restaurant in London with all the staff and players that I invite, of course. I paid the bill at the end! That is important because you can say: ‘Tactics here in the morning’ or you prefer to go last night and put all the staff, the players and the chairman too in a restaurant. That is tactics too. It is so important, just as it is important to work on the pitch. To get to know each other better, to speak in a different way. That creates links between them, emotion.”

Prediction

Spurs will have too much going forward for West Ham’s shaky defense and they will relish not only an away day but also putting their poor recent record against West Ham to bed. Tottenham to win 3-1.