NWSL: Other general managers should probably stop taking Laura Harvey’s calls

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Laura Harvey’s become everybody’s fantasy league nightmare –  the person who just won’t stop chasing deals. Since the National Women’s Soccer League season ended on Aug. 31, the Seattle Reign have made five trades, the rest of the league’s general manager surely growing tired of  “Laura Harvey, Seattle, WA” popping up on their called ID.

No, Laura, I don’t need another trade offer from you … Yes, Laura, I do realize you like to deal, and I know you’re interested in all on my team’s best players … I just don’t have time for this … You’ve made so many trades, this isn’t even realistic anymore.

But as anybody who’s ever been in a keeper league knows: The person that won’t stop flooding inboxes always stacks up talent. It’s annoying, and you loathe the fact that they’re putting so much time into it, but through pure persistence, the owner finds people’s weak points. They close deals that make you call their trade partners and scream, “Why did you do that?”

“Don’t you know not to listen to Laura? You are ruining the league for everyone! Just stop taking her calls.”

Take this week’s big trade: Harvey got one of the league’s jewels – one of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s vaunted four-deep world-class attack. Sydney Leroux, arguably the player with more pure potential than anybody in the league, was sent west from Boston, where she grabbed 11 goals in 19 games last season. To get her, the Reign gave up a talented prospect (Kristie Mewis), a fungible backup goalkeeper (Michelle Betos), and first and second round picks in the 2015 draft.

This is the kind classic, Fantasy Manager 101 “bag of stuff” deal that infuriates the rest of the league, the one that leaves every other GM saying “I could have beat that.” Going one way, you have a player who’s capable of leading the league in goals. Going the other, you have your typical focal point-plus-grab bag that Seattle will never miss.

source: Getty Images
New Seattle Reign forward Sydney Leroux returns to the Pacific Northwest after scoring 11 goals in 19 games last year in Boston (Photo: Getty Images.)

There were a number of factors that led to the end of Leroux’s time in Boston, factors beyond Harvey’s persistence or the coincidental going home narrative laced throughout the trade’s announcements. Having never played a full professional season before, Leroux’s transition to the professional game was not exactly a smooth one. A relationship with then-head coach Lisa Cole that saw the natural striker sometimes played wide and eventually sat early in the season never improved. As questions about intensity were accompanied by days away from the team documented on the player’s Instagram, the link between star and club seemed to suffer. Leroux’s 2014 would have to be better.

Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Sydney Leroux business. Sure, the Pacific Northwest native may have preferred playing on the West Coast, but if Boston doesn’t want to make this deal — if they’re willing to take a chance on rebuilding a relationship with one of the league’s most talented players — they don’t make the deal. And they certainly don’t accept a discount rate for some of the world’s best attackers. If Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Leroux game, this week’s trade told us their decision.

It’s not that either side wanted it to fail. It’s that it never clicked. It’s a relationship that ended in a passive, mutually filed divorce. That’s why you didn’t hear a lot of surprised reactions when Breakers general manager Lee Billiard made the tough call, deciding to make a deal where he gave up the best player. Boston wasn’t going to get a Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan in the deal. None of those players were available. He had to trade down.

From his point of view, Kristie Mewis may have been as good a centerpiece as Billiard was going to get. The Boston College and Hanson, Mass. talent has huge local ties, something that’s led Billiard to covet her since January’s draft. But she’s also in transition. A skilled, attacking player at BC, Mewis now projects as a left back for the U.S. Women’s National Team. With Boston short on fullbacks and having traded last year’s number one pick (defender Casey Short) to Chicago, it’s assumed Mewis will be patrolling the left flank at Dilboy Stadium. If Mewis becomes one of the league’s best left backs (and I really should bold and italicize that if), this deal becomes merely lopsided instead of a steal.

But where the swap gets even more interesting (if that’s even possible) is with Seattle. A team that was decimated at the beginning of 2012 by the absences of all their U.S. stars (Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez) has completely reloaded. In three months’ time, they’ve done from a team unable to avoid a seventh place finish to a potential competitor.

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After returning early from wrist surgery, Hope Solo appeared in 13 of Seattle’s 22 games in the NWSL’s inaugural season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In goal, Hope Solo will be ready from game one, whereas a wrist injury kept her out of action until the middle of last season. Even when she returned, she didn’t seem right, whether it was her wrist, the lingering effects of shoulder surgery before the 2011 World Cup, or both. This fall, however, she has looked closer to her normal self for the national team, sparking hope she’ll be full-on Hope Freakin’ Solo come April.

Defense, however, was Seattle’s big problem, and although there are still no stars in the squad, there are a lot of decent options. U.S. international Stephanie Cox heads a deep fullback corps that includes Nikki Marshall, Elli Reed, and Kiersten Dallstream. In the middle, Canadian international Carmelina Moscato will try to rebound from a bad 2012, with reliable options like Lauren Barnes and natural midfielder Kate Deines also available. Even if a couple of players flop (as happened last year with Canadian international Emily Zurrer), Harvey has options.

Last season, the midfield, had to carry the team, but the load was so heavy that the team would occasionally hit a wall in the middle of the second half. This year, Jessica Fishlock and Keelin Winters won’t have to shoulder as much of the load, and with promising destroyer Mariah Nogueira having also been acquired from Boston (seriously, why so generous, Boston?), Leroux won’t be the only Breaker gift in Harvey’s squad.

But it’s in attack, where Seattle struggled desperately in the absence of Rodríguez (pregnancy), where the Reign has improved the most. Of course, there’s Leroux, but on Wednesday, Seattle announced the acquisition of Kim Little, a Scottish international who has spent the last six years at Arsenal in England. In her former North London charge, Harvey has a player who already has 32 UEFA Champions League goals to her credit. Once Megan Rapinoe returns mid-year from her time at Lyon, Seattle will have one of the most talented and balanced attacks in the league.

Compared to the team that started on Aug. 17 against the Thorns (the Reign’s last game), there haven’t exactly been wholesale changes. Seven players that were chosen that day could be in Harvey’s XI come April. It’s the fact that she’s been able to acquire the likes of Leroux, Little, Nogueira and Moscato while giving up almost nothing from her core that’s so galling:

source: Getty Images
Scottish international Kim Little led England’s Women’s Super League in goals in 2012, scoring 11 times in 14 games for eventual league champions Arsenal. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • Leroux was acquired with spare parts plus the Mewis, who Harvey got from Kansas City for Rodríguez earlier this fall.
  • Little’s discovery rights were obtained from Washington for Christine Nairn, a talented player but one who is actually the same age as Little.
  • Nogueira, a promising 22-year-old who was staring at Stanford this time last year, was obtained for two third round picks.
  • And Moscato cost Harvey midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, who was one of the worst in the league at her position before being moved into central defense.

Most of these trades make sense for both teams, but from Seattle’s point of view, they’re four upgrades that didn’t cost Harvey anything that worked (Fishlock and Winters in the middle) or drew fans (Rapinoe and Solo on the posters). Come April, Seattle should reap the benefits of Harvey’s rotisserie baseball management.

The offseason’s only three months old, the college draft is still a couple of months away, and teams don’t even know who the next set of allocated players will be. Yet Harvey has already assembled a roster that looks as strong as Western New York’s, Kansas City’s or Portland’s – the three teams that finished bunched at the top of last year’s standings.

While talent on paper doesn’t necessarily mean production on the field, it does mean better odds for a Seattle team that seemed cursed in 2013. But over the course of three months, Seattle’s general manager/head coach has put all that in the past. You may not want her in your fantasy league, but thanks to her Let’s Make a Deal approach to the offseason, Laura Harvey has made the Reign the NWSL’s most talked about team, not to mention a contender in 2014.

Serie A: Roma prep for Liverpool by beating SPAL; Benevento win at Milan

Elisabetta Baracchi/ANSA via AP
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Premier League preview ]

SPAL 2013 0-3 Roma

A few hours after a reserves-heavy Liverpool side played last-place West Bromwich Albion to a 2-2 draw in the Premier League, Roma, the Reds’ UEFA Champions League semifinal foes beginning Tuesday, hammered 17th-place SPAL on the back of goals scored by Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick.

Roma shocked the world — and Barcelona — to reach the semifinals, but still have a battle on their hands to finish inside Serie A’s top-four and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Following Saturday’s victory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is three and four points clear of fourth- and fifth-place Lazio and Inter Milan, respectively, though both of the chasing sides play on Sunday.

AC Milan 0-1 Benevento

The 2017-18 season has treated AC Milan, who spent massively last summer, far worse than Roma. Following Sunday’s home defeat to first-year top-flight (and last-place) side Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso’s side sits sixth (final automatic Europa League place) and lead seventh-place Atalanta, who play on Sunday, by just two points.

Pietro Iemmello scored the game’s only goal in the 29th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 1-0 Fiorentina

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Bologna — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Crotone — 9 a.m. ET
Juventus vs. Napoli — 2:45 p.m. ET

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.

PL Sunday preview: Man City’s title trot; Wenger’s farewell tour

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Manchester City will play as the confirmed champions of the Premier League, though they won’t celebrate as such for a couple more weeks, on Sunday. Meanwhile, the only manager Arsenal have known for more than two decades begins saying goodbye

[ MORE: Man United come back to beat Spurs, reach FA Cup final ]

Arsenal vs. West Ham United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

So begins the Arsene Wenger farewell tour, and with a London derby at that. Wenger announced on Friday that he’ll leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, which has little to no chance of seeing the Gunners finish in the PL’s top-five, let alone the top-four. Sunday’s clash with West Ham will be the first of Wenger’s three remaining games at the Emirates Stadium, including the Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Unfortunately for Wenger, three of his final five PL games (four of seven in all competitions) will be played away from home, where his side has lost five straight in league play.

Speaking of lost and wayward seasons, 14th-place West Ham are almost mathematically clear of relegation (there’s currently three places and six points between themselves and 18th-place Southampton). It’s hardly the future they imagined upon moving to the London Stadium at the start of last season. Andy Carroll scored the late equalizer in the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Monday, which rescued perhaps a perfectly timed point with all five remaining games to be played against sides currently in the top-nine (Arsenal, Man City, Leicester, Man United and Everton).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Wilshere (ankle) | West Ham — OUT: James Collins (hamstring), Sam Byram (ankle), Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring), Pedro Obiang (knee)


Stoke City vs. Burnley — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Here’s what’s at stake at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday:

Stoke sit two places and five points adrift of safety from relegation, with four games left to play (17th-place Swansea City have a game in hand, to boot). After 10 seasons in the PL, it’s looking more and more likely that Paul Lambert (with a tip of the cap to Mark Hughes earlier in the season) will take the Potters back to the Championship for the first time since they won promotion in 2008.

Burnley trail Arsenal by just two points (though the Clarets have played one more game than the Gunners) in the race for sixth place. A sixth-place finish would be the club’s highest top-flight finish since 1966 (3rd).

INJURIES: Stoke — QUESTIONABLE: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin) | Burnley — OUT: Steven Defour (knee), Scott Arfield (calf), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Ben Mee (knock), Georges-Kevin Nkoudou (hamstring)


Manchester City vs. Swansea City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While Man City won’t lift the PL trophy until their May 6 clash with Huddersfield Town, Sunday’s visit from Swansea will be Pep Guardiola‘s side’s first outing since clinching the title courtesy of Man United’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend. Guardiola’s focus has turned to breaking the all-time PL points record (95 — they currently have 87 with five games still to play).

“In the past, I won the league at Bayern and at Barca with five, six or seven games (left) but the next games were not good,” he said this week. “We have to think about how many points we can get, it can be a good argument. What we need to do is already done, the points record is not the most important thing, but maybe it can help us to be focused. It would be uncomfortable to finish in a bad way, there always has to be a target and maybe scoring the most goals and winning the most points will be a good focus.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Sergio Aguero (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: John Stones (thigh) | Swansea — OUT: Wilfried Bony (knee), Leroy Fer (achilles), Renato Sanches (hamstring)

LAFC erase 2-goal deficits to beat Montreal in 8-goal thriller

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The game in 100 words (or less): LAFC are, by definition, an expansion team; they are, to the eye, also very much an expansion team, in that they experience drastic mood swings from one game to the next and, on a number of occasions already this season, from one half to the next — or, as evidenced in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Montreal Impact, one 15-minute period to the next. 2-0 down after 16 minutes, Larent Ciman wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole as his return to Montreal wasn’t going so swimmingly. The Belgian proceeded to score a stunning free kick eight minutes later. Montreal went down to 10 men and Evan Bush saved a penalty in the 33rd minute. Ignacio Piatti completed his hat trick on 43 minutes to restore the two-goal lead. LAFC score four second-half goals to run away with all three points, racking up 26 shots (18 of which were on target) in the process. Through two games this weekend, MLS has seen 14 goals scored.

[ MORE: Sporting KC increase West lead with 6-0 win over Vancouver ]

Three Four moments that mattered

24′ — Ciman’s free kick just about bursts through the back of the net — If not for the net, this ball continues to slowly rise until it cross the U.S.-Canada border and begins to orbit the planet in outer space.

43′ — Piatti smashes past Miller for 3-1 — Piatti takes his hat trick with aplomb, letting the ball bounce across his body before pulling it back across the face of goal and just inside the far post.

52′ — Feilhaber picks out the top corner for 3-2 — The comeback is on… again.

83′ — Vela bags the winner from the spot — Bush denied Marco Ureña from the spot in the first half, and so nearly did it again in the 83rd, but Carlos Vela’s effort crept over the line to make it 4-3.

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Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Piatti (9′, 16′, 43′), Ciman (24′), Feilhaber (52′), Raitala (57′ – OG), Vela (83′ – PK), Blessing (89′)