Arsenal manager, Laura Harvey celebrates with the trophy after the FA WSL Continental Cup Final match between Arsenal Ladies FC and Birmingham City Ladies FC at Underhill Stadium on October 10, 2012 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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.

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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:

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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.

CCL Preview: MLS teams enter quarterfinal stage

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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CONCACAF Champions League action is back.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Three teams from Major League Soccer remain in the tournament as an all-MLS tie takes place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday between the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls.

The first leg of their quarterfinal will provide an intriguing peek as to the offseason work both Carl Robinson and Jesse Marsch have done to crank their teams up a few notches, as both clubs will rely on plenty of young talent once again this season. Marsch has handed the captains armband to U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Dax McCarty’s departure in the offseason, while the Whitecaps have never lost at RBA in three previous visits.

Former Seattle Sounders star Fredy Montero won’t make his debut for the ‘Caps as he continues to work on his fitness but he could play on Mar. 2 in the return game at BC Place, while this tie at least confirms that one MLS team will be in the semifinals of North America’s top club competition.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield champs FC Dallas also kick off the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal against Arabe Unido from Panama on Wednesday as the Texas outfit host the opener before heading down to Central America next week for the second leg. New DP signing Cristian Colman has impressed and given the absence of the injured Mauro Diaz, Oscar Pareja will look at him to make Dallas’ offense tick against a Panamanian outfit who went a perfect 4-0-0 in the CCL group stage.

In the two other CCL quarterfinals not involving MLS clubs, Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa drew 0-0 at home against Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. El Tri star Hirving Lozano was kept quiet by Saprissa but Pachuca will fancy their chances of advancing with a home game to come in the second leg. On Wednesday two Liga MX teams do battle as Tigres host Pumas in Monterrey as the runners up from last season look to make another charge to the final.

Below is the full schedule for the CCL quarterfinals, while you can stream the games on Facebook Live here.


CCL quarterfinal 1st legs

Deportivo Saprissa 0-0 Pachuca – Played on Tuesday, Feb. 21
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver – Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas – Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido – Thursday, 8 p.m. ET

CCL quarterfinal 2nd legs

Pachuca vs. Deportivo Saprissa – Tuesday, Feb. 28 – 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 8 p.m. ET
Pumas vs. Tigres UANL – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 10 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls – Thursday, Mar. 2 – 10 p.m. ET

China, MLS: What’s the best option for Wayne Rooney?

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Reports continue to link Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney with a move away from Old Trafford in the coming weeks.

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Jose Mourinho’s comments on Tuesday about not ruling out a potential move to China for United’s all-time leading goalscorer hardly quelled those rumors.

With Rooney’s options wide-ranging, plenty of reports state he is heading to China, while others say he wants to remain at United. Other reports state he fancies a move to another Premier League team and further rumors suggest he could be on his way to Major League Soccer.

The bloke has options. Lots of ’em.

Rooney, 31, has 18 months left on his current contract at United and the transfer deadline for the 2017 Chinese Super League season is next Tuesday. That means if any reported deal to China happens — Rooney could become the highest paid player in history with wages of $43.5 million a season, per reports — it has to happen fast. However if a CSL team moves on one of their four allotted foreign players outside the window they are allowed to replace him.

The two favorites to sign Rooney in the CSL are Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Sinobo Guoan (the two most valuable clubs in China), with the former winning the CSL title six seasons on the spin and already having the likes of Jackson Martinez and Paulinho in their ranks and Luiz Felipe Scolari as their manager.

That said, the Daily Mail claims he has interest from Major League Soccer, plus Everton are reportedly interested in re-signing the boyhood Evertonian 13 years after they sold him to United. However, Rooney’s wage demands could be a stumbling block for the Toffees.

Is MLS a better option for Rooney than China? Financially, probably not.

[ MORE: Rooney returns to training after injury ]

We’ve seen MLS’ model changing in recent season with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all moving on this summer and clubs hankering to entice the next Sebastian Giovinco over from Europe instead. MLS’ shift towards attracting younger DPs from Europe by offering huge wages has been hampered by the rise of the Chinese Super League and its mammoth salaries which have enticed the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Hulk, Jackson Martinez and Graziano Pelle from Europe’s top leagues.

MLS will still be a very attractive option for Rooney and his family but with clubs like the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls changing their tact in recent times and opting to nurture Homegrown players over expensive veteran imports, Rooney’s options in MLS have all of a sudden become a lot more limited.

Maybe LAFC would offer him a chance to move to LA when they arrive in MLS in 2018? Orlando City SC has an open DP spot. And then there’s Atlanta United but they already have all three DP spots locked up. Also, New York City FC have one DP spot open but could a Manchester United legend really play for a club so heavily linked to Manchester City? Probs not.

Anyway, whatever Rooney ends up deciding to do in the coming weeks or in the summer he will have plenty of options. China and MLS seem like the best way for him to have one final payday and play regularly. No matter what he has achieved in his glittering career for club and country, Rooney is no longer guaranteed regular minutes at United and that would be the case at any other top six team in the Premier League.

The emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard at United mean he will be a bit-part player now and in the future. He spoke out last month about his frustration regarding that situation and the writing is on the wall for United’s all-time leading goalscorer as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba continue to grab the spotlight at Old Trafford this season.

Rooney is entering the final acts of an imperious, somewhat elongated show at United. It’s obvious his future lies elsewhere, but where?

China plans for 50,000 soccer academies by 2025

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  China's President Xi Jinping addresses an audience of dignitaries including the British Prime Minister David Cameron (not seen) at Manchester airport on October 23, 2015 in Manchester, England. The President of the People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping and his wife, Madame Peng Liyuan, are paying a State Visit to the United Kingdom as guests of The Queen.  They will stay at Buckingham Palace and undertake engagements in London and Manchester. The last state visit paid by a Chinese President to the UK was Hu Jintao in 2005.  (Photo by Oli Scarff - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) China plans to have 50,000 football academies by 2025 as part of an ambitious blueprint to grow into a soccer superpower.

The announcement, made by China’s football association Vice President Wang Dengfeng, more than doubles the earlier target of 20,000 academies by 2020.

Wang was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying that each school would be able to train 1,000 young players on average, fulfilling the goal laid out in a plan announced last April of having 50 million competent players.

“This is a solid way to select football talent for our future reserves. Improving Chinese football is no longer just a dream,” Wang was quoted as saying on the website of the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s men have only qualified for one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

To that end, China last year signed Brazil’s World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to take over the national men’s team. The government has also ordered the creation of 70,000 football fields to fill gaps in its youth program.

Teams in China’s professional leagues, meanwhile, have recruited international stars such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez on highly paid contracts, raising concerns that they are neglecting home-grown talent.

In response, China’s football association last month said it plans a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs. It also reduced the number of foreigners who can play per club at any given time from four to three and required that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”