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NWSL: Houston becomes second MLS franchise to place team in women’s professional league

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Consider that the National Women’s Soccer League’s predecessor, Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011), saw its marque franchise fold after the circuit’s first year. That’s the context needed to realize how big a day this is for the NWSL, with North America’s latest attempt at a professional women’s league announcing on Thursday that Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo will enter a team in the league starting with the 2014 season.

The move takes the league from eight to nine teams for its second season, the Houston Dash set to join the Portland Thorns (operated by the Portland Timbers) as the second NWSL entry to be operated by a Major League Soccer team. Leading the league in attendance in season one (drawing 13,320 per game, nine thousand more than the league average), the Thorns won the league’s first championship, defeating Western New York 2-0 in August’s title game.

Now Houston will try to emulate their MLS partner’s success, with the Dash set to begin play in April.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said in a statement announcing the move. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

Canetti initially floated the idea of a women’s team to potential customers three weeks ago, asking for refundable season ticket deposits as a way of gauging interest. Though initial feedback from Canetti indicated early returns were soft, Houston ultimately decided to become the NWSL’s first expansion team, with drafts to stock their roster expected this winter.

“We’re proud and excited to welcome the Houston Dash to the NWSL,” league executive director Cheryl Bailey said. “We are thrilled at being able to add an organization as strong as the Houston Dynamo as we work toward continuing to build a sustainable league.”

That the NWSL was able to add a partner like the Dynamo speaks to the model the league has set up. With U.S. Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican federation subsidizing up to a combined seven players per team, much of the teams’ biggest costs are being offset. For a franchise like the Dash — who have an existing organizational infrastructure, and control and operate their own venue (BBVA Compass Stadium) — the NWSL presents a relatively safe investment.

After its first year, the NWSL has a proof of concept, one that was strong enough to convince a new partner to come on board. Had the model proved flimsy, hinting the league was destined to go the way of WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003), it would have been near-impossible to convince this type of partner that a team was worth the risk. Instead, Houston’s ready to start from the ground up.

“We share the vision for this league and look forward to playing our part in making it a great success,” Canetti said. “Part of our responsibility is to grow the game of soccer, and this new team will play a significant role in that effort.”

By adding a ninth team to the league, Houston’s already playing a significant part. Whereas Women’s Professional Soccer was losing partners at this point in its run, the NWSL has added a major one.

That won’t guarantee success, but the addition does push the league forward. Though they’re an expansion team, Houston immediately becomes one of the NWSL’s most viable franchises, one that could help it survive women’s soccer’s dreaded three-year curse.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.