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NWSL Roundup: Seattle’s opening day was as amazing as Laura Harvey’s offseason

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If there were awards for offseason success, Seattle Reign FC general manager/head coach Laura Harvey would have won them all. Completely overhauling a squad that never competing for a 2013 playoff spot, the former Arsenal and Birmingham City boss accumulated the league’s most enviable collection of attacking talents, with U.S. internationals Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe leading a group that also features Arsenal signing Kim Little, INAC Kobe loanee Beverly Goebel, and Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi. Add the returning threat of Jessica Fishlock in central midfield and Seattle’s attack is diverse, deep, and more than a little bit frightening.

Boston felt the brunt of that fright on Sunday, though the Breakers can take solace in holding Leroux off the scoresheet. Having traded Leroux this winter, Boston was left out-gunned as Rapinoe piled on to Little’s first two NWSL goals, giving Seattle an eye-opening 3-0 win in its first game at Memorial Stadium.

It was the weekend’s most lopsided result, one that would imply one team’s greatness met another’s failures. Yet Boston wasn’t that bad. After making it to halftime 0-0, however, the Breakers couldn’t withstand a second 45 minutes. Seattle’s midfield was too strong, their attack too quick, and their defense too untested to leave with a draw. While Tom Durkin’s team has obvious holes, some will be addressed when the likes of Lisa De Vanna and Kristie Mewis return to the starting lineup. Others will be addressed by merely leaving Seattle.

It was a proof of concept for Harvey’s offseason overhaul; a validation off an offseason that saw the two-time English Women’s Super League winner continuously shuffle her deck. If Sunday was any indication, she’d forged a powerful hand, one which could render the team’s 2013 disappointment a distance memory.

Elsewhere

FC Kansas City 1, Sky Blue FC 1 – FCKC, a contender throughout 2013, spent its first season looking for a striker to play on top of its 4-2-3-1 formation. This season, Vlatko Andonovski’s throwing numbers at the problem, going 4-4-2 in the team’s 2014 debut. The result was an uneven performance, with Amy Rodriguez’s first NWSL tally equalized by Sky Blue’s Katy Freels early in the second half.

Houston Dash 0, Portland Thorns FC 1 – The first game in Dash franchise history saw Randy Waldrum’s team push the defending champions, though fears about the team’s attack were given fuel when Allie Long’s first half goal held up. Still, the Dash may have surprised onlookers with their quality on day one, a quality that will improve as their first choice defenders come available.

Washington Spirit 1, Western New York 3 – Even without an injured Abby Wambach, the Flash had a relatively easy day against the revamped Spirit. Unfortunately for Washington fans, a defense that allowed the most goals in 2013 proved equally suspect on Sunday, with Spanish international Vicky Losada’s two goals and one assist providing a Player of the Week-caliber performance in her debut.

Off: Chicago Red Stars

Standings Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
1. Seattle Reign FC 3 1 1 0 0 3 0 3
2. Western New York Flash 3 1 1 0 0 3 1 2
3. Portland Thorns FC 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
4. FC Kansas City 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
5. Sky Blue FC 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
6. Chicago Red Stars
7. Houston Dash 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 -1
8. Washington Spirit 0 1 0 1 0 1 3 -2
9. Boston Breakers 0 1 0 1 0 0 3 -3

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling nearly 50 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET

Vertonghen to miss 2 months with ankle ligament damage

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur receives treatment from the medical team during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jan Vertronghen is expected to miss at least two months while recovering from ankle ligament damage, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Tottenham Hotspur currently second in the Premier League, seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Vertonghen suffered the injury in the 65th minute of Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion, when he went full-stretch to clear the ball along the sideline before landing on the outside of his left foot, causing the ankle to roll violently. The 29-year-old Belgian international was in clear, visible agony as he sat on the field at White Hart Lane and eventually limped down the tunnel.

The Guardian described the injury as “a tear lying between grades two and three, damage which had left Vertonghen in tears as he departed the turf at White Hart Lane and would normally rule him out at the very least until mid-March.”

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

In the meantime, Kevin Wimmer and Ben Davies will be tasked with filling the void for a Tottenham side which has conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League this season (14 in 21 games). (As a small aside, 19-year-old American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers is likely set for a handful of appearances as well, perhaps in the Europa League round of 32 and FA Cup fourth round, with Wimmer and Davies called upon for additional PL service.)

Wimmer filled in for Vertonghen for nearly three months last season, at the exact same point of the campaign (Jan. 20 through April 2). In Wimmer’s 10 PL starts during that stretch (Vertonghen out with knee ligament damage), Spurs conceded seven goals (seven wins and two draws). The loss of Toby Aldeweireld, for nearly two months back in October of this season, proved a far greater blow (two wins in six PL games), and Spurs should once again manage just fine for as long as Aldeweireld remains healthy alongside Eric Dier, Wimmer and Davies.