NWSL Digest: Reign, Flash flying as we move past Week 1

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Player of the Week

Vicky Losada (right) is part of an emerging core of Spanish talent that’s starting to make Ignacio Quereda’s team relevant in Europe, but having never played outside of Spain before , the 23-year-old midfielder was a bit of an unknown to those who don’t subscribe to the Women’s La Liga Television Network (a channel that doesn’t exist).

So credit to Aaran Lines and the Western New York staff for scouting Week One’s big star. Perhaps teammate and fellow Spanish international Adriana Martín deserves some credit, too. Whatever the reason, the former Barcelona standout was more than able to make up for the loss of Abby Wambach, scoring twice and assisting on Brittany Taylor’s goal in the Flash’s 3-1 win in Washington.

Results

FC Kansas City 1-1 Sky Blue FC – Amy Rodriguez 42′; Katy Freels 48′
Houston Dash 0-1 Portland Thorns – Allie Long 24′
Washington Spirit 1-3 Western New York Flash – Vicky Losada 15′, 67′; Christine Nairn 50′; Brittany Taylor 54′
Seattle Reign FC 3-0 Boston Breakers – Kim Little 49′, 54′; Megan Rapinoe 88′

Team of the Week

GK – Jill Loyden, Sky Blue FC – This is a quantity choice, with the U.S. international making seven saves in Kansas City. Coming up big on Amy Rodríguez in the second half, Lloyden helped preserve a point on the road, even if some of her first half kicks were quite … interesting?

RB – Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – There weren’t any standout performances at right back, but O’Hara’s forays forward — tormenting rookie Kassy Kallman — distinguished the U.S. star. Normally a left back and a converted attacker, the Stanford grad got the call behind natural right back Caitlin Foord, who was pushed into midfield. Late in the game, O’Hara slid into central defense, playing understudy for Christie Rampone and Lindsi Cutshall.

CD – Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Sauerbrunn’s always a pleasure to watch, something you’re reminding of in her moment-to-moment control at the back; comfort on the ball; sublime steps into midfield. I’d bet against her being in this team every week, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

CD – Brittany Taylor, Western New York Flash – We don’t like to be too goals-centric on this list, but Taylor did score on the league’s opening weekend, something that helps her edge out Sauerbrunn’s partner, Nikki Phillips, for this spot.

LD – Kassy Kallman, FC Kansas City – Like right back, left back was difficult to find standouts, but Kallman’s assist on Rodriguez’s goal earns the former Florida State Seminole a spot.

M – Allie Long, Portland Thorns FC – Long put four shots on goal on Saturday in Houston, with her first half header allowing the defending champions to win the first NWSL game at BBVA Compass Stadium.

source:  M – Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC (right) – Another great performance from the Reign’s best player last season saw the Wales international complement her customary rambunctious play with two assists, helping Seattle to an overwhelming start.

AM – Vicky Losada, Western New York Flash

AM – Kim Little, Seattle Reign FC – Little is coming off a downturn in goals at Arsenal, production that is unlikely to be so muted in Seattle. With one from the spot, another from open play, Little notched two goals in her first 90 North American minutes.

AM/W – Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – A late goal against an overwhelmed Boston gave her just rewards for a strong opening day performance.

F – Amy Rodriguez, FC Kansas City – Making her NWSL debut, Rodriguez’s fine finish off Kallman’s late first half pass gave FC Kansas City its first goal at Durwood Stadium. Welcome back, A-Rod.

Standings

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

 

Quick thoughts, after week one

1. Becky Sauerbrunn and Nikki Phillips may already be the league’s best central defense duo …

FC Kansas City didn’t keep a clean sheet, but the goal was a bit freakish – a failed clearance that fell straight to Katy Freels. Around that, the central duo of Sauerbrunn and college teammate Nikki Phillips assuaged any fears shaking up last year’s solid defense would lead to a downturn in performance. Individually, the former Cavaliers were two of the weekend’s three best central defenders.

Compared to opening day last season, FCKC see only one player return to the same spot in the back four. Sauerbrunn and Leigh Ann Robinson stay the same, but Robinson (left to right back) has shifted to new roles.

Phillips’s addition, however, could justify the tweaks, and while Kallman looked a little slow against Foord and O’Hara, she won’t be the only left back in the league subjected to that problem.

source: Getty Images2. … but this formation change for FC Kansas City could cost us some fun.

I want to reserve judgement on Vlatko Andonovski’s switch away from the 4-2-3-1. I really do. Given the trouble the Blues had converting possession into goals, it’s not clear going to a second striker should be automatically criticized.

The new formation, however, doesn’t have the same pure playmaker role that’s present in the 4-2-3-1. Given how much enjoyment reigning MVP Lauren Holiday (pictured) produced in that spot, the fan in me wishes we could have voted on the move. Less Lauren Holiday picking apart defense – less fun for the NWSL.

3. Houston held their own with the defending champions …

With a temporarily depleted defense, the debuting Dash impressed against the Thorns, even if the result didn’t come. No surprise: Randy Waldrum appears to have quickly forged a solid squad.

4. … but may also be experiencing a women’s professional soccer typical problem.

Game-changing goal scorers have been so rare in Women’s Professional Soccer and the NWSL, it’s been hard to succeed without one. Sky Blue did to a limited extent last year, but at the end of the season, they were the team you wanted to meet in the playoffs. The rest of the postseason qualifiers had Wambach, Holiday, and Christine Sinclair, while Sydney Leroux was the only standout forward to miss the playoffs.

The thesis here is that the nature of the leagues has allowed elite goal scorers – people who can occasionally find goals of their own accord — to have a larger than expected impact. The absence of elite snipers may have doomed Washington, Seattle, and Chicago last season.

If that’s the case, Houston is in trouble. They have talented forwards such as Kealia Ohai and Stephanie Ochs, but it’s unclear either will be among the league’s leading scorers. We know enough about Ella Masar to be confident she won’t.

The Dash looked impressive on opening day, but that lack of a scoring threat could be their undoing. Maybe Ohai or Ochs will step up.

source: AP5. For all the talk, Portland doesn’t look much different.

The team with as much talent as anybody had trouble controlling the game yet still managed a narrow victory. Give Cindy Cone’s hat to Paul Riley, and the Thorns would have that full 2013 feel.

It’s early, and the Thorns had a number of key absences, but all the rhetoric about controlling play and providing a more entertaining product felt flat on day one. Riley got a win in his NWSL debut, but it didn’t feel like the Thorns had made progress.

6. So many moves led to so little change for Washington.

It’s just over one week into the season, and there are already hints of chaos in Washington, where a coach entering his first full season on the job called out his team after Sunday’s performance. True, there isn’t enough there to assume it’s all mayhem and anarchy in the dressing room, but the early tension between staff and squad hints at the same problems that saw Washington change coaches half-way through last season. There may be something in the water.

7. Laura Harvey’s offseason

We’re one step away from Power Rankings, but this should be the real order:

1. Laura Harvey’s offseason
<end of list>

We talked about it on Sunday, but we can’t do this Digest feature without mentioning the obvious. Harvey’s winter overhaul has the potential to define this season. Even if it doesn’t, 2013 should be a distant memory in Seattle.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Kim Little SEA 1 2
2 Vicky Losada WNY 1 2
3 Amy Rodriguez KC 1 1
4 Megan Rapinoe SEA 1 1
5 Katy Freels NJ 1 1
6 Brittany Taylor WNY 1 1
7 Allie Long POR 1 1
8 Christine Nairn WAS 1 1
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Jessica McDonald POR 1 1
2 Adriana Martin WNY 1 1
3 Kassey Kallman KC 1 1
4 Vicky Losada WNY 1 1

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: The attack was quick, fluid, balanced, and scary. Little and Fishlock as threats from midfield can take advantage of all the work Rapinoe, Leroux, and Beverly Goebel do up front. The only defense may be a good offense – finding a way to get at the Reign’s back four. (1-0-0)

2
Western New York Flash: Last year I thought Abby Wambach’s health wouldn’t hold up and the Flash would crash and burn. They ended up winning the regular season. Any kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude I have about Aaran Lines went out the window. It looks like he’s built another strong team. (1-0-0)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: As much as this looks like last year’s team, that squad won the title. Perhaps Paul Riley will need a little more time to produce the attractive product Merritt Paulson wants, but the team still got a win on the road. There’s only so much nit-picking we can do over one week’s result. (1-0-0)
source:  4 FC Kansas City: A draw at home in week one should be slightly disappointing, but the team put eight shots on target. Hopefully, on other days, that will lead to more goals. If Jill Loyden was able to keep the Blues to one, credit the keeper without faulting the team, too much. (0-0-1)
source:  5 Houston Dash: They created just enough going forward to make me believe the goal scoring situation will improve. If, however, Houston can’t prove more adept at getting on the scoresheet, Saturday’s result will look more plucky than dangerous. (0-1-0)

source:

5 Sky Blue FC: Ranking them below a team that lost is harsh, but Sky Blue gave up too many chances and needed an unforced defensive error from Kansas City to get a point. Jim Gabarra’s team proved capable as always, but if they played Houston tomorrow, I’d put my loose change on the Dash. If might also ask if I could skip the bet entirely. (0-0-1)
source:  7 Boston Breakers: Given how good the Reign were, we’re giving Boston a bit of a pass, particularly since they were able to get to halftime at 0-0. Where anything that happens on the field often comes down to balancing blame and credit, we’re tipping the scales in Seattle favor and leaving Boston near the middle of the Power Rankings pack. (0-1-0)

source:

8 Chicago Red Stars: I have no idea what to make of Chicago after Week One.  (0-0-0)
source:  9 Washington Spirit: A year after finishing with a -23 goal difference in 22 games, the Spirit open up with a 3-1 loss to a team that was missing its best player. I know there’s a lot of hype around Crystal Dunn, and players like Yael Averbuch, Veronica Perez, and Christine Nairn should prove valuable additions, but wow does this year look like last (after one week, mind you). (0-1-0)

Week Two

Saturday, April 19

Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City  – Talent-wise, Kansas City has a huge edge, but if Andonovski’s 4-4-2 needs a breaking in period, Washington may be able to steal a point.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Western New York Flash – Chicago opens its season at Toyota Park, hoping to draw a crowd for Abby Wambach and the Flash. Whether the U.S. icon will play isn’t 100 percent certain. If Chicago, returning largely the same team that closed last season so strong, can carry over momentum from 2013, the team can knock off the Flash.

Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC – This matchup looks somewhat similar to Portland’s opener, prompting the obvious question: Will the Thorns play better? Even if they do, they’ll do os against a Sky Blue team that found ways to trouble them last season. So far from home, a draw would be a good result.

Sunday, April 20

Boston Breakers vs. Houston Dash – This should be a telling game for both teams. Was Boston’s opener truly about a powerful Reign team opening up at home? And were the Dash fueled by the occasion more than potential?

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.


 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.