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NWSL Digest: Seattle still perfect, Red Stars surge, Wambach not making friends

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source:  Player of the Week

Lori Chalupny’s consistency throughout the NWSL’s first season made her a fringe MVP candidate last year, with the oft-cited distinction of being the league’s most fouled and most fouling player underscoring her constantly influence. Through the first month of the league’s second season, however, Chicago’s red star had been relatively quiet, rarely making an impact that drew consideration for our teams of the week, let alone replicating her MVP-level performance.

Over the last two games, that changed. Last Thursday, Chalupny scored her first goal of the season in the Red Stars’ 3-1 win over Boston. Three days later, in the team’s return engagement at Harvard Stadium, a more controversial goal in Chicago’s 4-1 win completed the midfielder’s two-goal week. Though her second may have been offside, it was still a reflection of the midfielder’s perpetual influence.

Chalupny’s still leading the league in fouls (15), and she’s still being fouled more than any player on the circuit (16). After last week’s games, though, she’s finally back on the scoresheet. And with apologies to teammate Jen Hoy, Washington’s Jodie Taylor, and Portland’s Nadine Angerer (because my midfield bias may be showing here), Chalupny also edged the field for our Player of the Week honor.

Results

Wednesday, May 14
Houston Dash 0, Portland Thorns 1 – Three good saves from open play and a penalty kick stop from Angerer gave Portland its second 1-0 of the year at BBVA Compass. Jessica McDonald’s fourth goal of the year provided the winner, with Houston still without a goal at home.
Seattle Reign 3, FC Kansas City 2 – Seattle’s two quick goals were pulled back by a Lauren Holiday penalty kick and an Erika Tymrak rocket. Late in the match, Seattle’s midfield took over, with Keelin Winters providing a late game-winner to keep the Reign perfect through seven.

Thursday, May 15
Boston Breakers 1, Chicago Red Stars 3 – Goals from Chalupny, Michelle Wenino, and Hoy overwhelmed Courtney Jones’ early opener, providing an ominous foreshadowing for the teams’ rematch three days later.

Saturday, May 17
Washington Spirit 3, Western New York 2 – A contentious game in Maryland saw Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd answer Taylor’s early opener by halftime. In the second, a Kathryn Williamson own goal and Taylor’s winner gave Washington revenge for its early season loss to the Flash, a result that incurred the wrath of Wambach on multiple levels (see below).

Sunday, May 18
FC Kansas City 2, Houston Dash 2 – Jordan Jackson and Tiffany McCarty scored Houston’s fourth and fifth goals of the season, responding to FC Kansas City goals each time. Despite a strong performance midweek in Seattle, Kansas City wasted its chance to gain ground at home, allowing Houston to end its four-game losing streak.

Team of the Week

Forwards Midfielders Defenders Goalkeeper
Jen Hoy, Chicago
Jodie Taylor, Washington
Lori Chalupny, Chicago
Erika Tymrak, Kansas City
Kim Little, Seattle
Keelin Winters, Seattle
Michelle Wenino, Chicago
Kendall Fletcher, Seattle
Emily Menges, Portland
Robyn Gayle, Washington
Nadine Angerer, Portland

Standings

NWSL Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
Seattle Reign FC 21 7 7 0 0 16 4 12
Chicago Red Stars 13 7 4 2 1 10 5 5
Portland Thorns FC 11 6 3 1 2 7 4 3
FC Kansas City 11 9 3 4 2 15 15 0
Western New York Flash 10 6 3 2 1 10 7 3
Washington Spirit 9 7 3 4 0 11 13 -2
Sky Blue FC 6 7 1 3 3 6 10 -4
Houston Dash 4 7 1 5 1 5 13 -8
Boston Breakers 3 6 1 5 0 7 16 -9

Quick thoughts, after week six

1. Seattle passes first big tests – We said it before: Wait until the Reign are done with Portland before talking about their future. After their 1-0 win at Providence Park (and their subsequent response to Kansas City’s challenge), it’s fair to start thinking, if not outright expecting, a title run. The two big challenges we want to see them pass: (a) a trip to Rochester, (b) a face-off with a fully stocked Thorns. A post-Christen Press Chicago might have a say in this, too.

2. Defense was supposed to be the problem for Portland – Rachel Van Hollebeke hasn’t played a game, Williamson’s in Western New York, and Marian Dougherty’s calling games from the press box. With the back line overhauled, defense was supposed to be the weak link for the Thorns. Instead, through six weeks, Paul Riley might have the best group of defenders in the league. Seattle’s goals allowed rate is better, but a lot of that work is being done in front of the defense. With Riley’s revamped line and the addition of Angerer, Portland’s proving surprisingly stalwart near goal.

3. Don’t worry about Kansas City – Fans could look at the Houston result and muster pessimism about their Blues, and in the face of a 3-4-2 start, that wouldn’t be entirely unwarranted. It’s a conclusion that would shortchange the Dash, though. And on short rest, traveling after a turf game in Seattle, a team that’s so reliant on Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Cheney was also apt to wane. Wednesday was the real Kansas City, though if Tymrak continues doing this (from Sunday against Houston), there’s a big three of Holiday, Rodriguez, and Tymrak should prove more potent than last year’s group.

4. Second place Chicago has a mighty enviable midfield – There’s only one team that shouldn’t be jealous of Chicago’s midfield, and they’re 7-0-0. With Chalupny and Julie Johnston pulled into the middle Vanessa DiBernardo, the Red Stars have a core that can sustain a playoff challenge. We’re only one-third of the way through the season, but it looks like the Red Stars and Kansas City may end up fighting it out for the fourth playoff spot.

And a final, not so quick thought …

5. Abby Wambach’s disappointing week – Wambach scored her team’s first goal this weekend, an equalizer which looked ready to spark the favored Flash to a win at Washington. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there:

1. Wambach’s team ended up losing, 3-2, to a Spirit side that’s proving a refreshing change from the one that settled at the bottom of last year’s standings.

2. It’s hard to tell here whether Wambach, jogging toward goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, hits Washington’s Tori Huster in the chest or chin, below. She certainly went out of her way. She certainly hit her unnecessarily. Whether it warrants more than a foul, you be the judge:

After what Carli Lloyd did to DiBernardo, this is not a good look for Western New York.

3. Speaking off Lloyd, Wambach excluded her from post-match criticism directed at the rest of her team, singling out some of Aaran Lines’ Spanish imports after the team’s loss. From Equalizer Soccer:

“Moving forward, I think when Carli and I are both on the field that doesn’t mean that other players can’t step up and play big games for us and I think that’s a lesson to be learned,” Wambach said. “Carli and I are great players obviously, we’re on the National Team, we have experience, we’ve been playing this for many years but the other players, the Vicky Losada’s (sic), the Sonia [Bermudezes], they need to step up and play as well when we’re not on the field as when we’re on the field. And it’s a lesson to be learned because Carli and I, even when we’re on the field sometimes we don’t have great games sometimes we’re off a little bit and we’re going to need our teammates around us to pick us up. The only reason we’ve ever gotten to where we’ve gotten to in our careers is because of the players that surround us and players that pick us up when we need it.”

Given how Losada and (particularly) Bermudez have played this year, Wambach’s were surprising words. If you were going to make a list of problems with Western New York, Losada and Bermudez wouldn’t make the cut.

At a minimum, there’s not enough evidence to say they’re taking games off when the Flash’s U.S. stars are around. Saturday was the first time Wambach and Lloyd have played together all season.

Perhaps Washington just played well. Or maybe some players did have off days. Maybe the Spaniards didn’t respond well to the game’s physicality, or perhaps Wambach is just reading the situation wrong. Regardless, for a player that has tremendous sway, this is a terrible way to use that clout.

Wambach may be calling it as she sees it, but it’s one of the more disrespectful things you can do to a teammate. It’s hard to imagine, two months into her working relationship with Losada and Bermudez, anything justifying this treatment.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Amy Rodriguez KC 8 6
2 Kim Little SEA 7 6
3 Jessica McDonald POR 6 4
4 Abby Wambach WNY 3 3
5 Diana Matheson WAS 7 3
6 Lauren Holiday KC 8 3
7 Allie Long POR 5 3
8 Erika Tymrak KC 7 3
9 Jen Hoy CHI 7 3
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Lauren Holiday KC 8 3
2 Jessica Fishlock SEA 7 3
3 Jenna Richmond KC 9 3
4 Vicky Losada WNY 5 3

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: Perfect as they approach the one-third point of their season, the Reign still don’t have Sydney Leroux clicking. They don’t have Megan Rapinoe healthy, either. As long as they have that midfield, the team can make up for a myriad issues. (7-0-0)

2
Western New York Flash: We could bump the Flash down based on this weekend’s defeat, but losing by one goal at Washington is no longer that big a deal. To us, Western New York is still the second best team in the league. One day in Maryland did nothing to dispel that notion. (3-2-1)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: Riley continues collecting points while much of his talent is gone. He wants to play a more expansive style, but until Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Veronica Boquete arrive, he’ll be more industrious about how he collects results. (3-1-2)

source:

4 UP 2 Chicago Red Stars: Chicago’s put itself in position to compete for the postseason, collecting enough points in this pre-Press period to sit second after six weeks. If their U.S. international can productively slide into Hayley Brock/Zaiya Bywaters’ spot when she arrives from Tyresö, Kansas City’s slow start will come back to haunt them. (4-2-1)
source:  5 DOWN 1 FC Kansas City: The Blues’ hiccups wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for Chicago. With the Red Stars flashing their playoff credentials, there’s pressure on Kansas City to improve. (3-4-2)
source:  6 Washington Spirit: Expecting them to compete for the playoffs may be too much, but the Spirit’s progress from last season has been one of the season’s best stories thus far. (3-4-0)

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7 Sky Blue FC: Taylor Lytle, out after breaking her leg, could prove a big loss for a team that needs creativity in midfield. Now it will be up to Katy Freels, Sophie Schmidt, and Nanase Kiryu to pick up the slack. Sky Blue looks unlikely to replicate last year’s postseason appearance. (1-3-3)
source:  8 UP 1 Houston Dash: Two good games from Jordan Jackson give the Dash hope of goals from midfield, but the problem remains up top. Kealia Ohai, Tiffany McCarty, Ella Masar, and Stephanie Ochs have combined for two goals in 25 appearances. Perhaps Nina Burger will solve the problem, but Randy Waldrum may have erred by trying to succeed where the 2013 Spirit failed. (1-5-1)
source:  9 DOWN 1 Boston Breakers: You can point to the sudden departure of Kia McNeill, but Boston is the only team in the league that seems so incapable of addressing its problems in defense. The organization is in danger of being left behind by a league that’s proving more competitive off the field than its predecessor. (1-5-0)

Week Seven

Wednesday, May 25
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – Like the men’s professional team in the D.C. area, the next challenge for the Spirit is dealing with its relative success. It’s one thing to be a plucky upstart. It’s another to be expected to take the game to some opponents.
FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC, 8:00 p.m. Eastern – If last week’s game in Seattle is any indication, tonight could be the end of the Reign’s perfect start. With seven days’ rest to Kansas City’s three, however, Seattle may see fresher legs carry them through.
Portland Thorns vs. Western New York, 10:00 p.m. Eastern – The Flash had the better of the teams’ first meeting but ended up drawn in Rochester. They’ll be traveling to face a team who’ll have three extra days off.

Friday, May 27
Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars, 8:00 p.m. Eastern – Houston may be near Boston in the standings, but the Dash will provide a completely different challenge for the Red Stars. After claiming a point in Missouri, Waldrum’s group may also be good for a result on Friday.

Saturday, May 28
Portland Thorns vs. Sky Blue, 10:00 p.m. Eastern – Sky Blue’s deep midfield and compact defense troubled Portland last year. The Thorns’ midfield play has improved, but they’ll need help from Kat Tarr and Courtney Niemiec if Jim Gabarra employs the same approach.

Sunday, May 29
Boston Breakers vs. FC Kansas City, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – This is a litmus test for Kansas City. There’s nothing about the Breakers team that says they should get a point from the Blues. If, however, playing on the road prevents Vlatko Andonovski’s team from taking advantage of Boston, how can they expect to keep up with Chicago?
Seattle Reign vs. Western New York Flash, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – The Reign finally get Western New York, doing so after Portland’s run the Flash around Providence Park on Wednesday. For all the things that went wrong for Seattle last year, they’re breaking the right way in 2014.

WATCH: Man City’s Aguero, Nasri play soccer tennis atop Great Wall of China

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Manchester City stars Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero have both been under pressure in recent weeks for being out of shape, at least according to Pep Guardiola’s pizza-free standards.

One way to help fix that is better fitness, though we’re doubting that soccer tennis atop the Great Wall of China is necessarily going to tip the scales (pun absolutely, 100 percent intended).

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Nasri and James Horsfield of Man City took on teammates Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho in the match, which resulted in a half-dozen balls sent over the wall.

Games like this, sometimes even more than actual matches, remind many of us how far we are from the magical touch and control of elite players.

Reports: Pogba passes Manchester United medical; Announcement nears

Juventus FC v US Sassuolo Calcio - Serie A
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
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The seemingly inevitable to end to years of speculation is nigh.

With the record-breaking fee agreed, Paul Pogba has reportedly passed his medical with Manchester United and is set to join the club in England.

It’s also worth noting that Pogba hasn’t been dealing with injuries, and reporting that he’s passed a medical is a pretty safe bet.

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Pogba, 23, left Manchester United for Juventus in 2012 after the Old Trafford club didn’t meet his contractual demands, infuriating then-manager Alex Ferguson.

His play at Juventus proved his caliber, and new boss Jose Mourinho has been adamant that United needed to acquire the midfielder.

Hints that Real Madrid — who loooooves to break transfer records — had edged back into the race have been squashed, though we’ve learned anything can happen when United and Real are involved in a transfer (See: De Gea, Beckham, Ronaldo).

Atletico Madrid edges frame-rattling Spurs 1-0; Yedlin impresses at LB

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 29:  DeAndre Yedlin of Tottenham Hotspur and Sime Vrsaljko of Atletico de Madrid compete for the ball during 2016 International Champions Cup Australia match between Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico de Madrid at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
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Diego Godin’s close range redirection gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in an open match in Australia on Friday.

The International Champions Cup match was missing several big names including Harry Kane, Koke, Dele Alli, and Antoine Griezmann, so it’s hard to make any judgments either way.

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Spurs rattled the post and banged one off the crossbar in the loss, which comes days after a 2-1 setback of sorts against Juventus.

USMNT back DeAndre Yedlin and American prospect Cameron Carter-Vickers started in the back line. Yedlin was again at left back, and impressed in 60 minutes of work.

Godin appeared to be well offside in the 40th minute when Kyle Walker‘s ill-fated flick came his way inside the six.

USMNT keeper Guzan staying in Premier League, joins Boro

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 16:  Goalkeeper Brad Guzan #1 of the United States defends against Ecuador during the 2016 Quarterfinal - Copa America Centenario match at CenturyLink Field on June 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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Brad Guzan is leaving a relegation campaign, and hopes he won’t be facing another.

The USMNT goalkeeper and starter at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, Guzan was announced Friday as the latest signing in a busy summer for newly-promoted Middlesbrough.

[ EUROPA: West Ham loses in Slovenia ]

Guzan will have a heck of a battle for the No. 1 shirt, as new recruit Victor Valdes and incumbent Dimitrios Konstantopoulos are in the fold at Riverside Stadium.

The 31-year-old leaves Aston Villa after eight seasons and 171 appearances, a tenure that included a 16-appearance loan to Hull City. He was a runner-up in the League Cup and FA Cup, and internationally won the Golden Glove at the 2015 Gold Cup.

Boro have added Antonio Barragan, Alvaro Negredo, Gaston Ramirez, Viktor Fischer, Marten de Roon, and Bernardo Espinosa this summer in preparation for their first PL campaign since 2008-09.