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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)

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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.

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.