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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)

source:

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.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)