NWSL Digest: Denting Seattle’s armor, testing the Flash, and Chicago’s continued rise

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source:  Player of the Week

Here’s how evil it is that Kim Little and Jessica Fishlock — two of the best midfielders in the world, let alone the NWSL — are on the same team: Even if you have teams with midfielders who can contain the Little problem, Fishlock can just surge out of her shuttler’s role, exploit the areas you’ve exposed, and flash the talents that made her one of the league’s best players last season. With two such dangerous, complete players in the same team, your reward for containing with one is ceding room for the other.

Consider Fishlock’s goal on Sunday against Western New York. With her team having more trouble than usual creating chances, Fishlock took advantage of the attention Western New York gave Little to get into the Flash’s penalty area. Queue Stephanie Cox’s pinpoint cross, a deceptively good finish, and Seattle had its early equalizer.

It was the high point of Fishlock’s week, but it also showcased why the Seattle midfield has the league’s defining force. So much of the threesome’s success is about Little, Fishlock, and Winters reading each other, knowing that Little is the attacking tip while Winters is the defensive anchor. Fishlock is the more malleable part, bridging that gap. As opponents adjust, she does, too.

On Sunday in Seattle, that meant an opportunity to get onto the scoresheet. Midweek against Kansas City, that meant helping Winters and looking for spots to even out the numbers game Little was fighting higher up. They type of play may not produce league-leading numbers, but without Fishlock’s play over the last seven days, Seattle would not have preserved the “0” in its loss column.

Results

May 21, 2014
Washington Spirit 3, Sky Blue FC 3 – Some soft hands from Jillian Loyden and a disputed penalty called against Jonelle Filigno saw Sky Blue’s late 3-1 late disappear, with Washington salvaging a point from a match they were expected to win.
FC Kansas City 1, Seattle Reign FC 1 – Seattle came into the game with a perfect record but fell behind when Hope Solo couldn’t prevent Amy Rodriguez’s seventh goal of the season. Kim Little equalized from the spot two minutes later, pulling her even with Rodriguez at the top of the league’s scoring chart, but the Reign still dropped their first points of 2014.
Portland Thorns FC 2, Western New York Flash 1 – The Thorns’ best performance of the season saw goals from Allie Long and Jessica McDonald put the team up two just after halftime. McCall Zerboni’s response and a late Flash surge briefly put the match in doubt, but missing Angela Salem, Western New York couldn’t salvage a result in Portland.

May 23, 2014
Houston Dash 1, Chicago Red Stars 3 – Ella Masar scored the first Dash goal at BBVA Compass Stadium, but quick answers from Alyssa Mautz and Jen Hoy ensured the Red Stars would stay in second place come the end of the weekend.

May 24, 2014
Portland Thorns FC 0, Sky Blue FC 1 – For the second year in a row, Sky Blue executes a smash-and-grab in Portland, with Kelley O’Hara’s late header giving the visitors the upset at Providence Park.

May 25, 2014
Boston Breakers 0, FC Kansas City 2 – Rodriguez continued the duel she’s taken up with Little, complementing Nikki Phillips’ opener to help deliver the team’s fourth win of the season.
Seattle Reign FC 2, Western New York Flash 2 – Two New York leads, two Seattle equalizers kept the Reign unbeaten, but as head coach Laura Harvey confessed after the match, the Flash made her team work harder than it has against its previous opponents.

May 26, 2014
Washington Spirit 3, Houston Dash 2 – A dramatic late winner from Christine Nairn left Houston with too little time to find a third equalizer, with a rare multi-goal performance from the goal-shy Dash going for naught in Maryland.

Team of the Week

Forwards Midfielders Defenders Goalkeeper
Amy Rodriguez, Kansas City Jessica Fishlock, Seattle
Kim Little, Seattle
Diana Matheson, Washington
Jen Buczkowski, Kansas City
Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue
Merritt Mathias, Kansas City
Becky Sauerbrunn, Kansas City
Christie Rampone, Sky Blue
Stephanie Cox, Seattle
Karina LeBlanc, Chicago

Standings

Pts GP W L T GF GA GD Pts/GM
1 Seattle Reign FC 23 9 7 0 2 19 7 12 2.56
2 Chicago Red Stars 16 8 5 2 1 13 6 7 2.00
3 FC Kansas City 15 11 4 4 3 18 16 2 1.36
4 Portland Thorns FC 14 8 4 2 2 9 6 3 1.75
5 Washington Spirit 13 9 4 4 1 17 18 -1 1.44
6 Western New York Flash 11 8 3 3 2 13 11 2 1.38
7 Sky Blue FC 10 9 2 3 4 10 13 -3 1.11
8 Houston Dash 4 9 1 7 1 8 19 -11 0.44
9 Boston Breakers 3 7 1 6 0 7 18 -11 0.43

Quick thoughts, after week seven

1. The NWSL is back on television – Six regular season games and all three postseason matches make up the league’s new package with ESPN, only unlike last year’s pact with FOX that distributed games to a number of different venues, ESPN is focusing on a few, select places: Houston, Portland, Western New York. Though three games will be on ESPN3, the other matches, including the playoff games, will be on ESPN2. The league’s convinced a new partner of the product’s value.

2. Tyresö’s coming – The Swedish club’s stars made thin amends for last Thursday’s loss with a weekend win over Damallsvenskan-leading Rosengård – a game that served as the send off for the likes of Christen Press, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, and Veronica Boquete (among others). Those stars have now departed the fledgling club for their NWSL destinations: Chicago (Press); Houston (Engen, Klingenberg); and Portland (Boquete).

Paul Riley has eagerly awaited his reunion with Boquete since acquiring her rights from the Flash, while Rory Dames gets the biggest goal-scoring threat he’s had during his time with the Red Stars.

3. Two holders slow up Seattle – Both FC Kansas City and Western New York made Seattle look vulnerable, a quality they’d rarely flashed through their first seven games. The commonalities between those opponents: Talented midfields that play two holders.

If teams start bracing against the influence of Little and Fishlock, the performance of Sydney Leroux and Beverly Goebel becomes more important. As do the returns of Nahomi Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe.

4. Western New York knows what they’re up against – The Flash’s Cascadia road trip wouldn’t look so bad had they beat Washington before their West Coast excursion. With that loss to the Spirit, however, Western New York has one point from its last three games.

Results on the field, however, weren’t that bad. The Flash were within minutes of handing Seattle its first loss of the season, while in Portland, a down performance without one of the team’s key players (Salem) still nearly produced a result.

Western New York is in sixth place, but there’s no reason to think they’re the league’s sixth-best team. As Sunday showed, they’re much better than that.

5. The Alex Morgan tease –

Technically Morgan, yet to play a minute this year, was available to play, dressing in Paul Riley’s 18 to face visiting Sky Blue. When she didn’t come on late as the Thorns chased a 1-0 lead, it was clear she was never meant to play. Whether Paulson, Portland’s owner, knew that or not is unclear. Some fans felt trolled.

It’s more likely Paulson, 24 hours before the game, thought his star might play and sent out an honest, unintentional mistake. That the team came was coming off a low, Wednesday night crowd (by their standards: 10,920) aroused suspicions, as did a Timbers kickoff time in New York that could have kept some soccer fans in bars (4:00 p.m. PT, three hours before the Thorns game).

Regardless, whereas at one time she was out indefinitely, Morgan is inching closer toward a Portland return, one that should open the tap on the team’s incoming talent. The next time Paulson tweets about his biggest star, she’ll likely be on the field.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Amy Rodriguez KC 10 8
2 Kim Little SEA 9 8
3 Diana Matheson WAS 9 5
4 Jessica McDonald POR 8 5
5 Abby Wambach WNY 5 4
6 Allie Long POR 7 4
7 Jen Hoy CHI 8 4
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Jen Buczkowski KC 11 3
2 Crystal Dunn WAS 9 3
3 Lauren Holiday KC 10 3
4 Beverly Goebel SEA 9 3
5 Jessica Fishlock SEA 9 3
6 Vanessa DiBernardo CHI 8 3
7 Jenna Richmond KC 11 3
8 Vicky Losada WNY 7 3

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: As good as the Reign are, Sunday showed the team can still be so much better. With Naho Kawasumi at Asian Cup, the team’s front three stopped creating chances. At some point, Leroux and Goebel may have to produce.  (7-0-2)

2
Western New York Flash: We didn’t drop them after losing in Maryland, so we’re not going to drop them after two close results on the road against contenders. The record doesn’t look great, but the quality Western New York showed on Sunday was clear. They’ll eventually make up the points they’ve lost. (3-3-2)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: One step forward, one step back. As impressive as Portland was in its win over Western New York, the team was equally disappointing in losing to Sky Blue. With 16, Christine Sinclair is third in the league in shots on target, but the Thorns captain still doesn’t have a goal. (4-2-2)

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4 Chicago Red Stars: Chicago’s won four in a row, but each win has come against Boston or Houston. Until they can knock off one of the top five teams on this list, it’s difficult to move then much higher than four. (5-2-1)
source:  5 FC Kansas City: Amy Rodriguez continues to score, Erika Tymrak is coming around, but for this team to reach its potential, 2014 Lauren Holiday needs to find the form of 2013 Lauren Cheney. She’s still one of the league’s best players, if not its best No. 10, but she’s not playing at an MVP-level. If she can get back to that standard, FC Kansas City will contend at the top of the table. (4-4-3)

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6 UP 1 Sky Blue FC: A four-point week for Sky Blue reminds the rest of the league: Although this group may not return to the postseason, they can beat anybody. Portland, coming off its win over Western New York, may have taken Jim Gabarra’s crew for granted. (2-3-4)
source:  7 DOWN 1 Washington Spirit: Last week we talked about the difference between playing as an upstart and performing as a favorite. In two games at home last week, the Spirit drew mixed results, coming from behind to draw Sky Blue while cutting it close against Houston. They still have to adjust to their newfound, relative success. (4-4-1)
source:  8 Houston Dash: Midfielder Jordan Jackson, a fourth round draft pick, had been one of the Dash’s best players over the last two weeks, but after taking a corner kick to the head while covering short, the former Cornhusker is out indefinitely. Even with Whitey Engen and Meghan Klingenberg arriving, Houston is one team that can’t afford to lose a quality player. (1-7-1)
source:  9 Boston Breakers: We’re quickly running out of ways to explain why Boston is not good. For a team that has players like Heather O’Reilly, Lianne Sanderson, and Joanna Lohman, it shouldn’t be so easy to dismiss this team’s performances. (1-6-0)

Week Eight

Wednesday, May 28
Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago Red Stars – With Kelley O’Hara seemingly liberated from her defensive responsibilities, Sky Blue has a scorer that can help Monica Ocampo. That probably doesn’t put them on Chicago’s level, but it will present a greater challenge than Boston or Houston.

Boston Breakers vs. Portland Thorns FC – Portland’s eighth game in three days will give Boston a chance to claim rare points, particularly given the Thorns’ struggles converting chances into goals. Boston’s defense, however, well give Portland an opportunity to find somebody to beyond Allie Long and Jessica McDonald to score goals.

Saturday, May 31
Western New York vs. Houston Dash – The way to make a tough stretch of games into a bonafide slump: Play down to your competition. Coming off a good but disappointing game against Seattle, Western New York needs to take care of business against the Dash.

Sunday, June 1
Sky Blue FC vs. Seattle Reign – Seattle’s first trip to New Jersey produced a 2-0 win, but with a month’s improvement and 90 minutes of experience, Sky Blue prove tougher in game two. Usually electing to play one holder, Jim Gabarra may need to tweak his approach to handle Seattle’s midfield.

Boston Breakers vs. Washington Spirit – On the road for the first time since May 11, Washington will again assume the favorite’s mantle that troubled them slightly last week. Witd a full week’s rest against a Breakers’ team that played mid-week, the normally fast Diana Matheson and Crystal Dunn may seem that much quicker on that hard Harvard surface.

Dele Alli, Pochettino after FA Cup ouster: “We can’t keep doing this”

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This felt like a different year for Spurs, one which would include something shiny.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Instead, Tottenham Hotspur will exit another season without hardware after blowing an early lead and fairly controlling first half with a 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

This was at their home venue, even if they weren’t the home team. And it just fell apart.

Here’s Dele Alli, from the BBC:

“Everyone talks. We want to win trophies, we have the staff that want to win. We can’t keep doing this. We can’t throw it away. We have got to improve.”

His boss, Mauricio Pochettino, was more upbeat regarding his Spurs project but no less disappointed in the result. The North Londoners are only going to face more questions all offseason and into next.

“I think we need to understand where we have come from,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about winning trophies. To win a trophy when you face a side like Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City is not easy. But the most important thing is we are able to compete.”

Tottenham is on the up, and will continue to grow in resources but not renown until it puts something in its trophy case under Pochettino. It really did feel like this could be the year.

Man Utd races past Spurs to reach FA Cup Final

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  • Man Utd reaches 20th FA Cup Final
  • Alexis plays role in both Utd goals
  • Dele scores for Spurs

Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera scored as Manchester United came back to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal.

United will meet the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between Southampton and Chelsea at Wembley on May 19.

Dele Alli scored Spurs goal.

[ MORE: Full box score ]

Spurs went ahead through Dele, as Paul Pogba lost Christian Eriksen as the Dane raced onto a long ball. Eriksen crossed to the back post for Dele’s sliding finish.

Pogba made amends in his preferred third of the pitch, stealing the ball from a Mousa Dembele and lofting an inch-perfect cross for Alexis to nod home. The headed finish was anything but easy, hit across the goal while falling to the pitch.

Michel Vorm made a save on a deflected Pogba rip in the 44th minute, and Ander Herrera hit a chance high and wide off the ensuing corner.

And Eric Dier cranked a shot off the framework in stoppage time.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The best chance of the early second half saw Harry Kane‘s deflected shot go out for a corner, set up by Dele.

Herrera put United ahead just after the hour mark, as Lingard dummied a mistouch from Romelu Lukaku.

Three things we learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Manchester United fought back from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Jose Mourinho reached yet another major cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will have to cope with yet another season of heartache in cup competitions as their long wait for a trophy goes on. Dele Alli got them off to a perfect start but Alexis Sanchez’s fine header and a cool finish from Ander Herrera means United will play the winner of Chelsea versus Southampton in the other semifinal on Sunday.

Here’s what we learned from an enthralling encounter at Wembley.


ERRATIC POGBA DELIVERS

For the first 25 minutes Paul Pogba was all over the place, was caught out for the long ball down the left on Tottenham’s opener and he had every right to be concerned about getting the hook at half time. Then he turned on the style to drag the Red Devils back into the game.

Pogba’s topsy-turvy season continued after his Man of the Match display at Bournemouth in midweek, which came after Mourinho hooked him off early in the home defeat to West Brom and 10 days after his two goals at Manchester City in the stunning comeback win. Mix in with all of that Pep Guardiola‘s comments that Pogba was offered to Man City in January and more reports earlier this week that he will leave United this summer and the $130 million signing from Juventus in 2016 has had a turbulent few weeks to say the least.

Yet moments like the way he won the ball back from Mousa Dembele (never an easy task) then delivered a pinpoint cross for Sanchez to head home must be exactly why Mourinho is left infuriated by Pogba so often.

Pogba had an effort from distance in each half saved well by Vorm and after the goal it was as if a penny had dropped and he realized he could be the hero, his contribution could lead United one step closer to a piece of silverware this season. That not only meant he flourished in attack but he tracked back and started to do the dirty work.

Consistency is the main thing lacking with Pogba’s game and at the age of 25 and for his price tag, wages and reputation, he should be able to deliver week in, week out. That lack of focus and ability to do the dirty things like track runners and keep his possession is what will end up costing Pogba his United future under Mourinho.

Pogba showed with his surging run and assist at Bournemouth on Wednesday and then his fine cross for Sanchez that he has the ability to decide games on his own.

Now, if he’s given the chance to stay at United beyond this season, he must do it more often. His flashes of brilliance in recent weeks at least mean he has put himself in the shop window. The Mourinho v. Pogba battle will continue but the French midfielder had a positive impact as United reached the FA Cup Final for the second time in the last two seasons.


MOURINHO’S FAITH IN SANCHEZ REWARDED

Most of the talk leading up to this game was about how Alexis Sanchez was likely to be benched by Mourinho.

He wasn’t and, once again at Wembley, he made the difference. Sanchez scored a fine header to equalize which was his sixth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley. He is a man for the big occasion and he delivered once again in the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt that Sanchez has got off to a slow start at United. He has given the ball away more than any of his teammates since he arrived in January and he has scored just two goals in the Premier League and was rested at Bournemouth last time out.

Sanchez still gave the ball away and still did some things which made you raise your eyebrows but he is battling through a tough spell to start life at United.

That was summed up by his role in United’s winner. The Chilean chased down a lost cause from Lukaku’s flick on and put Kieran Trippier under pressure to win the ball, then roll it cross for Herrera to eventually hammer home.

Sanchez rewarded Mourinho for keeping faith in him and there’s no doubt that once he becomes more comfortable at United over the summer then he will be back to his best in 2018/19.


SAME OLD STORY AS SPURS RUN OUT OF STEAM

Tottenham could have easily been 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes but they didn’t make the most of their fast start and they weren’t clinical enough with good chances wasted by Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen.

Spurs have now lost their last eight FA Cup semifinals on the trot (the longest run of semifinal defeats in club history) as their wait for a first trophy now spans over a decade.

Playing basically at home after spending the entire season at Wembley as their temporary home, Spurs’ fast start showed how comfortable they are becoming with the big occasions. Yet that initial hope faltered, just like it did in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg defeat against Juventus last month. You can’t say that Spurs “bottled” this but they lost all of their early momentum as soon as United were level.

Mauricio Pochettino said in the week that winning the FA Cup “wouldn’t change anything” for Spurs and their main focus is to win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. That, of course, would be fantastic, but surely Pochettino can’t be that naive not to realize that winning a piece of silverware and getting that particular curse off of Spurs’ back would help his players…

Yes, Spurs have had a fine season, once again, and barring a late collapse they will finish in the top four for the third-straight campaign. That is their main aim each season. But at some point they have to start delivering on the big stage and no matter what you think of the FA Cup it is still one of the three major trophies dished out at the start of each domestic season in England.

And it is one of the three trophies Spurs haven’t won out of their last 30 attempts, dating back to the League Cup in 2008.

 

WATCH: USMNT’s Pulisic cues up ex-Man City teen for 1st goal

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Jadon Sancho made history for English players in Germany thanks to a little help from an American teenager.

Christian Pulisic dribbled free from a pack of would-be tacklers to cue up the ex-Manchester City player for a finish against Bayer Leverkusen in the 13th minute of a match at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp rips West Brom ]

Sancho just turned 18 on March 25, and becomes the youngest English goal scorer in Bundesliga history having entered the match with one assist in 415 Bundesliga minutes.

As for 19-year-old Pulisic, the USMNT prodigy has five goals and seven assists in 39 matches across all competitions this season.