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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.

Hope Solo’s ban from USWNT about much more than “coward” comments

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 5: Goal keeper Hope Solo #1 celebrates with Julie Johnston #8 of U.S. Women's National Team during the second half of a friendly match against Japan on June 5, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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On Wednesday the news broke that U.S. Soccer had banned Hope Solo for six months from the USWNT and had terminated her contract as a member of the national team.

In truth, we all saw this coming.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints close ]

The official reason given by Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, was that Solo’s comments following the USA’s shock defeat on penalty kicks to Sweden in the quarterfinals at Rio 2016 were “unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players.”

Solo, 35, said that Sweden played like “a bunch of cowards” and argued that “the best team did not win.”

Were the comments out of line? Yes. Were they in the heat of the moment? Yes. Were they worthy of a six-month suspension from the USWNT? No.

Then again, this whole episode is about far more than Solo basically lambasting Sweden for being a long-ball team. This storm has been brewing for some time with multiple incidents of indiscretion leading to this inevitable outcome.

Gulati said as much.

“Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action,” Gulati added in the statement.

Solo is currently locked in a legal battle with a half-sister and nephew over alleged domestic violence — Solo continues to claims she is innocent — from 2014, while there was also the incident in 2015 involving Solo and her husband, Jerramy Stevens.

The latter was arrested and charged with a DUI after he and Solo took a team mini-van from the USWNT hotel in California and drove around the streets before being pulled over outside the team hotel by police with Solo reportedly dragged from the scene kicking and screaming. Solo was banned by U.S. Soccer for 30 days on Jan. 31, 2015 for that incident but was recalled by Jill Ellis for the 2015 World Cup and was a star during the USWNT’s World Cup win.

Those two unsavory incidents coupled with the huge wave of negativity from the people of Brazil at Rio 2016 — home fans booed Solo constantly and chanted “Zika” every time she kicked the ball after she posted several pictures on social media showing her preparing for the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil — were enough for U.S. Soccer to act in this manner when Solo gave them yet another reason to investigate her.

USWNT head coach Ellis flew to Seattle with Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer’s secretary general, to deliver the news of the suspension and although Solo will still be able to play for Seattle Reign FC in the NWSL (U.S. Soccer is reportedly handing her three months severance pay on the contract they terminated which also includes her salary for NWSL play) she will miss two upcoming games for the USWNT in 2016.

Will the USWNT be weaker without Solo? Of course they will. She has been one of the greatest players in women’s soccer history and probably the greatest-ever goalkeeper. Yet, Gulati and U.S. Soccer had to make a firm stance after giving Solo chance after chance to clean up her act.

It doesn’t take a master decoder to work out the subliminal message buried in Gulati’s comments in the statement released by U.S. Soccer.

In a nutshell it says: enough is enough. You were on your last chance and you blew it. It is highly likely than since January 2015 Solo has been repeatedly warned that if she steps out of line again there would be severe consequences.

Right now Solo will not be available to play for the U.S. until Feb. 2017 and even then it seems highly unlikely she will return. After a distinguished career on the pitch, Solo’s erratic behavior off it has finally caught up with her.

The lengthy ban for her outspoken rant against Sweden was undoubtedly excessive and there is a big question mark about the notion of free speech here. She spoke her mind vehemently about her distaste towards Sweden’s tactics but it wasn’t like Solo swore or used discriminatory language when speaking about Sweden. She just didn’t agree with their tactics.

Yet, that “coward” rant was likely the final straw in a long line of indiscretions which even Solo, perhaps one day, must admit have painted both herself and U.S. Soccer in a poor light over the past few years.

Enough is enough. It may seem harsh to many but this is likely the end of Solo’s glittering, controversy filled, USWNT career.

Southampton agree club-record fee of $28 million for Sofiane Boufal

Sofiane Boufal
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Southampton look set to smash their transfer record as Moroccan international Sofiane Boufal is close to sealing a move to St Mary’s.

ProSoccerTalk understands that Saints have agreed a club-record fee of $28 million with Ligue 1 club Lille for Boufal and the attacker is now discussing personal terms with the side who finished sixth in the Premier League last season.

[ MORE: Solo suspended by USWNT

It is believed there is still some way to go in the deal before Boufal, 22, is unveiled at Saints — it could be early next week ahead of the summer transfer window slamming shut at 7 p.m. ET on Aug. 31. — with the player currently in the latter stages of recovering from a knee injury he suffered at the end of last season.

With Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool all linked with Boufal in the past, this signing would represent a major coup for manager Claude Puel (former manager of Lille from 2002-08) and also boost Southampton’s attacking options following the loss of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle over the summer.

Boufal could be the latest in a long line of shrewd European pickups from Saints who have benefited greatly over the past three seasons from giving stars of other European leagues a chance in the PL (see: Mane, Sadio.) then selling them on to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United for huge profits.

The Paris-born attacker shone for Lille in France’s top-flight last season, scoring 11 goals and adding four assists following his move from second-tier Angers where he came through the youth system. Born and raised in France, Boufal chose to represent Morocco at international level and he has already placed twice for the Atlas Lions after making his debut in 2016.

If the deal does get over the line, as expected, then what type of player may Southampton be getting?

Boufal has skill and trickery similar to Riyad Mahrez and the directness of a Yannick Bolasie. He can play out wide or centrally and his creativity is his main trait. That is something Saints need as they’ve scored just once in their opening two games of the season and they look to be lacking a cutting edge in the final third heading into their first-ever appearance in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League.

This could well be another masterful signing from Saints’ now famed analysts in the “black box” room at their Staplewood training ground.

Wales manager says Arsenal could have avoided Aaron Ramsey injury

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - AUGUST 07: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Arsenal and Manchester City at Ullevi on August 7, 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
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Wales manager Chris Coleman says Arsenal could have prevented Aaron Ramsey‘s current hamstring injury had they left him out of the early-season matches.

Ramsey was withdrawn in 62nd minute of Arsenal’s season opener against Liverpool after pulling up, and Coleman believes it happened for a reason. “It’s disappointing he’s got an injury. Could it have been prevented? Possibly, yes,” Coleman told the media ahead of the international window. “I think we all expected him to [miss the start of the season]. So I don’t know what happened between then and when he ended up on the pitch. Obviously only Arsenal can answer that. I think, to a man, if you were looking at [Arsenal’s team-sheet], it was a bit of a surprise he started.”

Ramsey helped Wales progress to the Euro 2016 semifinals. Many starts from countries that went deep in the Euros got a rest to start the season. Many of France’s team members, including Dimitri Payet and even Ramsey’s Arsenal teammate Olivier Giroud saw time off to start the Premier League season.

“When you’ve got a player as good as Aaron, take him out of any team and you are going to know about it,” Coleman said. “He is irreplaceable. He makes a huge impact for us. He is a great player and it’s a shame he’s not here. He’s a loss to any team.”

Wales has a World Cup qualifier against Moldova on September 5.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 1-2 Toronto FC

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC dribbles the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Orlando City defense played a 75 minute match, and those 15 minutes off cost them the match. A pair of sleepy moments early and late in the match saw Toronto bag two goals on the road and leave Citrus Bowl Stadium with all three points. Sebastian Giovinco had the assists on both, a pair of perfectly timed through balls – one over the top and one through the middle – sprung the Toronto strikers.

Three moments that mattered

7′ – Toronto had a dream start just seven minutes in when a looping ball from Sebastian Giovinco found Tousaint Ricketts. He torched Tommy Redding down the right, breaking free on goal and finishing the one-on-one chance around Joe Bednik cooly.

56′ – Greg Vanney’s anger was doubled. First, the Toronto FC manager was left seething at a foul called as Marco Delgado clipped Matias Garcia and gave Orlando a set-piece opportunity. In the ensuing spell of possession, a cross from Luke Boden met the head of Clye Larin, who deposited it into the back of the net. A stone-faced Vanney was left seething on the bench as the home side leveled it up at 1-1.

86′ – Jozy Altidore came off the bench to finish off the game, and while he had a horrible miss just minutes into the game, he atoned at the end. The visitors again caught the Orlando defense completely asleep, with the back line pressed way high up the pitch. Altidore timed his run perfectly, and the hosts didn’t even attempt to catch up. One-on-one, the USMNT striker finished easily.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Ricketts 7′, Larin 56′, Altidore 86′