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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.

Liverpool sign goalkeeper Loris Karius. What is he all about?

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced the signing of German goalkeeper Loris Karius, 22, from Mainz 05.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

The former Manchester City academy product has excelled in the Bundesliga over the past four years, keeping 19 clean sheets in 67 games over the past two campaigns as he became the starting goalkeeper for Mainz, the team Jurgen Klopp used to play for and manage.

In a statement on the club’s website, Liverpool announced that Karius will become their player on July 1 and reports claim the transfer fee is $7.5 million for the Germany U-21 international.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

Speaking after signing a five-year deal at Anfield, Karius is delighted to arrive in the Premier League.

“It’s a very good feeling and it’s an honour to play for a club like this. They have a special history and the fans are amazing here, so I look forward to playing at Anfield,” Karius said. “I know a lot about the club from watching them on TV. The history, everybody who plays football knows. There a lot of things in my head when I think of this club. I spoke to the manager and I had a good feeling afterwards because he told me what he wants to do with the club and with the players. It was a good talk with him and after that I was convinced this was the right decision.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Karius’ arrival will initially spark thoughts that Simon Mignolet‘s position as Liverpool’s first-choice goalkeeper is under threat, especially when you see that Karius has been handed the No. 1 jersey.

The Belgian international, 28, has made several high-profile mistakes during his time at Anfield but Klopp has routinely stated he’s happy with Mignolet and the former Sunderland stopper recently signed a new long-term deal with the club. Yet, when you look at the depth behind Mignolet they are struggling. Adam Bogdan has looked shaky when called upon and then you have youngsters Ryan Fulton and Danny Ward.

Judging by the clips and scouting reports you can find of Karius, he is a hugely energetic goalkeeper who will look to challenge Mignolet for the starting spot from day one.

He is also said to be aggressive in coming for crosses and is good with the ball at his feet. A future Manuel Neuer, perhaps? Liverpool’s fans will certainly hope so.

Take a look at these clips below. Impressive.

Cantona wants Guardiola, not Mourinho, as Man United’s manager

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Eric Cantona will cause quite a stir with these comments.

The eccentric Frenchman is a Manchester United legend so, naturally, whenever he says anything about the Red Devils people stand up and take notice.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

Less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal was out as United’s manager, Cantona (who turned 50 today) has been speaking about the possibility of Jose Mourinho taking charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

In true Cantona fashion he is a fan, but he’s not really a fan. What else did you expect from the man who said: “When the seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will fall into the ocean.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Anyway, here’s what “King Eric” had to say about Mourinho in a lengthy chat with The Guardian:

“I love Jose Mourinho, but in terms of the type of football he plays I don’t think he is Manchester United,” Cantona said. “I love his personality, I love the passion he has for the game, his humor. He is very intelligent, he demands 100 percent of his players. And of course he wins things but I don’t think it’s the type of football that the fans of Manchester United will love, even if they win. He can win with Manchester United. But do they expect that type of football, even if they win? I don’t think so.

“Guardiola was the one to take. He is the spiritual son of Johan Cruyff. I would have loved to have seen Guardiola in Manchester [United]. He is the only one to change Manchester. He is in Manchester, but at the wrong one.”

The Frenchman was also asked if he would become manager of United one day if they asked him? Here’s his playful answer.

“I do many things and I’m very happy. But if they asked me to become the manager of Manchester United, I would,” Cantona said. “Because Guardiola is in Manchester City and they want someone to win things with wonderful football? It’s me.”

Cantona so often speaks season in a roundabout way and it is hard to argue with his assertion that Guardiola would’ve been United’s preferred choice over Mourinho.

Look at the legacy Guardiola has left behind at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Sure, he didn’t have to massively rebuild the entire squad like the new United manager is going to have to do, but he arguably improved both teams (okay, Bayern’s failure in the UCL muddies that argument slightly but they improved in many ways under Pep) and has left them in extremely strong positions.

Mourinho has left shipwrecks behind at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in the past and he is all about the short-term. He gets results but Cantona hit the nail on the head, his style of play may not win over United’s fans. However, they just want to win and even Cantona, one of the greatest artists the game has ever seen, knows how important that is.

Premier League release prize money table for 2015-16 season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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At least Arsenal is on top of one league…

The Premier League prize money table has been released for the 2015-16 season and Arsene Wenger‘s pulled in $147 million in prize money and TV money to lead the PL.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

PL champs Leicester City received $135 million and come in fifth place behind Arsenal, Manchester City ($141.6 million), Manchester United ($140.8 million) and Tottenham Hotspur ($139 million).

In contrast with Arsenal’s $147 million at the summit of this table, Aston Villa sit in 20th place but still brought in $97.1 million.

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

The PL released the statement below on its website about these figures and gave a little more detail as to where this money comes from and how it is distributed.

The revenue distributed to clubs includes income generated from the sale of central broadcasting rights (UK and international) and other central commercial rights.  The mechanism for distributing this revenue is the most equitable of Europe’s major football leagues and is based on the Premier League Founder Members’ Agreement, the contract signed by the initial clubs that formed the League in 1992.

It has resulted in a ratio of 1.52:1 between the club finishing top and that finishing bottom in 2015/16, the lowest such ratio in the history of the Premier League, and works as follows:

  • 50% of UK broadcast revenue split equally between the 20 clubs

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Merit Payments (“Prize Money” per place in the table)

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Facility Fees each time a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK

  • All international broadcast revenue, and central commercial revenue, is split equally among the 20 clubs

Each club gets an equal share of domestic and overseas TV income, plus central commercial (sponsorship) money and is rewarded with $1.8 million in a merit payment for every place it finishes in the league. So Aston Villa who finished in 20th received a merit payment of $1.8 million, while champions Leicester received $36.2 million for finishing top.

The values in the table below shows exactly how the money was distributed between the 20 PL clubs this season as teams who had more than 10 games live on TV received an extra $1.1 million for every game broadcast.


Conte slams MLS after leaving Pirlo, Giovinco off EURO 2016 roster

FLORENCE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Coach Italy Antonio Conte (L) and Sebastian Giovinco during an Italy training session at Coverciano on September 1, 2014 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte isn’t a man to mince his words.

The Italian national team manager has given his reasoning for not including Sebastian Giovinco or Andrea Pirlo in his initial 30-man Italy squad for the 2016 European Championships in France this summer and it won’t be music to the ear of MLS fans.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]  

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport Conte spoke to reporters at Italy’s training base and belittled Major League Soccer, essentially claiming that Giovinco and Pirlo playing in MLS means they aren’t up to speed and therefore weren’t available for selection for the Azzurri. Ouch.

In the past Conte had been positive about Giovinco’s move to MLS but apparently that’s not the case anymore.

[ PHOTOS: Ronaldo injured in training for Real

Here are Conte’s comments which will sound like fingertips scrapping down a chalkboard to MLS proponents.

“I spoke to Andrea, I needed to hear from him and we sent people to the US,” Conte said. “Nothing was left to chance. We evaluated [Pirlo] and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.

“We evaluated them technically, we didn’t leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, we went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas. I picked the 30 who I think will give me the most guarantees.”

So, yeah, he said that: “If you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.”

When you break down those comments, it appears to be more geared towards Giovinco than Pirlo. The latter has struggled since arriving in MLS but “The Atomic Ant” ripped it up last season on his way to the Golden Boot and MVP honors and has started off this season in similar fashion.

Conte will take over as Chelsea’s manager this summer and (you guessed it) their preseason tour will be in the USA as they play Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.

It will be interesting to hear if Conte gets any abuse from the pro-MLS crowd but they’re pretty use to foreign coaches and players dissing their leagues over the years. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last but it is still disappointing that a manager has decided to go down this route when discussing why he left players off the roster. If that’s how Conte really feels, though, you have to applaud him for being honest.

Yes, MLS is growing. Yes, the standard of play is improving. Yet however you want to sugarcoat it, comments like this from Conte will not improve the reputation of MLS in Europe and especially in Italy. Whether he meant to do that or not, that’s certainly what Conte implied.