Winners and losers from Friday’s NWSL Allocation

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Early reaction to Friday’s National Women’s Soccer League allocation made the Portland Thorns FC the subject of a lot of envy, and with good reason. The sister franchise of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers not only got the league’s most marketable talent (Alex Morgan), Canada’s best player (Christine Sinclair), and arguably the most skilled player in the league (Tobin Heath), their “other players” include two parts who project as above average contributors at the back (Rachel Buehler, Karina LeBlanc).

Within the league, reaction varied. Some were shocked by the Thorns’ good fortune. For others, the excitement of a day seven weeks in the making overshadowed any perceived imbalance.

But if we’re talking winners and losers, we have to start with Portland. And unfortunately, since a number of teams were left without a marquee player, there are just as many losers as winners after the NWSL’s dispersal.

Winners

Portland Thorns FC – Rachel Buehler, (27, D, USA), Tobin Heath (24, M, USA), Karina LeBlanc (32, G, CAN), Alex Morgan (23, F, USA), Marlene Sandoval (28, D, MEX), Luz Saucedo (29, D, MEX), Christine Sinclair (29, F, CAN)

Portland’s clearly the best team coming out of allocation, perhaps unfairly so. Most people would put Morgan and Sinclair among the best three players in the world, and they’ll have one Tobin Heath providing for them. Buehler’s capable of anchoring an NWSL defense while Karina LeBlanc started for a WPS regular season champion in 2009. Thorns are stacked, have a strong spine, and are somewhat balanced. Opponents are right to be upset, even if the draw of Morgan and Sinclair is bound to make for good TV as the Timbers Army packs Jeld-Wen Field.

Seattle Reign FC – Kaylyn Kyle (24, M, CAN), Teresa Noyola (22, M, MEX), Megan Rapinoe (27, M, SEA), Amy Rodriguez (25, F, USA), Jenny Ruiz (29, D, MEX), Hope Solo (31, G, USA), Emily Zurrer (25, D, CAN)

With Solo and Rapinoe, there’s tons of star power on this team, and with Kyle and Zurrer, Laura Harvey and Amy Carnell got two quality players out of their Canadian allotment. Even if they didn’t get Alex Morgan, there’s a lot to like about this dispersal (after all, they did get the best goalkeeper in the world).

The key to whether this team can keep up with their Cascadia rivals is Rodriguez. If she can score like she did in her second WPS season (under Paul Riley in Philadelphia), Seattle’s results could match their ambition. If she’s the inconsistent player we saw in her first and third years (and recently with the national team)? Seattle will have to rely on Megan Rapinoe (when she returns), who was never the star in WPS she’s become internationally.

MORE: Seattle’s GM reacts to allocation, Morgan in Portland

FC Kansas City – Nicole Barnhart (31, G, USA), Lauren Cheney (25, M, USA), Renae Cuellar (24, F, MEX), Marylin Diaz (21, M, MEX), Becky Sauerbrunn (27, D, USA), Desiree Scott (25, M, CAN), Lauren Sesselmann (29, D, CAN)

Where are the goals going to come from? Free agency, you’d assume. Or, perhaps Lauren Cheney becomes a striker again (she’s only recently become a midfielder, and only for the national team). If Kansas City moves Cheney back to her natural position, this becomes one of the league’s better allocation classes, even if it lacks one of the true big names. If not, free agency becomes much more important.

Goal prevention, however, is where Kansas City appears particularly strong. Sauerbrunn could be one of the league’s best defenders, with Sesselmann, Barnhart, and midfielder Desiree Scott rounding out what should be a formidable defense.

Boston Breakers – Anisa Guajardo (21, F, MEX), Adriana Leon (20, F, CAN), Sydney Leroux (22, F, USA), Heather Mitts (34, D, USA), Heather O’Reilly (28, M, USA), Cecilia Santiago (18, G, MEX), Rhian Wilkinson (30, D, CAN)

Boston got a player they can build around in 22-year-old striker Sydney Leroux. She’s young, talented, and marketable. For a team that didn’t have a big name attached to them pre-draft, getting Leroux was quite a boon.

They also got Mexico’s No. 1 in Cecilia Santiago – a good young shot stopper whose decision-making will improve with consistent, higher level games. Until that trait’s developed, Santiago’s going to need help in defense, and it’s unclear this allocation gives her enough.

There’s a similar story in midfield. O’Reilly only plays wide right, which means if the Breakers plan on connecting with Leroux and their two other young attackers, free agency and next week’s college draft will be key.

Losers

Western New York Flash – Carli Lloyd (30, M, USA), Bryana McCarthy (21, D, CAN), Veronica Perez (24, F, MEX), Jo-Ann Robinson (23, F, CAN), Pamela Tajonar (28, G, MEX), Abby Wambach (32, F, USA)

The Flash were the team short-changed by allocation, getting only six players. They did, however, get the one player they coveted: Abby Wambach. The financial impact of getting the local hero is huge. They also get Olympic hero Carli Lloyd and a Mexican attacker (Perez) who should partner well with Wambach.

Unfortunately, the Flash got little else. They may have received the worst Canadian allocation, and it remains to be seen if Pamela Tajonar will be up to the task in goal.

The Flash may have gotten one of the marquee players, but if Wambach’s ankles can’t hold up over the course of a full season, this dispersal could look terrible at year’s end.

Sky Blue FC – Melanie Booth (29, D, CAN), Jill Loyden (27, G, USA), Monica Ocampo (26, F, MEX), Kelley O’Hara (24, D, USA), Christine Rampone (37, D, USA), Lydia Rangel (21, M, MEX), Sophie Schmidt (24, M, CAN)

Rampone gives the organization a face to build around, but without one of the brighter stars from the national team, this allocation has to be seen as a disappointment. Ocampo is a decent attacker, and Schmidt gives them a quality player in midfield, but the New Jersey-based team got short-changed on U.S. national teamers without getting enough to make up for it.

Chicago Red Stars – Shannon Boxx (35, M, USA), Maribel Dominguez (34, F, MEX), Dinora Garza (24, M, MEX), Amy LePeilbet (30, D, USA), Erin McLeod (25, G, CAN), Carmelina Moscato (28, D, CAN), Keelin Winters (24, M, USA)

It’s a very balanced allocation for Chicago, but one that relies heavily on two players in their mid-30s. With LePeilbet, Moscato, and McLeod, the defense has a strong core, while Turbine Potsdam’s Keelin Winters could help the group transcend its lack of name value.

But despite getting seven solid players, the group is still without one of the marquee U.S. players. As a result, Chicago lack the high-end talent you see in other teams’ dispersals.

Dominguez will need help, and with LePeilbet unlikely to be healthy to start the season (knee), the roster is full of question marks. There are a lot of ways this can go wrong.

Washington Spirit – Ashlyn Harris, (27, G, USA), Alina Garciamendez (21, D, MEX), Robin Gayle (27, D, CAN), Ali Krieger (28, D, USA), Lori Lindsey (32, M, USA), Diana Matheson (28, M, CAN), Teresa Worbis (29, M, MEX)

Curiously, Washington gets three U.S. national team players who didn’t feature at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Krieger was injured, Harris didn’t make the team, while Lindsey was only an alternate. Each player, however has ties to D.C., all having played for the Washington Freedom.

While decent at the back, this group looks weak, particularly going forward. Worbis has a decent goal rate for the Mexican national team, but she’s unlikely to be a major goal producer in this league. Washington’s ability to acquire a goal scorer in free agency (or the draft) might make-or-break their first season.

Final verdict

It’s tempting to be overly critical of these types of ventures, mostly because we tend to adopt our own standards in lieu of some other unambiguous goals. While the days before dispersal saw quotes from U.S. Soccer laud the value of competitive balance, there were clearly other factors at play. Team and player preferences played a big part and are likely one of the biggest reasons Portland and Seattle sit so pretty today.

As for the other teams, Chicago, Sky Blue and Washington have enough history in their communities to make their teams work, particularly given the subsidies the federations are providing with player salaries. Western New York and Boston each got a marketable star, while Kansas City was given a competitive team with two players (Cheney, Sauerbrunn) capable of being faces for their fanbase.

Could the results have been better? Perhaps, but that gets us back to standards. Are you judging this based on parity or other considerations, considerations U.S. Soccer made clear were going to be a factor from the onset. Ultimately, no teams were left far behind, even if the apparent desire to put high profile players (Morgan, Solo, Rapinoe) in marketable situations created some imbalance.

Hopefully highlights of Alex Morgan shooting into Portland’s north end will make it worthwhile.

Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Europa League: Man United, Inter Milan advance to QF

Europa League Man United
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Results from the round of 16 in the Europa League: Man United and Inter Milan advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday…

[MORE: Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth ]

Man United 2 (7)-1 (1) LASK

Manchester United had a virtually insurmountable advantage following their first-leg demolition of Austrian side LASK, which gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the freedom to rotate his team ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.

Philipp Wiesinger opened the scoring not long before the hour mark, and did so in spectacular — if understated — fashion. LASK’s free kick was initially headed out of the penalty area, but the ball fell to Wiesinger with not a single red shirt within 10 yards. The first-time rocket he unleashed couldn’t have been placed any better.

United hit back through Jesse Lingard just two minutes later, though, restoring the five-goal lead and ruining any dreams of a miraculous comeback at the Theater of Dreams. Anthony Martial added to the lopsided final scoreline in the 88th.

United will face Danish side Copenhagen in the quarterfinals on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Inter Milan 2-0 Getafe

The first and only leg (due to the previous coronavirus shutdowns in Italy and Spain) of Inter Milan’s last-16 clash with Getafe was played at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena, and Romelu Lukaku proved to be the hero of the day for Antonio Conte’s side as he bagged the game’s opening goal in the 33rd minute. After getting on the end of Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball forward, Lukaku put his left foot through the ball and snuck it just inside the far post.

Super-duper sub Christian Eriksen sealed Inter’s place in the quarterfinals, where they’ll face Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen, with a cool second-chance finish in the 83rd minute.

Other Europa League scores

Copenhagen 3 (3)-0 (1) Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 (5)-1 (1) Wolfsburg

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Sevilla v. Roma — 12:55 pm ET
Bayern Leverkusen (3) v. Rangers (1) — 12:55 pm ET
Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) v. Olympiacos (1) — 3 pm ET
Basel (3) v. Eintracht Frankfurt (0) — 3 pm ET

Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth

Man City sign Nathan Ake
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Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth: Another day, another potentially transformative signing for Pep Guardiola and Co., as they reload for their quest to reclaim the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Ake joins Man City after four hugely successful seasons at Bournemouth, which initially took him on loan from Chelsea in 2016 before making the deal permanent for $26 million a year later. With the Cherries relegated from the PL this season, Ake was always going to leave the Vitality Stadium for top-tier pastures.

The transfer fee is said to be in the neighborhood of $52 million, which makes the 25-year-old a relative steal in comparison to fees now being paid for center backs around Europe. Given he has ample experience in the PL, and earned much of it playing in a side that favored a hugely expansive possession style of soccer, Ake should gain Guardiola’s trust and favor rather quickly as we begin to look toward the 2020-21 season.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

John Stones has mostly struggled to impress and raise his level to that of City since moving to the Etihad Stadium in 2016, leaving Guardiola with a serious need at center back alongside Aymeric Laporte. Midfielder Fernandinho was regularly deputized in recent seasons, but that will no longer be necessary with one of the 10-12 best central defenders in the world arriving this summer.

Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal

Arsenal offer Willian
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Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal to join on free transfer: According to multiple reports out of the UK, the Gunners have made the soon-to-be former Chelsea winger a very high priority in the opening hours and days of the summer/fall transfer window of 2020.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

With other interest reportedly coming from Barcelona and MLS side Inter Miami, Willian undoubtedly has options as a free agent following the expiration of his Chelsea contract. According to Sky Sports, the weekly wages offered by Arsenal are “still some way short” of those coming from Barca and Miami.

The 31-year-old is said to have been open to remaining at Stamford Bridge, but he was only offered a two-year contract to do so, prompting him to explore possibilities elsewhere.

Despite starting the season at 30 and turning 31 in September, Willian put together his best season for the Blues, at least statistically speaking, in 2019-20. The Brazilian tallied nine goals and seven assists (in 36 appearances) in Premier League action, plus another pair of goals and an assist between the Champions League and FA Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League transfers: Every deal from all 20 clubs ]

Factoring in their willingness to give him the third year he clearly desires, in order to secure his earning power until he’s 35, Arsenal could very well be favorites to land Willian.

Let’s say they’re offering $150,000 per week, which comes out to a little over $7.8 million per year, bringing the grand total to more than $23 million over three years. Even if Barca have offered $200,000 per week for just the two seasons, the total package falls roughly $4 million short over the life of the respective offers. Sure, Willian could take the gamble of the shorter, more lucrative offer and then be available for another move in the summer of 2022, but such a decision would come without the added security given he’ll be 34 years old at the time and could see his abilities and production fall off dramatically.