Rules and restrictions define NWSL “Free Agency”

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“Free agency” is a generous description of what the National Women’s Soccer Leagues has undertaken. Starting Friday, teams were free to sign players not already allocated or drafted onto the league’s eight teams. But there’s a cap on how many players each team can sign, and those players would aren’t inked in the open market will go into a supplemental draft. There’s also assumed to be a cap on how much each “free” agent’ can make.

Regardless, the process opened up yesterday and will last until Jan. 31. Western New York, who received one fewer player in allocation, will be allowed to sign five free agents while each other team’s limited to four. The rest of the 20-woman rosters will be filled by a supplemental draft composed of players not already on NWSL rosters.

“When you are starting a league, you have to be creative and resourceful in determining the best way to stock the rosters and after discussions with all the clubs we think we’ve come up with a process that is equitable and logical,” NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey said in a Friday statement. “The first part of this process will be this signing period for teams to add four, or in the case of Western New York five, additional players to the allocated players and the players taken in the college draft.”

Multiple people within the league claim most clubs had already reached verbal agreements with players well before Friday’s all clear. Former North Carolina midfielder Allie Long’s expected to go to Portland. Midfielder Sinead Farrelly will end up in Kansas City. Defensive midfielder Leslie Osborne will move to Chicago, while it’s expected former U.S. National Team defender Cat Whitehill will stay in Boston.

Equalizer Soccer has a list of other prominent free agents, the most intriguing of which may be Casey Loyd (nee Nogueira). The wife of FC Dallas defender Zach Loyd is the most talented player available in free agency and could provide a creative spark to teams who weren’t able to acquire one in allocation or the college draft. The 23-year-old former Tar Heel had been linked to the emerging North Carolina enclave in Portland, but the rumored signing of former UNC teammate Nikki Washington casts doubts on that link. Loyd staying closer to Dallas with FC Kansas City also seems unlikely, with the team said to have identified their four free agents.

With only a paucity of signings leaked over the last two weeks to distract news-hungry fans, focus has been on the “Additional Signing Period” rules; or rather, why there are rules at all. Fans have asked why a league that already has a salary cap seeks to limit individual salaries as well as the number of players clubs can sign in the open period. Restricting that open period to one week also serves to forced decisions and push players onto rosters.

The logic seems to rest in limiting the ability of a few teams to use their draw to stack squads, creating a greater competitive imbalance. At least, that explains the four (or in the case of Western New York, five) player cap.

The individual player wage cap, thought to be around $24,000, is more difficult to explain. The most plausible theory sees the cap as in line with national team players’ salaries, the restriction designed to prevent free agents from taking advantage of a scarcity better players didn’t enjoy. The move also has the obvious advantage of preventing wage escalation.

Regardless, the rules have left hardcore fans asked why the stringent restrictions with so little obvious justification.

As Bailey alludes, at the onset of a new league, there are a number of factors to consider when creating the first squads. For a sport that’s seen two professional leagues fold in the last 10 years, it’s understandable the federation’s taken a conservative approach. But for the hungry if small women’s professional soccer fan base, the unexpected regulations still lack explanation.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”