Seattle Reign, trying to reload, bolster midfield ahead of NWSL season

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It has been a bitter-sweet beginning for the Seattle Reign. Owner Bill Predmore and general manager Amy Carnell managed to secure a place National Women’s Soccer League. Since then, it’s been a bad winter for Reign FC.

First there was the news that Megan Rapinoe would be in France until June. Everybody knew that doing into dispersal, but Seattle but got to deal with that mixed bag.

Then Amy Rodriguez became pregnant – great news for her family, bad news for the Reign. With Rapinoe gone, the U.S. national team forward was going to be counted on to carry the scoring load. Instead she’s going to miss the entire 2013 season.

Combine those losses with midfielder Teresa Noyola’s Dutch contract running through mid-June and Hope Solo’s wrist injury, and Seattle’s only had two notable moments this winter: Luring Laura Harvey from Arsenal and seeing Penn State’s Christine Nairn fall to them in the College Draft. True, these misfortunes have earned them a lot of attention (look at all the links), but Seattle would prefer to make their name on the field.

And that’s why Carnell’s getting aggressive – to give the team a chance to be more than a hard-luck team. Over the past 24 hours, the team’s been part of the first trade in league history while securing the early return of one of their best players. As a result, Seattle’s completely remake their midfield.

source:  The first move came yesterday when Seattle and the Chicago Red Stars confirmed that Keelin Winters (right), a midfielder on the cusp of some national team run, would move west along with a fourth round draft pick. In return, Chicago receives a first round draft pick and future considerations.

The future considerations seem complicated. Seattle has confirmed Chicago will received one of the Reign’s U.S. Soccer allocated players ahead of the 2014 campaign, so it seems Amy Rodriguez will be going to the Red Stars. If, for whatever reason, Rodriguez is doesn’t come back for the 2014 season, then Seattle’s going to have to send another national team player to Chicago.

Again, that’s unconfirmed speculation, but with Rodriguez’s status up in the air, it doesn’t look like this deal will be resolved until after the season; hence, the future considerations.

My first reaction to the trade: It’s a steal for Seattle. I’ve softened on that a little, but Carnell’s done well for her team. I may tend to over-value Winters, but she is a very good deep-sitting midfielder who has enough ability to function in a box-to-box role (Harvey sees her in a defensive role).

For whatever reason, Chicago saw Winters as their third-best option in the middle behind Shannon Boxx and Leslie Osborne. Even if Winters isn’t better than the two in 2013 (and she very well might be), she’s more valuable in the long run.

To get her, Carnell had to give up Seattle’s first round pick, a commodity that could turn into one of Crystal Dunn or Julie Johnston. Both college players project as future national team regulars, but they’re also defenders – not midfielders. Everybody needs defenders, of course, but for a team like Seattle in need of impact players, there’s an argument for preferring Winters over either defensive prospect.

But the duo’s also relatively unproven. Not every college star makes a smooth transition to the pro game. Even if they do, it’s no certainty they’ll be as good as Winters, who has scored seven goals in 36 games between the Boston Breakers, Seattle Sounders, and German power Turbine Potsdam since 2011.

It’s easy to fall in love with Dunn and Johnston’s potential, but it’s potential. The draft pick is a lottery ticket, one that won’t have access to those players if Seattle makes the playoffs. In my mind, it’s a one-in-three chance Seattle’s pick turns into one of those players. Factor in the probability Winters will remain a better player during the draftee’s time with her team, then the likelihood of Carnell giving away the deal’s best player becomes pretty low. It’s not enough of probability to stop this deal now.

Factor in Seattle’s needs — their desire to get some quality players in who can replace the talent they’ll miss — and Carnell made the right move. The team that was ambitious enough to pluck Harvey from Arsenal continues to be aggressive as the season approaches.

That aggression manifest again in Seattle’s other move: Securing Noyola’s early arrival. The Mexican international and former Stanford star was originally slated to finish the European campaign with ADO Den Haag; however, after a deal was reached between the clubs, the 22-year-old former U.S. youth international will join her new club after the Algarve Cup. The 2011 Hermann Trophy winner will be with Seattle for the club’s first game on April 14.

Mid-week, Seattle’s midfield was Nairn, Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle, then a significant drop. Now they’ve added Winters, somebody who can serve as an anchor centrally, and Noyola, who can team with Nairn to help augment the roster’s lack of goal scoring. If Ohio State alum Tiffany Cameron can carry over some of her NCAA goal scoring prowess (21 goals in 22 games as a senior), Seattle may have enough to survive the spring.

And that’s all they need to do. In a league where half the teams will make the playoffs, Harvey only needs to craft a team capable of surviving the spring. They need to stay within reach until Rapinoe returns.

The defense is big problem, and they’ll need some heroics from Solo if the team’s going to match the front office’s ambition. But thanks to their two most recent moves, Seattle’s back in the game. There are enough flawed teams in this league to give Seattle hope they can steal enough points to stay afloat.

If Harvey’s acumen can match her Arsenal results, the first round pick they gave up is not going to be Crystal Dunn or Julie Johnston. There are enough pieces here to avoid that worst case scenario.

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

Zardes goal pushes controlling USMNT past Ecuador

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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  • Yanks have not allowed goal in 3 matches under Berhalter
  • Pulisic returns to USMNT set-up
  • MORE: McKennie stretched off
  • Zardes scores deflected winner off Ream feed
  • American control ball, but struggle in final third

Gyasi Zardes scored his seventh international goal and first since the Copa America Centenario as the USMNT handed Ecuador a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday.’s

The win marks the third clean sheet victory in three tries for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who leads the Yanks against Chile on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The U.S. came out of the gates flying, connecting passes with their wings and fullbacks sitting very wide to stretch the surface.

When Ecuador did collect the ball, the Yanks pressed very hard and won it back.

Industry and speed was the story of the USMNT game, with Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris leading the way in forcing the match on Ecuador.

Weston McKennie did some heavy lifting in nice combo play with Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes for a chance that was just missing the finishing touch from Paul Arriola (and got a nice save).

Pulisic was felled by a hard foul just inside the Ecuador half in the 55th minute, but carried on and Paul Arriola took a yellow for fouling Jefferson Orejuela in response.

Michael Bradley entered the match for Trapp in the 59th minute, and Pulisic exited for Sebastian Lletget three minutes later.

McKennie then suffered a painful ankle injury and eventually accepted stretcher help to get to the bench.

Zardes put the U.S. ahead when his powerful strike from atop the 18 took a huge deflection off the calf of Robert Arboleda and looped over the head of a flailing Alexander Dominguez.

The play began when Sebastian Lletget’s pressing pushed a poor Ecuadorian clearance to USMNT left back Tim Ream, who spotted Zardes in the middle of the Ecuador half.

USMNT, Schalke mid McKennie stretchered off with ankle injury

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie limped off the pitch during the second half of a friendly against Ecuador on Thursday in Florida.

McKennie appeared to twist his ankle shortly after being called for a foul in the match, which stood 0-0 at the time.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

He left the match with trainer help, and was eventually carted to the bench while seated on a stretcher.

A key piece of the program’s future, the 20-year-old midfielder has been a utility knife in the Bundesliga, playing everywhere from right back to left mid.

Only six players have played more league minutes for Schalke than McKennie, who earned his eighth cap on Thursday.

Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.