2013 NWSL team preview: Chicago Red Stars

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up is another return entrant from Women’s Professional Soccer, the Chicago Red Stars.

Joining Sky Blue, Boston, and Western New York, the Red Stars are one of four NWSL clubs that participated in WPS, even if Chicago elected to pass on the league’s final season in 2011. Since then the club has been playing the Women’s Premier Soccer League, losing in the 2011 final before duplicating the feat in 2012’s WPSL Elite.

Such was the world of semi-pro soccer that a professional-caliber organization could drop down and come within two hairs of winning consecutive titles. Now back at their level, the Red Stars will find things more difficult. In the crapshoot that was NWSL allocation, Chicago ended up with the short end of the stick, and after taking a draft pick in exchange Keelin Winters — a talented midfielder who played at a position of depth — the Red Stars are left with a solid but older team, one that has questions everywhere but goal.

In a league of new teams that have only had four weeks to prepare for the season, that’s a description that could be applied to most NWSL clubs. That means if everything clicks, Chicago will make the playoffs, outperforming teams who can’t find solutions. And if they don’t, the Red Stars will finish in the league’s lower half.

Who you know: While FC Kansas City (previewed earlier) may lack superstars, Chicago lacks stars of any variety. Their biggest name is Shannon Boxx (pictured), a regular in central midfield for the U.S. national team but somebody whose been away from the team throughout preseason. It’s unclear how she’ll perform in a midfield with former Boston Breaker Leslie Osborne, someone who can play a very similar role.

The defense has question marks without Amy LePeilbet, the two-time WPS Defender of the Year who is out for the season. Erin McLoud, one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, may have to be Chicago’s best player for the team to have a chance at the playoffs.

Lori Chalupny is another name, the former U.S. international returning to Chicago after helping them to the 2012 WPSLE final. The 29-year-old could be one of the league’s better all-around midfielders, providing the type of leadership that can help a new group of come together quickly.

Who you should know: The Red Stars surprised some when they made Zakiya Bywaters the first pick in the College Draft, though shortly after her selection, Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum expressed his support. If he had the first pick in the draft, Waldrum said, he would have taken Bywaters, an attacker who Waldrum has coached while running the U-23 national team.

Bywaters is one of a number of potential goal scorers for the Red Stars – a slew of players who’ll be counted on to address Chicago’s biggest weakness. Mexican legend Maribel Dominguez and Ella Masar, returning to Chicago after a stint at Paris Saint-Germain, will also need to compensate for the lack of an elite goal scorer.

What it means: Though Chicago are without LePeilbet, the defense looks decent, and with a midfield that has talent that can defy its redundancies, the big question is scoring. Can the Red Stars find enough goals to get the three point-results that separate the postseason from the also-rans?

Chicago opens the NWSL season on Sunday against visiting Seattle.

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Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).