Three good questions for Seattle Reign head coach/general manager Laura Harvey

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No NWSL team has had a more turbulent preseason than the Seattle Reign. They were allocated a star that had previously committed to spend the spring in France. Then the player expected to be their leading scorer became pregnant. The face of their team was forced to undergo wrist surgery which will sideline her until June, while just this week their general manager left the team.

For Seattle’s newest professional team, the NWSL’s first season can’t start soon enough.

Laura Harvey’s hiring from Arsenal Ladies remains one of the high points of the offseason. The 32-year-old who won four titles (in four years) during her time London was brought in to coach the team. With the departure of Amy Carnell, she’ll also assume general manager’s duties, a doubling down by owner Bill Predmore. If Harvey has trouble adapting to the game in the States, Seattle problems will be compounded. On the other hand, if she can adapt quickly, the Reign will reap the benefits of a promising coach managing her own roster.

Shortly before boarding a flight to Chicago (where the Reign open their season on Sunday), Harvey took some time to talk to PST about the upcoming season. Here are our three good questions.

1.) None of your originally allocated U.S. players are with you to start the season. Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez are all out for various reasons. Which loss hurts most?

They all hurt in different ways. I think maybe the Hope one hurts the most because we initially thought we did have her, then we had to plan quite late in the day that we weren’t going to have her.

We knew pretty much from day one about the Megan situation, and obviously as much as (Amy Rodriguez’s situation) is disappointing for our team, it’s hard to be annoyed by that when someone’s pregnant.

They all hurt in different ways, but we had to react pretty quickly to the Hope one. The position that she plays is sometimes the hardest one to replace. But we got there in the end.

(Note: Michelle Betos, a 25-year-old who attended Georgia, appears set to start the season in goal.)

2.) The team went out and traded for a Keelin Winters, a midfielder on the fringe of the national team. Combined with the early return of Theresa Noyola and Christine Nairn’s fall in the draft, you have, on paper, a strong midfield. Can you describe what Winters adds to what you were originally given? And how do you plan to set up your midfield?

Keelin has the experience of playing at the highest level domestically both in the States and in Europe (note: Winters spent the fall with Germany’s Turbine Potsdam). She adds experience which, if you look across our team, I think that’s the one thing we lack – experience at this level. She’s a dynamic all-around midfielder who can give you a lot in attack and is a good defensive midfielder, too. That’s probably the main thing that she brings.

How we’ll set up our midfielder could chance game-to-game depending on who we’re playing. We’ll look to try to overload midfielder areas to allow our best players to get on the ball. We field our midfield area is strongest, so we’ll try to overload in there.

3.) Now the inevitable question about your outlook on the season. On one hand, good coaching can cover a myriad cracks, especially in defense (in my opinion). On the other hand, people are looking at the team on paper and saying this is a bottom-two squad. What are your expectations for the season?

I have big expectations. I don’t think it should ever be any different. In the experience I’ve had is coaching and managing club teams, you have to be realistic with expectations.

And there is a realism. Other coaches in the league have stated this, but at the minute everything that people talk about is on paper. The game is not won there.

Coaching helps. Organization helps. Being prepared helps. Getting your players in the best physical and mental state helps, and it doesn’t matter if they’re World Cup winners, have a hundred caps for their country, or they’re rookies who have just come out of college. As long as they’re prepared mentally, physically and they know what their job for the team is, then you have a chance of winning games.

We’ll find out in August who’ve won the most games, and by then we can judge who set the right expectations and (who) didn’t. If anyone (said they’d) set an expectation not to finish in the top half of the league, I think they’d be lying. I don’t think anyone goes into the league not expecting to get into the playoffs.

That should be everyone’s expectation level. For sure, that’s the same with us. We’re setting the bar high and we’re hungry, we’re enthusiastic, and we’re not going to shy away from any obstacle that comes our way. The first one will be in Chicago on Sunday.

(Follow-up, on Rapinoe and Solo situations lending to the temptation to look at this as two seasons in one.)

Potentially, yes. June, July, August for us – those could be a complete game-changer. If we can maintain on the tails of all the other teams come those dates, we have a chance of finishing. Undoubtedly any team getting Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo back into the team will be a better team for it. You can’t deny that. We have that to look forward to.

Injuries, keeping your best players fit for as long as possible, (these) will be a major factor for teams in this league. If you can keep your best players on the field as long as possible you have the best chance of being successful, and we’re no different to that. Already we’ve had setbacks, as we all know. Megan’s been a bit different than an injury, but if can get [Rapinoe and Solo] back fit and healthy, we have a chance of being successful.

I don’t go into [a season] any other way. If somebody wants to tell me we’re going to finish bottom of the league, I’ll put any money on us moving up.

The NWSL season starts on Saturday in Kansas City. Here is more preview content from PST:

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Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.