2013 NWSL preview: Picks, predictions, and blind prognostication

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We’re ready to wrap this up. With kickoff in Kansas City just over four hours away, it’s time to get ProSoccerTalk’s authors on record about the upcoming NWSL season: Who’ll win the games; who’ll score the goals; and which teams will make their inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season a fruitful one.

Having to pick a finishing order for eight teams you’ve never seen is an unenviable task, but the process is a good, quick way to provide some context for the upcoming season. See the same teams at the top of multiple lists, you know they’re probably favorites. If a team tends to land at the bottom, you know they have their work cut out for them.

Between those extremes, there’s conflict for Richard Farley and Jeff Kassouf. Here are their picks for the upcoming season: Order of finish and awards.

More links to preview content, below.

Pos. Kassouf Farley
1 Portland – We’ve seen this script before, and while there may be potential depth issues in the back, there’s no defense in this league or in the world that can handle Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair together. This has 2010 FC Gold Pride and 2011 WNY Flash written all over it, but perhaps a little less dominant. Portland – As we’ll see below, I have no problem with making a reach with preseason predictions, especially when we haven’t seen these teams play. Ever. But to have Portland below number one demands judging their few weaknesses more harshly than you would other teams’. Not that I begrudge somebody’s willingness to do so.
2 FC Kansas City – Solid throughout and should give every team trouble, especially if some of the yet-to-breakout players like Renae Cuellar (stellar preseason) come to life. FC Kansas City – The most well-rounded team in the league. They’ve done a great job with decent allocations, shrewd picks, and smart signings. A clear number two.
3 Western New York Flash – Composing a genuine back line a big question mark, but the midfield is spectacular and Abby Wambach and Adriana up top, with Veronica Perez sitting in behind, should do the Flash well. Boston Breakers – Huge problems in defense, but the Breakers have big upside in attack. Sydney Leroux will be one of the league’s best players, Heather O’Reilly’s one of the circuit’s few true threats from wide, and Australian Kyah Simon will also grab goals. At the back, they’re in really bad shape, but half the teams in this league may  be unable to take advantage.
4 Sky Blue FC – A good spine with Jill Loyden/Brittany Cameron in net, Christie Rampone leading in the back, Brittany Bock and Sophie Schmidt in the middle and Kelley O’Hara up top. Good coaching from Jim Gabarra could be the difference that gets SBFC into the playoffs. Seattle Reign – It will be at least eight games before Seattle gets Megain Rapinoe and Hope Solo back. If they can go 2-4-2 in that span, I think they grab the four seed. But for two months, I’m going to look like the irrational president of the Laura Harvey fanclub, though I’ll admit – the idea of changing GMs six days before kickoff made me reconsider what’s going on in Seattle.
5 Boston Breakers – Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon should have this team scoring goals, but the Breakers failed to go out and get a starting goalkeeper and that will end up costing them. Chicago Red Stars – Good goalkeeping with Erin McLeod. Decent in defense. They have an above-average midfield thanks to Lori Chalupny. Rory Dames thinks he’ll find enough goals to make this work. I think they come up just short.
6 Chicago Red Stars – Just not enough firepower on this team, though Inka Grings’ arrival later in May could change that. Sky Blue FC – I could see this team finishing anywhere between three and six. So why am I picking them six? It’s a flaw in my analysis. I tend to find aspects I love or hate about teams and dwell on them. Sometimes that works, most of the time it doesn’t. This time, it has Sky Blue sixth. There’s just nothing about this team that I either hate or love.
7 Seattle Reign FC –  With Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo, this team suddenly looks a lot better. Unfortunately, both those players will miss at least the first couple months of the season. Western New York Flash – I think this blows up. I’m not confident Abby Wambach holds up (just a hunch). Carli Lloyd tends to be much better with the national team than at club level. The defense has issues, though if Adi Franch is as good as advertised, she’ll cover some cracks, (though it’s not like Hope Solo’s teams had huge WPS success). While I like Franch, I think it’s more likely Wambach and Lloyd fail to match their national team output.
8 Washington Spirit – The back is solid, sure – I regard Ali Krieger as one of the best right backs out there and Ashlyn Harris will do well. But I don’t see how this team is scoring many goals. Washington Spirit – Goalkeeping, some good defenders, but little else. Like anybody else in this league they prove much better once we see them play. Ultimately, we’re making picks based on teams we’ve never seen play.
Awards
MVP Alex Morgan or Christine Sinclair will probably get it, but I typically vote for the underappreciated players that hold teams together, like a Becky Edwards. I’ve got Christine Sinclair, but if national team absences prove decisive, a non-national teamer like Becky Edwards could take it. (Clearly, Jeff and I have known each other for too long.)
Golden Boot Christine Sinclair Alex Morgan
Best Defender Becky Sauerbrunn Becky Sauerbrunn – No Amy LePeilbet. No Whitney Engen. Sauerbrunn was a WPS warrior.
Goalkeeper of the Year Nicole Barnhart Adrianna Franch
Rookie of the Year Adrianna Franch Christine Nairn – Even if I don’t like her team’s chances, Franch wins the Keeper honor on talent and her competition missing so much time. Nairn gets the Rookie honor while helping Seattle survive the storm.

More NWSL previews:

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Peru’s World Cup foes lobby to overturn Guerrero’s ban

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Following last week’s decision handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Peru captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero has been banned from the 2018 World Cup — at the age of 34, almost certainly his last opportunity to star on the world’s biggest stage.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

However, in the days since that decision, a number of Guerrero’s fellow professionals and World Cup stars — France and Denmark captains Hugo Lloris and Simon Kjaer, and Australia’s Mile Jedinak — have written to FIFA, on behalf of FIFPro, the world player union, in hopes of rendering Guerrero eligible to pay at next month’s tournament in Russia.

“We respectfully ask the Fifa Council to show compassion,” the trio wrote. “In our view it would be plainly wrong to exclude him from what should be a pinnacle of his career.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

That Lloris, Kjaer and Jedinak are the players lobbying in favor of Guerrero is particularly notable given the fact that Peru will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

Guerrero tested positive for cocaine late last year, after a tea he drank was tainted and triggered a fail drug test.

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

Photo credit: Rayo Vallecano / @RayoVallecano
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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.