NWSL Game of the Week: FC Kansas City at Western New York Flash

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Last week was a week of firsts for FC Kansas City and Western New York. The Blues ventured away from Overland Park for the first time in their short existence, their 1-0 win at Seattle maintaining their place among the NWSL’s undefeated. Prior to last Wednesday, Western New York was at the other end of the spectrum, but with their 2-1 win over Sky Blue, last year’s WPSL Elite champions finally broke into the win column.

This week, the two teams meet at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, their Saturday, 7:35 p.m. Eastern kickoff serving as this week’s ProSoccerTalk NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Coming from opposite directions

Before January’s allocation, Kansas City looked like an isolated team without any history – a club, it was thought, that would not fair well in a dispersal which considered player preferences. But while Portland and Seattle hit (what then looked like) jackpots with the Jan. 11 assignments, Kansas City was quietly given the most balanced team in the league. U.S. internationals Lauren Cheney, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Nicole Barnhart provided a presence at each level. Canadians Lauren Sesselmann and Desiree Scott strengthened that spine, while Mexican international Renae Cuellar gave them a goal scorer to play in front of Cheney. While the Blues may not have gotten the marketing might of an Alex Morgan, Hope Solo or Abby Wambach, they did receive an enviable foundation.

When the NWSL landscape changed, Kansas City went from wild card to co-favorites, thought to be the one team that would rival Thorns FC for the league’s top spot. Off to a 2-0-1 start, the Blues haven’t disappointed, and while two games against the hamstrung Reign mean they’ve received some fortune with their first month’s schedule, an opening night draw with Portland remains the only points Thorns FC have dropped this season. The farther we get from that 1-1 at Shawnee Mission District Stadium, the more impressive it becomes.

For Cheney, FC Kansas City’s biggest name, the explanation for the team’s fast start begins with the coach, Vlatko Andonovski, while additions like midfielders Jen Buczkowski, Sinead Farrelly and Kristie Mewis helping to round out an already favorable allocation:

I think [Andonovski] letting us have a little bit of freedom as players on the field has given us the ability to gel. [Buczkowski] and Des (Scott), both holding midfielders, [are] two of the best in this league … Becky in the back line and [Nicole Barnhart]. They make it so much easier for Sinead, Renae, Kristie and I to do what we do offensively, because if we make a mistake, we know we’re going to win the ball right back. We know we’re capable of doing that.

Western New York, on the other hand, are still assessing their capabilities. Short-changed in allocation and handed a number of injuries over their first four games, the Flash have yet to have their entire team together. Abby Wambach’s already missed a game, while midfielders Carli Lloyd and Sarah Huffman have yet to see the field. Combined with a player dispersal that left the team light in defense and short one U.S. international, the Flash saw little of Kansas City’s fortune.

That’s starting to change. Wambach is back from her much-publicized concussion. Huffman returned to full training this week and could see her first action of the season on Saturday. And Lloyd, who most expected to be the team’s second-best player, has joined the team after a broken shoulder kept her sidelined through Western New York’s first four games.

source: Getty ImagesSet to go through her first full training on Friday, Lloyd (right) is still a ways away from full fitness, but for head coach Aaran Lines, the prospect of having his full team is cause for optimism.

“Very nice,” Lines answered, laughing with irony when asked what it will be like to finally have his team in place. “It’s nice to know that we have some really nice, good options [coming] back to us.”

Whether Lloyd will be an option Saturday remains to be seen.

“It’s a lovely option to have, Carli Lloyd,” Lines explained. “I’m going to give her the time she needs to get used to the team and get used to perhaps a different system and style of play … She’s just come back from a difficult injury. We’ll take it one step at a time and see how she does when she gets in there [Friday] at training.”

In the face of a tough start, Lines is looking at the season as “a marathon.” Once he has his full squad, the real race can start.

2. Samantha Kerr’s impact transcending her youth

Most players her age are still in college, but the Flash’s Sam Kerr is on a different path. Instead of living in a dorm room, the 19-year-old Australian international is living in a house in Elma, New York, competing as one of the youngest players in the NWSL.

“It’s been a bit of a culture training, even though Australia and America are so close,” explains Kerr, a speedy winger who has been one of the league’s standout players over the season’s first four weeks. “It’s been two months and I’m still just getting used to it … I’m trying to get out of the football life and see things from a different perspective.”

After the months in the U.S., she likes the people (“very nice”), didn’t enjoy New York City (“I don’t like the rush and bush of things”), and with the weather starting to heat up, the climate’s beginning to fit her Aussie sensibilities.

But make no mistake, Kerr is here for that football life – the opportunity to train and compete with some of the world’s best players. Coming off a performance where she set up both goals against Sky Blue, Kerr has established herself as one of the most dangerous wide threats in the league.

“The games that we’ve playing in have been really exciting (and) to a high quality level,” Kerr says of her first month in the league. “The quality, even in training, I’m really enjoying it. I’m learning a lot, I’m gaining a lot of experience. That’s really what I wanted … I’m very happy with my decision.”

NWSL Standings
Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 4 10 +4 1
2 Boston 3 7 +4 3
3 Kansas City 3 7 +3 2
4 Sky Blue 4 7 +1 5
5 W. New York 4 4 -1 4
6 Washington 4 2 -2 7
7 Chicago 4 2 -5 8
8 Seattle 4 1 -4 6

Undoubtedly, so is Lines. Originally brought in for depth, Kerr has made a place for herself in Western New York’s first XI, her ability to play on both flanks providing Lines with valuable tactical flexibility.

“She can play on the left and cut in but also get around the corner,” Lines explains. “She did that on a couple of occasions against Sky Blue. She can also [lineup] on the right hand side or cut in there on her left leg. That flexibility allows us to put her up against players we feel she might have a little advantage over.”

Last Wednesday, Kerr started on the left, opposite fellow Australian international Caitlin Foord (only 18 years old). Within six minutes, Kerr had set up Adrianna Martin for the opener. With a little help from Sky Blue defender Christie Rampone, Kerr created Western New York’s second in the 20th minute, Abby Wambach eventually finishing her first goal of the season.

Each time, it was Kerr’s speed that beat her mark. Each time, it was stellar service that provided for the Flash goals.

Cutting off that threat presents a challenge for FC Kansas City, particularly with a player of Wambach’s aerial ability on the end of Kerr’s crosses. Not only do Kansas City have to worry about where Kerr lines up. they also must consider whether the free movement of their attackers will work against them, leaving fullbacks Merritt Mathias and Leigh Ann Robinson isolated.

“Kristie, Sinead, and I are going to have to be aware of our positioning offensively and try to make it easier on each other to fill the spot where it needs to be filled,” Cheney explained, asked about Kerr’s threat. “We’re not get to away with leaving Leigh Ann or Merritt alone to go one [on] one. We’re going to have to track back. Just that awareness of, ‘Is there somebody on the left. Is there somebody on the right’ – making the correct runs and getting back into position as quickly as possible.”

Be it in the NWSL, Major League Soccer, or any other league in the world, it’s rare that a 19-year-old requires that kind of consideration. And perhaps Kerr’s month will prove nothing but a hot start. Yet after four games, the young Australian is rivaling Boston’s Heather O’Reilly as the league’s premier wide threat. With Wambach and Adrianna up top, that threat could prove particularly potent as the season develops.

3. Finally, the right position for Lauren Cheney

You try not to reduce teams to one trick, especially when there’s as much talent on the field as there will be on Saturday, but both the Flash and Kansas City have had one, distinct quality that’s jumped out through the league’s first month. For Western New York, Kerr has spearheaded wide play only the Boston Breakers can rival as the league’s best. With the Blues, an interchangeable line of three behind Cuellar gives Andonovski the league’s most versatile attack.

“It’s pretty obvious those three freestylers we have, they’re very creative players,” the 36-year-old Macedonian said after last week’s win at Seattle. “They have absolute freedom to go wherever they feel they can get the ball, and that’s what they are doing … They have a great feeling and understanding for the game. We work on certain ideas during practices, but most of it, it comes from them – from within.”

source: Getty ImagesThe key beneficiary of that approach is Cheney (right), somebody who projected as a target striker coming out of UCLA. Since then – through two years in WPS, another where her national team served as her club – Cheney’s slowly moved away from a number nine’s role. She’s spent time on the wing, as a holder Pia Sundhage’s brief 4-2-3-1 experiment, and more recently, as a box-to-box player for the U.S. She’s too talented to leave out, but being square pegged into a bunch of round holes, Cheney’s versatility has often left her in some suboptimal positions.

Yet when you see her as a number ten for Kansas City, serving as the focal point of the attack while playing behind a striker, you wonder why it’s taken so long for Cheney to be put in what seems to be her ideal spot.

“At UCLA, the majority of the time I was a forward, and I was the one that needed to score goals,” Cheney recalls, asking if she’s ever played the role Andonovski’s assigned her. “There was a time that I played underneath a bit in college, and I would say that would probably be my best position, or my favorite position, just because I have the ability to still play with my back to goal but I also am able to run and see the whole field.”

She makes Kansas City’s attack work, whether she has the ball or not. In Week 1, as she dropped deeper to help contain Portland’s threat, her passing helped keyed the Blues’ counters. In Week 3, a brilliant long ball from just outside her own penalty area created a breakaway for Cuellar, one of Cheney’s two assists on the night. In Week 4, her off-the-ball movement created space for her teammates as Seattle’s midfielders marked her through the middle of the park.

It’s a role Cheney’s played so naturally, so instinctively that you wonder if she’ll ever be able to play it with the national team. But to this point, the U.S. hasn’t utilized that kind of playmaker. If that changed, Cheney wouldn’t mind:

With the national team, I’ve played so many different positions that I’ve just kind of adjusted and made the best of it.

With Tom (Sermanni), we’re still figuring it out. Obviously Pia (Sunhage) didn’t play [with a number ten]. We had a little bit more of a direct style of play. With Tom, he’s still open to the idea of anything. We’ll see what happens the longer he’s with us and the longer he gets to see more players. I do like the way FC Kansas City plays, and if that worked for the national team, I would love to play that position.

Western New York is likely to play more of a 4-2-3-1 against Kansas City, the system Lines has started to employ over the last two weeks. That means when Cheney drops to pick up the ball, it will fall on Adrianna to help. As Cheney enters the attack, former UCLA teammate McCall Zerboni and potentially Sarah Huffman will have to immitate Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock and Keelin Winters, who did a decent job to tracking the Kansas City playmaker.

But even if she doesn’t see the ball, Cheney can dictate the game. With teams forced to account for her, Cheney’s movement back toward the ball, out to the flanks, and up toward the striker circulates the entire attack. If she doesn’t beat you, Cheney’s likely creating space for Cuellar, Mewis, and Farrelly to do it for her.

QUICK HITS

W. New York FC Kansas City
Star to Watch Abby Wambach – If Sam Kerr was just a wide player sent into the nightmares of the league’s left and right backs, that’d be bad enough. That she’s providing service for the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. Back, healthy, and (as of last Wednesday) on the scoresheet, Wambach is the player most likely to deliver another win for Western New York. Lauren Cheney – Along with Christine Sinclair, Cheney’s the best attacking midfielder in the league, and if the Thorns captain eventually returns to a forward’s role, Cheney will be alone as the league’s best No. 10. This role, which she’s never been able to play for club or country, makes her one of the league’s most influential players, essential to FC Kansas City reaching their potential.
Still Important McCall Zerboni – Her work rate in the middle sets the tone for her team. Against one of the best midfields in the league, she’ll need to replicate the passing she showed against Sky Blue, a performance that helped Western New York control last week’s game from its outset. Becky Sauerbrunn – Arguably the best defender in the league through four weeks, the Blues’ captain will be tasked with containing Abby Wambach. For a player whose known as more cerebral than physical, Sauerbrunn’s may to have to step out of her comfort zone.
Win if … … Zerboni’s strong in the middle, Kerr continues her dominance of the flanks, and Wambach can exploit the advantages she has against Sauerbrunn and Sesselman. … they continue to dictate play, are willing to sacrifice some ingenuity for defense, and stay patient, like they did last week in Seattle.

Other games, Week 5

Sky Blue FC 1-1 Chicago Red Stars (Wednesday) – Sky Blue’s perfect start seems like so long ago. Chicago, who’ve struggled to this point, grab a late equalizer in a telling match for both teams.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET) – After the Breakers’ 4-1 rout of Chicago last week, Boston’s now being mentioned by the league’s players and coaches in the same breath as Portland and Kansas City. If the Big Two has really become a Big Three, Boston will win in Maryland.

Sky Blue FC vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Three of Seattle’s four games have been against Portland or KC. Their only other game, a visit to Chicago, ended 1-1. This is Laura Harvey’s chance to show her team’s slow start is a function of scheduling, not quality.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET) – Portland makes their second visit of the season to Chicago, where they won 2-0 two weeks ago. There’s little reason to think this week will be much different.

Weston McKennie set to join Leeds: Is this a good move for the USMNT star?

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USMNT star Weston McKennie is set to sign for Leeds United from Juventus.

“Leeds United States of America” continues to grow with McKennie to join fellow Americans Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson playing for Jesse Marsch and newly-appointed assistant Chris Armas.

Who will be next to turn up at Elland Road, Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA

Per Fabrizio Romano, McKennie will sign for Leeds on loan for a $1.4 million fee and Leeds have the option to buy him for just under $36 million in the summer.

Juventus boss Max Allegri confirmed that Juventus and Leeds have completed the deal and that the USMNT midfielder will not be available to play for the Italian giants against Monza on Sunday.

“There’s an agreement ready between clubs to sell McKennie. He won’t be available tomorrow,” Allegri said.


Would a move to Leeds be a good fit for Weston McKennie?

Stylistically the Premier League is a great fit for Weston McKennie and Leeds are probably one of the best teams he could move to.

He loves to fly into tackles and drive forward from midfield and playing just in front of Tyler Adams and Marc Roca or to the right of them would be a perfect spot for him at Leeds.

It would give Leeds more control of games and the Yorkshire club also play to his strengths. it’s a really good fit.

McKennie has struggled to have a big impact at Juve this season as injuries have taken their toll on him over the last few years. That would perhaps be the one concern about his move to the Premier League, as McKennie seems to pick up quite a few knocks.

However, looking at his stats below from this season at Juventus, the chances he creates per game and the shots per game will improve and his accurate passing will help Leeds become less susceptible on the counter.

McKennie is a player who rattles into tackles, feeds off the energy of his fans and his mentality is perfect for the aggressive side Jesse Marsch has created at Leeds.

The Texas born midfielder has always wanted to play in the Premier League and he’s got his wish at a club where he will play week in, week out and one which suits his style of play perfectly.

Weston McKennie
Graphic via FotMob.com

USMNT vs Colombia live: How to watch, stream link, start time

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Anthony Hudson takes the reins for his second friendly in charge of the USMNT, two days after the U.S. Soccer Federation confirmed that he’ll be the interim coach through a hiring process that could take through the end of the summer.

Hudson’s first game was a 2-1 loss to Serbia on Wednesday, as Julian Gressel cued up a Brandon Vazquez goal but a mistake at the back and a brilliant free kick helped the Serbians to victory.

[ MORE: Follow FA Cup scores, updates ]

San Jose star Cade Cowell impressed with his electric pace and engine, while Chelsea goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina was put in some tricky spots over his time. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long split time at center back, next to LA Galaxy youngster Jalen neal.

Colombia’s first game of 2023 is just its fifth since the conclusion of World Cup qualifying in 2022.

Los Cafeteros, like the USMNT, will not have a ton of usual suspects, but Frank Fabra will be joined by Cucho Hernandez, now with Columbus Crew, as well as five other MLS players.


How to watch USMNT vs Colombia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 7:30pm ET, Saturday (January 28)
Stadium: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, Calif.
TV channels in English: TNT
TV channels en Español: Universo
Streaming en Español: Peacock


USMNT vs Colombia Preview

The Yanks fell 2-1 to Serbia in a match about as scattered as you’d expect for a largely out-of-season, MLS-based side and a Serbia team with droves of uncapped players.

Saturday’s opponents will be of similar ilk, as no player besides veteran Frank Fabra of Boca Juniors boasts more than three caps.

[ MORE: Grades for USMNT players at 2022 World Cup ]

With recent USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter currently under investigation by the U.S. Soccer Federation after he admitted kicking his now wife in 1991 when they were in college together, assistant coach Anthony Hudson will lead the USMNT. Hudson has been leading practice during the January camp and will take charge until the USMNT tabs a new coach by the end of summer.

Five players who went to the 2022 World Cup with the USMNT are on this roster (Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, Sean Johnson and Jesus Ferreira).


USMNT quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 11
Coach: Anthony Hudson (temporary)

Colombia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 17
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
Coach: Nestor Lorenzo


USMNT vs Serbia video highlights, Brandon Vazquez goal video

Manchester United vs Reading: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester United looks to stay in the mix for a pair of domestic cups when it hosts old pal Paul Ince and Reading in the fourth round of the 2022 FA Cup on Saturday.

United scored a solid win at midweek to move within 90 minutes of the League Cup Final and of course also harbors hopes of winning the Europa League and, perhaps less so, the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

Reading sits 14th in the Championship, five points off the playoff places and fairly clear of the relegation mess.


Manchester United vs Reading, FA Cup fourth round: How to watch live, stream link

Kick off: 3pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: ESPN+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & in-form players to watch 

Tom Ince, Paul’s son, is leading the club both in goals and assists, and sits among the leaders in pretty much everything else from tackles to completed dribbles.  Yakou Meite has also been a busy piece of what Reading has done well.

United’s stars are well-known, as Marcus Rashford continues to thrive at forward. Wout Weghorst picked up his first Man Utd goal at midweek and could be in line for more playing time while Anthony Martial recovers from injury.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

Manchester United won’t have Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Diogo Dalot, Donny van de Beek, and Jadon Sancho, while Luke Shaw is a question mark with an illness.

Reading team news, injuries, lineup options

Paul Ince’s bid to upset United will not include Naby Sarr, Sam Hutchinson, and old foe Andy Carroll.

Premier League midseason grades

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We are at the midway point of the Premier League season, so now seems like a good time to dish out a grade for all 20 clubs based on their play so far.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Which teams have struggled? Who has overachieved? What have been the biggest stories so far?

[ LATEST: Premier League table in full ]

Below we dish out a grade to every club with analysis on their 2022-23 campaign so far.


The strugglers

Southampton: F
Everton: F
West Ham: D-
Chelsea: D-
Leicester City: D-

Three of these five teams (Saints, Everton and Chelsea) have fired their manager and that says it all. Southampton’s transfer policy was risky but they have a chance of getting out of the relegation zone, while Everton look in a whole world of trouble with Frank Lampard fired and discontent rising among supporters. Chelsea are in a bit of mess and keep chucking money at it, with the top four already seeming out of reach under new boss Graham Potter. As for West Ham and Leicester, well, they’ve both underachieved massively and have shown glimpses of climbing up the table during the season, but there’s just an extra spark missing for both despite their talented squads.


The underachievers

Liverpool: D
Leeds: D
Wolves: D
Crystal Palace: C-
Bournemouth: C

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have massively underachieved this season and they’ve lacked energy and confidence from the very start. Can they rebound and battle for the top four? They’ve done it before but this will take one heck of a turnaround as they look lackluster in midfield and shaky in defense. Leeds and Wolves both have better squads than being in a relegation scrap but that’s what they’re in. Marsch has to make Leeds better at the back, while Julen Lopetegui has Wolves organized but needs goals. As for Crystal Palace, they’ve slightly underachieved but are doing okay in midtable under Patirck Vieira, while Bournemouth have spent most of the season (until recently) out of the relegation zone which is much better than what they expected.


The teams figuring it out

Nottingham Forest: B-
Aston Villa: B-
Tottenham: B
Manchester City: B+
Manchester United: B+

In the case of the two Manchester clubs, Erik ten Hag has got United playing with a structure and confidence and they are right in the top four battle. As for Manchester City, well, they have Erling Haaland which papers over a lot of cracks. Still, Pep Guardiola’s side are ominously sat just behind Arsenal in the title battle as they love to chase teams down. Tottenham have had a crazy season full of ups and downs but are still basically where they should be: battling for a top four finish. Aston Villa have figured it out with Unai Emery coming in and making them a solid unit which loves to counter. As for Forest, Steve Cooper has done a fine job and after making about 327 new signings last summer (the real number is slightly higher) the squad has gelled and they should stay up.


The big winners, so far…

Brentford: A
Fulham: A
Newcastle: A+
Brighton: A+
Arsenal: A+

There are some real surprise packages this season and the positions of Brighton and Fulham (sixth and seventh respectively) is a shock. Roberto De Zerbi replaced Potter and added attacking swagger to the Seagulls who are so much fun to watch, while Marco Silva has turned new boys Fulham into a very efficient team who are horrible to play against. Brentford slot between Brighton and Fulham in terms of style of play and Thomas Frank is once again working miracles with Ivan Toney leading the charge as the Bees have recorded several huge wins, beating Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool already. But the story of the season is down to two teams: Newcastle and Arsenal. The former have gone on a long unbeaten run and may not be in the title race but are in the top four hunt. What a job Eddie Howe has done and Newcastle are tough to play against and are adding key players all the time. As for Arsenal, what can we say about the Gunners? Mikel Arteta has developed an incredible squad full of talented youngsters who are all pulling in the same direction. Arsenal sit top of the table and have answered every big question asked of them so far. They 100 percent look like they can be title winners. Can they kick on in the second half of the season and finish off the job?