NWSL Game of the Week: Chicago Red Stars at Portland Thorns FC

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Week 8 of the NWSL is a light one – one which coincides with what will likely be the most anticipated game on North America’s 2013 women’s soccer calendar. Yet much like its brother league, Major League Soccer, “the N” has elected to push through the international schedule and stage matches, with a pair games seeing the league’s top three teams in action.

While Saturday’s evening affair will see the league’s leaders, Sky Blue FC, host third place Boston, out game of the week is in Portland, where a hamstrung Thorns FC welcome winless but reloading Chicago Red Stars.

The game kicks off at 5:00 p.m Eastern in Portland, with streaming available on the league’s YouTube channel.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. What they’ve lost

During a typical pregame at JELD-WEN Field, you’ll a youth team from the greater Portland area brought onto the pitch, split up into sides, and stage a small game in front of the supporter’s north end, laying across the width of the pitch. With one quarter-sized goal on each side of the penalty area, disorganized fleets of anonymous children give fans a chance to stretch their vocal cords. For the kids, they get a chance to be part of game day – stepping on the field, hearing the small roars of the venue’s legendary crowd. For the fans, however, it’s just the opening act.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 5 Sky Blue 8 19 +8
2 4 Portland 8 19 +8
3 3 Boston 6 11 +5
4 2 W. New York 6 10 +1
5 1 Kansas City 6 10 +3
6 6 Washington 8 6 -5
7 7 Chicago 6 2 -8
8 8 Seattle 8 1 -12

This weekend, NWSL plays the part opening, relatively anonymous opening act. With most of the league’s best talent in Toronto, the N’s two Saturday games will be played in the shadow of that main event – the burgeoning rivalry-like thing we’ve been told is Creed-Balboa II (if Apollo and Rocky’s bout was purely an exhibition, though we know how those go).

Chicago’s visit to Portland? Sky Blue welcoming Boston? On the surface, they carry little appeal, with the absences of Alex Morgan, Christie Rampone, and Heather O’Reilly, Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and Karina LeBlanc depriving the weekend set of its drawing cards.

For Saturday’s match at JELD-WEN, one team will be vastly more hamstrung than the other. Chicago rolls into town without left back Rachel Quon, goalkeeper Erin McLeod, and defender Camelina Moscato – notable loses, but absences for which Rory Dames can adjust. Cindy Parlow Cone, on the other hand, loses two her only two goalscorers (Morgan and Sinclair), her leader in defense (Rachel Buehler), and the team’s only goalkeeper with professional experience (LeBlanc).

Beyond prompting the question of why the games are being played at all, the weekend’s matches look set to test the depth of squads that were never designed to be more than paper-thin. The league has a minimal salary cap (around $200,000) and limited international slots. Players brought up this week to fill-in for international call-ups are on amateur contracts; unpaid replacements in what is ostensibly a professional league.

2. What they look like, now
Calling Chicago’s a second choice team is a bit of an exaggeration. Because they were dealt a poor hand in allocation, they haven’t been dependent on U.S. and Canadian talents. Almost none of their U.S. allocations have contributed (Amy Lepeilbet, Shannon Boxx, and the traded Keelin Winters), while their Canadian internationals have been role players (Quon and Moscato) or inconsistent (McLeod). Their best player to this point, Lori Chalupny, offers international talent without the risk of being called up. Leaning on neither U.S. or Canadian internationals, it’s unclear the Red Stars will be in any worse shape Saturday than they’ve been for previous games, particularly considering their high-profile addition.

source:  Along with another fellow ex-German international (34-year-old defender Sonja Fuss), Inka Grings will be with the Red Stars in Portland, each former Duisburg standout joining Chicago this month from FC Zurich. While Fuss is bound to bring some needed experience to the defense, it’s Grings’ addition that’s been most anticipated, the women who has 64 international goals to her credit expected to bring some much-needed punch to the Red Stars’ attack.

The big question is whether the 34-year-old attacker still has it. When she left the Frauen Bundesliga at the end of the 2010-11 season, she was still a prodigious scorer, posting more than one goal per game. After two seasons in Switzerland – playing fewer games, against lesser competition, and no longer having a part of the German national team – how much (if anything) has Grings lost?

Even at 34, Grings should be a significant upgrade for a team that’s scored only four times in six games. And against a Thorns side that will be missing their goalkeeper as well as their best defender, Grings will get a nice ramp up to NWSL play, one which gives a relatively strong Red Star team a chance to take advantage of Portland misfortune.

The Thorns, however, have the virtue of having their midfield largely in place. Becky Edwards, one of the league’s better defensive midfielders, will anchor a unit that retains Allie Long and Nikki Washington. Angie Kerr, a regular for the team, will likely slide into Christine Sinclair’s spot at the top of midfield, giving Cone a unit capable of controlling to Saturday’s game.

On the surface, Portland’s team looks set to produce a typical Thorns performance, one that should see the team control a bulk of possession without generating a proportional number of chances. But whereas the Thorns usually have Morgan and Sinclair to bail out a team that’s failed to produce their expected attacking fireworks, on Saturday they’ll be relying on magic from Kerr and Danielle Foxhoven.

While there is a school of thought that holds getting Morgan’s vertical runs out of the team – swapping in somebody whose movement meshes pretty with the midfield — might provide a spark, Portland will most likely miss the finishing of one of the world’s elite goalscorers.

3. About that shadow

Around the league, coaches are saying all the right things, declining to criticize the timing of June’s friendlies. They flash their diplomatic sides, choosing to note every team is facing the same challenges. There’s a tacit acknowledgment that the club versus country debate takes on a new dynamic with federations are sponsoring the leagues, so although nobody likes the integrity of the regular season compromised (even in small amounts), there’s little coaches can do but shrug their shoulders and put on a good face. They have no recourse.

Behind the scenes, however, there are small hints of indignation – questions as to why the best talent of a nascent league is going to be away from their teams for the better part of a month. One game here or there – it’s fine, but with U.S. players playing three internationals, Canadian players reporting twice over the course of three weeks, the small, 22-match season could be disproportionately affected by international commitments.

When the federations are footing much of the bill, you have to play by their rules. That means you’ll get weekends like this, where partially second choice teams are expected to give first team performances. But in a five-month season where order of finish determines not only homes for first round playoff games but also the site of the league championship match, little road bumps could prove decisive.

Beyond that, there’s a perception issue, though until we see June’s attendance figures, this is mostly hypothetical. If the league is staging games without its best talents, is it offering a product commensurate with its mission – first division soccer? Instead of pausing the league while its key players are away, is the NWSL electing to stage what some could see as high quality W-League games? And will that have an effect at the turnstiles?

As with most things in a league that’s two months old, ideas need to be tried before we know if they’re viable. And in all likelihood, scheduling concerns forced the league to play matches this weekend. Come Saturday night, if the crowds are good and the product is strong, the absence of U.S. and Canadian internationals may prove no big deal. Else, the league will have to reconsider playing scheduling against the international calendar.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns FC Chicago Red Stars
Star to Watch Becky Edwards – Thorns FC’s holders has steadily improved throughout the season, providing Portland with one of their few bright spots last Saturday in Seattle. As she continues to get used to her new system and teammates, Edwards will be able to start having a greater influence going forward. With PTFC’s stars gone on Saturday, she may need to speed up that process.
Lori Chalupny – If the Red Stars are going to take advantage of Grings, Lori Chalupny is going to have to be on her game. Through six matches, she has been arguably been Chicago’s only above-average player. Whether she’s deployed through the middle or wide, she’s the one most likely to take advantage of Chicago’s new gaol-scoring talent.
Still Important Kathryn Williamson – “Kat” is one of a handful college draftees getting regular time with her team, but although you often see some of her inexperience come through, she has arguably been the league’s most influential “rookie.” Increasingly decisive from her right-center half position, the University of Florida product will have to step up on Grings in the absence of Buehler. Taylor Vancil – A third round pick out of Florida State, Vancil made her professional debut last Friday in Rochester, putting in a strong performance in a 2-1 loss to the Western New York Flash. The rookie’s showing was so strong, coach Rory Dames took to Twitter post-match to sing the praises of Erin McLeod’s stand-in. Set to get her second start, Vancil will need to be aggressive off her line against a Portland attack that likes playing through balls.
Win if … … the midfield can take advantage of Foxhoven’s movement while Grings experiences a period of adjustment to the NWSL. … Grings is just too good or they’re able to contain a tepid Thorns attack long enough to take advantage of a mistake.

OTHER GAMES, WEEK 8

Saturday, June 1
Sky Blue FC vs. Boston Breakers – Both teams have major absences, though Sky Blue’s loss of Christie Rampone will really show how crucial she is to a young defense’s organization, particularly against an attack that will still feature Lianne Sanderson and Kyah Simon.

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense?

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Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga and how much does it improve the Chelsea defense?

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Frank Lampard has confirmed that goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, 28, has arrived from Rennes in a $28 million deal and the Senegalese international will provide ‘competition’ to Kepa.

“Competition is a regular thing. We have brought Mendy in for that competition. It’s in everyone’s hands to get into the squad,” Lampard said. “I think it is the hardest position, because of the individual nature of it. I have to be sympathetic to that point. Last year I changed a few times, it’s a different thought process. We are always striving for the best performance.”

Is anyone buying that?

A couple of high-profile mistakes in Chelsea’s opening two games of the Premier League season has highlighted Kepa’s poor form and Chelsea have moved fast to bring in Mendy.

What does this mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga?

As the ProSoccerTalk lads discuss in the video above, this is probably the end, or at the very least the beginning of the end, for Kepa at Chelsea. Kepa has never really settled at Chelsea and over the last two seasons he hasn’t backed up being the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.

That transfer fee was a little false, as Chelsea were backed into a corner after losing Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid and paid Kepa’s release clause of $91.1 million to Athletic Bilbao. But they still paid it and even if the fee was half of that, eyebrows would have been raised. Kepa, 25, has failed to command his box, looked nervous with the ball at his feet and shots from outside the box have also given him plenty of problems. Not a great combo for a goalkeeper.

Chelsea may look to loan him out but there’s no doubt that after being dropped for veteran Willy Caballero at the end of last season, the writing was on the wall and Kepa is on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.

Does Edouard Mendy to Chelsea improve their defense right away?

Not right away, but it will help. His impressive ability to come for crosses and his towering six-foot six-inch frame should provide some stability and confidence from the defenders around him but the way Chelsea play suggests their defensive issues will remain.

Frank Lampard loves to attack and it’s fun to watch. Well, unless you’re a goalkeeper or defender for the Blues. Mendy is one part of the jigsaw and so too is Thiago Silva who will add a calm head and his experience to a youthful defense, and Ben Chilwell at left back will also improve their defensive outlook.

Lampard loves to attack, though, and we must admit that without N’Golo Kante in front of a oft-changed back four, things will be tough. Mendy’s arrival should help settle things down and help Chelsea improve at the back but Lampard needs his center backs to stand tall in the coming weeks and months.

League Cup: How to watch, start times, as Premier League powers enter

League Cup
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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Fifteen Premier League teams eye dates in the fourth round when the League Cup returns for another September midweek.

The congested nature of the season will see some PL sides play three matches in as many weeks, though the European qualifying teams are just entering the fray this week.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

That includes Europa League sides Arsenal and Leicester City, who will stage the lone all-PL scrap of the round come Wednesday at the King Power Stadium.

Tuesday was going to see Tottenham Hotspur visit a club sponsored by Spurs striker Harry Kane, but Leyton Orient is in the news after positive COVID-19 tests have threatened to forfeit Spurs into the next round.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Manchester United will hope to snap out of its season-opening funk when it begins its tourney Tuesday at Luton Town, while Chelsea hosts Barnsley on Wednesday.

Liverpool is off to Lincoln City on Thursday, kicking off its League Cup at the same time Manchester City welcomes Bournemouth.

Because of the aforementioned congested September in the tournament, the fourth round draw has already been held and those fixtures are at bottom of the page.


League Cup third round draw

All times ET

Tuesday
Leyton Orient v Tottenham Hotspur — Postponed
West Brom v Brentford — 2 pm
Newport County v Watford — 2pm
West Ham United v Hull City — 2:30 pm
Luton Town v Manchester United — 3:15 pm

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
West Brom/Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United/Hull City
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County/Watford v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Luton Town/Manchester United


How to watch League Cup third round streams and start time

Kickoff: Tuesday through Thursday
Online: Select games on ESPN+
Updates: Follow League Cup scores via NBCSports.com

Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Sancho deal off

Dembele to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news there is an Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United report, while Jadon Sancho to Manchester United is said to be off. Again.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Let’s dive into the latest transfer news from around the Premier League, with a big focus on the Red Devils as they try to add key pieces late in the window.

Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United a good alternative to Sancho?

According to the Daily Record, Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United could happen in the final weeks of the window. Ronald Koeman has said Dembele, 23, is one of many players who are surplus to requirements at Barcelona. Per the report, Man United want a season-long loan deal for Dembele while Barcelona want a loan with an obligation to buy clause. They value Dembele at $117 million.

Look, the best thing Barcelona can do here is loan Dembele out and hope he stays fit and has a fine season at Man United so they want to buy him, or another club will buy him, or he could even return to Barca rejuvenated and able to be a key figure in their attack. Dembele’s last few seasons have been ravaged by injury and it is clear that Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and

For Man United, a loan move is a no-brainer. As they continue to chase Jadon Sancho but are more likely to make their move for the English winger next summer (more on that shortly), having a French international winger for a season to plug the gap is smart. If Dembele is up for the challenge of moving to Manchester United and rebuilding his career, he would provide plenty of competition to Mason Greenwood out wide and is a big upgrade on Jesse Lingard, Daniel James and Juan Mata as their other wide attackers.

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United off

It appears that Jadon Sancho to Manchester United will not happen unless the Red Devils panic massively in the latter stages of the transfer window and up their bid.

Sancho, 20, has been the top target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but the England international hasn’t forced through a move from Borussia Dortmund and our colleagues at Sky Sports in the UK state the German club are ‘bemused’ by the way United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has approached the deal as they’ve failed to get anywhere near Sancho’s valuation.

Speaking to Sport 1, Borussia Dortmund director Sebastian Kehl had the following to say about Sancho’s situation.

“We agreed that we had to show a certain attitude. And €80m are simply not enough for such a player,” Kehl said. “We owed that to the club and the fans. I don’t want to give him up either. Without Jadon this team is worse.”

Kehl went on to admit that Sancho could leave one day but for now he’s happy at Dortmund and vice versa. Is that the end of the summer-long Sancho saga? If it wasn’t over, it pretty much is now.

There’s no doubt that Sancho will end up in the Premier League, and probably at Manchester United, in the future but this deal always seemed like a long-shot considering the current financial situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Man United need a new winger to strengthen their already stacked attack and Solskjaer is better off focusing on a short-term solution and then lining up the deal for Sancho to happen over the next few transfer windows.

That said, United’s inability to get deals over the line (Sergio Reguilon, Gareth Bale and Jadon Sancho to name just a few) is starting to wear thing on most of their fans and unless they secure wins galore early in the season, it could be a tough few months for Solskjaer and Co.