Looking back at Week 8 of the NWSL season

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The day belonged to the Chicago Red Stars, and we’ll be sure to get into that (a lot) below, but when a team that was expected to win the league drops their second in three at home, questions about that club’s performance will overshadow their 6-2-1 record, the fact they sit second in the league, or the international break that deprived Thorns FC of four valuable pieces.

The truth is Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Chicago was a very typical Thorns performance, one that makes you realize how valuable Christine Sinclair’s become. As Portland waned in Saturday’s second half, you couldn’t help but think of the numerous times this season Sinclair’s done something subtly remarkable, breaking her team out of their typical drudgery and given them an edge that their talent alone could preserve. But without Canada’s captain, the league favorites were victimized by a Chicago team that came into the day as one of the NWSL’s two winless teams.

Had Sinclair, Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler and Karina LeBlanc been at JELD-WEN, Portland still would have lost. Probably. Sonia Fuss (and, to a lesser extent, Inka Grings) made Chicago into a different team. But even if the Thorns did get another result, it would only paper over the problems that we saw in Kansas City and Seattle, issues that were also manifest at home against Sky Blue and Chicago.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Sat. June 1 Portland 0-2 Chicago
Sat. June 1 Sky Blue 5-1 Boston

For all their talent in attack, Portland is just not generating enough decent chances. Their inability to do so allows teams to play off them, stay compact and tight at the back, and wait for their lack of solutions to produce a turnover. Having yet to show any variations that offsets their opponents’ plans (i.e., a willingness to play around, not through their opposition), Portland’s an easy riddle to solve. Yu don’t have to be a master tactician to stop the Thorns FC.

The rub is Sinclair, who can defy Portland’s lack of solutions and get results. The rub is Morgan, who (as she showed on Sunday) can be anonymous for 70 minutes then steal a game.

But for Portland, the rub is also team like Sky Blue. Or Kansas City. Or Western New York. There are a lot of rubs! All of those teams are capable of doing what Chicago did Saturday while being much more dangerous going forward.

That’s why, even though their stars were gone, Portland took a big hit in PST’s rankings (below). Saturday’s game was just too emblematic of bigger problems – issues taht transcend personnel. Until we see something different, there’s every reason to expect their struggles will continue.

Here’s what else happened in this weekend in the NWSL:

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

source:  Boston was without their national team players, too, but not at the back, and not in the middle of the park. So when you see Sky Blue put up a league-record five goals against the previously once-beaten Breakers, don’t throw shade at Jim Gabarra’s team. Saturday’s result should be seen as a break out.

Danesha Adams had two goals. So did Lisa De Vanna. Taylor Lytle got her second of the year. A team that has no elite threat in attack, against a back seven (keeper, defense, two holders) that wasn’t missing any of their starters to the international break managed five goals. Five!

It’s time to stop being so sanguine about Sky Blue. That’s me talking to myself and everybody else that looked at the first place team and signed a collective ‘meh, this team isn’t as good as the four below it.’

True, at the beginning they seemed to be getting some irreplaceable breaks. And when they sprung their upsets of Portland, it appeared to be Thorn ineptitude. When Sky Blue won in Kansas City, they played with an extra player for an hour.

But on Saturday? The team showed signs that the cohesion that has fused one of the league’s best defenses may now be moving into the attack. And this was without Christie Rampone and Sophie Schmidt in the team.

It’s time to give it up to Sky Blue.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

So Lisa De Vanna did this against Boston:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuvXaZ8BGzI%5D

She also added another goal while being her typical all-energy self.

But let’s try to let that finish speak for itself. She was our Week 8 MVP.

ROUND’S BIG STORY

No more asking which team will win first. Chicago and Seattle came into the weekend as the N’s only winless sides, but after the Red Stars’ victory in Portland, the Reign get to walk that road alone. Chicago has their first win, and with it, they have hope they can salvage their season.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 2 Sky Blue 9 22 +12
2 5 Portland 9 19 +6
3 4 Boston 7 11 +1
4 3 W. New York 6 10 +1
5 1 Kansas City 6 10 +3
6 7 Washington 8 6 -5
7 6 Chicago 7 5 -6
8 8 Seattle 8 1 -12

The Red Stars are still five points and three teams back of a playoff spot, but with 15 games left in their season, there’s plenty of time to catch up. So although three points against Portland were important and symbolic, Chicago’s underlying form was more important. Had they played poorly and got an aberrational result, there’d be little true reason to be so excited. But while out-playing the Thorns –  showing a quality that could win games going forward – the Red Stars took a huge step in the right diretion.

Perhaps surprisingly, the key wasn’t Grings – the goalscorer expected to augment an attack that’d only scored four times in six games. She didn’t even register a shot on goal. The difference was Sonja Fuss, the other former German international who joined the Red Stars last week.

Fuss, like Grings, is 34, and is also joining Chicago from FC Zurich, but without 64 international goals to her resume, her arrival was somewhat overlooked. On Saturday, though, her leadership was crucial to organizing a Chicago defense that had looked suspect the previous week in Rochester.

“Our team has a lot of good players, and soccer’s not that difficult,” Fuss said after the game, talking about organizing new teammates. “Everybody can stop a ball and can play it. It’s just about knowing where the right spot is.”

The Thorns had one meaningful chance on Saturday, a ball knocked down by Angie Kerr, send over the bar by Danielle Foxhoven in the first half. From then on, it was a serious of half-chances and empty threats, Fuss’s organization and timely clearances the major part of the Red Stars’ awakening.

Grings is bound to score goals, but if Fuss continues to play as she did on Saturday, the defender’s arrival will prove as important.

UNSUNG HERO
Like fellow two-time “Unsungee” Desiree Scott, Chicago’s Lori Chalupny is probably overqualified for this position, but on a weekend when the U.S. national team assembled without her, it’s appropriate to note: Chalupny still has all the quality of an international player.

source:  Her one-on-one battle with Becky Edwards was one of the most compelling parts of Saturday’s game. Playing behind Grings in what functioned as a 4-2-3-1, Chalupny was constantly in Edwards’ pocket as the Thorns pivot tried to manage play. And with Portland’s midfield not providing a player to allow Edwards to make a positive pass, Chalupny was often forcing negative balls, allowing her defense to consolidate behind her.

But more than pressuring the ball, Chalupny was a pest winning it. She was fouled a game high five times as her combativeness defined the day’s midfield battle, one Chicago ultimately won. By the hour mark, a Portland midfield that’s used to controlling tempo was sharing the ball with the Red Stars, a implicit accomplishment for Chicago’s midfield.

With the U.S. winning comfortably over a strong Canada squad, it’s impossible to say the States need Lori Chalupny. But when she plays like she has over the last month, it’s difficult to say she doesn’t deserve a chance at a 93rd cap. Two ships passing in the night.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Did Sky Blue save any goals for Saturday? … What has to happen before Portland makes a change? … Was that the sound of Boston coming back to earth? … How strong will Chicago be after Leslie Osborne and Shannon Boxx return? … Can we learn anything from this weekend’s games? … And will the off week help or hurt the four teams that didn’t play?

LOOKING FORWARD

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 5 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 6
7 tied at 4 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 3
7 tied with 2

Two mid-week games ahead of a three-match weekend give us one of the busier weeks on the NWSL calendar. We’ll have something quick on Wednesday about the matches in Boston and Portland, but for the weekend’s games, Sky Blue’s match against the Western New York Flash will be our PST Game of the Week.

Wednesday, June 5
Boston Breakers vs. Western New York Flash

Thursday, June 6
Portland Thorns FC vs. FC Kansas City

Saturday, June 8
Sky Blue FC vs. Western New York Flash

Sunday, June 9
Chicago Red Stars vs. Boston Breakers
Seattle Reign FC vs. FC Kansas City

Burning question: What is the best formation?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the first one focuses on something we all love to debate: formations.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: What is the best formation to use?


Most coaches will tell you when asked that formations do not matter. We all know they do.

3-4-3? 4-4-2? 4-5-1? 4-3-3? 3-5-2? 4-1-4-1? 4-3-2-1? 4-2-2-2?

Which formation do you think is the best? Does a formation depend mostly on the players you have at your disposal or your preferred style of play? Most likely it is a combination of both but coaches often have a preferred formation and stick with it no matter what. Their philosophy and ideas mean everything to them.

I’m torn between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 but I’d probably just about go for 4-3-3 because it is so well balanced. In an attacking team like Man City or Liverpool it works really well because essentially it gives you four defenders back at all times with one deeper central midfielder, two center backs and one full back sitting back.

When teams are under pressure the 4-3-3 then turns into more of a 4-5-1 formation with one central striker saying high and the two wingers tracking back and providing cover. Speaking about cover, 3-4-3 allows one center back to push forward and always have two center backs in defense, while full backs are able to push forward which is particularly important in the modern game. My main problem with 3-4-3 is that often you don’t need three center backs if teams sit back.

4-4-1-1 is solid and flexible as the player in the No. 10 position essentially becomes a striker but there just seems to be more danger from wide players when teams are set up in a 4-3-3 system because their first thought is to attack and they have the added cover of a central midfielder tucked in halfway behind them.

Simply put, I love 4-3-3. You may love something totally different, so let us know in the comments section below which formation is your favorite.

Chelsea’s Willian eager to stay in Premier League

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Chelsea and Brazil star Willian has revealed he is eager to stay in the Premier League, even if that’s not with Chelsea.

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Willian, 31, has revealed that contract talks have stopped for now during the suspension for the coronavirus pandemic, and his future is uncertain as his current deal at Chelsea expires this summer.

The likes of Tottenham and Arsenal have been linked with a move for Willian, who almost joined Spurs in 2013 but instead joined Chelsea in a last-second change of heart.

Willian told ESPN Brazil  that he wants to stay in the Premier League and he feels he is now at his peak.

“My wish is to stay in the Premier League, but I’m not ruling out playing in other leagues,” Willian said. “I’m going to play until the end of the season and then see what happens. I’m very used to life in England. I’m not thinking about going back to Corinthians at the moment. My aim is to stay in Europe. I feel that I’m at my peak at the moment. Players improve throughout their careers and I think I’m currently at my peak.”

It is not secret that Mourinho and Willian get on very well, which will intrigue Tottenham’s fans…

“I got on very well with Mourinho, learnt a lot under him and we’ve remained friends,” Willian said. “We still message each other a lot, but I don’t see him often. I haven’t managed to meet up with him since he came back to London.”

His form for Chelsea has been a little erratic this season but Frank Lampard has spoken fondly about Willian time and time again and it is quite clear Chelsea would like to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge for at least another season.

With so many young wingers around (Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount to name a few), Willian can help ease them into the first team but there’s no doubting plenty of Premier League clubs will be eager to snap him up on a free transfer this summer, or whenever the transfer window reopens.

Tottenham would seem like a particularly good fit for Willian. He would link up with Jose Mourinho, the manage who bought him to Chelsea, and his experience would be vital at Spurs as they aim to finally secure some silverware. Tottenham need to prioritize buying new defenders but if Willian is available for free, you can’t turn that deal down, even if he turned Spurs and Daniel Levy down in 2013…

Arsenal would make sense too but you’d have to say Tottenham are the frontrunners given the connection between Willian and Mourinho. Of course, he could stay at Chelsea, but with Pedro also out of contract it does feel like a changing of the guard as Lampard will put his faith totally in new signing Hakim Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi next season.

With $2.7 billion reserves, FIFA has ‘duty’ to aid virus-hit soccer

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FIFA says it has a “duty” to use its vast financial reserves to assist a football industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic wiping out games and creating unexpected economic hardship in the world’s biggest sport.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The spread of COVID-19 has impacted the wealthiest clubs, with Barcelona and Juventus players taking wage cuts; those in smaller countries, with Slovakian champion Zilina entering bankruptcy; and national football federations, with Uruguay furloughing hundreds of staff.

Having amassed reserves it last reported at $2.745 billion, FIFA has the resources to give much-needed financial help to the game at many levels. Now the organization has provided more details around the need agreed two weeks ago by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his vice presidents to explore a “support fund” for the sport.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” world football’s governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

FIFA is exploring the mechanism to provide the financial lifeline to the football industry with the six regional confederations and member associations to ensure there is an announcement “in the near future.”

“The football community around the world is experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, serious financial problems on account of the coronavirus outbreak,” FIFA said. “This threatens to disrupt and impair the ability of FIFA’s member associations and other football organizations such as leagues and clubs to develop, finance and run football activities at all levels of the game, including professional, non-professional, youth and grassroots.

“It is foreseen that in many parts of the world a considerable number of persons involved in football including both men and women players will be left in extremely difficult economic conditions.”

FIFA already operates a “Forward” development program to redistribute its wealth to member associations. In the 2015-18 cycle, investment dedicated to the scheme was $1.079 billion, of which $832 million had been approved and committed to member associations, confederations or regions, according to the last published financial results.

Premier League TV schedule: April 4-5

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We have 16 hours of Premier League programming coming your way this weekend and here is your TV schedule for April 4-5

This Saturday and Sunday we will have eight hours of programming coming your way each morning from 6 a.m. ET to 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN on your TV.

With the current 2019-20 Premier League season suspended until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have a lot of programming treats planned for you in the coming weeks and will keep up fully updated with a TV schedule posted every single week.

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Remember, during the season you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Below is your full Premier League TV schedule and stream links for Saturday and Sunday as we have classic matches, Goal of the Season, Behind the Badge, a focus on Liverpool v. Man City and much more coming up.


FULL TV SCHEDULE FOR NBCSN

Saturday, April 4
6-6:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Matt Le Tissier [STREAM]
6:30-7 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – John Barnes [STREAM]
7-7:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Sol Campbell [STREAM]
7:30-8 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Ryan Giggs [STREAM]
8-9 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2001-02 [STREAM]
9-10 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2002-03 [STREAM]
10-10:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Liverpool v. Tottenham, Feb. 2015 [STREAM]
10:30-11 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Chelsea v. Man United, Feb. 2012 [STREAM]
11-11:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Jan.  2015 [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Classic Match: Man United v. Arsenal, Aug., 2011 [STREAM]
12-12:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 1 [STREAM]
12:30-  p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 2 [STREAM]
1-1:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 3 [STREAM]
1:30-2 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 4 [STREAM]

Sunday, April 5
6-7 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1998-99 [STREAM]
7-8 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1999-00 [STREAM]
8-10 a.m. ET: Match of the Week, Man City v. QPR, May 2012 [STREAM]
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Everton v. Liverpool, Nov. 2013 [STREAM]
12 p.m. – 2 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Chelsea v. Arsenal, Oct. 2014 [STREAM]