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

Bartomeu vows Messi will finish career at Barcelona

Messi staying with Barcelona
Photo by Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images
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Lionel Messi will finish his career at Barcelona, says embattled president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The exit clause in Messi’s latest Barcelona contract expired on June 1, putting a temporary end to worries that the world’s top player would leave a messy Barcelona season.

Messi, 33, is still near the top of his powers. He has 22 goals and 19 assists in 29 La Liga appearances this season, adding five goals and four assists in nine cup games.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

“(Messi) will end his working and footballing life at Barcelona”, said Bartomeu in a Monday radio interview. “We are negotiating with many players but Messi has explained to us he wants to stay. And so we’re going to enjoy him for much longer.”

Only four players in Europe’s top five leagues have scored more league goals than Messi and none of those players has more than eight assists. Messi’s 19 La Liga assists are two behind Thomas Muller in that same group.

It had been reported since November that Messi would not exercise his option to leave the club, but there were numerous reasons to think he might rethink things given problems at Barcelona.

There has been chaos in the board room and players including Messi were angry to be thrown under the proverbial bus when Ernesto Valverde was fired early this year.

Notably, he called Barcelona “home” but noted “weird things happening” at the Camp Nou. Fortunately, the club announced that an independent inspector cleared Barca’s hierarchy of wrongdoing after allegations that a third-party company contracted to the club tried to smear current and former club legends on social media.

Bartomeu needs Messi to stay as the club waits for Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati to come into the peaks of their powers. If the Argentine leaves Barca, who looks destined to finish second to Real Madrid despite leading the table for most of the year, the pressure on the president will reach an even higher level.

The president has overseen a mostly successful time at Barca during his tenure, winning four domestic titles and the 2014-15 Champions League.

FC Dallas withdrawn from MLS is Back tourney; Vela to sit out

FC Dallas withdraws from MLS is Back
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Carlos Vela’s decision to sit out the MLS is Back tournament has been one-upped by reports that MLS has pulled an entire team out of the fray in Florida.

Vela, considered by many to be the league’s top player, is opting out of representing LAFC and choosing to spend time with his pregnant wife and children.

The Mexican star, 31, said he would love to play but the coronavirus pandemic means missing out is in “the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy.”

[ MORE: Mourinho, Lloris react to Son spat ]

LAFC released a statement supporting Vela’s “difficult decision,” which will not help the West’s top side in its bid to outlast the Galaxy, Houston, and Portland in Group F, should the tournament go forward as planned.

Meanwhile, FC Dallas’ bad month has gotten much worse. Six players reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 last week and reports grew to include 10 players and one coach.

The side’s opening match against Vancouver was postponed on Saturday. Now FC Dallas says it is supporting an MLS decision to take the team out of the tournament. FC Dallas says it will take every precaution to make sure its return to Texas “minimizes risk of exposure to all parties involved.”

Dallas was drawn into Group B with Seattle, Vancouver, and San Jose. Two of the teams were set to advance to the knockout rounds.

Here is MLS’ statement on FC Dallas’ withdrawal:

“Major League Soccer announced today that FC Dallas have been withdrawn from the MLS is Back Tournament due to 10 players and one member of the technical staff confirmed positive for COVID-19. Each of these positive tests either occurred upon the club’s arrival or within a few days of arrival. The decision was made in the best interest of the health of all players and staff participating in the tournament, and in line with protocols created in conjunction with local and national health authorities and infectious disease experts.
“’Given the impact of the number of positive tests on the club’s ability to train and play competitive matches, we have made the decision to withdraw FC Dallas from the MLS is Back Tournament,’ said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. ‘The health of everyone involved in our return to play has always been our top priority, and we will continue to make decisions consistent with that priority.’
Of the 557 players currently in Orlando, Fla. 13 total players have been confirmed positive for COVID-19, 10 of those being FC Dallas players and the remaining three from two other clubs.”

Mourinho: ‘Nice boys only win the fair play cup’

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The reaction to two Tottenham players having a scrap was very on brand for Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

Mourinho called a half time coming-together between captain Hugo Lloris and star forward Heung-min Son ‘beautiful’ and praised the fighting spirit of his players as they beat Everton 1-0.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the win, Mourinho made a point that he wants his Tottenham side to be nastier as he was asked about saying they needed to grow up.

“A team of good boys, nice boys, the only thing that they win at the end of the season is the fair play cup. Which is something I’ve never won and I’m not interested in winning that,” Mourinho said. “You need to have a certain character. You need to grow up in terms of your mentality, in your responsibility because it is very, very important to be consistent. To have a good game, win a match, then lose the other one, then win another one, then draw another one. That is the kind of mentality that doesn’t take you further in your ambitions. It is not a specific concept but it is a concept that covers many, many areas. I think it is very, very important. I don’t like a team without communication, without demanding from each other. I don’t like a team without a critical sense. Probably what happened today at half time shouldn’t happen there, should happen just inside the dressing room, but I can promise you my teams, my winning teams, we had big fights in the team.”

That Jose Mourinho reaction said it all as to what he expects from Tottenham. He certainly knows all about winning and that is why Tottenham hired him.

A narrow win to beat Everton at home to move in to eighth place, nine points off the top four, probably isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things but Mourinho loved what he saw.

“I think they are the same thing, the same spirit,” Mourinho said when ProSoccerTalk asked him about the fight of his players on and off the pitch. “We spoke a lot after the game at Sheffield United and one of the things we spoke about was to have a critical sense, to be open with each other and be demanding with each other. Don’t accept the attitude. Don’t be passive in relation to the others. I think that was a consequence of that. The performance was very solid. My feeling was that the game was under control and I never felt the game wasn’t under control.

“Could we play better? Could we score more? Yes, of course. I always fear matches after bad defeats because sometimes you stay in the bad defeats. Sometimes you carry to the match the weight of the bad performances, the weight of the critics and the boys were great in their attitude. They really fought hard for the three points and in this moment of the season the most important thing is the points, to try to finish in the best possible position.”

Tottenham are becoming a Mourinho team and that means the play on the pitch won’t be as good to watch as it could be, but he will grind out results like this.

Mourinho was asked about becoming just the fifth manager in Premier League history to win 200 games, with only Sir Alex Ferguson reaching that milestone in fewer matches than him, and this was his response.

“Of course, as you know, I am not a very humble guy, but when you coach three of the best clubs in England you have more chances to get to that,” Mourinho smiled. “Sir Alex did it because all of his career in England was at Manchester United. I did it because I was with Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham. I think nobody asks the coaches without titles that their teams put in 200 amazing performances. You are telling me your teams won 200 Premier League matches. You don’t tell anyone who won nothing, ‘your team had 100 or 200 amazing performances.’ But I want to admit that today I would be even more happy if it was not just a victory, but it was a beautiful victory, I would be more happy and I want my team to do that.”

Mourinho will be playing ‘all I do is win, win, win’ over the radio on his car ride home on Monday. Then he will probably officiate a punch up between Harry Kane and Eric Dier just because.

Lloris explains Son scuffle, which Mourinho deems “beautiful”

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Tottenham Hotspur captain Hugo Lloris explained his halftime dust-up with teammate Heung-min Son, with all in better spirits after a 1-0 home win over Everton on Monday.

Lloris needed to be separated from Son as the two walked off the pitch, though cameras caught them making up at halftime and hugging after the final whistle.

Lilywhite reconciliation.

TOTTENHAM – EVERTON FULL MATCH REPLAY

As our broadcast crew surmised, Lloris was unhappy that Son quit on his press after a giveaway. That led to a Richarlison scoring chance before halftime.

Lloris faced the cameras after completing the clean sheet in North London.

“What happened between me and Sonny is something that’s part of football some times but there’s no problem at all,” Lloris said. “You can see after the game that we are more than happy to be part of the team. … To concede a chance a few seconds before halftime because we don’t have the proper press is annoying but that’s football.”

Spurs manager Jose Mourinho loved it.

“It’s beautiful,” Mourinho said to Sky Sports after the game. “Probably it’s consequence of our meetings. If you want to blame somebody for that, it’s me because I was critical of my boys because they are not critical themselves of each other. I asked them to be more demanding, to put their colleagues under that pressure, that team spirit where you have to do everything for everything.

“An amazing kid that everybody loves like Son, a team boy, but in that situation the captain said you have to do more and give more to the team. A couple of bad words, I don’t know if there was a push, but that’s important for a team to grow up. I was really pleased. At halftime I told them, when you have those reactions I have no doubt you will stick together til the end.”

Mourinho went on, calling back to Spurs’ Thursday loss at Sheffield United which featured a bizarre and controversial decision from VAR chief Michael Oliver to take a goal off the board after a fouled, falling, and looking the other way Lucas Moura had the ball hit his arm prior to a Harry Kane goal.

“It tells me that they care. They were upset, frustrated and probably blaming each other for the last result. I could be very protective of my team and my players and put all the blame on Michael Oliver. A lot of people did it and rightly so but inside I was in the direction of forget Michael Oliver and focus on our performance so today we knew, right?”

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The North Londoners are one point behind local rivals Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s big derby (though there’s still a Thursday visit to Bournemouth for Spurs).

“We are in a situation we need to fight against,” Lloris said. “We are not happy to be in that position but what’s important today is to say focused on the team and do everything to finish as high as we can. When you play a system like this one, it’s very easy to fall apart as a team. To think about the interest. But today we showed we are ready to fight until the end.”

Spurs will like their chances to win at desperate Bournemouth if they can stay focused on the task at hand and not focus on the North London Derby.