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

Hodgson vows to sign new Crystal Palace contract

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Roy Hodgson has revealed that he has been offered a contract extension to remain at Crystal Palace beyond the 2020-21 Premier League season, and also hinted that he is highly likely to accept it.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be “something incredible” ]

Following a period of turmoil and instability which saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone prior to his arrival in 2017, Hodgson has steadied the ship and guided the Eagles to 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two seasons and has them sitting just a point out of 12th with a dozen games to go this season. At no point in his tenure has Palace flirted with relegation, and that’s apparently enough to earn a new deal to remain in charge — quotes from Sky Sports:

“The club have presented me with a contract and although the chairman has been away this week I’ve had a cursory glance through it. It all looks fine to me so I am pretty certain that at some point soon we’ll sit down and get it signed.

“If I am going to stay, it will be because I believe funds will be made available because we’ve had the intention to improve the squad and the team for a while now.

“We all realize you can’t make improvements to the actual team without spending some money. But I would never make those type of demands, because you can’t make any guarantees in the transfer market.

“All you can do is have good intention and if I signed for another year, I would sign because I believed the intentions are true and that something will happen going into the next season.”

As for the transfer situation, that’s something that’ll need to be sorted out in very short order if Palace plan to maintain their current place in the PL’s hierarchy, otherwise they’ll learn a harsh — and quick — lesson about standing still while everyone else is moving forward.

Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be ‘something incredible’

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Jose Mourinho fancies himself either as a realist or a master of mind games — you be the judge, based on your own level of love or hate for the Portuguese manager — as Tottenham Hotspur embark upon their final dozen games of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur ]

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to Stamford Bridge where he’ll take on his former club Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), Mourinho attempted to put into perspective the level of heroics that will be required for Tottenham to finish in the top-four.

Perhaps he has a point, given the long-term injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, forwards who account for 20 of Spurs’ 43 PL goals this season and who will also miss the majority, if not all, of the rest of the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“Tottenham without Harry or Sonny, without one of them, doesn’t win a match since 2014. That means a lot. That means that Sonny and Harry score the majority of goals that Tottenham scores. This season was so, so negatively special that we are going to be without them both at the same time for a lot of matches.

“If we manage to finish top four it’s something incredible. Incredible achievement for the boys. So we have to give everything we have.”

As for their chances of doing, so? Well, let’s just say Mourinho is more than happy to pile the pressure onto others and divert it away from his own team, as he has routinely done throughout his career — quotes from Sky Sports:

“At this moment, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton, Everton — we are the underdogs.

“We have ambitions to be there but we are one, two, three points behind Chelsea, so they have an advantage to all of us. That’s obvious. It’s not a big advantage but it is an advantage.

“Chelsea, in this moment, are favorites for the fourth position, considering Leicester has nine points more at this stage of the season.”

Over the course of their next nine PL games, Spurs will face all six sides currently within five points of fourth place. They will almost certainly be without both Kane and Son for the vast majority of those critical six-pointers.

USWNT pushed in depositions: Could they beat the German men?

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Carli Lloyd was pushed over and over on differences between women and men.

[ MORE: USWNT seek over $66 million in damages from U.S. Soccer ]

“Do you think the women’s national team could beat the German men’s team?” U.S. Soccer Federation lawyer Noah Finkel asked during a Dec. 20 deposition.

“I’m not sure,” the two-time FIFA Player of the Year replied.

Finkel inquired about a 2015 email interview Lloyd conducted through her agent’s assistant with the website Sportskeeda.

“You wrote men are faster and stronger, right?” Finkel probed.

“Yeah, if you take those away, yeah, it would be a contest,” Lloyd said.

Again and again, members of the champion U.S. women’s team were pushed to detail distinctions between their sport, which they dominate, and the men’s game, where the Americans struggle.

Lawyers for the USSF are trying to show it’s OK to pay the women differently than the men because the competition is different. The sides made excerpts of depositions public in court filings Thursday night.

“The tone during depositions is reflective of the kind of condescension that many USSF officials employ when talking to the players about pay and workplace conditions,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players, “including the plainly disrespectful and sexist attitudes from USSF and their representatives during CBA negotiations when they refused to offer anything close to equal pay.”

[ MORE: Premier League TV, streaming schedule ]

The women sued last year, alleging the USSF violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in reaching what they say is an inferior collective bargaining agreement with the women than the deal struck with the American men. They are seeking more than $66 million in damages.

The federation maintains the women have many benefits the men lack, including guaranteed salaries, health insurance, paid child-care assistance, pregnancy and parental leave, severance pay and access to a 401(k) retirement plan. Men get paid by the game and tournament, most earning the majority of their income from their club.

Reigning FIFA Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe was questioned about her response in an interview she gave to Pod Save America in which she said: “Our pay structure is different. We play different games. We’re different rankings in the world. Like, it’s just apples to oranges.”

The USSF said that from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2019, the women’s national team had gross revenue of $101.3 million for 238 games, an average of $425,446, and the men grossed $185.7 million for 191 matches, an average of $972,147. The women had a $27.6 million net loss over 11 years and the men lost $3.13 million.

“The international soccer environment in which the MNT players compete is far more competitive by many measures than that in which plaintiffs compete,” the USSF said in one of its papers filed with the court. “The MNT players have lower odds of succeeding in the face of such greater competition. In short, MNT players must achieve more and/or better results against tougher competition in order to qualify for, and succeed in, tournament competition.”

Barring a settlement, the trial is scheduled to start May 5 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The women’s five-year labor deal runs through 2021 while the men play under the terms of a contract that expired Dec. 31.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1 ]

During her deposition on Jan. 15, former U.S. coach Jill Ellis testified she was told the men got chartered flights at times and the women didn’t. The USSF spent about $10.7 million on hotels for the men and approximately $7.3 milllion on the women during the fiscal years 2012-20. Air travel was about $6.3 million for the women during that period and $14.3 million for the men, many of whom play in Europe. The USSF increased first- and business-class travel for the women in 2017.

Speaking during her Dec. 20 deposition, Lloyd talked about personally training with the Medford Strikers’ under-18 boys team in New Jersey.

“It’s different in the sense that men are bigger, stronger, faster. That’s their makeup. There’s no — there’s no denying science in that regard,” she said. “But I am the most skillful player there. So if you take their speed and athleticism and their strength away, it’s the same game.”

Former USSF President Sunil Gulati, speaking during a Dec. 17 deposition, used a comparison with an NBA star to point out differences.

“LeBron James doesn’t get a bonus for getting 15 points and for the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs,” he said. “The expectations for him are different based on who they’re playing against, what – who he is, what the level is.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • Chelsea (41 points) sit 4th in PL table
  • Spurs (40) chasing, up to 5th
  • Last meeting: Spurs 0-2 Chelsea

Jose Mourinho is set to make his latest triumphant return to Stamford Bridge, this time for the first time as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, one of Chelsea’s bitter London rivals, in the first fixture of the Premier League weekend on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Not only does the Mourinho storyline carry significant weight ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Bridge, so too does the two sides’ increasingly tight battle for a top-four finish. As recently as Jan. 17, Chelsea enjoyed a nine-point lead on Tottenham, but the Blues’ current run of just one win from their last six PL games has seen that advantage shrink to a single point with the very real possibility of flipping two points in the opposite direction once the full-time whistle blows. On the other hand, Spurs would already be miles clear if not for dropping a combined seven points from three games against the current 12th-, 19th- and 20th-place sides in recent weeks.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Both Chelsea and Spurs are currently enduring injury crises which have just about crippled their respective attacking units. Frank Lampard‘s side has been without Christian Pulisic since New Year’s Day, while both Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring) Tammy Abraham (ankle) also missed this week’s defeat to Manchester United. As for Mourinho’s selection issues, Harry Kane (hamstring) has been out since Jan. 1 and will continue to be sideline for at least two more months, and now Son Heung-min could miss the rest of the season after breaking his arm during his two-goal outing in the dramatic victory over Aston Villa last weekend. Son had scored at least one goal in each of his last five appearances (all competitions).

Spurs have scored 43 PL goals this season; Kane and Son combined for 20 between the two of them. Dele Alli, who sits just behind them with seven, has scored just once in his last seven league games and 12 games across all competitions — coincidentally, Alli’s drought began one game before Kane tore his hamstring — after enjoying a red-hot resurgence (four goals in three games) on the back of Mourinho’s appointment. To compound matters, Spurs have had 48 fewer hours to recover and prepare for Saturday’s early kickoff, with Chelsea playing Man United in league play on Monday and the north London side suffering a narrow defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT – Christian Pulisic (groin), Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring), N’Golo Kante (leg), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Tammy Abraham (ankle), Andreas Christensen (face)

Spurs: OUT – Harry Kane (hamstring), Son Heung-min (arm), Moussa Sissoko (knee), Juan Foyth (groin)


Projected lineups

Chelsea: Caballero — James, Zouma, Rudiger, Azpilicueta — Jorginho, Mount, Kovacic — Willian, Pedro, Abraham

Spurs: Lloris — Aurier, Sanchez, Aldeweireld, Davies — Winks, Ndombele — Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn — Moura


What they’re saying

Lampard, on various injured players: “Christian Pulisic is still not fit. I can’t give you an exact date. It’s a difficult injury and we’re working on that. … Tammy has trained the last two days probably at about 70 percent having not trained much recently. He’s in the squad but I’ll have to make a decision on whether he’s fit. … N’Golo is not fit. It’s a muscle injury, similar to the one he came off with against Arsenal recently. Hopefully three weeks, something around that.”

Mourinho, on returning to Stamford Bridge: “To go back to play against Chelsea is the same as to play against West Ham or Crystal Palace. It’s the same for me, exactly the same. The situation is clear, I’m here for about three months, in three months I don’t think about myself, I think about the club, I think about the players and I think about the effort that the players made to be in this position now. We were 12 points behind fourth place. I remember in my first week speaking with the players about not having targets, let’s go match after match and get as many points as possible, because if we were thinking about being 12 points behind, we would lose immediately the motivation that we needed to try to climb such a difficult mountain.”


Prediction

Throw out the injuries to some of this game’s brightest attacking stars along with the fitness and fatigue concerns, because Chelsea v. Spurs almost always delivers a thrilling, goal-filled game. There will be at least three goals, including a late winner to Chelsea.