Walking through Week 15 of the NWSL season

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Just as the playoff picture was on the verge of becoming muddled beyond distinction, the skies have cleared in the NWSL. Three of the league’s top four teams won this weekend, and with only league-leading Sky Blue dropping points, the top four inched slightly closer to confirming their playoff destinies.

It’s par for the course in this inaugural season. The preseason favorites soared, then swooned, and now appear to be rising again. The league’s quality started with a surprisingly high standard, descended a bit in the summer months, but now sees a handful of teams performing at near season highs. And the playoff picture — at one point a clear top four; then muddled over the last two weeks — has again reached a point of clarity.

Teams now have five or six games left in the their seasons, which means the time for tweaking may be done. Soon you’ll have to roll with what you’ve got or start frantically pressing buttons on the controller, provided you’re still in the game. After Week 15 of the NWSL season, a second team may have joined the now eliminated Washington on the outside looking in.

Here’s what happened this weekend in the NWSL:

Saturday, July 20

Chicago Red Stars 1, Washington Spirit 0 – This was a must-win game for the playoff-chasing Red Stars, and although they filled out that bottom line and claimed full points, theirs wasn’t the most convincing effort. Against a team that has the league’s worst defense and hasn’t scored an open-play goal since May, Chicago couldn’t manage a goal of their own, with rookie forward-sum-defender Tiffany McCarty’s own goal the only thing that separated the league’s eighth place team from a squad that’s played its way back into postseason contention. If it wasn’t for Washington goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, the score would have been worse, but ultimately, it was a lackluster show in suburban Chicago.

Implications: For one day, the Red Stars were within two points of a playoff spot, and while their recent form hasn’t exactly been dominant, it has been effective. The one-time bottom dwellers are 6-6-4 with six games to go. With Washington, we can skip over the same story (part of which was reiterated above). There’s little to say until they prove themselves capable of scoring goals, though for McCarty, the second overall pick in this year’s college draft, an already frustrating rookie season may have gone from worse to worst.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 6 Sky Blue 17 31 +7
2 2 Portland 16 30 +6
3 1 Kansas City 17 29 +9
4 3 W. New York 17 27 +11
5 5 Chicago 16 22 -3
6 7 Boston 16 20 +0
7 4 Seattle 17 15 -12
8 8 Washington 16 7 -18

FC Kansas City 2, Seattle Reign FC 0 – Seattle’s six-game unbeaten run was put to rest by Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak, currently the league best one-two punch. Holiday’s beautiful opener from distance to the left of goal in the first half gave the Blues a one-goal lead, while a great individual effort from Tymrak in the 86th minute sealed Kansas City’s victory. Tymrak’s sixth goal of the season helped affirm her Rookie of the Year (and U.S. Women’s National Team) credentials, while every time you think a Abby Wambach might be stealing some of Holiday’s MVP buzz, the league’s best player reminds you why the award may be locked up.

Implications: Kansas City is clearly the league’s best team, handling the other club that entered Week 15 with a claim to that ever-shifting title. With Holiday and Tymrak, they have the virtue of having two game-breaking players, something other teams have in name only. Entering the season’s home stretch, Vlatko Andonovski’s mid-season shakeup has the potential to reap huge reward. Seattle, on the other hand, have nothing to hang their heads about, though their snapped streak means the playoff whispers can stop. Given the how much Laura Harvey’s team leans on their midfield, it’s no surprise they struggled against a team capable of matching up with, through the middle. Unfortunately, the matchup left the Reign 12 points out of a playoff spot with 15 games left, and there’s little change they drastically outplay all of Western New York, Chicago, and Boston over the next four weeks.

Sunday, July 21

Western New York Flash 3, Sky Blue FC 0 – Sky Blue has been terrible all season against Western New York. Even their 1-0 win over Aaran Lines’ team on the league’s opening weekend saw them outplayed. Unfortunately for Sky Blues, that pattern continued on Sunday. A dominant first half saw the Flash stake Carli Lloyd and Brittany Taylor to a 2-0 halftime lead, one that grew when Samantha Kerr scored early in the second half. Spoiling Jill Loyden’s NWSL debut, the Flash handed the league leaders’ their fourth loss of the season, one that continues Sky Blue’s string of lackluster performances.

Implications: Only Kelley O’Hara was missing from Sky Blue’s choice starting XI, leaving the squad with few excuses for another down performance. Only two points up on third place, it might be time to shake things up, fitness permitting.  For the Flash, while the win was impressive, they’ve matched up particularly well against Sky Blue all season, outscoring them 8-2 while taking nine points from four matches. There may be only so much we can glean from their performances against Jim Gabarra’s side. Still, the result was progress after coming off a two-point, four-match road trip. And more importantly, it leaves the Flash five points up on a playoff spot with as many matches remaining.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 6
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 6
4 tied at 6 3 tied at 5

Boston Breakers 1, Portland Thorns 2 – Portland may not have won last weekend against New York, but the momentum from a much-improved performance carried them to success in Somersville. Despite conceding early to Lianne Sanderson, Portland responded quickly through Alex Morgan and eventually claimed a game-winner through the increasingly prescient Meleana Shim, whose 86th minute goal propelled the Thorns back into second place.

Implications: It’s a huge result for both clubs. All of a sudden, Portland’s a dangerous team again, and one point back of Sky Blue with a game in hand (though not the tiebreaker between the teams), the Thorns can be seen as favorites to take the regular season title (what a difference two games make). For Boston, however, it’s a crushing loss. The Breakers are now sixth in the league, six points back of the playoffs, but even if they do somehow track down Western New York, Boston will also have to outplay the Red Stars to finish in the league’s top half.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

Premier League social media
@Wolves
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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.

English defender Onuoha speaks out on fear of police in the U.S.

Nedum Onuoha
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Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha is speaking out on his experience as a black man in the United States in the wake of ongoing protests and violence following the killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Speaking with the BBC, Onuoha says he has loved his time in the United States but admitted a wariness around law enforcement that he does not experience at home in England. The 33-year-old says there are “plenty of good” police in the country but admitted he doesn’t feel “100% safe” around law enforcement officers and that he has a “fear and distrust” of them.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Onuoha says the protests and demands for reform are “emotional” and “overdue,” adding that he feels empowered by the non-black voices joining the calls for justice.

From The BBC:

“I have loved living in this country but there is [another] side of it. In the UK, I am more comfortable because if something happens it probably will not be deadly – but over here because of their rights it is more common that altercations become deadly. I am always very aware of that whenever I go around anywhere.

“I am comfortable but when it comes to any kind of brutality, if it’s from the police, if they read me the wrong way then my life could be taken. I feel that every single day. It is not just me but everybody else as well.”

The Nigeria-born English defender joined RSL in 2018 and has played 36 times for the Utah club. Onuoha previously spent seven years with Queens Park Rangers after beginning his career with City and Sunderland.

MLS released a statement on the Floyd killing earlier this week, expressing unity with the black community and “horror” at the “senseless murder” of the 46-year-old American man.