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State of the NWSL, Week 17: Talent not enough in Portland, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 18

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If you’re a masochistic Seattle Sounders fan looking for reason to doubt your Clint Dempsey-emboldened team, look 174 miles to the south, but not to your rival Timbers. Occupying the same stadium is a team which, gifted during the NWSL’s preseason player allocation, was expected to claim the new league’s title. Now, three games from the regular season finish line, Portland finds itself in another trough, inconsistency evident over their last three games having ceded control of home field advantage to league-leading FC Kansas City.

Inconsistency’s been the theme of year for Thorns FC. They spent much of the season’s opening month in first place, with captain Christine Sinclair winning the league’s first Player of the Month award. But as her feared pairing with U.S. international Alex Morgan failed to meet expectations, Portland found itself out of first, relying on their defense to cover for a struggling attack.

The weird part? Neither Sinclair nor Morgan were playing particularly poorly. They weren’t producing like people expected, and their performances were far from perfect, but they weren’t stinking up the place, either. Portland just weren’t able to convert their talents into goals.

Chalk that up to the “separation” that came to light on Sunday, reminding everybody that there’s more to putting a good team together than getting Sinclairs and Morgans on the payroll. There has to be a plan that can get the most out of them. There has to be a cohesion within the team. And you also need strong individual performances. Without those things, even superstars can be made to look average.

Portland still sit second in the NWSL. If they find a way to click over the next two weeks, the Thorns still have the talent to claim the league’s first title. But until they find that formula they’ll serve as a point of caution: Talent isn’t enough.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 20 38 +14
2 3 Portland 19 34 +7
3 7 Sky Blue FC 20 34 +5
4 2 W. New York 19 31 +14
5 4 Chicago 19 26 -4
6 6 Boston 19 24 +0
7 5 Seattle 19 18 -11
8 8 Washington 19 7 -25

RANKINGS OF POWER

In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – Gave up 40 shots over the course of two games. Posted eight of their own. Right now, the 2011 Atlanta Beat have nothing on this team.

7. Sky Blue FC (6) – Coach Jim Gabarra’s side was dealt another blow when Danesha Adams hurt her ankle mid-week in Portland. Regardless, the search for answers continues for the former league leaders.

6. Boston Breakers (7) – The Cat Whitehill era started well but ended in disappointment, their inability to take three points from fourth place Western New York further crippling their playoff chances.

5. Seattle Reign FC (2) – Over the course of nine days, Seattle went from beating Chicago 4-1 to losing to them by two goals. Hence this drop.

4. Chicago Red Stars (5) – Credit coach Rory Dames for keeping the team together, the Red Stars overcoming their slow start to carve out a place in the playoff race. Now they wait and see if Western New York stumbles.

3. Portland Thorns FC (4) – Portland’s struggling. They’re struggling relative to Kansas City. They’re struggling relative to expectations. But it’s important to remember they’re still a very capable team.

2. Western New York Flash (3) – Saturday’s game in Somerville wasn’t their best performance of the season, but the road point went a long way toward alleviating playoff doubts.

1. FC Kansas City (1) – They control their path to the regular season title. They have the league’s best player (Lauren Holiday), best defender (Becky Sauerbrunn), and possibly its best coach (Vlatko Andonovski). It almost increases the pressure to see this through and claim that title.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 6
Alex Morgan (PTFC) 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
2 tied at 7 5 tied at 5

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Wednesday, August 7

Boston Breakers vs. Portland Thorns FC (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Portland beat Boston at Dilboy on July 21 but not so badly that the Breakers couldn’t reverse that result. For Boston, they need a win and some help to keep their playoff chances alive, while Portland’s dream of home field would be dealt a huge blow without three points. With Boston perhaps coming down from their small coaching change bounce, Thorns FC look likely to replicate July’s result.

Western New York Flash vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:05 p.m. Eastern) – Seattle’s played the Flash tough in the teams’ two previous meetings, taking four points while having marginally the better of play. Yet on Saturday in Chicago, Reign FC showed their momentum may be spent. Western New York better hope so, because a strong Reign performance combined with a likely Chicago win in Washington would make this weekend’s visit from Thorns FC more important than Aaran Lines would like.

Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars (7:30 p.m. Eastern) – An obligatory three points for Chicago, where an unexpected stumble could see their playoff hopes evaporate. They’ll be without their best player, Lori Chalupny still recovering from an ankle injury, but if the Red Stars are half as good as their late season push hints, they should take full points.

Saturday, August 10

Boston Breakers vs. FC Kansas City (6:00 p.m. Eastern) – As Western New York found out this weekend, there are no guarantees when going to Boston. But Kansas City have been able to handle the Breakers this season, including a dominant 3-0 result in their last meeting in Overland Park. With eyes on home field advantage, the Blues should claim full points, though it won’t be easy.

Washington Spirit vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – For the second time this season, the league’s nationally televised game on FOX Soccer features the league’s seventh and eighth place teams. This is a meaningless game in the standings, and even though Seattle’s thoughts may already be on the offseason, they’d have to severely underperform to give Washington their second win of the year.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue FC (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – This will tell us a lot about where Sky Blue is going into the playoffs. They’ve struggled for much of the summer, but if they can go on the road and give a good account of themselves (in their next-to-last game) against a strong Red Stars squad, they may prove more than “the team you want to play” come the postseason. For Chicago, this is a must win game, though the result in Rochester could see them out of playoff contention.

Western New York vs. Portland Thorns FC (7:35 p.m. Eastern) – Yet another time the NWSL has elected to keep Abby Wambach vs. Alex Morgan off national television. It’s almost is if they’re not the league’s two biggest stars. Still, the stakes will be high in this one, regardless of what happens mid-week. If the Flash stumble against Seattle, they could need a result to hold off Chicago for fourth; yet if they’re coming in off a good result, Western New York would be pushing for a home playoff game. Portland will either be trying to protect their second place position or be looking to keep the pressure on Kansas City for home field.

Ilkay Gundogan: ‘OK’ to award Liverpool Premier League title if season cancelled

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Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan believes that Liverpool have every right to be awarded the Premier League title if the the season were to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liverpool, who haven’t lifted a top-flight title for 30 years, currently hold a 25-point lead over second-best City, and are two wins away from officially sealing the title.

“For me, that would be okay, yes,” Gundogan told German broadcaster ZDF, after being asked if Liverpool should be named champions if the season were to end early.

Despite believing that awarding Jurgen Klopp and company the title is the fair thing to do, the Germany international is concerned that the cancellation of the league will not only backfire on the top threshold teams but those on the bottom end of the table as well.

“You have to be fair as a sportsperson,” the 29-year-old said. “There are different opinions. For clubs who have had a very good season, it obviously wouldn’t be nice if it was cancelled now.”

“On the other hand, for clubs who aren’t doing as well and are maybe in the relegation places, an abandonment would obviously suit them.”

Gundogan added he’d be open to taking a wage-cut should City and other English clubs follow Juventus and Borussia Dortmund’s lead in asking players to trim their earnings in order to play non-playing staff.

Of course I think it’s okay, that goes without saying, [but] there’s been no discussion in England yet,” Gundogan said. “Perhaps that’s because the English clubs are a bit financially stronger than the clubs in Germany at the moment.

“I don’t know who has the final say in that decision. On the other hand, if a player says, ‘no, I don’t want that, I worked hard for it, I get my salary,’ then it can go in the opposite direction.

“For me personally, it would be okay but, to be honest, you have to be tolerant and if there are players who are against that, then that’s also an acceptable situation.

Harry Kane fails to rule out future Tottenham exit

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Harry Kane won’t rule out a future Tottenham exit, admitting that it largely depends on lifting silverware with his boyhood club.

Asked by Jamie Redknapp on an Instagram live session whether he would end his playing career at Spurs, the 26-year-old striker responded that it all depends on the “progress of the team” and added that he’s not the type of person to be somewhere just for the sake of being there.

In other words, he wants to win titles with Spurs, soon. If not, his days in north London may be numbered.

It’s one of those things, I couldn’t say yes, I couldn’t say no,” Kane told Redknapp on Sunday. “I love Spurs, I’ll always love Spurs. But it’s one of those things – I’ve always said if I don’t feel we’re progressing as a team or going in the right direction, then I’m not someone to just stay there for the sake of it.

“I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, I want to get better, I want to become one of the top, top players,” he added. “It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever – but it’s not a no either.”

Kane, along with his teammates at the time, got the short end of the stick under Mauricio Pochettino, losing a Champions League final and a League Cup final. The striker is aware that Spurs, top to bottom, have – and have had – the firepower to lift silverware but need the final push, which they may unlock under proven winner Jose Mourinho.

“We’ve been saying that for a couple of years now,” says Kane, “we have got a fantastic team but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to get the trophies that, when you look from the outside, we’ve got the team to get.”

“It’s a hard thing to take as a player. I want to win at everything I do so when we’re coming close and you don’t quite get there it’s hard to take and starts to build up. But from my point of view, and the team’s point of view, all you can do is do everything you can, give your best to win every game, to win trophies. For one reason or another, we haven’t quite got there yet.

“Next year, the gaffer now, it’ll be his first chance to really have a pre-season with the team and embed his values into the team and we’ll see what happens. Of course, I want to win, I want to win team trophies, I want to be doing it sooner rather than later. So we will have to see how it goes.”

Kane, who is third on Spurs’ all-time scoring list, is fond of Mourinho, a manager he grew up watching and respects. The strike admits they chat on a regular basis about soccer and a plethora of other subjects, but is aware that if Spurs want to reap all the benefits from having him onboard, the players will need to leave it all on the field.

“He came in and what you see is what you get,” Kane said. “He’s an honest guy – he’ll tell you if you’re doing things well or if you’re not. If he likes you he’ll tell you and if he doesn’t like you he’ll tell you.

“From my point of view, I have built a good relationship with him. We talk every few days or so, talk about all different things, talk about the team, when we were playing, what we can do, how we can improve.

“For me, it’s great to work under a manager like Jose. Obviously growing up, watching football, he was a big part of that. It’s another opportunity for me to work with one of the best managers in the world.

“I’m excited to see how that relationship unfolds and see what we can do on the pitch. So far he’s been great and I know he’s excited to put his stamp on the team when he gets his opportunity.

“When a manager like him comes in and you know he’s won everywhere, I’m sure he has no intentions to not do that at Spurs. From a player’s point of view we know we have a top, top manager, so it’s up to us to go out there and perform.”

What we love about West Ham United

West Ham United
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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up is Tottenham.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This afternoon, we forge ahead with the Irons, the Hammers, the West Ham United Football Club.


The Bubbles: Let’s be honest here, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” is one of the coolest song/gesture combinations in world football. The bubbles floating across the field as the Irons seek three points is *chef’s kiss.*

The Academy of Football: Current captain Mark Noble is the latest in a long line of celebrated footballers to come out of West Ham’s Academy. And there are some giants in there, including the subject of our next topic Sir Bobby Moore. West Ham has produced Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Paul Ince, Trevor Brooking, and Frank Lampard Senior and Junior.

West Ham United
Frank Lampard and Joe Cole (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Sir Bobby Moore: Can you believe we’ve got a member of the Carolina Lightnin’ on this list? Obscure American soccer jokes aside, Mr. West Ham didn’t just captain the club but also the national team that won England’s only World Cup (West Ham legends Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were also on the team). Moore is one of the greatest defenders of all-time, having played more than 500 times for West Ham in addition to his status as a centurion for the Three Lions. A Ballon d’Or runner-up in 1970, “Sir Bobby” was an absolute monster of the game. Plus, he was in “Escape to Victory.”

West Ham United
The Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley Stadium (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Mark Noble: There’s something remarkable about everyman Mark Noble, and not because the 32-year-old finishes penalties like a surgeon and looks like the definitive everyman. Doesn’t he give hope to every average-built person on earth? Poor Mark is five appearances from 500 for his career, and will likely meet that milestone by the end of this season, presuming it comes! His 60 goals are seven shy of Carlton Cole’s modern West Ham standard of 67, while his 59 assists lap the field.

Noble (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Juventus players, staff set to sacrifice up to $100M in wages

Juventus
Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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Juventus players and coaches have agreed to forego pay for March, April, May, and June to the tune of approximately $100 million.

The Old Lady has been hit internally by coronavirus, with players Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi, and Daniele Rugani testing positive for COVID-19.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Italian football federation chief Gabriele Gravina has become a worldwide name during the COVID-19 crisis, and praised the move by Juve’s players and staff (via Football-Italia).

“The agreement reached by Juventus is an example for the whole system. I thank Giorgio Chiellini, his teammates and Maurizio Sarri because, in wake of the collaboration that the FIGC hopes to have in days, they placed general interests at the heart of their conversations with the club.

“Unity and solidarity in the world of football represent the first great response to the emergency we’re experiencing, and that risks becoming even more serious if we don’t resume playing soon. Only through the contribution of all the protagonists, each of them playing their part, will we make football stronger.”

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