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.

Montero on target as Whitecaps grab point at Red Bulls

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) Fredy Montero tied it for Vancouver with a penalty kick in the 61st minute and the Whitecaps held on for a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night.

Referee Victor Rivas awarded the Whitecaps (3-6-5) the kick after using video review to determine Sean Nealis handled the ball inside the penalty area.

Vancouver took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute when Scott Sutter finished a counterattack with a narrow-angle finish into the upper corner.

Brian White pulled the Red Bulls (5-5-3) level in the 37th minute with a header flick of Amro Tarek’s header.

White’s pass across the 6-yard box was redirected by Vancouver’s Andy Rose into the Whitecaps own goal to give the Red Bulls a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute.

New York goalkeeper Luis Robles preserved the draw making a diving save on a breakaway attempt by Lucas Venuto in the final minute of stoppage time.

Transfer rumor roundup: Donnarumma to Man United; Clarke to Spurs

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


It appears replacing David De Gea is one of Manchester United’s main aims this summer, as the Spanish goalkeeper has just one year left on his contract and Real Madrid are lurking after Thibaut Courtois struggled in his debut season at the Santiago Bernabeu and Keylor Navas is leaving.

United have already been linked with a move for Barcelona’s Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, but a new report from Calcio Mercato says that Gianluigi Donnarumma is their new target to replace DDG. Per the report, if AC Milan do not reach the Champions League this Sunday via a top four finish in the league — third place to six in Serie A is separated by just three points with AC currently in fifth — he could leave as his yearly wage of $6.5 million would be tough for AC Milan to pay.

Even with United not in the Champions League next season, they could pay those wages and the transfer fee of around $80 million would be worth it for a player with his potential.

Donnarumma, 20, has been a starter for AC Milan for four seasons and will take over from Gianluigi Buffon in goal for the Italian national team. His agent is, you guessed it, Mino Raiola, who has several clients at United with Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku the biggest names and Henrikh Mkhitaryan previously at Old Trafford.

De Gea, 28, put in a string of poor performances at the end of last season and many are suggesting that was due to uncertainty over his long-term future. The report says that De Gea has turned down United’s final contract offer as he wants to be paid the same amount as top earner Alexis Sanchez, but despite being named United’s player of the year in four of the past five seasons the Red Devils aren’t willing to pay him over $565,000 per week.

Similar to when DDG arrived at United, Donnarumma is young and may take some time to get used to the Premier League. But after those early hiccups we all know how good De Gea has become, and Donnarumma has the added bonus that his frame is much stronger than De Gea’s was at his age.


Tottenham Hotspur is looking to sign another young English star from the lower leagues, as Leeds United winger Jack Clarke is reportedly in their sights.

The Daily Mail says that Spurs will bid around $13.5 million for teenager Clarke.

Clarke, 18, starred for Leeds United in the Championship during the 2018-19 campaign which saw them lose in the playoff semifinals against Derby County as their dream of getting back to the Premier League was dashed for another year.

His boss at Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa, is close friends with Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and it is likely Tottenham know all about Clarke. The Englishman scored twice and added two assists this season, as he sprung onto the scene in the second half of the campaign. After a brief health scare after coming off during a game at Middlesbrough, Clarke has emerged as a top target for several PL clubs due to his pace, size and ability to play on either wing.

Off the back of signing Dele Alli as a teenager from third-tier MK Dons and nurturing him into one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, signing Clarke would be yet another smart move by Spurs and Pochettino. They are not a club who can spend huge transfer fees or pay big wages, but bringing in the best young talent to improve continues to work out really well for them.

PSG president targeted by French corruption probe

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has been placed under investigation for corruption as part of an inquiry into the bidding process for the 2017 and 2019 track world championships, a judicial official said Thursday.

The official told The Associated Press the preliminary charge of “active corruption” was filed against the beIN media group chairman in mid-May in a case focusing on the payment of $3.5 million to an IAAF official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

The official said Al-Khelaifi is suspected of corruption “in regards with Qatar’s track and field worlds.” Al-Khelaifi is from Qatar.

Al-Khelaifi’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment and beIN media group declined to comment on the case because it said it “doesn’t relate in any way to the company.”

The chief executive officer of beIN, Yousef Al-Obaidly, was also handed preliminary charges of corruption, while former IAAF president Lamine Diack is suspected of “passive corruption” in the same case.

According to Al-Obaidly’s lawyer, investigative magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke based his suspicion on documents showing that a former IAAF official received two payments totaling about $3.5 million from Qatari investors before the vote for the 2017 track world championships. Qatar eventually lost to London but was later awarded the 2019 worlds. The championships will be held in Doha from Sept. 27-Oct. 6.

The two payments from Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an investment fund linked to the Qatari government, were made to Pamodzi Sports Marketing in October and November 2011, days before the vote.

Al-Obaidly’s representatives say the payments made by Oryx to the IAAF’s appointed agent were transparent and part of the normal bidding process. Set up to handle the sponsorship and rights for Qatar’s bid, Oryx accepted to pay $32.5 million for the event’s commercial rights, including the $3.5 million paid to Pamodzi as a non-refundable deposit. The full amount would have been paid only if Qatar’s bid had been successful.

According to the online news site Mediapart, Oryx is owned by Al-Khelaifi and his brother Khalid. Mediapart said Al-Khelaifi was questioned by the judge in March and denied any knowledge of the payments at the time.

Pamodzi was founded by one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. A former marketing consultant at the IAAF, he has been banned for allegations of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics. France has issued a wanted notice for him via Interpol.

In another case, Brazilian and French authorities are trying to find out whether Lamine Diack and his son played a role in arranging alleged bribes to help Rio de Janeiro earn the hosting rights for the 2016 Olympics. Diack, who ran the IAAF from 1999-2015, has also been accused of covering up failed Russian doping tests in exchange for money.

Al-Khelaifi is a member of the UEFA executive committee, representing European clubs, and is due to take part in the body’s meeting on Wednesday in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Al-Khelaifi was selected as a club delegate, and confirmed by UEFA member federations in February, despite being the subject of a criminal proceeding for bribery in Switzerland since 2017. The Qatari television executive is suspected of bribing FIFA’s then-secretary general with use of a luxury villa in Italy to help secure 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcasting rights in the Middle East for Doha-based beIN Sports.

PSG is also under investigation by UEFA for possibly breaking financial rules.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Raheem Sterling hopes to play in MLS

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Raheem Sterling has been a star on and off the field this season as he led Manchester City to a stunning domestic treble in England.

The winger scored 26 goals in 51 appearances for City in all competitions and was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Player of the year.

During a quick offseason break to the USA, Sterling has been talking in New York City at the Wall Street Journal’s Everything Festival.

He discussed his ongoing efforts to try and combat a steep rise in racist incidents across the soccer world in recent months, with Sterling calling for UEFA and other governing bodies to increase punishments for racist abuse from fans, and has said he wants to talk to the English FA and Premier League about ways to help the growing problem.

He also spoke about his future, and even though the Man City and England star is still just 24 years old (crazy to think he has just completed his seventh full PL season, I know, mind blown…) he has plans to head to the USA this summer.

“English football has grown massively over here. It wasn’t like that in the past and it’ll continue to get bigger,” Sterling said. “I was surprised walking out of the hotel today and being recognized by one or two people. I didn’t expect that over here. This is a country I would one day love to be able to come to. Your weather is a lot better over here than ours is. Hopefully one day I can bring my family over here.”

Asked specifically about playing in MLS in the future, Sterling revealed he is pretty keen to play Stateside.

“There’s always games on our tele at the training ground, we’re either watching this or the Australian League,” Sterling said. “For sure, this [MLS] is growing in the UK, and people are really taking it in and want to come over. I hopefully want to have a career here as well.”

With Man City’s connection with New York City FC, there’s an obvious club where Sterling could head to when he fancies moving to MLS, but if it’s good weather he’s after in the winter months, perhaps a move to Inter Miami or LAFC would be a better fit?

Either way, Sterling’s comments fall in line with a growing trend of elite players in Europe now seeing MLS as a serious destination for not only the latter years of their career but during their prime. We are not saying Sterling is heading to MLS anytime soon, but maybe when he’s 30 or 31 instead of 34 or 35?