State of the NWSL after Week 18: Saying goodbye to four, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 19

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In the three days since we last talked NWSL soccer, the only changes on the local women’s soccer league’s landscape are four teams being closer to a 23rd game, four others falling 72 hours closer to the ends of their seasons. While we’ll get at least one more week with Kansas City, Western New York, Portland and Sky Blue after this weekend’s games, we’ll have to say goodbye to Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington.

And rather than coming back next year, restarting these NWSL posts, regretting that I never thanked these teams for their parts in the NWSL’s first season, I want to summon the spirit of Alanis Morrissette and …

thank you India,
thank you terror,
thank you …

… all the teams that we’re not going to see after Sunday’s games:

FOR DIANA MATHESON, THANK YOU, WASHINGTON SPIRIT – It’s a shame Diana Matheson didn’t have much of a profile among American soccer fans before this NWSL season (what do we care about a Canadian star with 152 caps, am I right?). At least, it seems like she didn’t have much of a profile down here, because few talked about Matheson’s allocation to Washington as being a boon to the otherwise dispersal-deprived Spirit. Coming into the final week of the regular season, she’s scored eight of her team’s 15 goals.

More generally, her success is a reminder of how insular U.S. women’s soccer culture can be. Matheson has been Washington’s best player. Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann have been crucial to FC Kansas City’s success. Sophie Schmidt’s provided valuable goals for Sky Blue. Portland’s Karina LeBlanc has been the league’s best goalkeeper, and Kaylyn Kyle’s been transformed into a valuable central defender for Seattle.

Canada is more than Christine Sinclair, which we all knew. But in the buildup to this season, we were so focused on the U.S. allocations that we overlooked the extent to which Canada’s allocations would influence the campaign. And Australians, too, for that matter! So thank you, Washington, for providing the platform from Matheson’s success.

thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you Diana Matheson!

FOR REINCARNATION, THANK YOU, SEATTLE REIGN FC – Because I’m based in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s horrible start caused a lot of curious, well-meaning colleagues to inquire about the future of Reign FC. Would Laura Harvey be fired? Would owner Bill Predmore just walk away? Would the NWSL revoke their franchise and give it to the Sounders?

And of course, the right answer at that point of the season was:

Over the summer, Seattle not only improved on the field but off. The crowds at Starfire Sports started to come around. The energy around the franchise changed.

Missing Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez (otherwise known as their entire original U.S. women’s national team allocation) ultimately left Seattle’s season D.O.A., but come summer, the team was reincarnated as something that defined itself by something other than playoff ambition. So Seattle, thank you for not defining yourselves by your spring results.

thank you `Pinoe’s hair
thank you Solo’s glare
thank you, thank you Fishlock!

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 21 38 +13
2 2 W. New York 21 35 +15
3 4 Portland 21 35 +6
4 5 Sky Blue 21 35 +5
5 3 Boston 21 30 +2
6 6 Chicago 21 27 -5
7 7 Seattle 21 18 -13
8 8 Washington 21 13 -23

FOR THE CHALUPACABRA, THANK YOU, CHICAGO RED STARS – During the year without a women’s professional league, some of us forget how good Lori Chalupny is. We remembered how goos she was, but as the Red Stars became more dependent on her throughout season, we were jolted awake, as if a 5’4″, red-headed dervish had wedged a shoulder into our rib cage, knocking us out of our WPS-induced slumber.

And it’s no coincidence that Chicago, as they allowed themselves to rely more-and-more on Chalupny, climbed the table. It’s also no coincidence their playoff hopes effectively ended the moment Chalupny’s ankle was hurt in Portland.

Most media members’ MVP ballots are going to have Lauren Holiday one, Abby Wambach two. After that, Lori Chalupny may have been as good as anybody in the league. And for giving the former U.S. international a chance to show she’s still international-quality, thank you, Chicago.

how `bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out?
how `bout, Tom, giving Lori Chalupny a try out?

FOR SURVIVING THE ONSLAUGHT, LEARNING A LESSON, THANK YOU BOSTON – Despite a roster with talents like Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly, and Lianne Sanderson, Boston’s first season is going to be be remembered for charge people to access their games online. While other teams made streams free, the Breakers charged for theirs, a decision only made worse when NWSL mandated teams to make games available online.

Boston entered a agreement with their broadcast partner, MediaBoss Television, before the NWSL sent out its mandate. From their point of view, they felt locked into a commitment, and while the situation created a ton of negative publicity, the club told Equalizer Soccer that pay-per-view helped them offset costs.

But these clubs are getting major subsidies from U.S. and Canadian soccer. It’s not unreasonable for the fans or federations to demand things like free streams, implying some of the subsidies go to things like quality equipment, consistent internet connections, and a certain standard of on-air personnel (all of which have been a problem with Boston’s pay broadcasts).

To the Breakers’ credit, it appears they’re shooting for a free stream next year. And at times, it seemed like they were more frustrated by this year’s arrangement than the casual fans who tweeted their displeasure with even pay-walled Breaker broadcast.

Regardless, thank you, Boston, for surviving the swell of negativity. And thank you for making it a learning experience (potentially).

Aaaaaaye yeeeeeeaaaaaah!
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!
Yeeh, yeaaaah!

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) – This was tough. Keeping the Spirit eighth after a six-point week? That hardly seems fair, but in my heart of hearts, I believe that if they played team number seven on at a neutral site, they’d likely lose.

But let’s stop being such bummers about this. For weeks, I’ve been writing nothing be negatives about the Spirit, recycling the same analysis, the same point of view, because nothing was changing.

Now something’s changed. Two games! Two wins! Two home shutouts! Who cares about some stupid power ranking when your win column goes from “1” to “3” in four days.

“Keep your rankings, Farley,” I’d say, if I were them. “We’ll take our wins.”

7. Seattle Reign (5) – Between kickoff in Rochester and Matheson’s late goal in Maryland, Seattle’s run-in went from “playing for pride” to “yeah, I guess.” A season-ending derby on Saturday against Portland could charge the batteries.

6. Chicago Red Stars (4) – Jackie Santaceterina’s second half brace salvaged a point against visiting Sky Blue, but the reality of their week was still bleak. They lost at Washington and didn’t get full points at home against a previously struggling Sky Blue.

5. Sky Blue FC (7) – We’re giving them major credit for taking a point at Chicago, but more importantly for Jim Gabarra’s side, this weekend represented progress from their previous performances. Remarkably, the team still has a chance at a home playoff game.

4. Portland Thorns FC (3) – Portland seemed happy with a draw in Rochester, and after losing three days earlier in Boston, that feeling was understandable. The change of approach, however, was a bit concerning for Portland fans, as the Thorns shouldn’t have to completely shift gears just because Alex Morgan is out of the lineup. Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath is more than most teams have at their disposal.

3. Boston Breakers (6) – Cat Whitehill’s got seven points from three games as Breakers’ coach, and in taking wins over Portland and Kansas City, the Breakers are playing better than they have all season.

2. Western New York (2) – Didn’t play particularly well against either Boston or Portland but managed to hold on to second place. A full week off should recharge the team head of a tough finale against the Breakers.

1. FC Kansas City (1) – They’re 10-match unbeaten run is over after their worst performance of the season, but it’s going to take more than one banana skin to knock them off this list’s top spot.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 11 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 7
4 tied at 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
Katy Freels (SBFC) 6

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Saturday, August 17

Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers (8:00 p.m. Eastern) – A Flash win gives them home-field advantage in the semifinals (and the entire playoffs, if Kansas City loses). The only problem: They’re 0-1-2 against Boston this season, their loss coming in Rochester earlier this season (2-1, Apr. 27).

Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC (11:00 p.m. Eastern) – By the time the teams kick off in Tukwila, Portland will know if their quest for a home playoff game’s alive. They need to out-point Western New York to have a chance at the second seed, and since goal difference will be important should they end up tied with Sky Blue, Portland can’t settle for merely a victory. But given how Thorns FC have played over their last four games (1-2-1), any win is a good one for Portland.

Sunday, August 18

FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars (4:10 p.m. Eastern) – This one only matters if Western New York wins on Saturday. If not, FC Kansas City will have already clinched the league’s top seed. And if the Flash beat Boston, the Blues need only a point to stay in Overland Park throughout the playoffs.

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC (5:00 p.m. Eastern) – Whether they have a chance at something beyond the postseason’s fourth seed, Sky Blue has work to do. Last week in Chicago was progress, but they’re still not ready for the playoffs. Jim Gabarra has 90 minutes to find a postseason solution.

Arteta loves Arsenal effort: ‘The fight is now equal. The rest will take time’

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It’s not insane to call Arsenal’s latest triumph a bit of an “oops” win.

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 on Wednesday at the Emirates while seemingly utilizing a second-choice lineup while preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal versus Manchester City.

Alexandre Lacazette and Reiss Nelson starred in a first-half sequence that gave Arteta a very nice win for his Arsenal managerial resume, coming back from Sadio Mane’s early goal in North London.

ARSENAL – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

“I was worried after 1-0 how we would react,” Arteta said after the game. “We were able to pick one moment and believe again. … The gap between the two teams today is enormous. We can not improve it in two months, but the accountability, the fight is now equal and I am very proud of that. The rest will take some time.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Arteta was clearly happy with the result despite Liverpool’s continued pressure on the Gunners’ goal (Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had a wonderful day).

You could call it the perfect tonic for a North London Derby loss.

“In terms of energy and happiness in the dressing room before the semi-final, it’s a good medicine,” he said. “To beat this team you have to have moments in the game when you take your chances, defend and have a bit of luck.”

Liverpool ‘constantly dominant’ in latest post-title setback

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Virgil van Dijk doesn’t want to hear the easy excuses after rare mistakes from Alisson Becker and Van Dijk helped Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 to stop the Reds’ dreams of a 100-point season.

Liverpool was controlling the early stages at the Emirates Stadium and led on a Sadio Mane goal when Van Dijk flubbed a back pass to set Alexandre Lacazette on his way to an equalizer.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Moments later, Lacazette darted into the right flank to steal a blind Alisson pass. The Frenchman found Reiss Nelson for a 2-1 lead that went the distance.

“Until then there was nothing wrong, we played very well. So it’s easy to blame us having the title but until I made the mistake there was nothing wrong.”

It is an easy excuse but it also likely holds a lot of truth. Teams that clinch the PL title early have historically struggled down the stretch, aside from Pep Guardiola’s 2017-18 juggernaut that set the league record for points with 100.

Liverpool could’ve caught or passed that City team had it managed a draw or win on Wednesday. Klopp and Van Dijk would love to believe their team is above the historical flaws of other great teams but that’s just illogical.

Klopp puts it down to mistakes and an inability to finish any number of chances on a day Arsenal keeper made eight saves including an incredible palm stop in injury time.

“Twice, a massive lack of concentration, we took a break after 1-0, especially in the first half before the goal, we were just brilliant, we had 24-3 shots, that’s incredible but these two moments killed the game for us. … We were constantly dominant. It was a good game. Arsenal, they were there in two situations, I am not sure they forced them but they were there and they used them.”

Liverpool can now max out at 99 points if it beats Chelsea and Newcastle United to finish the season.

Watchalong live: Join us for Arsenal v. Liverpool

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Join us for a Watchalong event on YouTube for Arsenal – Liverpool on Wednesday (start time, 3:10pm ET on the NBC Sports YouTube channel).

 

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 after making the most of two costly errors from Liverpool in the first half.

Click on the video above to join us for the Watchalong, as ProSoccerTalk’s lead writer and editor, Joe Prince-Wright, will answer your questions and watch the action with you as you have a beer (or three) and some snacks.

Hit the reminder button on the video above to make sure you don’t miss the Watchalong.

The idea is to get fans together with JPW and have a good time watching the game.

Feel free to ask for his instant analysis on the game between the newly-crowned Premier League champions and Mikel Arteta’s young side by posting comments in comments section.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

JPW will join you for the entire game, as he breaks down the live action in Arsenal – Liverpool and you have the chance to have your say on what Arteta and Jurgen Klopp should be doing in the game, plus dissect the tactics, which players are starring and more.

Basically, join us to watch the game (hence the snazzy ‘Watchalong’ name) and let’s all enjoy these juggernauts do battle with plenty of pride on the line as Arsenal try to put down a marker for next season.

[ PREVIEW: Arsenal – Liverpool: Everything you need to know ]

We hope you enjoy our Premier League Watchalong as two huge clubs collide at the Emirates Stadium. Click on the video or link above to get involved.

Arsenal stuns Liverpool to end 100-point dream

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Liverpool will not become the second Premier League team to post a 100-point season following a 2-1 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Alexandre Lacazette had a goal and an assist as Arsenal capitalized on atypical errors from two of Liverpool’s brightest.

Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker gave away the ball deep in Liverpool territory after the Reds had opened up a 1-0 lead through Sadio Mane.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool now maxes out at 99 points if it beats Chelsea and Newcastle to complete its championship season.

The Gunners move onto 53 points, three back of sixth place and six back of the top four. Arsenal hosts Man City in an FA Cup semifinal on Saturday.

Liverpool can no longer meet Man City’s record of 100 points in a Premier League season, the Reds looking like the latest early clincher to lose their intensity.

ARSENAL – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY


Three things we learned

1. Intensity replicated is difficult: Jurgen Klopp bristled in a big way when reporters asked him about Liverpool’s mentality following a whooping at the hands of Man City days after winning the Premier League. It would be difficult for him to say there’s any other reason his Reds have failed to keep up their historic pace following the completion of their massive goals. There’s not too much wrong with that either, by the way, when you consider how much was poured into chasing City last year and roaring through this season. And that’s before the effects of a global pandemic.

Liverpool won the league with seven matches to play. Here’s how their finish resembles the four teams to share the previous record of clinching with five to go.

Everton 1984-85: 2W-3L
Man Utd 1907-08: 1W-2L-2D
Man Utd 2000-01: 1W-1D-3L
Man City 2017-18: 4W-1D
Liverpool 2019-20: 2W-1D-2L (two matches remaining)

2. Mikel’s glorious ‘oops’ win: Arsenal worked really hard to get its points and Mikel Arteta will rightly hang his hat on a win over the champions, but he’ll also have a chuckle considering he was clearly choosing his lineup to rest up for the weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against old pals Man City. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came off the bench, where Dani Ceballos and Hector Bellerin also started the day. Arsenal is deep enough to challenge anyone on a given day

3. Defense matters: For all the hope Arsenal’s engendered with the offensive fireworks of Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, and the like, what Arteta’s done with his defensive shape and organization has been key to providing optimism regarding his project. The marking on Liverpool’s opener wasn’t great but this is Liverpool nonetheless and chances are going to come their way. The Leicester City draw and Spurs loss following what felt like a momentous win over Wolves asked questions of Arteta. Wednesday was a fine response.

Man of the Match

Lacazette’s goal and an assist make him an easy mention, but Martinez’s eight-save day was a good one. He had an early mistake but the 27-year-old Argentine made four of his stops from inside the box. Not bad.


Arsenal – Liverpool recap

The Reds got on the board after a lengthy feeling out period that saw the visitors in relative control when Mane belted home from close range in the 20th.

Andrew Robertson cut back for the Senegalese scorer as Arsenal fell asleep at the back.

A rare error from Van Dijk gave the lead right back. Hassled by Reiss Nelson, the Dutchman made a poor pass back to Alisson Becker that Lacazette stole to make it 1-1.

The Reds then allowed a second goal when Nelson lashed past Alisson from close range after Lacazette stole the keeper’s goofy clearing attempt. It’s Nelson’s first PL goal.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Liverpool looked ready to tie the game in the 54th when Trent Alexander-Arnold slid the ball to Mohamed Salah outside the six.

The Egyptian used quick feet to move around David Luiz and shoot but Martinez poked it over the bar.

Substitute Takumi Minamino saw a 63rd minute shot deflect off David Luiz and wide of Martinez’s far post.

Salah hit a free but tame header to Martinez off a Mane cross in the 70th minute.

Arsenal did an effective job of keeping the Reds outside the danger areas in fighting for the final whistle, which came after one lost incredible stop from Martinez.