NWSL Update: Western New York, Portland into league’s first title game

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If women’s soccer fans were told five months ago that first NWSL season would end with Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan in the title game, some would have happily taken it. Others would have cried conspiracy. Few would have disputed it as a boon in the league’s first year, when every bit of publicity helps.

After Saturday’s semifinals, the league has their dream matchup, though it’s still unclear if all the stars will be on stage. Whereas Wambach is guaranteed to lead her team onto the field in Rochester after Western New York eliminated Sky Blue (2-0), Morgan has not played since suffering a knee injury in Boston nearly three weeks ago. Without her, Portland upset FC Kansas City on Saturday, Allie Long’s extra time winner giving Thorns FC a 3-2 win, giving FOX Sports license to run a week’s worth of Abby vs. Alex promos ahead of Saturday’s final.

But for anybody who watched Saturday’s game in Kansas, “a 3-2 win” feels like a gross understatement. Here’s how the Thorns (and Flash) advanced to the NWSL’s first championship game:

source:  Semifinal 1: FC Kansas City 2, Portland Thorns FC 3

Favorites coming into the season, Portland slipped to third place by the time the last game was played, meaning their route to the final would go through Overland Park. In two regular season games at FCKC, Portland had only taken one point, generally being outplayed during their trips to Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Yet with Vlatko Andonovski’s team limping into the postseason — a two-game losing streak to non-playoff teams costing them first place — there was reason to doubt Kansas City carried the same quality that troubled Portland during the regular season.

Those doubts irrelevant after 25 minutes. Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak, whose half season starting for Andonovski has earned her a national team call-up, scored from distance in the 12th minute. Melissa Henderson, goalless in 17 regular season games, beat Karina LeBlanc near the half’s mid-point, priming Portland for an embarrassing end to their season. With league MVP-to-be Lauren Holiday pulling the proverbial strings, the Thorns were getting steamrolled. Favorites before game one, eliminated at game 23, Portland’s lopsided elimination would bring joy to the throngs who’ve come to view PTFC as the NWSL’s Galactic Empire. Merritt Paulson’s Darth Vadar, and FC Kansas City were routing his stormtroopers.

Much to their chagrin, the Rebellion wasn’t meant to be. The narrative that won out in Overland Park was Kansas City’s demise, not Portland’s failure to play to their talent. Whereas the Blues once seemed destined to win the league comfortably, a slew of late capitulations over summer months (in New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, and at home against Chicago) served as a wakeup call. Only as Saturday’s collapse showed, Kansas City never woke up.

In the 35th minute Tobin Heath, playing on an obviously ailing right foot, pulled Portland within one. Tiffany Weimer, coming on strong after joining mid-season, pulled Portland even in the 65th, setting the stage for a bit of redemption. Scrutinized all season long for her play in Portland’s midfield, Allie Long forged the match-winner in the first period of extra time (103′) and, as is if to reinforce the Portland’s image as the league’s pantomime villain, spent the rest of the match committing fouls that teased a second yellow card. Like her team, though, she survived, with Portland’s 3-2 win putting them into Saturday’s final.

It was Portland’s best 90 minutes of the season, finally claiming some of their promise while on the verge of bowing out. For Kansas City, however, it was a heart-breakingly appropriate conclusion to their season. Though they seemed like the best team, their inability to finish games killed them. After this week of postseason awards ends, Kansas City will have the league’s best player, defender, rookie, goalkeeper and coach, but they’ll also have an unexpectedly early end to what has to what was ultimately a disappointing season.

source:  Semifinal 2: Western New York 2, Sky Blue FC 0

Sky Blue’s last two months were all about Saturday. Whereas Kansas City slid into the playoffs and Portland had the postseason thrust upon them, Sky Blue had the final four in the sites ever since it became clear the formula vaulted them top of the league in June was not going to carry them through August. While falling to fourth, Jim Gabarra’s team consolidated, forging their best possible formula for playoff success, though their slide left them with a nightmare playoff matchup. Western New York, the regular season champions, had beat them three times in a row, outscoring them 8-1 in the process.

Gabarra, who had played a 4-3-3 formation for most of the year, decided to throw the Flash a curve. He went 3-5-2, a system nobody had played this season in the NWSL. Whether he did that to load up in defense, get more defenders to combat Abby Wambach, or put players wide on to deal with the Flash Sam Kerr-led wing play, it seemed to cause some confusion. While Western New York were better over the first half hour, a stalemate looked possible.

Then Carli Lloyd broke through. It was a big game, so the Flash midfielder, who most know from her two goals in the 2012 Summer Olympics’ final, was obligated to step up. Clutch is what she does. Converting on a cross from fullback Katherine Reynolds in the 33rd minute, Lloyd lived up to her reputation, putting the home side in front.

Sky Blue held on for the next hour, fostering the impression they could nick an equalizer at any time, but against the league’s best defense, an attack that had come reliant on one player (forward Lisa de Vanna) never broke through. They finished the game outshot 15 to 5, losing 2-0 after Lloyd’s 93rd minute goal completed the U.S. international’s double.

Ultimately, and despite Gabarra’s attempt to change it up, the game played out exactly as expected. While Sky Blue had recovered  from their summer funk, they still didn’t have an answer for the Flash. Their new formation stalled the inevitable, but come full-time, the Flash had still controlled play, won a relatively straight forward game, and looked every bit the title favorite. They finished the regular season number one, and come kickoff in Rochester on Saturday, they’ll be favored to retain that mantle.

Final: Western New York vs. Portland Thorns FC

Ever since Kansas City’s slide began, Western New York has been the scariest team in the league. Now, with Lloyd clicking while  Wambach continues to demand the defense’s focus, the Flash are on track for their fourth title in four years (across four leagues: W-League, WPS, WPSL Elite, NWSL). In a league down to two teams, they have the best defense, the best attack, the best coaching, and home field advantage. Despite drawing both their meetings with the Thorns this season, Aaran Lines team will be deserved favorites Saturday night.

The threat Portland poses depends on their health. Heath had to leave Saturday’s game after Kansas City’s Desiree Scott stepped on her foot. She’s expected to play, but her exact status won’t be known until later this week. Likewise, what Cindy Parlow Cone can count on from Alex Morgan depends on how much the Thorns star improves. The team’s optimistic, though if she’s healthy, the coaching staff face a challenge integrating her into a team that’s gone 2-0-1 without her.

That draw came two weeks ago, when Portland visited Western New York. Both teams seemed willing to accept the stalemate, the 0-0 result playing out as one of the league’s least compelling games of the season. But without Morgan, Portland were emboldened by the shutout, their improvement in defense giving them confidence going into their season finale.

Two wins later, the Thorns have a shot at the title. And with any luck, the NWSL will get an Abby vs. Alex matchup in its inaugural final.

PFA explains position as players urged to take pay cuts

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The Professional Footballers Association is explaining why it has not yet accepted deferred pay cuts during the coronavirus suspension, and the English government is not withholding its opinion.

As non-playing staff accept furloughs or worse across the tiers of English football and players in other European nations accept pay cuts, the PFA has not found an arrangement to its liking.

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Health secretary Matthew Hancock addressed the situation in his daily public briefing.

From Sky Sports:

“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”

That’s a heavy statement, one that surely resonates with all.

The PFA issued a post on its site that runs up nearly 1000 words on its position, stating that a big part of its concern is representing League One and League Two players. Those members do not receive the massive pay packets of PL stars.

Basically, what the PFA is requesting is time to make an educated decision considering the books and futures of every club are different. They’d like to see those books to make sure that if players are making a sacrifice that shareholders are as well.

From ThePFA.com:

We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.

In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.

Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.

Obviously there will be a resolution to this soon, but it’s a complex and layered situation. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first PL boss to take a voluntary pay cut on Wednesday, with Brighton’s Graham Potter following suit.

Burning question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?


Think about it. You don’t have to admit it out loud if you don’t want to. We all have one. Admit it.

There’s a team out there you have dismissed to your friends, family and maybe random strangers on social media but secretly, when nobody else is with you, you watch them play and admire them.

That said team are your guilty pleasure.

It’s okay to admit it. Honest. There will be no judgement here because we are all in the same boat.

It can be a team from the same league as your team, or a club from another league in another country, or just, you know, a team that people aside from you despise.

A lot of the big boys bring up polarizing views as many neutrals loath mega clubs who win trophies season after season and scoff at their huge wage bill, well-manicured stadiums and incredible commercial success. ‘This isn’t proper football’ you often cry. Deep down, you admire some of those teams, don’t you?

It would be remiss of me to ask you to reveal your guilty pleasure team in the comments below our via our social media post on Twitter without revealing my own so here it goes.

Atletico Madrid.

For years I’ve been an admirer of Atletico, way back when Diego Simeone was a player for them in midfield and they won the 1995-96 La Liga title with a huge ‘MARBELLA’ sponsor logo on their baggy shirts, as they also won the Copa del Rey that season to bring utter delight to the Vicente Calderon stadium after a 19-year wait for the league title.

A lot has changed since then and Atleti have become a polarizing team for becoming the ultimate masters of the dark arts with a squad of players who are perfectly happy with putting all of their personal talent to one side to play as a destructive, defensive, winning team.

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Simeone’s antics may not be the prettiest (the vision of one of his crotch-pulsing celebrations are now etched into your head forever) and he may tell his players to stretch the rules as far as they possibly can on the field, but I respect the hustle. Simeone has always been this way, from his reaction to David Beckham’s kick in the 1998 World Cup in his playing days to his cojones celebration, he has pushed the boundaries. After being forced to rebuild his team almost on a yearly basis since he took charge in 2011 as he’s lost star after star (Aguero, Costa, Falcao and Griezmann to name a few), he forces his players into punishing hill runs each summer and expects nothing but 100 percent effort each and every time they step on the pitch.

It was recently revealed El Cholo was the highest-paid manager in the world and you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve it.

I respect that somehow Atletico have now become competitive amid the utter dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish soccer for pretty much the last six decades. Since he took charge they have won three Europa League titles, the La Liga title in 2014 and reached two UEFA Champions League finals (losing both to Real in 2014 and 2016) as well as ousting defending champs Liverpool in the UCL in dramatic fashion to reach the last eight this season. Cue more Simeone celebrations.

The next time you watch Atletico Madrid play, imagine me sat alone somewhere in a dark room with a bowl of peanuts and a beer, nodding my head like that famous Jack Nicholson gif from Anger Management.

Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid are the masters of shithousery.

‘That’s right, Diego Costa, you flick his ear off the ball’ and ‘look at Simeone screaming at the home fans in disgust when they boo an Atletico player for getting a tactical yellow. Give it to them!’ will be likely comments from myself.

I’ve aired my dirty laundry in public. Now, feel free to do the same and tell us which team is your guilty pleasure.

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Transfer news: James to Everton; Meunier to Man United

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

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First up, Everton are said to be interested in signing James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. The Colombian star previously played for Carlo Ancelotti at Real and Bayern Munich, as he helped the former win the UEFA Champions League in 2015-16 and 2016-17 after arriving from Monaco following a sensational 2014 World Cup.

According to Marca, James is keen on a move to England and Real want to sell him this summer as he has just one year left on his contract. Per the report Ancelotti tried to sign James last summer when he was in charge at Napoli and although Arsenal and Wolves are also interested, Everton are the frontrunners.

James spent two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich before returning to Real for 2019-20 where he has been a bit-part player for Zinedine Zidane.

His quality on the ball is undoubted and at the age of 28 he is hitting his prime and Ancelotti certainly knows how to get the best out of James, who put up his best numbers at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2014-15 (17 goals in 46 games in all competitions) under the Italian coach.

Where would he slot in at Everton? Probably as the second striker or No. 10 which would mean stiff competition for Gylfi Sigurdsson who has become the chief creator for Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri has not been shy in splashing the cash and Ancelotti has had a huge impact during his first few months in charge of the Toffees, strengthening his case to be given money to spend in the next transfer window to improve his young, raw squad.

Time to add the duo of Ancelotti-James to Mourinho-Matic, Redknapp-Defoe and Moyes-Fellaini manager-player partnerships.


Switching the focus from Merseyside to Manchester, another piece of transfer news has been reported that Man United are keen on signing Belgium international Thomas Meunier.

Meunier, 28, has yet to sign a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain and according to French outlet Le Foot, the Red Devils have joined AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund in ‘keeping a lookout’ on the right-sided player who becomes a free agent this summer.

An attacking right back, Meunier is just as comfortable playing as an out-and-out winger and his arrival would not only give them cover at right back for Aaron Wan-Bissaka but also give them an option at right wing. His experience with Belgium and PSG is undoubted and his quality passing and crossing from wide areas will surely provide Man United’s star attackers plenty of service. Meunier previously said his main aim is to stay at PSG, where he’s been since arriving from Club Brugge in 2016 as he’s won eight domestic trophies with the reigning French champions.

Meunier has also previously stated in the Belgian media that he is a fan of Man United, so perhaps that gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side the edge. He would fill a need and a free transfer would certainly be welcome after splashing out over $280 million to sign Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Wan-Bissaka over the last 12 months.

VIDEO: Arlo White’s best Premier League calls

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Arlo White’s voice has been missed by Premier League fans across the USA in recent weeks, so this video of his best calls will keep you going for a while.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Click play on the video above as some of the craziest goals and moments in the Premier League have been beautifully described by NBC’s lead soccer commentator.

His magical command of the English language is on full show across 15 minutes of Arlo commentating on plenty of wild Liverpool goals, Leicester City’s incredible title win and plenty of upset victories from the last seven seasons of the Premier League.

Enjoy a trip down memory lane with Arlo and in the comments below let us know your favorite calls from his time behind the mic with NBC Sports over the last few years.