NWSL Final: What to know about Western New York Flash

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The NWSL’s first final takes place Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, NY. Regular season winners Western New York Flash, led by reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach, will take on Portland Thorns FC, with the season’s third place finishers hoping an injured Alex Morgan can return for the final.

Click here for a look at Portland; but for now, here is a look at the favorites in Saturday’s final, Western New York:

Defending: When U.S. Soccer allocated U.S., Canadian, and Mexican national team players to the eight teams that would make up the NWSL, the Flash, an organization coming off three straight titles (albeit in different leagues), got no help at the back. Most teams were allocated a goalkeeper and at least one starting-caliber defender from their three U.S. allocations, but not Western New York. Not only did head coach Aaran Lines fail to get a starter for his back five (American or otherwise), he only got two U.S. allocations. The logic, we were told? If team was going to be shorthanded (U.S. Soccer only handing out 23 Americans), it was going to be the team with the best player in the world.

source:  To Lines’ credit, he’s used free agency and astute drafting to forge the league’s best defense. Because other teams were given goalkeepers in allocation, Oklahoma State’s Adrianna Franch (right) fell to Western New York in the college draft. She went on to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting while being chosen second team all-league. While the NWSL office may have given Lines a raw deal in allocation, they also paved the way for Western New York to acquire one of the league’s best keepers.

In front of Franch, Lines drafted Estelle Johnson and paired her in the middle with free agent Brittany Taylor, somebody Western New York was converting to central defense. They brought Katherine Reynolds back from Germany to play at left back while club president Alex Sahlen played on the right, putting in a surprisingly strong season before a season-ending injury.

Against a Thorns team that’s lacked width all season, playing midfielder Sarah Huffman at left back shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The core finished with the league’s best defensive record, allowing only 20 goals in 23 games, will be in tact – a group that gave up only one goal in 180 minutes to Portland this season.

Attack: As with any Abby Wambach team, everything revolves around her, whether she’s on the ball or not. She’ll not only torment Portland’s central duo, Rachel Buehler and Kathryn Williamson, she’ll also serve as a focal point out of the back and open up space for her teammates, the effects of which helped Carli Lloyd score eight times in 15 appearances.

source:  The true virtue of this set up comes when Wambach goes left, which happens surprisingly often for a player whose known for her penalty area prowess. Between Lloyd in attacking midfield and Spanish international Adriana Martín on the left (somebody who has many number nine qualities, herself), the Flash have two goalscorers who can fill the space she creates. The threat of 19-year-old Sam Kerr (right) on the right, an Australian international responsible for six goals and five assists this season, gives Western New York the type of balance that keeps them dangerous even when Wambach’s been accounted for. And with McCall Zerboni (if healthy) and the under-appreciated Angela Salem holding down the midfield, Western New York are capable to causing havoc without exposing their defense.

Despite Lloyd missing over two-thirds of the season, Martín spending the summer with Spain, and Kerr’s occasional call-ups to her national team, the team lead the league in goals; though like Portland, they had relatively diminished success against their Saturday adversaries. Western New York drew 1-1 at Portland in July before the teams’ dour 0-0 reverse in August.

Overall: On pure talent alone, there may not be much to separate Western New York from Portland. Even if Alex Morgan isn’t 100 percent fit (coming back from a minor knee injury), Portland has Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath, Rachel Buehler, and Karina LeBlanc through their middle. In that sense, a Thorns victory on Saturday wouldn’t be a shock. particularly after the team came back from a 2-0 deficit to eliminate Kansas City in the semifinals. Portland’s ability to move beyond a conflicted regular season shouldn’t be underestimated.

But by all measures, Western New York seem the better team. One to 18, they’re just as talented as the Thorns but have the production to back it up. Led by Wambach, the Flash have the league’s best attack, and with Franch behind Johnson and Taylor, they also allowed fewer goals than any team in the NWSL. With players like Veronica Perez, Vicki DiMartino, and Ingrid Wells, Western New York will have the deepest squad in Saturday’s final.

They the regular season champions; they’re the form team; they’re the favorites. Rightly so.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Leicester City

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Chelsea host Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in their home opener, as U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic is handed the first start of his Premier League career.

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Frank Lampard will get a great ovation on his homecoming to Stamford Bridge, while Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes will fancy their chance of causing an upset.

In team news Christian Pulisic starts on his home debut for Chelsea as he replaces Ross Barkley on the left, as Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante replace Tammy Abraham and Matteo Kovacic from the team which started at Man United last Sunday.

Leicester bring in Christian Fuchs at left back with Ben Chilwell out with a minor injury and the Austrian international coming in.


LINEUPS

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Fuchs, Ndidi, Perez, Tielemans, Choudhury, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Justin, Morgan, Albrighton, Ward, Iheanacho, Barnes, Praet.

Sheffield United battle past Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Sunday, as the Blades’ first home game back in the Premier League ended in victory.

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John Lundstram was the hero at Bramall Lane as his goal just after half time sealed all three points for the Yorkshire club, which was their first PL win since 2007.

Chris Wilder‘s side have now picked up four points from their first two games back in the big time, while Palace have yet to score across their opening two matches.


3 things we learned

1. Bramall Lane can become a fortress: The home fans created a wonderful atmosphere in their first PL home game since 2007, and they dragged their team over the line late on. As hefty challenges flew in and Chris Wilder wound up his players from the sidelines, this will be an intimidating place for teams to play. If the Blades are going to stay up, their home form needs to be very good and it seems like that is going to be the case.

2. Overlapping CBs a joy to watch: Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell marauding down the flanks was a joy to watch, and something we will see a lot from Sheffield United this season. Basham and O’Connell are encouraged to fly down the flanks and join attacks, with the holding midfielders sitting in for them and it certainly gives opponents a very different tactical headache to solve. O’Connell pushed forward down the left wing for United’s opening goal and the overload it created in a dangerous area worked superbly. Pretty soon a lot of other teams will be copying the Blades.

3. Wilfried Zaha not up to speed: In his first start of the season, Zaha spent most of the first half having a row with the home bench and fans. Roy Hodgson was hoping he would be focused after a summer-long saga which saw him state his desire to leave Palace, but moves to Arsenal and Everton both fell through. Zaha’s display on the pitch looked like a player who doesn’t really want to be at Palace. That is very worrying for the Eagles.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham – A dominant force in the air and on the ground, the center back held United’s defensive unit together and he epitomized their gritty display. The Blades’ longest-serving current player stood tall.


After a steady start to the game for both teams, Sheffield United started to cause plenty of problems as David McGoldrick had a shot blocked and Palace managed to scramble clear from a corner as the hosts built up a head of steam in the first half.

Callum Robinson struck an effort over the bar as the Blades dug deep and substitute Luke Freeman (who replaced the injured John Fleck) brought plenty of energy to the midfield battle.

The Blades should have taken the lead just before half time as Lundstram’s perfect cross the back post found McGoldrick but Vicente Guaita saved well.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sheffield United got off to a perfect start in the second half as Jack O’Connell raced down the left flank and Freeman cut inside and sent a ball across goal which Guaita saved but the ball fell to Lundstram who slammed home to send Bramall Lane wild.

That opening goal sprung the game into life as Andros Townsend‘s deflected shot from distance was pushed out by Dean Henderson and even though Palace tried their best to get into the game, Sheffield United’s defense held firm.

Some meaty challenges flew in late on as substitute Ollie McBurnie made a nuisance of himself, as the home fans roared their team to victory.

Report: Alexis Sanchez pushing for Inter Milan loan

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A report from Italy states that Manchester United are in talks with Inter Milan over loaning Alexis Sanchez for the 2019-20 campaign.

Sanchez, 30, has reportedly asked United to send him to Inter for the upcoming season as the Chilean star has failed to settled at Old Trafford over the last 18 months and scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season.

He has yet to play this season or over the summer after being injured playing for Chile in the Copa America this summer, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been positive about Sanchez whenever he’s spoken about him this summer and said wants to keep him at Man United.

However, per the report from Fabrizio Romano in Italy the former Arsenal star wants to head back to Serie A — where he started his career in Europe with Udinese — and Inter only want to pay $16.6 million to sign him permanently next summer when he will still have two years left on his contract at United.

With the summer transfer window still open in Germany, Spain and Italy until Sept. 2, this move is something to keep an eye on.

This is a big call for United.

Do they really want an unhappy and lackluster Sanchez around, blocking the pathway for the likes of Mason Greenwood to break into the first team?

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will provide goals and will be helped out by Juan Mata and Greenwood, but if one of Rashford or Martial gets injured, Solskjaer’s attacking options diminish quite rapidly.

Selling Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan already has them down a senior striker and if they have to subsidize Sanchez’s huge wages just to send him out on loan, is it really worth it?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

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The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.