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.

Leicester City – Sheffield United, Everton – Aston Villa: How to watch, stream

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Leicester City – Sheffield United and Everton – Aston Villa are both massive games but for very different reasons on Thursday (start time, 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

If Leicester City is to hang onto its top four spot, it will have earned it in a three-match crucible beginning with a visit from Sheffield United on Thursday. While at Goodison, Aston Villa badly need a win to boost their survival hopes as they head to Everton.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

King Power Stadium is the scene for the big tilt, with both Foxes and Blades aiming for places in Europe in the fall. Injury-hit Leicester was given a slight reprieve after its embarrassing loss to Bournemouth when Southampton drew Manchester United, while Blades helped, too, by clobbering Chelsea.

Fourth-place Leicester’s a point back of Chelsea on 59 points, ahead of Manchester United on goal differential. Only the top four will make the 2020-21 Champions League unless Man City wins the 2019-20 edition in August. Sheffield United has an outside shot to catch the Foxes. The Blades have 54 points and will know Leicester still has to face Manchester United.

LEICESTER CITY – SHEFFIELD UNITED STREAM

EVERTON – ASTON VILLA STREAM

As for Everton – Aston Villa, the Toffees are playing for pride after some shocking recent displays and Carlo Ancelotti at least wants a top 10 finish to show for as their Europa League hopes are all but over.

For Aston Villa, this is a massive game in their battle against relegation. Dean Smith’s side beat Crystal Palace last time out know they must win at Everton to try and drag West Ham and Watford further back into the relegation battle. Villa play at West Ham on the final day of the season and if they can get to that game knowing a win in a what would essentially be a relegation playoff would keep them up, they would take that.


Team news

Caglar Soyuncu is suspended and Ricardo Pereira is out injured, while three other key players are questionable in Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton all miss out with youngster Luke Thomas coming in for the start.

John Fleck is back on the bench as Sheffield United are unchanged from their win against Chelsea.

Aston Villa have no new injury concerns as Matt Targett comes back into the starting lineup, while Everton make five changes from the team embarrassed at Wolves last time out.


What they’re saying

Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers on holding off Chelsea and Manchester United“If you look at the clubs below us and around us. We’re ambitious but we understand that there are super clubs around us. Are we as big as them? No. We want to be up there challenging irrespective of size of club. It doesn’t change the way I approach it. We were 12th when I came in, and to be fighting for a Champions League place. That’s amazing.”

Blades boss Wilder on Sheffield Wednesday fan Jamie Vardy: “To be released by the team you love is a hammer blow but he got up off the canvas and proved people wrong by getting his hands dirty at Stocksbridge and Halifax and Fleetwood. Then for Nigel (Pearson) to take a punt for a million quid was a huge statement, and one that’s been justified. … I go to the pub after a win and people say: ‘I could have made it but had an injury.’ Well it wasn’t you because you didn’t do it. You didn’t prove it like Vardy did, so you deserve to be in the pub and have the career you had, not the one Vardy had. So shut up. And I’ve got a few pals like that who I have to put in their basket sometimes. He keeps going so he deserves everything that comes his way, even though it’s from a Blade to an Owl.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings has any result within reasonable reach, with host Leicester at +100 and Sheffield United at +310 with a tie near the middle at +225. Jamie Vardy and Oliver McBurnie traded goals early when these two met at Bramall Lane in August before Harvey Barnes found the decisive goal in a 2-1 Leicester City win.

The hosts Everton are favored (+110) but don’t rule out Aston Villa (+250) who have improved defensively and have the likes of Trezeguet, Grealish and McGinn looking dangerous. The tie is +250 but Villa have to go all-out for the win.


Prediction

It’s tempting to pick against Leicester City due to their injuries and form but the Foxes are a proud, experienced bunch and a good match for the Blades. Call it points split in score draw.

Aston Villa have to go for the win and they will just get it at a sloppy Everton side.


Premier League: How to watch, stream, Leicester City – Sheffield United

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Thursday
TV Channel: NBCSN + Gold/Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Transfer news: Sancho to Man United update; Koulibaly to Man City

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In the latest transfer news there is an update on Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, while a price has been set for Kalidou Koulibaly to Manchester City.

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Starting in the red half of Manchester, things have gone a little quiet in recent weeks when it comes to talk about Jadon Sancho to Manchester United but the latest update is interesting.

Multiple outlets, including this one from Bild in Germany, state that Borussia Dortmund are waiting for a $137 million offer to arrive from Man United for the English winger.

Sancho, 20, has dazzled at Dortmund over the last two seasons and his stock has risen considerably. However, with Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial thriving in attack at Man United, is there a need for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to spend big on a new winger?

They’ve been linked with Mikel Oyarzabal and many others in recent weeks as alternatives to Sancho, who is probably the most expensive winger out there right now. There’s a reason for that because his quality is obvious and his poise on the ball and creativity in the final third would give Man United something slightly different.

If Man United are willing to spend this type of cash on Sancho, a report from the Manchester Evening News says he wants to return to Manchester after his time at Man City’s youth academy before he left for Dortmund.

Koulibaly to Manchester City
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Switching to Sancho’s former club, Kalidou Koulibaly continues to be linked with a host of teams across Europe and the latest reports says Manchester City have been quoted a price for the superb Senegalese center back.

Koulibaly, 29, will be available for $82 million this summer, according to the Daily Mirror, and Pep Guardiola wants a new center back to help solidify his Man City team.

We’ve all seen how badly Man City have struggled this season when Aymeric Laporte has been out injured as John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have struggled, while Vincent Kompany was never replaced as youngster Eric Garcia is still raw and Fernandinho has had to play out of position at center back for vast swathes of the season .

Koulibaly would be a perfect fit for this Man City team but he seems pretty happy at Napoli. It’s safe to say Man City are not alone in wanting Koulibaly but now they know they will be in the Champions League next season and they have extra funds coming in from that, Guardiola can kick on with his defensive rebuilding plans.

In an ideal world, that rebuild would center around Koulibaly who has been one of the most consistent defenders in Europe over the past few years.

Arteta has ‘big concern’ about lack of Arsenal transfer funds

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Mikel Arteta has admitted he has a ‘big concern’ about how Arsenal can compete given a lack of transfer funds.

[ WATCH: Analysis on Arsenal – Liverpool ]

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 on Wednesday but they were second-best for large periods and they hung in there and made the most of Liverpool’s defensive mistakes.

Despite being pleased with the win, Arteta is under no illusions as to how far Arsenal have to go to compete with Liverpool and Manchester City, let alone Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester City ahead of them in the table.

Speaking to our partners in the UK Sky Sports, Arteta was asked how much of a concern a lack of Arsenal transfer funds is.

“It’s a big concern. You can see how [Liverpool] build their squad and there is no magic, you need to improve the squad with quality, quality players. And we need a bigger squad to compete in this competition,” Arteta said. “That is the challenge. It’s a massive job. You only have to look at the difference between the two teams – it’s enormous. The gap in many areas we can’t improve it in two months but the gap between the accountability, the energy, the commitment and the fight between the two teams is now equal. Before it wasn’t like this. I’m very proud of that. The rest will take some time but at least we’ve got that now and my message to the players is with that we can create something.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Arteta is a realist and realistically he has done pretty much all he can with this group of players during his first seven months in charge at Arsenal.

He’s made them more solid defensively, something which is key as he told ProSoccerTalk recently, but with the players at his disposal he’s close to maxing out their potential.

Arsenal probably need two new center backs and a holding midfielder to start with. Arteta is going to have to go creative in the transfer market to do that and may have to sacrifice Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to rebuild his defense.

Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis, David Luiz and Callum Chambers are his current center back options and he does have youngster William Saliba coming in for next season. It’s likely that Holding, Chambers and Saliba will be the only three long-term center backs at Arsenal.

In holding midfield, Matteo Guendouzi will likely leave, while Dani Ceballos has been a revelation in a deeper role but his loan from Real Madrid ends soon and it’s unlikely that Arsenal can afford to buy him permanently. Granit Xhaka is what he is. Solid enough but not a game-changer, while Lucas Torreira is back fit but is he strong enough to thrive in the Premier League?

If Arsenal could sign Thomas Partey and Kalidou Koulibaly, that would be perfect to strengthen their defensive unit because we all know they have plenty of quality in attack. However, a loan move for Samuel Umtiti at center back seems more likely and can Arsenal afford Partey?

It remains to be seen if Arteta gets the funds he needs and if he doesn’t it’s tough to see this current Arsenal squad doing any more than challenging for a top four spot, if everything goes their way and their players play at the top of their potential.

VIDEO: San Jose’s amazing comeback 4-3 win v. Vancouver

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San Jose – Vancouver may go down as one of the best games in MLS history. I’m not kidding.

It was pure MLS from start to finish as we had huge mistakes, stunning goals, an amazing comeback and wild celebrations in the 98th minute as San Jose rallied from 3-1 down with 18 minutes to go to win 4-3.

This was, by far, the best game so far of the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, Florida.

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Vancouver went 2-0 up thanks to a fine goal from Ali Adnan, then there was a wild goal for the Whitecaps as Judson put the ball into his own net after running the length of the pitch to try and stop Yordy Reyna but then sliding to clear but scoring an own goal.

Andy Rios pulled one back right on half time to make it 2-1 but then a terrible goalkeeping mistake made it 3-1 as Cristian Dajome finished. Then came San Jose, who were rampant in the final 20 minutes in particular. Chris Wondolowski jumped off the bench and made it 3-2, then Oswaldo Alanis made it 3-3 with a towering header.

Injuries then saw the game move into eight minutes of stoppage time as tackles flew in all over the place and then Shea Salinas just said ‘screw it, I’m running at goal’ in the 98th minute.

Vancouver allowed him to run through half of their team, he got a lucky bounce and then finished to make it 4-3 and spark a bench-clearing celebration. The celebrations were made even more epic by a member of the San Jose medical staff spraying a bottle of ice freeze spray into the air as if it was some pyro.

If anybody ever asks you what MLS is all about, simply show them the video highlights from this game.

Records were set for the most corners (22) by a single team in a game in MLS history, plus tied the record for most corners in a game (25) in MLS history.

There was just something special, and wildly reassuring, about seeing San Jose and Vancouver going at it for 90 minutes of pure entertainment.

Take a look at the video above to see all seven goals and the general madness from the thrilling game.