NWSL Championship: Five storylines to watch

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC face off on Saturday night in the National Women’s Soccer League Championship, and the league got its star power matchup in its inaugural season. Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd lead the Flash against a Thorns side expected to see Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath return from injury for the final, not to mention Christine Sinclair.

We’ve already given you snapshots of what to know about the Western New York Flash and what to know about Portland Thorns FC. Here are five stories to follow in the buildup to and during the final:

• There’s no escaping talk of Morgan’s health, in particular. The face of the league, Morgan sprained her left MCL on August 7 and hasn’t played since. She hasn’t played since, but was available during Saturday’s 3-2 extra time semifinal win over FC Kansas City. Portland has actually, by their own admission, played some of their best games of the season without Morgan, who is more of a direct player. Whether or not she plays will affect both the marketing hype of the match and the Thorns’ style of play. Morgan trained with a knee brace on Thursday at Sahlen’s Stadium and expects to be ready for the final. Coach Cindy Parlow Cone expects Morgan and Heath, who injured her right foot in the semifinal and did not train on Thursday, to play “significant roles” in the match.

“The knee feels good. I’ve been training now for a couple of days. We came early to kind of get adjusted to the time and recover our legs. I think that was good for my knee, personally, because it didn’t react to well to the flight. So getting on the field feels really good and I’m hoping to be full-go for Saturday.”

The Flash’s dominance of any and every women’s soccer league of the last four years is on the line. Western New York has won three straight championships in three different leagues, including the 2011 WPS triumph with Morgan and Sinclair. Flash head coach Aaran Lines says this Flash team has the most leadership of any of the previous three champions.

“Playing their roles as senior players and being good role models and leaders on and off the field has been an integral part of budding young players into the season,” Lines said.  “It’s been a good ride.”

• Wambach and Morgan will easily dominate the headlines, but the midfield battle will be critical. Carli Lloyd has been one of the best midfielders in the league since returning from injury on May 11, but was snubbed from even an all-league second team selection. She’ll have that chip on her shoulder as she aims to continue her stellar form. Lloyd scored both goals for the Flash in their semifinal win. Allie Long will be tasked with tracking Lloyd through the midfield, but whether or not Heath can play – and how healthy she is – will determine just how much of a counter-punch Portland will have to Lloyd. Heath is the catalyst of the Thorns’ midfield.

• Which Thorns defense will show up? Portland’s back line, anchored by U.S. international Rachel Buehler, breakout rookie Kat Williamson and Canadian goalkeeper Karine LeBlanc, had one of the better defenses in the league, but a late season stretch saw Portland give up nine goals in four games, a stretch in which they went 1-2-1. Issues in the back seemed to have been sorted out in the final two games of the regular season – including a 0-0 draw at the site of the final vs. the Flash – but two goals conceded to FC Kansas City in the opening half hour in the semifinal is yet again cause for concern. The Flash, meanwhile, statistically had the best defense in the league and showed few signs of breaking down during the regular season.

 The Aaran Lines vs. Cindy Parlow Cone coaching matchup is enticing. Lines is the man who has guided the Flash to these three consecutive titles and is well aware of the Morgan-Sinclair partnership, having coached the two alongside Marta to a 2011 WPS crown. Recognition of Lines for the impressive feat continues to be lacking, but the Kiwi continues to put together great teams. This year’s is perhaps the most impressive, having not gotten too much help in allocation beyond Lloyd and Wambach. Parlow Cone meanwhile is in her first final and first full season as a head coach. If she can guide the Thorns to a title after the adversity of what looked mid-season like a big-expectations year set for disappointment. Much of what she’ll be judged on in the final is how she manages Heath and Morgan, who are obvious game-changers.

Ighalo nears reported loan extension at Manchester United

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Odion Ighalo may get his wish to continue playing for his favorite club a bit longer.

Shanghai Shenhua is reportedly close to agreeing a loan extension for the Manchester United striker hours before the end of his initial loan to Old Trafford.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Ighalo turns 31 on June 16 was linked with a Shanghai return earlier this week but has been keen on staying with United. The reported problem is that Shanghai wanted a permanent transfer.

United, understandably, didn’t need that from a striker of his age, especially with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood in the strike corps.

From The Manchester Evening News:

Sources close to the player have said negotiations are continuing between United and Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday but an extended loan deal until January 30 is now “looking most likely”.

That will allow Ighalo to complete the season with United and while the 2020/21 calendar remains up in the air, he will almost certainly spend the first few months of that campaign with the club as well.

Ighalo has fit the bill as a fill-in striker for the Red Devils, who had lost Rashford to injury. He has four goals in eight appearances for United after 46 goals in three seasons abroad.

Shanghai lost more than a bit of its power once United made it clear that it wouldn’t be held hostage over a veteran striker. United has at least one FA Cup match and three more Europa League legs to contend with on top of its PL slate, so any additional veteran savvy will be useful.

LIVE, Bundesliga: Gladbach, Dortmund face desperate Union, Paderborn

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Top four contenders Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund meet relegation-threatened Union Berlin and Paderborn, respectively, as Weeek 29 in the Bundesliga hits Sunday.

Dortmund needs a win to keep pace with presumed champions Bayern Munich, which has a 10-point lead entering Sunday, while Gladbach can climb into third with a win.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Saturday roundup | Bayern blowout  ] 

Union opens the day just four points clear of the drop zone, while bottom-dwelling Paderborn has been playing much better but remains nine points back of safety.

Matchweek 29 in the Bundesliga will again see games played in empty stadiums, which is the plan for the rest of the season and beyond. If you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.

Schedule

  • Gladbach v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET

How to Watch the Bundesliga

  • When: Friday, May 29 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET
  • TV Channel: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • USMNT or eligible players in action: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund), Julian Ryerson (Union)

You can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk with analysis, reaction and more.

[ MORE: Takeaways from Week 28 of the Bundesliga ]

Transfer news: Werner to Chelsea; Sanchez to Inter

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In the latest transfer news Timo Werner is reportedly being chased by Chelsea, while Alexis Sanchez could be staying at Inter Milan instead of returning to Man United.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, a juicy report from Bild says that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is trying to convince his Germany teammate and close friend Timo Werner to join hm at Stamford Bridge.

Werner, 24, has dazzled at RB Leipzig this season (31 goals in 40 games in all competitions) and is widely expected to leave with Liverpool, Man United and many others clubs across Europe chasing his signature. Per the report, Chelsea have Rudiger working hard to convince his friend and former Stuttgart teammate that west London is the place for him.

The release clause on Werner’s current contract is said to be $60 million and Chelsea are one of the few clubs who have a healthy transfer budget as they had a transfer ban for a whole year and Frank Lampard has just spent $44 million on one new signing so far, bringing in Hakim Ziyech who will not arrive until later this summer.

Werner is exactly what Chelsea need. They have created so many golden goalscoring opportunities and although Tammy Abraham was putting them away at the start of the season, his form and fitness was a concern in the last few months before the suspension.

Olivier Giroud is their only other forward option and Werner would be perfect to finish off the chances this attack-minded Chelsea team create. Even better for him, he would actually play at Chelsea which may not be the case at Liverpool and Man United given their stacked attacking lineups.

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Heading to Manchester, it appears Alexis Sanchez may not be going back to his parent club next season.

Sanchez, 31, is on loan at Inter Milan for the 2019-20 season and the Daily Express claim that he could stay at Inter rather than heading back to Old Trafford despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer previously saying he was open to the idea. Per the report, Man United are keen to loan Sanchez out to Inter once again on a similar arrangement and the Serie A side are willing to see how Sanchez does when the season restarts in a few weeks. With Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and others around at Man United, he may struggle for minutes at Man United.

Would another loan be a good move for Inter?

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been their main strikers this season under Antonio Conte, with Sanchez out injured for large chunks of the campaign and then doing okay when he did play. However, with Martinez chased by Barcelona, if they do sell the Argentine forward for over $115 million, having Sanchez around on loan would soften the blow.

The main problem with Sanchez is that over the last three years he has picked up consistent injury problems. If he can shake those issues off, we all know he is capable of scoring goals and creating havoc. Given this recent track record though, that’s a big if, as he’s scored just one goal and added three assists in 15 outings for Inter this season.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that zero out of 1130 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday and Friday have come back positive.

Zero.

The fourth round of testing is the first time that no positive tests have come back, as a total of 3,882 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 12 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 28 May and Friday 29 May, 1130 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Previous test results

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.


This is more good news for the Premier League as the UK government gave the green light for elite sport in the UK to return from June 1 in empty stadiums, as the top-flight of English soccer continues to clear each hurdle in its way to finishing the final 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

With just over two weeks to go until the action returns, Premier League clubs will have to keep these test results low for the restart to take place.