Portland Thorns FC win NWSL title: Moments to remember from league’s first championship game

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At the onset of the NWSL season, the Portland Thorns were widely picked to take home the new women’s league’s first title. Somewhere along the way, that favorite’s status waned, with the team finishing the season in third place despite talents like Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Tobin Heath.

But on Saturday in Rochester, that talent — along with inspired play from the team’s defense — won out. Heath’s first half bomb from 30-plus yards gave Portland a lead at regular season champion Western New York. In second half stoppage time, their team playing with 10, Portland saw Sinclair ice the club’s improbable title run, a 2-0 win rendering a season of promise and frustration a distant memory.

Portland stayed near the league lead most of the season, but by mid-August, their hopes of winning the regular season title had faded. Ultimately, they’d have to claim their crown on the road, with matches at FC Kansas City and Western New York — thought to be the league’s two best teams — seemingly setting the team up for a disappointing finish.

But forgetting regular season disappointment to find the type of unity that’s eluded them all season, Portland proved the best team over the two weeks that mattered. They overcame injuries (to Heath and Morgan), two excellent teams, and ultimately, doubt. As a result, the team most picked to claim the first NWSL title fulfilled their destiny, shutting out the regular season champions to do so.

Here are the moments to remember from today’s 2-0 result at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, NY:

source: Getty Images1. Goalkeepers come up big, early

Karina LeBlanc (right) and Adrianna Franch were tested high all day, the first major chance coming in the 12th minute. When Abby Wambach went left and lobbed a ball far post, right wing Samantha Kerr had her way with Nikki Marshall, out-jumping the Portland left back to head what could have been a goal. But LeBlanc reacted quickly, pushed the shot onto the bar, and managed to grab a rebound that nearly went in off her back in. The Portland keeper kept it 0-0.

Ten minutes later, it was Franch’s turn. Portland right back Marian Dougherty was given all the room she wanted to fire a cross in from the right. Sinclair, streaking across the face of Western New York’s central defense, redirected a ball toward the top of Franch’s goal. But the rookie for Oklahoma State, called on to make a pure reflex save, pushed it over, matching LeBlanc save-for-save early on.

2. Abby Wambach gets Kathryn Williamson sent off

Pity the rookie her opponent — the first year defender from Florida matching-up up against a former Gator who just happens to be the world’s best player — but Kathryn Williamson knew what she was getting into. In two games against Abby Wambach in the regular season, the Thorns central defender had held her own. On Saturday, Wambach targeted her in the second half, eventually drawing two yellow cards.

The first came in the 49th minute, when Williamson was lucky to avoid a straight red after a ball over the top looked set to send Wambach in on goal. Four minutes later, Williamson deservds a second yellow for a nasty challenge on hte Flash number nine, but the official had pity. In the 56th minute, however, that pity ran out, with Portland defender taking down Wambach at the edge of the area, drawing a second yellow card.

Portland would play the final 34 minutes with 10, eventually bringing on former U.S. international Tina Ellertson to partner Rachel Buehler in central defense. Remarkably, the teams was still able to keep the league’s best attack off the board, maintaining their clean sheer despite Wambach getting Williamson sent off.

source: Getty Images3. Carli Lloyd shoots. Again. And again.

Counting her double in the semifinals, Carli Lloyd scored 10 goals this season, one of four players to reach double-digits this year. In Saturday’s first half, she had numerous opportunities to add her 11th, including a 25th minute chance set up by Adriana Martin that saw her push her shot wide right despite being one-on-one with LeBlanc.

As the game went on, Lloyd seemed to single-mindedly look for that 11th goal. A try from the edge of the area set up by Wambach. Dead balls from distance around the Portland area. Predatory runs into the box. Lloyd was an attacking midfielder with a sniper’s mentality, racking up eight shots by the final whistle.

Every time she let loose, there was a chance she would equalize. It was worth a gasp. She has that kind of talent. And as her Olympics performances have shown, Lloyd also has that kind of timing.

Tonight, however, it never happened. Ultimately, Lloyd’s most important goal of the season was the one that never came.

source: Getty Images4. Tobin Heath wins the title for the Thorns

Watch her in warm ups and you’ll see the power in Heath’s shot. Released quickly with a slightly more topspin than a normal player’s, Heath can be a special kind of trouble when given too much room within 24 yards.

In the 40th minute, she was far beyond 24 yards. After a Western New York foul just inside Portland’s attacking third, Heath was closer to 32 yards from Franch’s goal, but with one of the most spectacular strikes of her career, Heath paved Portland’s title path.

Opting for power over precision, Heath straight-on approach launched the ball above the Flash wall with that typical top spin, her heavy strike dipping below Franch’s cross bar as the rookie goalkeeper leapt under the ball. Having set herself up to defend the left side of goal, Franch had no chance, eventually clattering against the opposite post as Heath’s shot bend the net and recoiled out. The most important goal of the season was also the best.

Heath was scoreless in seven regular season games after joining the Thorns from mid-season Paris Saint-Germain. In two playoff games, she scored twice, each time overcoming an injured right foot to help push Portland to their title.

5. Christine Sinclair seals it

As full time approached, there was something about Portland that made you believe they were going to close this out. Despite being down a player; despite the presence of Wambach and Lloyd; despite being on the road; and despite the occasional lapses of their defense this season, it was hard to imagine the Flash finding and equalizer. In the last game of a tumultuous season, Portland had finally looked the part. They finally looked like a team that would pull away from the pack.

One minute into stoppage time they sealed it. Sinclair — a Portland resident and a University of Portland alum — was put in alone on goal after a long throw in deep in Western New York’s half. The huge gap between right back Katherine Reynolds and the next defender was a complete breakdown by a team pressing for the equalizer, one that left Franch with no chance to stop Sinclair as the former Flash forward pulled up from 15 yards.

With the shot headed far post, Western New York’s only hope was for “Sinc’s” shot to catch the post. No chance. The insurance goal nestled against the left side netting as the 30-year-old Canadian ran for the sideboards, celebrating in front of fans silenced by her title-clinching goal.

It was her ninth of the season, and certainly her most memorable. Seeing her team come together after an inconsistent, often frustrating season, Sinclair had captained her hometown club to the NWSL’s first title, the Thorns’ 2-0 win Saturday in Rochester allowing the preseason favorites to finish an improbable if expected championship run.

Brighton – Liverpool preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Brighton - Liverpool preview
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Brighton – Liverpool preview: Liverpool continues its pursuit of history when it visits safer but not secure Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds bounced back from a blowout loss to Man City and beat Aston Villa over the weekend and will now turn its attention to a Brighton team that took them to the wire earlier this season.

STREAM BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL LIVE

The Seagulls have been quite good for a bottom-half side, very unlucky until a recent surge propelled them nine points clear of the bottom three.


Team news

Liverpool is waiting on the statuses of James Milner and Dejan Lovren for the trip down south.

Brighton won’t have Jose Izquierdo, and Steven Alzate is a doubt.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on getting ready for challenging Brighton“First and foremost, I want us to be lively, I want us to be active, I want us to be creative and I want us to be really solid, especially in protecting the counter-attacks. Whatever setup Brighton will choose and they used to change a lot for the specific opponent system-wise. So against us when we played here, it was kind of a 4-3-2-1, maybe they play that again. But we have only two days’ time, so we cannot prepare for all the different systems. Most of the things the boys have to learn on the pitch and then use our principles, our patterns. Hopefully it will work out.”

Graham Potter on facing the champs“It would be nice to get a result against them. Whenever you play the best it is an opportunity to test yourself and learn about yourselves. Liverpool have been amazing this season and are thoroughly deserved champions. It’s great for us to have that level of opposition. We have to make sure we retain Premier League status and keep fighting so that means trying to take points off every team between now and the end of the season.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Brighton’s a solid underdog at home (+510), with Liverpool expected to keep up its march on history at -182 favorites.

Liverpool beat Brighton 2-1 with 10 men in a November match in which the Seagulls angered Jurgen Klopp.


Prediction

The Seagulls have an underrated team and they will certainly hang around in this game if they can avoid an early concession. Let’s say they do, and fight valiantly in a second 2-1 loss this season.


How to watch Brighton – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Arteta eager for Ceballos to stay; laments missed chances, VAR

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has revealed he is eager for Dani Ceballos to stay long term and he also lamented their missed chances as they drew 1-1 at home against Leicester City.

Arteta’s side dominated the first half and should have gone in more than 1-0 up as a combination of fine saves from Kasper Schmeichel and poor decision cost the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A red card to Eddie Nketiah and a late Jamie Vardy equalizer, but checked by VAR, cost them what would have been a big win in their battle to get back in the Champions League race.

ProSoccerTalk asked Arteta after the game about Ceballos’ future, as his loan from Real Madrid is due to end in a few weeks’ time when the 2019-20 season is over.

“I am really happy with him. I think it is something the club has to go a little bit further with Real Madrid on that. At the moment he is playing really well, I am really happy with him and he is a player with a big talent and still a lot of things to improve,” Arteta said.

So, Arteta wants Ceballos to stay longer at Arsenal.

Watch this space as the Gunners aim to make a permanent move or loan deal for Ceballos who played a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka on their goal and continues to form a superb, and unlikely, partnership with Granit Xhaka as a holding midfielder instead of being a No. 10.

“He was superb again,” Arteta said of Ceballos. “Him and Granit are creating a really good understanding. They give us a lot of balance and a lot of stability with the ball as well to make the first decision in transition moments. They are evolving a lot together and I think defensively Dani has made a big step forward with the way he is pressing, the amount of interceptions and the tackles he is putting in. He is enjoying it.”

Arteta didn’t enjoy Arsenal’s finishing, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener wasn’t enough for the win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and others popped up in dangerous positions but Arsenal just couldn’t find that killer second goal that Arteta craved.

That lack of a killer instinct in the final third is something Arteta and Arsenal will look at.

“It is very difficult to do. The hardest thing to do is to score goals. When you are generating more than enough opportunities, you should go in with a much bigger margin into half time,” Arteta said. “We will make a lot of reviews about situations like that and how important they are in crucial moments to make the right decisions and be clinical and ruthless. But if you don’t do that, you cannot give anything to the opponent and you cannot play this type of game with 10 men.”

VAR, as it always seems to do now, will have the last word, as Arteta couldn’t believed that Nketiah was sent off for his challenge on James Justin and believed that Jamie Vardy should have been sent off in the first half for a similar challenge.

“I am extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this kind of opposition. We should have been three or four-nil up. With the red card you have to know he is a young kid. Leicester should play with 10 men after 42 minutes. For a challenge between the 40th and 45th minute,” Arteta said. “I don’t understand the rules. I never see a referee check any of the images. But I can do nothing now, it is the rules. We lost two points, we lost Eddie and we will see now for how many games. But we go to Spurs now and try to win three points.”

Arsenal remain in the hunt for fifth place — which could still be a Champions League spot depending on whether or not Man City’s European ban is overturned — but they are five points off Man United with four games to go and it will be tough for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League this season.

That was always going to be the case given their poor start but since Arteta arrived in December things have changed. The fact that they are in with a shout, and disappointed to not be closer to fifth place, shows you how much progress the Gunners have made since the Spaniard arrived.

Arsenal are getting there, step-by-step, but this draw against Leicester feels like a ‘what if’ moment when all is said and done in their 2019-20 season.

Manchester City – Newcastle preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Manchester City - Newcastle preview
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Manchester City – Newcastle preview: Man City looks to take another step toward sealing second place on the table as plucky Newcastle United visits the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 1 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The nine losses Pep Guardiola’s overseen this season are the most in a single league season over his celebrated career, but City’s still second and the advanced stats say they’re playing the best football in the league.

STREAM MANCHESTER CITY – NEWCASTLE LIVE

It’s a funny game, and the same wisdom can be applied to Steve Bruce’s strong season at Newcastle. The well-traveled and well-liked boss has led the Magpies to a better season that Rafa Benitez did in 2018-19, though it’s pivotal to note that Bruce has been blessed with much better transfer outlay.


Team news

Sergio Aguero remains out for Man City after undergoing knee surgery, while Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker face late fitness tests.

Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin was dinged up in a weekend draw with West Ham but could play, while Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, and Sean Longstaff are unlikely to play.


What they’re saying

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on bouncing back from Southampton: “Of course we have confidence in the players and we are the same guys. We’ve done it in previous seasons. The way we played is similar, but we have to win the games. Next season will be next season. We will try to score more goals and avoid conceding chances. The control is there, the way we play is there. We need to try to increase these kind of things.”

Magpies boss Steve Bruce on leading scorer Jonjo Shelvey“It becomes easy, the game of football, like a game of golf, to him. He’s blessed with a natural ability. He can see a pass that other people can’t. He can deliver a pass. He can score a goal. Physically and mentally, he’s bought into everything we’ve tried to put over to him and fair play to him. At the minute, he’s reaping the benefits of how good he looks, and of course he’s playing at the top of his game, which is always good to see because he has been outstanding in the last few games.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings’ heads will explode if Newcastle gets this one done, +2000 being attached to the Magpies as opposed to Man City’s -835.

Newcastle and Man City have been twice already this season, both at St. James’ Park. The Magpies drew City 2-2 in league play via Jonjo Shelvey’s late goal before losing 2-0 to City in an FA Cup quarterfinal in late June.


Prediction

Gabriel Jesus is due for a goal, presuming he starts again. The 23-year-old has been sitting on 10 PL goals since February 22, and we suspect he finds a way past Martin Dubravka in a 3-0 win.


How to watch Man City – Newcastle United stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Top 2 both lose as Lazio player bites opponent (video)

Lazio player bites opponent
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Juventus had a chance to effectively put another scudetto race to bed after chasers Lazio lost to relegation-threatened Lecce on Tuesday, a Lazio player biting an opponent to get a late red card to add insult to injury.

But Juve blew a 2-0 second-half lead at AC Milan in remarkable fashion, conceding four times at the San Siro.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Juve leads Lazio by seven points with seven matches to play for both teams and they meet July 20 in Turin. Inter Milan is third with 64 points and Atalanta fourth with 63, both with a match-in-hand on the top two.


Lecce 2-1 Lazio

The latest manner in which Lazio threw away a chance to dethrone Juventus definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Lazio lost Tuesday for the third time in five post-coronavirus pause outings, seeing a defender sent off for a biting incident in a 2-1 loss to previously-bottom three Lecce.

Patric did not like Giulio Donati’s arms boxing him out of a set piece situation, and clearly latches onto the Lecce man’s left arm.

It was already 2-1 when the red card was shown, Lazio frustrated when Felipe Caicedo’s early goal was countered by goals from Khouma Babacar and Fabio Lucioni.

AC Milan 4-2 Juventus

Milan pulls into fifth in the race for a Europa League place that will leave either Roma, Napoli, or Tuesday’s victors out of Europe.

It was nil-nil at halftime when the game really found its footing.

Adrien Rabiot scored a stunner just after the break and Juan Cuadrado cued up Cristiano Ronaldo for an insurance goal six minutes later.

Ronaldo’s 26th of the season puts him three back of league leader Ciro Immobile of Lazio.

Milan took one back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 62nd, and the Swede then set up Franck Kessie for an equalizer before departing in the 67th minute.

Rafael Leao scored right after restart, stunning Juventus. Giacomo Bonaventura, who’d come on for Ibrahimovic, then set up Ante Rebic for the fourth goal of the match.

The Rabiot goal, though…