NWSL: Other general managers should probably stop taking Laura Harvey’s calls

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Laura Harvey’s become everybody’s fantasy league nightmare –  the person who just won’t stop chasing deals. Since the National Women’s Soccer League season ended on Aug. 31, the Seattle Reign have made five trades, the rest of the league’s general manager surely growing tired of  “Laura Harvey, Seattle, WA” popping up on their called ID.

No, Laura, I don’t need another trade offer from you … Yes, Laura, I do realize you like to deal, and I know you’re interested in all on my team’s best players … I just don’t have time for this … You’ve made so many trades, this isn’t even realistic anymore.

But as anybody who’s ever been in a keeper league knows: The person that won’t stop flooding inboxes always stacks up talent. It’s annoying, and you loathe the fact that they’re putting so much time into it, but through pure persistence, the owner finds people’s weak points. They close deals that make you call their trade partners and scream, “Why did you do that?”

“Don’t you know not to listen to Laura? You are ruining the league for everyone! Just stop taking her calls.”

Take this week’s big trade: Harvey got one of the league’s jewels – one of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s vaunted four-deep world-class attack. Sydney Leroux, arguably the player with more pure potential than anybody in the league, was sent west from Boston, where she grabbed 11 goals in 19 games last season. To get her, the Reign gave up a talented prospect (Kristie Mewis), a fungible backup goalkeeper (Michelle Betos), and first and second round picks in the 2015 draft.

This is the kind classic, Fantasy Manager 101 “bag of stuff” deal that infuriates the rest of the league, the one that leaves every other GM saying “I could have beat that.” Going one way, you have a player who’s capable of leading the league in goals. Going the other, you have your typical focal point-plus-grab bag that Seattle will never miss.

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New Seattle Reign forward Sydney Leroux returns to the Pacific Northwest after scoring 11 goals in 19 games last year in Boston (Photo: Getty Images.)

There were a number of factors that led to the end of Leroux’s time in Boston, factors beyond Harvey’s persistence or the coincidental going home narrative laced throughout the trade’s announcements. Having never played a full professional season before, Leroux’s transition to the professional game was not exactly a smooth one. A relationship with then-head coach Lisa Cole that saw the natural striker sometimes played wide and eventually sat early in the season never improved. As questions about intensity were accompanied by days away from the team documented on the player’s Instagram, the link between star and club seemed to suffer. Leroux’s 2014 would have to be better.

Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Sydney Leroux business. Sure, the Pacific Northwest native may have preferred playing on the West Coast, but if Boston doesn’t want to make this deal — if they’re willing to take a chance on rebuilding a relationship with one of the league’s most talented players — they don’t make the deal. And they certainly don’t accept a discount rate for some of the world’s best attackers. If Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Leroux game, this week’s trade told us their decision.

It’s not that either side wanted it to fail. It’s that it never clicked. It’s a relationship that ended in a passive, mutually filed divorce. That’s why you didn’t hear a lot of surprised reactions when Breakers general manager Lee Billiard made the tough call, deciding to make a deal where he gave up the best player. Boston wasn’t going to get a Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan in the deal. None of those players were available. He had to trade down.

From his point of view, Kristie Mewis may have been as good a centerpiece as Billiard was going to get. The Boston College and Hanson, Mass. talent has huge local ties, something that’s led Billiard to covet her since January’s draft. But she’s also in transition. A skilled, attacking player at BC, Mewis now projects as a left back for the U.S. Women’s National Team. With Boston short on fullbacks and having traded last year’s number one pick (defender Casey Short) to Chicago, it’s assumed Mewis will be patrolling the left flank at Dilboy Stadium. If Mewis becomes one of the league’s best left backs (and I really should bold and italicize that if), this deal becomes merely lopsided instead of a steal.

But where the swap gets even more interesting (if that’s even possible) is with Seattle. A team that was decimated at the beginning of 2012 by the absences of all their U.S. stars (Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez) has completely reloaded. In three months’ time, they’ve done from a team unable to avoid a seventh place finish to a potential competitor.

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After returning early from wrist surgery, Hope Solo appeared in 13 of Seattle’s 22 games in the NWSL’s inaugural season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In goal, Hope Solo will be ready from game one, whereas a wrist injury kept her out of action until the middle of last season. Even when she returned, she didn’t seem right, whether it was her wrist, the lingering effects of shoulder surgery before the 2011 World Cup, or both. This fall, however, she has looked closer to her normal self for the national team, sparking hope she’ll be full-on Hope Freakin’ Solo come April.

Defense, however, was Seattle’s big problem, and although there are still no stars in the squad, there are a lot of decent options. U.S. international Stephanie Cox heads a deep fullback corps that includes Nikki Marshall, Elli Reed, and Kiersten Dallstream. In the middle, Canadian international Carmelina Moscato will try to rebound from a bad 2012, with reliable options like Lauren Barnes and natural midfielder Kate Deines also available. Even if a couple of players flop (as happened last year with Canadian international Emily Zurrer), Harvey has options.

Last season, the midfield, had to carry the team, but the load was so heavy that the team would occasionally hit a wall in the middle of the second half. This year, Jessica Fishlock and Keelin Winters won’t have to shoulder as much of the load, and with promising destroyer Mariah Nogueira having also been acquired from Boston (seriously, why so generous, Boston?), Leroux won’t be the only Breaker gift in Harvey’s squad.

But it’s in attack, where Seattle struggled desperately in the absence of Rodríguez (pregnancy), where the Reign has improved the most. Of course, there’s Leroux, but on Wednesday, Seattle announced the acquisition of Kim Little, a Scottish international who has spent the last six years at Arsenal in England. In her former North London charge, Harvey has a player who already has 32 UEFA Champions League goals to her credit. Once Megan Rapinoe returns mid-year from her time at Lyon, Seattle will have one of the most talented and balanced attacks in the league.

Compared to the team that started on Aug. 17 against the Thorns (the Reign’s last game), there haven’t exactly been wholesale changes. Seven players that were chosen that day could be in Harvey’s XI come April. It’s the fact that she’s been able to acquire the likes of Leroux, Little, Nogueira and Moscato while giving up almost nothing from her core that’s so galling:

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Scottish international Kim Little led England’s Women’s Super League in goals in 2012, scoring 11 times in 14 games for eventual league champions Arsenal. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • Leroux was acquired with spare parts plus the Mewis, who Harvey got from Kansas City for Rodríguez earlier this fall.
  • Little’s discovery rights were obtained from Washington for Christine Nairn, a talented player but one who is actually the same age as Little.
  • Nogueira, a promising 22-year-old who was staring at Stanford this time last year, was obtained for two third round picks.
  • And Moscato cost Harvey midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, who was one of the worst in the league at her position before being moved into central defense.

Most of these trades make sense for both teams, but from Seattle’s point of view, they’re four upgrades that didn’t cost Harvey anything that worked (Fishlock and Winters in the middle) or drew fans (Rapinoe and Solo on the posters). Come April, Seattle should reap the benefits of Harvey’s rotisserie baseball management.

The offseason’s only three months old, the college draft is still a couple of months away, and teams don’t even know who the next set of allocated players will be. Yet Harvey has already assembled a roster that looks as strong as Western New York’s, Kansas City’s or Portland’s – the three teams that finished bunched at the top of last year’s standings.

While talent on paper doesn’t necessarily mean production on the field, it does mean better odds for a Seattle team that seemed cursed in 2013. But over the course of three months, Seattle’s general manager/head coach has put all that in the past. You may not want her in your fantasy league, but thanks to her Let’s Make a Deal approach to the offseason, Laura Harvey has made the Reign the NWSL’s most talked about team, not to mention a contender in 2014.

3 things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich was a UEFA Champions League classic as Bayern ran riot in Lisbon to book their spot in the semifinals as they won 8-2. That’s right. 8-2.

[ MORE: Barca, Bayern players reaction ]

Bayern scored early and often as both teams had chances galore but the German giants took theirs with Thomas Muller scoring twice, plus Ivan Perisic and Serge Gnabry scoring one each. Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho (twice) all scored in the second half after Luis Suarez pulled one back to make it 4-2.

Early on Barcelona briefly made it 1-1 through David Alaba’s own goal but Lionel Messi and Co. were dominated and made so many defensive errors. Hansi Flick’s Bayern will now face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal, while Quique Setien’s brief spell in charge of Barcelona is surely over.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

The game started at an incredible pace as Jerome Boateng defended superbly with Suarez lurking, then Bayern took the lead. Lewandowski and Muller combined and the latter finished to make it 1-0, but soon it was 1-1. Jordi Alba’s cross was shanked into his own net by Alaba to level things up.

Barca then went close as Suarez was denied by Manuel Neuer, then Messi hit the post as his cross missed everyone and struck the woodwork as four Barcelona players were left clutching their heads in disbelief.

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Chances kept on coming for both teams in an entertaining, end-to-end clash with Messi forcing Neuer into a save. Perisic then drilled home a low shot to make it 2-1 and Bayern almost scored a third but Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved well. They did make it 3-1 soon after as Gnabry drilled home a low shot after fine passes from Thiago and then Leon Goretzka.

Muller made it 4-1 before the break as Joshua Kimmich’s cross found the veteran German at the near post as Barcelona kept conceding chances, and goals. In the second half Suarez made it 4-2 early on to give Barca a chance of an unlikely comeback but that’s all it was. Alphonso Davies’ amazing assist set up Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2 and Lewandowski got his goal to make it 6-2 as Barca were humiliated further when their player, Coutinho, on loan at Bayern rolled two home late on to rub further salt into their wounds.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Barcelona – Bayern Munich, a truly memorable Champions League quarterfinal.


BARCELONA THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES

No team had conceded four goals sooner in a Champions League knockout match and this was the first time Barcelona conceded five or more goals in a Champions League match in their history. It was also the first time since 1949 that Barcelona had conceded seven goals in a single game. It was also the first time since 1951 they lost a game by six goals and the first time since 1946 that they conceded eight goals in a game. It was also the first time a team had scored eight in a Champions League knockout game. Yes, Bayern were clinical but Barcelona caused their own problems time and time again and it was all too easy for the Germans. Ter Stegen was hellbent on playing the ball short inside his own penalty box which put Barca under pressure, while Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong were totally overpowered in midfield and Nelson Semedo was bullied at right back. Barcelona kept making poor defensive mistakes and anybody who has watched them since the restart in La Liga will understand why. This is not a new thing. Bayern could have scored more and Barcelona were just woeful and looked totally devoid of confidence late on. Messi and Co. looked stunned in the final stages of the game, and for most of the 90 minutes. Bayern were good but the story here was about Barcelona being woefully bad.

END OF AN ERA AT BARCELONA?

Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Vidal, Pique. What do they all have in common? Four of them are 33 years old and Busquets is 32. This feels like the end of an era at Barcelona. Of course, Messi is Messi and he can play until he wants as he whipped in delicious deliveries in the first half but didn’t have enough help around him. Even he gave up in the second half. This Barcelona team couldn’t cope with the pace and power of Bayern and they just gave up and Messi was one of the worst culprits. Earlier this season the Argentine legend was outspoken when it came to asking questions of the powers that be and his own teammates and he knew. He knew that big problems were coming and Barca were in big trouble. This has been coming. The shock Champions League defeat in the second leg at Liverpool last season. The collapse at Roma before that. Barcelona have been papering over the cracks for a long time now and relying on Messi and Suarez to bail them out.

They still finished second in La Liga and reached the last eight of the Champions League this season but that’s not good enough for Barcelona and this was one of the most humiliating nights in their history. Quique Setien doesn’t seem to have the belief of his squad but this Barcelona team is running on empty. It has been for a long time. Is it the managers fault, or the fault of their ageing squad which has been so good for so long but not rebuilt out of faith to their superstars and down to haphazard recruitment process? The answer is a little bit of everything and this defeat will now be the reference point for a dramatic Barcelona rebuild.

BAYERN’S HIGH-LINE A PROBLEM

The one negative for Bayern was how many chances they gave to Barcelona, especially in the first half. Their high-line was problematic but perhaps they pinched so high up so they could give Barcelona’s shaky defensive problems? Either way, they can’t play that high of a line against Manchester City or Lyon in the semifinal. Alhonso Davies and Joshua Kimmick were left exposed at full back and that is something they should address because this game, and result, is likely be a freak one. Aside from that defensive line, they were dominant, powerful, hungry and classy throughout. The German champions are full of confidence and are the red-hot favorites to win the Champions League. Barcelona – Bayern Munich will go down in history and Bayern will be feared by everyone if they weren’t already.

Destroyed Barcelona a ‘disaster’; dominant Bayern react after 10-goal stunner

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction. How do you have a reaction to that?

Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich. Yep, that was the score in the Champions League quarterfinal. That’s why the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction post-game saw both sets of players and coaches looked utterly stunned. It was the first time since 1946 that Barcelona had conceded eight times in a game and they had no answer to Bayern’s relentless attacking.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s players and coaches looked totally stunned towards the end of the game as Bayern could have easily scored 11 or 12 goals. We are not exaggerating. This looked like the end of an era for Barcelona, as their players were outclassed and overpowered throughout.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu had this to say: “A very hard night. I’m sorry for the fans, for everyone. We weren’t the team we are or the club we represent… Today has been a disaster. Now we have to take decisions. Some we had already decided before today. Above all we have to say sorry to the fans.”

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Barcelona boss Quique Setien didn’t have much else to add, as his time as Barca boss is surely up but he did state that his team were ‘destroyed’ in the dressing room in Lisbon after the game.

“The truth is it is a defeat tremendously painful. Scoreline maybe too harsh, but for sure they deserved many of the goals. The team was overrun at many times. We started very well, but the decisiveness of (Bayern) in many areas overcame us… The dressing room is destroyed. I’m not going to talk about what is needed at the club. I’ve been here for just a few months. If Gerard Pique says that it’s time for big changes there’s going to be importance to his words. It’s time for us to review and take the decisions which are needed for the future.

“The fans? The team did what we could and the rival allowed us to. We started well and as the game went on, we were beaten… We are all tremendously frustrated at the moment. It hurts but we have to accept it. You have to think always that the future will be better, that you can improve the image we showed today, above all thinking of the future. I think that right now it’s too soon to be talking about whether I stay at the club or not. The reality is that it doesn’t depend on me. It’s worth all of us working out what’s important and considering a wide range of things which correspond to a defeat of this importance and which is so painful.”

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Setien may not be in charge of that future, as he only took charge in January but has struggled to galvanize a talented but error-strewn Barcelona side. Setien has overseen one of the most embarrassing nights in Barcelona’s history and although his ageing players were outclassed, the way they kept making the same mistakes time and time again surely points to his managerial style not fitting this squad.

Barcelona veteran Gerard Pique summed it up best.

“Embarrassment is the word, no one is indispensable. If new blood has to come and change the dynamic I’ll be the first to exit and let it happen. Now, we have reached the bottom,” Pique said. “I’m in pain. We all are. We can’t compete like that. It’s very, very tough to take. Nothing more is worth saying. The club needs changes. Not just the players, I don’t want to point out anyone.

“But football is a sport where change is constantly required. We must change the dynamic we are on because I believe we have just hit bottom. We have to look around, we have to trust that people will do the right things for the club. Is it an end of an era, I’m not sure? But I know that we must accept that we have hit bottom. Not just players the but, as a club, we aren’t on the right road. We have had years of success but we haven’t won the league and we haven’t won in Europe and we have to compete. You’ve seen it on the pitch and this today is unacceptable. This was a horrible game… it’s a dreadful feeling. It’s shameful. Structurally we need changes at all levels.”

On the other side of the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction, Thomas Muller continued his amazing season to score twice and grabbed an assist as the German legend summed up the focus in the camp of the German champions as they want to win the Champions League and not dwell on their humbling of Barcelona.

“Of course it’s a big statement. The semifinal starts from 0-0. Statement doesn’t matter,” Muller said. “I know the other teams watch our games. They can be impressed or not. It starts from 0-0. We have to be quiet, calm and relaxed, also a little bit happy. Tomorrow morning when we wake up and answer the whole messages on our phone from home and the whole world, then we have to focus and concentrate on the next game. That is our business. We are not here to win the quarterfinal or semifinal. We are here to win the final. I know these tournament situations a lot. Most of the times after these big wins it is more difficult, so we have to be careful.”

Muller and Bayern are ruthless and hungry for more, as he also said they can be more aggressive in their remaining Champions League games.

Hansi Flick has created a ruthless winning machine, as Bayern have scored 26 goals in the six Champions League games he’s been in charge since replacing Niko Kovac in November and they’ve won 27 of their last 28 games in all competitions and are unbeaten since December 7 and have won the Bundesliga and German Cup.

The treble is on for Bayern after their historic humbling of Barcelona.

VIDEO: Alphonso Davies turns on style with amazing assist

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Alphonso Davies ladies and gents. Alphonso Davies.

The Canadian teenager set up Bayern Munich’s fifth goal in their demolition of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal and he did it in some style.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Remember: the Vancouver Whitecaps product only broke into Bayern Munich’s first team as a regular earlier this season and he’s now ripping it up against Barcelona in the latter stages of the Champions League.

He will be pinching himself right about now as he played a key role in a classic Bayern display as they tore Barcelona apart and could have scored seven or eight easily.

Alphonso Davies, 19, totally bamboozled Barcelona’s right back Nelson Semedo on more than one occasion way out on the left flank. He then drove towards goal, skipped past another defender and put it on a plate for Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2.

Check out the video below to see Davies doing what he does best for the assist, as the teenager is surely going to become the best left back on the planet.

His incredible story continues as his first season as a regular for Bayern Munich has been a hugely memorable one.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United still in the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for the two Premier League clubs in the next week.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League semifinals and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments take place in Germany and Portugal.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United beat Copenhagen in extra time and will face Sevilla in the semifinals and are the lone Premier League club after Wolves were knocked out by Sevilla.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Semifinals (August 16-17)
Sunday, August 16: Sevilla 1-2 Manchester United
Monday, August 17: Inter Milan 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk


Champions League betting odds via DraftKings

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Bayern Munich (+150)
Manchester City (+250)
Paris Saint-Germain (+250)
RB Leipzig (+900)
Lyon (+5000)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+195) Sevilla v. Manchester United (+150). Tie: +215
(-132) Inter Milan v. Shakhtar Donetsk (+350). Tie: +280

Outright winner
Inter Milan (+160)
Manchester United (+190)
Sevilla (+280)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+800)