NWSL Digest: Seattle still perfect, Red Stars surge, Wambach not making friends

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source:  Player of the Week

Lori Chalupny’s consistency throughout the NWSL’s first season made her a fringe MVP candidate last year, with the oft-cited distinction of being the league’s most fouled and most fouling player underscoring her constantly influence. Through the first month of the league’s second season, however, Chicago’s red star had been relatively quiet, rarely making an impact that drew consideration for our teams of the week, let alone replicating her MVP-level performance.

Over the last two games, that changed. Last Thursday, Chalupny scored her first goal of the season in the Red Stars’ 3-1 win over Boston. Three days later, in the team’s return engagement at Harvard Stadium, a more controversial goal in Chicago’s 4-1 win completed the midfielder’s two-goal week. Though her second may have been offside, it was still a reflection of the midfielder’s perpetual influence.

Chalupny’s still leading the league in fouls (15), and she’s still being fouled more than any player on the circuit (16). After last week’s games, though, she’s finally back on the scoresheet. And with apologies to teammate Jen Hoy, Washington’s Jodie Taylor, and Portland’s Nadine Angerer (because my midfield bias may be showing here), Chalupny also edged the field for our Player of the Week honor.

Results

Wednesday, May 14
Houston Dash 0, Portland Thorns 1 – Three good saves from open play and a penalty kick stop from Angerer gave Portland its second 1-0 of the year at BBVA Compass. Jessica McDonald’s fourth goal of the year provided the winner, with Houston still without a goal at home.
Seattle Reign 3, FC Kansas City 2 – Seattle’s two quick goals were pulled back by a Lauren Holiday penalty kick and an Erika Tymrak rocket. Late in the match, Seattle’s midfield took over, with Keelin Winters providing a late game-winner to keep the Reign perfect through seven.

Thursday, May 15
Boston Breakers 1, Chicago Red Stars 3 – Goals from Chalupny, Michelle Wenino, and Hoy overwhelmed Courtney Jones’ early opener, providing an ominous foreshadowing for the teams’ rematch three days later.

Saturday, May 17
Washington Spirit 3, Western New York 2 – A contentious game in Maryland saw Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd answer Taylor’s early opener by halftime. In the second, a Kathryn Williamson own goal and Taylor’s winner gave Washington revenge for its early season loss to the Flash, a result that incurred the wrath of Wambach on multiple levels (see below).

Sunday, May 18
FC Kansas City 2, Houston Dash 2 – Jordan Jackson and Tiffany McCarty scored Houston’s fourth and fifth goals of the season, responding to FC Kansas City goals each time. Despite a strong performance midweek in Seattle, Kansas City wasted its chance to gain ground at home, allowing Houston to end its four-game losing streak.

Team of the Week

Forwards Midfielders Defenders Goalkeeper
Jen Hoy, Chicago
Jodie Taylor, Washington
Lori Chalupny, Chicago
Erika Tymrak, Kansas City
Kim Little, Seattle
Keelin Winters, Seattle
Michelle Wenino, Chicago
Kendall Fletcher, Seattle
Emily Menges, Portland
Robyn Gayle, Washington
Nadine Angerer, Portland

Standings

NWSL Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
Seattle Reign FC 21 7 7 0 0 16 4 12
Chicago Red Stars 13 7 4 2 1 10 5 5
Portland Thorns FC 11 6 3 1 2 7 4 3
FC Kansas City 11 9 3 4 2 15 15 0
Western New York Flash 10 6 3 2 1 10 7 3
Washington Spirit 9 7 3 4 0 11 13 -2
Sky Blue FC 6 7 1 3 3 6 10 -4
Houston Dash 4 7 1 5 1 5 13 -8
Boston Breakers 3 6 1 5 0 7 16 -9

Quick thoughts, after week six

1. Seattle passes first big tests – We said it before: Wait until the Reign are done with Portland before talking about their future. After their 1-0 win at Providence Park (and their subsequent response to Kansas City’s challenge), it’s fair to start thinking, if not outright expecting, a title run. The two big challenges we want to see them pass: (a) a trip to Rochester, (b) a face-off with a fully stocked Thorns. A post-Christen Press Chicago might have a say in this, too.

2. Defense was supposed to be the problem for Portland – Rachel Van Hollebeke hasn’t played a game, Williamson’s in Western New York, and Marian Dougherty’s calling games from the press box. With the back line overhauled, defense was supposed to be the weak link for the Thorns. Instead, through six weeks, Paul Riley might have the best group of defenders in the league. Seattle’s goals allowed rate is better, but a lot of that work is being done in front of the defense. With Riley’s revamped line and the addition of Angerer, Portland’s proving surprisingly stalwart near goal.

3. Don’t worry about Kansas City – Fans could look at the Houston result and muster pessimism about their Blues, and in the face of a 3-4-2 start, that wouldn’t be entirely unwarranted. It’s a conclusion that would shortchange the Dash, though. And on short rest, traveling after a turf game in Seattle, a team that’s so reliant on Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Cheney was also apt to wane. Wednesday was the real Kansas City, though if Tymrak continues doing this (from Sunday against Houston), there’s a big three of Holiday, Rodriguez, and Tymrak should prove more potent than last year’s group.

4. Second place Chicago has a mighty enviable midfield – There’s only one team that shouldn’t be jealous of Chicago’s midfield, and they’re 7-0-0. With Chalupny and Julie Johnston pulled into the middle Vanessa DiBernardo, the Red Stars have a core that can sustain a playoff challenge. We’re only one-third of the way through the season, but it looks like the Red Stars and Kansas City may end up fighting it out for the fourth playoff spot.

And a final, not so quick thought …

5. Abby Wambach’s disappointing week – Wambach scored her team’s first goal this weekend, an equalizer which looked ready to spark the favored Flash to a win at Washington. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there:

1. Wambach’s team ended up losing, 3-2, to a Spirit side that’s proving a refreshing change from the one that settled at the bottom of last year’s standings.

2. It’s hard to tell here whether Wambach, jogging toward goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, hits Washington’s Tori Huster in the chest or chin, below. She certainly went out of her way. She certainly hit her unnecessarily. Whether it warrants more than a foul, you be the judge:

After what Carli Lloyd did to DiBernardo, this is not a good look for Western New York.

3. Speaking off Lloyd, Wambach excluded her from post-match criticism directed at the rest of her team, singling out some of Aaran Lines’ Spanish imports after the team’s loss. From Equalizer Soccer:

“Moving forward, I think when Carli and I are both on the field that doesn’t mean that other players can’t step up and play big games for us and I think that’s a lesson to be learned,” Wambach said. “Carli and I are great players obviously, we’re on the National Team, we have experience, we’ve been playing this for many years but the other players, the Vicky Losada’s (sic), the Sonia [Bermudezes], they need to step up and play as well when we’re not on the field as when we’re on the field. And it’s a lesson to be learned because Carli and I, even when we’re on the field sometimes we don’t have great games sometimes we’re off a little bit and we’re going to need our teammates around us to pick us up. The only reason we’ve ever gotten to where we’ve gotten to in our careers is because of the players that surround us and players that pick us up when we need it.”

Given how Losada and (particularly) Bermudez have played this year, Wambach’s were surprising words. If you were going to make a list of problems with Western New York, Losada and Bermudez wouldn’t make the cut.

At a minimum, there’s not enough evidence to say they’re taking games off when the Flash’s U.S. stars are around. Saturday was the first time Wambach and Lloyd have played together all season.

Perhaps Washington just played well. Or maybe some players did have off days. Maybe the Spaniards didn’t respond well to the game’s physicality, or perhaps Wambach is just reading the situation wrong. Regardless, for a player that has tremendous sway, this is a terrible way to use that clout.

Wambach may be calling it as she sees it, but it’s one of the more disrespectful things you can do to a teammate. It’s hard to imagine, two months into her working relationship with Losada and Bermudez, anything justifying this treatment.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Amy Rodriguez KC 8 6
2 Kim Little SEA 7 6
3 Jessica McDonald POR 6 4
4 Abby Wambach WNY 3 3
5 Diana Matheson WAS 7 3
6 Lauren Holiday KC 8 3
7 Allie Long POR 5 3
8 Erika Tymrak KC 7 3
9 Jen Hoy CHI 7 3
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Lauren Holiday KC 8 3
2 Jessica Fishlock SEA 7 3
3 Jenna Richmond KC 9 3
4 Vicky Losada WNY 5 3

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: Perfect as they approach the one-third point of their season, the Reign still don’t have Sydney Leroux clicking. They don’t have Megan Rapinoe healthy, either. As long as they have that midfield, the team can make up for a myriad issues. (7-0-0)

2
Western New York Flash: We could bump the Flash down based on this weekend’s defeat, but losing by one goal at Washington is no longer that big a deal. To us, Western New York is still the second best team in the league. One day in Maryland did nothing to dispel that notion. (3-2-1)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: Riley continues collecting points while much of his talent is gone. He wants to play a more expansive style, but until Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Veronica Boquete arrive, he’ll be more industrious about how he collects results. (3-1-2)

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4 UP 2 Chicago Red Stars: Chicago’s put itself in position to compete for the postseason, collecting enough points in this pre-Press period to sit second after six weeks. If their U.S. international can productively slide into Hayley Brock/Zaiya Bywaters’ spot when she arrives from Tyresö, Kansas City’s slow start will come back to haunt them. (4-2-1)
source:  5 DOWN 1 FC Kansas City: The Blues’ hiccups wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for Chicago. With the Red Stars flashing their playoff credentials, there’s pressure on Kansas City to improve. (3-4-2)
source:  6 Washington Spirit: Expecting them to compete for the playoffs may be too much, but the Spirit’s progress from last season has been one of the season’s best stories thus far. (3-4-0)

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7 Sky Blue FC: Taylor Lytle, out after breaking her leg, could prove a big loss for a team that needs creativity in midfield. Now it will be up to Katy Freels, Sophie Schmidt, and Nanase Kiryu to pick up the slack. Sky Blue looks unlikely to replicate last year’s postseason appearance. (1-3-3)
source:  8 UP 1 Houston Dash: Two good games from Jordan Jackson give the Dash hope of goals from midfield, but the problem remains up top. Kealia Ohai, Tiffany McCarty, Ella Masar, and Stephanie Ochs have combined for two goals in 25 appearances. Perhaps Nina Burger will solve the problem, but Randy Waldrum may have erred by trying to succeed where the 2013 Spirit failed. (1-5-1)
source:  9 DOWN 1 Boston Breakers: You can point to the sudden departure of Kia McNeill, but Boston is the only team in the league that seems so incapable of addressing its problems in defense. The organization is in danger of being left behind by a league that’s proving more competitive off the field than its predecessor. (1-5-0)

Week Seven

Wednesday, May 25
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – Like the men’s professional team in the D.C. area, the next challenge for the Spirit is dealing with its relative success. It’s one thing to be a plucky upstart. It’s another to be expected to take the game to some opponents.
FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC, 8:00 p.m. Eastern – If last week’s game in Seattle is any indication, tonight could be the end of the Reign’s perfect start. With seven days’ rest to Kansas City’s three, however, Seattle may see fresher legs carry them through.
Portland Thorns vs. Western New York, 10:00 p.m. Eastern – The Flash had the better of the teams’ first meeting but ended up drawn in Rochester. They’ll be traveling to face a team who’ll have three extra days off.

Friday, May 27
Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars, 8:00 p.m. Eastern – Houston may be near Boston in the standings, but the Dash will provide a completely different challenge for the Red Stars. After claiming a point in Missouri, Waldrum’s group may also be good for a result on Friday.

Saturday, May 28
Portland Thorns vs. Sky Blue, 10:00 p.m. Eastern – Sky Blue’s deep midfield and compact defense troubled Portland last year. The Thorns’ midfield play has improved, but they’ll need help from Kat Tarr and Courtney Niemiec if Jim Gabarra employs the same approach.

Sunday, May 29
Boston Breakers vs. FC Kansas City, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – This is a litmus test for Kansas City. There’s nothing about the Breakers team that says they should get a point from the Blues. If, however, playing on the road prevents Vlatko Andonovski’s team from taking advantage of Boston, how can they expect to keep up with Chicago?
Seattle Reign vs. Western New York Flash, 7:00 p.m. Eastern – The Reign finally get Western New York, doing so after Portland’s run the Flash around Providence Park on Wednesday. For all the things that went wrong for Seattle last year, they’re breaking the right way in 2014.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 1-1 draw between Serbia and Switzerland in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

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One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

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England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

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Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.