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NWSL players say investment key to sustaining World Cup bump

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While record crowds at National Women’s Soccer League games are evidence of a World Cup bump, players want the momentum to extend beyond the ticket office.

Portland drew a league-record 25,218 fans to a game against the defending champion North Carolina Courage earlier this month, and last weekend Sky Blue staged its first game at Red Bull Arena before a club-high 9,415 fans. The Chicago Red Stars had to open the upper-deck section at SeatGeek Stadium when they drew more than 17,000 to a post-World Cup game.

Across the league, attendance is up about 15% overall this year, with the most dramatic swings coming after the United States’ victory this summer at the Women’s World Cup in France. That’s the bump: Both the NWSL and its male counterpart, Major League Soccer, traditionally see increased interest during a World Cup year.

In the NWSL, the bump is likely to be larger once the entire season plays out. In 2015, following the national team’s World Cup victory in Canada, the league drew an average of 5,046 fans per game, up from the league’s all-time low average attendance (4,137) in 2014. Following last weekend’s games, average attendance across the league was 6,917.

But players aren’t satisfied. In addition to bringing in new fans, they want sustained growth and stability.

The key is investment.

“We’ve won two World Cups back-to-back. We’ve done everything on the field to encourage and inspire players and kids and parents and coaches, boys and girls to come to the games,” said Carli Lloyd, who plays for Sky Blue and is a member of the U.S. team. “Now again it’s up to the people with money to market it, to buy into this, to invest in it, and to promote it.”

While the NWSL has been incrementally drawing bigger crowds since its inception in 2013, there have been recent questions about the league’s health.

The league and A&E Networks terminated their broadcast agreement in February, leaving the NWSL with no TV partner. Last season, a game aired each week on the Lifetime channel. A&E surrendered its stake in the league, but Lifetime remains a jersey sponsor.

The NWSL has also been operating without a commissioner since 2017, and there’s been no new teams coming on board despite persistent rumors to the contrary. The league contracted to nine teams before the start of the 2018 season when the Boston Breakers folded.

But there have been recent positive developments beyond attendance. Budweiser announced a multi-year sponsorship deal with the league this summer. The NWSL also reached an agreement to air 14 games this season on ESPNews and ESPN2, including the playoff semifinals and the final. ESPN recently signed an agreement for worldwide rights to the league.

“I think that it’s going to take a lot of investment from owners. We want it to grow, we want big companies to come on as sponsors, like the Budweiser thing is huge. We want more teams, we want a longer season,” said North Carolina’s Sam Mewis, echoing Lloyd.

It’s a sentiment that players amplified in France.

“Hopefully it grows, hopefully we get more teams, and more people buy into us and realize how important it is for the women’s game – and that our NWSL gets better and better so we can get better for our national team,” Lindsey Horan said before the World Cup final.

One club that has provided something of a blueprint for NWSL success is the Thorns. The team drew an average of 16,959 fans per game last season, and that’s risen to 20,072 this year. For perspective, that’s better than the average attendance for seven Major League Baseball teams.

The Thorns have been able to capitalize on the game’s roots in the city. The University of Portland’s women’s team won NCAA titles in 2002 and 2005. Current U.S. team star Megan Rapinoe and Canadian star Christine Sinclair both played for the Pilots.

“They’ve been the same from the get go. I mean we lost the championship last year against this team and they stayed at least 30 minutes to continue to chant. So you know if anything the Thorns fans are the ones that have started the hype in this county,” Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch said.

Some have suggested that Portland’s model – it is affiliated with Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers – is one key to sustained growth. Four teams, the Thorns, the Houston Dash, the Utah Royals and the Orlando Pride are connected to MLS teams. At least two other MLS teams, LAFC and Atlanta United, have expressed interest in adding a women’s team.

At the end of this year, U.S. Soccer’s management agreement with the NWSL will come to an end, which could potentially give greater control to the league’s owners and a more hands-on approach to growth. The federation currently pays the salaries of the national team players and has also invested considerably in the league, and that support is not expected to end.

Players say they’re hopeful for the league’s future – even beyond the bump.

“I think that we’re taking steps in the right direction,” Mewis said. “I feel like it’s stable. I don’t know like how tuned in I am to what goes on behind the scenes, but I’m relying on it and I’m counting on playing here for a long time.”

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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Taking the field in the 70th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made his debut with Sevilla, who became La Liga’s leaders following Sunday’s result.

In Portugal, despite transitioning to right back at the start of the season, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues flourish with Porto. The 26-year-old has two assists after five league games.

Elsewhere, Carlos Vela, who returned from injury, is on the cusp of trying MLS’ all-time single-season scoring record. To be exact, the 30-year-old needs three goals to tie the record, four to surpass Josef Martinez. LAFC has four regular-season games still to play.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano’s second appearance for Napoli wasn’t as captivating as his first, but he did have his positive moments. On Saturday, Chucky started and played 65 minutes, recording a shot off target, 23 touches, and earning two fouls along the way.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started and played 70 minutes in Wolves’ 5-2 loss to Chelsea. Will Nuno Espirito Santos side’s  struggles start to affect Jimenez productivity?

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito is officially a Sevillista. The 31-year-old replaced Luuk De Jong in 70th minute in Sevilla’s 1-0 over Alaves on Sunday.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a fourth consecutive league game, Herrera was left on the bench. At this rate, it’s difficult to say when the 29-year-old will make his debut with Los Colchoneros, who lost 2-0 to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado, who recently became a father for a second time, didn’t feature in Betis’ 1-1 draw against Getafe on Saturday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Getafe.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo took the field in the 15th minute following Jorge Saenz’s red-card challenge. Celta ended up losing 2-0 against Granda.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez is out with a hand injury suffered with the national team. A return date is unknown.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played 80 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 drilling of Heerenveen. The 21-year-old is, slowly but surely, becoming a fixture for  Erik ten Hag.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Things are going great for Tecatito. The right back (yes, you read that right) played 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Porto’s 3-2 win over Portimonense. It’s been a good transition for the 26-year-old, to say the least.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started, but came off at halftime in Zulte’s 1-1 draw with KAS Eupen on Saturday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Saturday, Moreno started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win against Qatar SC.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 1-1 draw on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – In his return from injury, Vela started and scored in LAFC’s 1-1 . draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Mexican is three goals from tying Josef Martinez’s single-season goal record.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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It was a slower weekend for Americans abroad, although there were a few who contributed to their club’s at some noteworthy capacity.

One of those was Lynden Gooch, who registered his third goal for Sunderland in League One this season. Elsewhere in England, Christian Pulisic, for a first time this season, didn’t take the field as new-look Chelsea battered Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2.

Over in Mexico, Rubio Rubin scored for second-division side Dorados, while in Germany Julian Green and Terrence Boyd added to their accounts yet again.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made Frank Lampard‘s bench, but did not play in Chelsea’s triumphant victory against Wolves. Is it time to worry about the Pennsylvania native’s lack of playing time? Absolutely not.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The left back started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-2 draw with Hull City.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain  featured all 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-2 draw with Wigan on Saturday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender was left on the bench in QPR’s 3-2 win over Luton Town.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw with West Brom on Saturday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — The Potters might be in shambles, but Carter-Vickers keeps adding minutes. On Saturday, he started and played 90 minutes in Stoke City’s 2-1 loss to Bristol City.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played 81 minutes in Derby’s 1-1 draw with Cardiff City.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie came off the bench and played 28 minutes in Schalke’s 5-1 victory on Sunday, his first minutes since his start against Mexico with the men’s national team.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg on Friday. Morales, on the hand, did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Following a goal-scoring performance, Sargent came off the bench and played 22 minutes for Werder Bremen in their 2-1 victory over Union Berlin.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 in their 1-0 win over Koln on Saturday.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback started and played all 90 minutes in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss against Augsburg.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Another positive shift from Wright. On Saturday, the 21-year-old started and played 70 minutes in VVV-Venlo’s 2-1 win over FC Groningen.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Fresh off international duty, Dest dressed but didn’t play in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of Heerenveen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 this weekend. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — On Saturday, the Washington D.C. native featured for 74 minutes in Rennes’ 0-0 draw with Brest.

Honorable Mentions:

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – England’s League One isn’t a world-class league by any means, but the Californian continues to leave his mark. On Saturday, the 23-year-old scored his third goal of the season in the Black Cats’ 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley. Not bad, Gooch.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played all 90 minutes and scored in Greuther Furth’s 2-1 win over Wehen Wiesbaden. That’s three goals in six games for Green this season in Germany’s second division.

Terrence Boyd, Hallescher – Germany’s third-tier league is resulting to be too easy for Boyd, apparently. The forward scored two goals against Ingolstad on Sunday, making it his fourth and fifth of a young season.

Rubio Rubin, Dorados de Sinaloa – Rubin was the difference for Dorados on Friday night. After coming off the bench, the scored the goal that earned the Sinaloa-based team a 1-1 draw against Correcaminos.

Serie A roundup: Roma’s Mkhitaryan scores on debut, Milan edges Verona

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Roma’s first win of the season headlines Sunday’s Serie A action.

Roma 4-2 Sassuolo

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s stint with Roma is off to a brilliant start.

The former Arsenal attacker, scored a blistering goal in his debut with the Italian giants, who won their first game of the season in the 4-2 thumping of Sassuolo.

The Armenian’s goal was only one of the four that Roma put together in the first 45 minutes of the game. With a headed goal off of a corner kick, Bryan Cristante gave the home side an early lead. Seven minutes later, Edin Dzeko tallied his second goal of a young season.

By the 33rd minute, Justin Kluivert’s calm finish inside the box had Roma up by four goals. I Giallorossi kept pushing, dismantling the visiting with their frenetic pace down the wings, but came up short, striking the bar post in three different occasions.

Despite being outclassed in the first half, Sassuolo’s silver lining showed up in the final 45 minutes: Domenico Berardi. A wonder free-kick opened the scoring for the 24-year-old, who eventually sealed his brace in 72nd minute. The captain has scored five goals in two league matches this season.

With confidence under their belt, Roma travel to Bologna next, while Sassuolo host SPAL.

Verona 0-1 AC Milan

Milan aren’t doing it in convincing fashion, but they’re winning.

A game that saw both teams end up with 10 players, also saw Milan walk away with a 1-0 victory in Verona. The win has Marco Giampaolo’s side sixth in the table only three points behind leaders and rivals Inter Milan.
Despite playing a player down early on, Verona had a pair of chances in the first half. A half-effort bicycle was no match for a well-positioned Roma defense and Gianluigi Donnarumma. The clearest chance of them all came right before the first 45 minutes came to a close, however. In motion, with his back turned on the ball, Valerio Verre’s first touch and subsequent strike would just go inches high of the bar.
As the second half went on, Milan proved to be too much for the home side, controlling the ball and taking a plethora of shots on goal. Eventually, it took a tool on I Gialloblu. In the 68th minute, Hakan Çalhanoğlu shot struck Verona’s Koray Gunter hand, resulting in a penalty that Krzysztof Piątek put away.

Now in sixth place, Milan face rivals Inter Milan next. On the hand, Verona travel to Turin to take on a mighty Juventus.

Elsewhere in Serie A

SPAL 2- 1 Lazio

Brescia 3-4 Bologna

Parma 1-3 Cagliari