Alex Morgan injured, leaves after 10 minutes of Portland’s game at Boston

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Ten minutes into the Portland Thorns’ Wednesday match in Boston, the worst case scenario came into focus as one of the country’s biggest soccer stars lay on the Dilboy Stadium turf. U.S. international Alex Morgan, starting at forward for Portland, went to ground after a collision with Breakers’ defender Jazmyne Avant, resulting in an apparent left knee injury.

Stretchered from the field, Morgan appeared to be undergoing stability test used to diagnose a potential ligament injury. She was eventually replaced by Tiffany Weimer having played only 10 minutes of Portland’s match in Somerville, Mass.

Morgan entered Wednesday’s match leading her team in both goals (eight) and assists (fifth), leading the new National Women’s Soccer League in both shots (82 in 17 games) and shots on goal (44). Her contributions have helped the Thorns to second in the standings, the team four points back of league-leading Kansas City with three regular seasons games remaining.

Challenging for a ball along the Thorns’ left, Morgan extended her leg for a ball before a collision with Avant, who began the season with the Thorns. Never getting up, Morgan was carried to the sideline on a stretcher before being wheeled to the Thorns bench for further examination.

Morgan was seen at halftime walking under her own power, albeit with a large brace extending over the entirety of her left leg. Sources later told OregonLive.com’s Geoffrey Arnold that there was no apparent damage to Morgan’s anterior or medial collateral ligaments. Portland later confirmed Morgan will undergo further examination on Thursday.

Portland’s next game is Saturday in Rochester against Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash.

United States deny Canada’s redemption, win 3-0 in Toronto

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The much-hyped rematch of last summer’s Olympic semifinal played out with few of Manchester’s fireworks, with a late brace from Alex Morgan lifting the United States to a 3-0 victory over Canada in Toronto.

Played in front of a near-sell out crowd at BMO Field, the match was the second of a men’s-women’s set celebrating the 100th anniversary of U.S. Soccer. After the U.S. men defeating Germany earlier in Washington, D.C., the States’ women’s team completed the program’s centennial sweep, downing a rival that hasn’t beaten the U.S. since 2001.

It was a match that’d been widely been billed as a chance for Canadian revenge – a rematch of last summer’s meeting in Manchester, England, where the U.S. controversially defeated Canada in the Olympics’ semifinal. Various officiating issues before a 123rd minute winner from Morgan created a sense of anticipation ahead of Sunday’s match in Toronto, the nations’ first game since their classic at Old Trafford.

Sunday’s start failed to match the hype, but when the U.S. finally broke through in the 70th minute, the onslaught started. Morgan started the scoring by finishing from left of goal from 12 yards out. Two minutes later, Morgan doubled the U.S.’s lead, with Sydney Leroux closing the U.S.’s account in the 93rd minute.

The first half was defined by the teams’ combative play through midfield, conflict resulting in a lack of scoring chances for each side. Speculative forays toward opposing penalty areas were cut out before becoming chances, with Canada’s midfield able to strangle the U.S.’s talented attack.

Despite that slight advantage, the hosts finished the half without a shot, let alone a chance that tested Nicole Barnhart. The U.S.’s numbers looked better – three shots, two of which tested Erin McLeod – but without creating a clear chance on goal, the visitors were rightly taken into halftime scoreless. They didn’t register their first shot until minute 28.

If anything, it was Canada that came closer to the first goal, with Christine Sinclair blowing past left back Crystal Dunn  in the 42nd minute to get onto a ball through the right channel. Sinclair was momentarily alone approaching the byline before Barnhart charged out, smothered any chance Sinclair had to play back across goal, leaving the Canadians with what became an ineffectual corner.

The second half saw the U.S.’s chances improve. In the 53rd minute, a defense-splitting pass from Tobin Heath nearly put Morgan in on goal, with a lunging tackle from 17-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan all that prevented the U.S. forward from getting a shot off on McLeod. Two minutes later, Abby Wambach redirected a corner kick toward goal, but a block from Buchanan again prevented the U.S. from opening the scoring.

In the 70th minute, the U.S. finally broke through. A quick transition out of midfield saw Wambach play a ball from the left to Morgan, approaching the left side of the Canadian area. After dribbling around a twisted Emily Zurrer, Morgan slid a left-footed finish inside the far post, giving the U.S. 1-0 lead.

Two minutes later, a nearly identical finish doubled the States’ lead. After Heath forced a turnover, the U.S. midfielder quickly found Morgan behind the defense on the left. Another left-footed finish into the far side netting gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead before Canada had even registered a shot.

In stoppage time, former Canadian youth star Leroux completed the scoring, slotting home the States’ third goal. The Boston Breakers’ attacker celebrated amid booing fans, raising the U.S.’s centennial crest before holding a finger to her lips, shushing the derisive crowd.

The celebration was a point of controversy post-match, eliciting a label of “classless” from the commentating team on Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet. Leroux, a target of derision from Canadian fans since declaring for the U.S. in 2011, was booed after being brought on in the 74th minute. Scattered boos also accompanied her subsequent touches, with the relationship between Leroux and her country of birth becoming even more complicated after a controversial 20 minutes.

NWSL Game of the Week: FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns FC

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FC Kansas City hosts the opening match of the NWSL’s inaugural season on Saturday when the star-laden Thorns FC visit Shawnee Mission North High School Stadium. The 8:35 p.m. ET kickoff, which will be streamed on YouTube, is the first PST NWSL Game of the Week.

Three things you need to know

1. Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan may as well be Lebron James and Dwyane Wade

The Miami Heat may not win the NBA title every year, but they’re going to be the favorites. Sure, a team like the Dallas Mavericks can upset them, but when they do, expect a lot of people to ask what went wrong. With Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat not only have two of the NBA’s singularly brilliant talents, they have two unselfish players who complement each other exquisitely – the reason why they’ll be title favorites for the next three years.

Now if you can forgive the patronizing metaphor, the NWSL have their own Miami Heat. In Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, Portland Thorns FC — the Paulson family’s sister organization to Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers — may have the two best players in the league. Canada’s captain and the U.S.’s main goal scorer form as good an attacking tandem as you could imagine, a partnership whose members perfectly complement each other. In general, Morgan will push the line and threaten in more advanced areas while Sinclair drops into space to take the ball from midfield, often turning to try and craft a final ball.

“Having two players of that caliber on a team, you find that happen on all professional levels,” FC Kansas City defender Becky Sauerbrunn said when asked about the potential competitive issues of allocating Sinclair and Morgan to the same team. “Our backline has been working on playing against players who are athletic and quick and good at finishing.

“We just have to train the way you want to play. We’ve trained against boys, and we talk tactically about how you want to play defensively. I think [Portland’s strikers are just] something you have to deal with.”

Both Morgan and “Sinc” will score goals. They’ll also get their far share of assists, though we can’t take it for granted they’ll duplicate the Heat’s success. While some tandems end up being Dwyane and Lebron, others end up being Kobe and Dwight. This may be one time Merritt Paulson won’t his team compared with the Lakers.

2. Expect mistakes

Over the last 10 days, U.S. and Canadian internationals have barely been with their teams. Canadians returned to practice on Tuesday, while the U.S.’s stars just returned to training on Thursday. Over four weeks of NWSL preseason, top internationals were only with their teams for eight-to-ten days.

In this league, that’s huge. With exception of one or two teams, the four-to-five U.S. and Canadian internationals allocated to each team form the cornerstones of each club’s lineup. Thanks to various international commitments that pulled stars away from their clubs though preseason, coaches will spend the season’s first weeks trying to fit their best players into systems formed from speculation: What will my best team when I actually get all my players?

Portland head coach Cindy Parlow Cone:

“There [are] going to be some mishaps and some miscommunications. There’s no way around [the mistakes] because we been playing together for four weeks, not six months, which is what you’d like to have for a preseason.

But every team’s in the same situation. [Kansas City are] just getting their national team players back. We’ve got to over-communicate everything and be ready for anything.”

Sinclair was more blunt in her assessment: “There are going to be some things that go so wrong, it’s not even funny.”

source: Getty Images3. One versus two

If there was an Associated Press, college sports-style poll of soccer writers before the season, Portland would be the preseason number one. They’d get about 75 percent of the vote while a handful of skeptics would look at Kansas City’s less star-struck, more well-rounded squad and cast their vote with the Blues.

And as with any poll for a sport that has a playoff, the rankings wouldn’t mean a thing. They would, however, provide some context for Saturday’s opener, a matchup that could very well be repeated in Aug. 31’s final.

What makes Saturday’s game so interesting are not just the talents but how they match up. With one of the best spines in the league, Kansas City is particularly threatening to Portland is through the middle, a problem considering how narrow Parlow Cone looks to be setting up her team. Against the University of Portland, she used a 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 formation with its wide midfielders pulled in.

That could play to the strengths of a team that may feature Cheney (pictured), Mewis, Canadian destroyer Desiree Scott, talented attacker Casey Loyd, and all-arounder Sinead Farrelly in midfield.

Quick hits – Kansas City

Star to Watch: Lauren Cheney is FCKC’s best player. The question is where Vlatko Andonovski will use her. It looks like Andonovski plans to leverage her versatility, moving her between the midfield role she plays with the national team and her natural striker’s position.

Still important: Desiree Scott will be tasked with cutting off access Sinclair and Morgan. Here’s Sinclair’s scouting report on her Canada teammate:

“Des is a player on the national team that has really come into her own over the last two years. Our coach sort of threw her in to defensive mid one game, and I think she’s started every game there since. I think of her in the Olympics and she was just incredible and did so much for our team.

She’s a difficult player to play against. She’s quick. She’s feisty. She always seems to be in the right spots. As a holding midfielder her job is to cut off the supply into Alex and I. Hopefully she doesn’t do too good of a job at that this weekend.”

Wins if ,.. They win the midfield battle and can take advantage of a Portland central defense likely to feature tryout success Emilee O’Neil next to her former Stanford teammate (Buehler).

Quick hits – Portland

Star to Watch: Christine Sinclair may need to be the game-breaker, especially with the former Portland Pilot having two more days at practice than Morgan.

Still important: Angie Kerr will be the most attacking of Portland’s four midfielders and the player whose relationship with Sinclair will be most important. If Scott puts in a strong performance, Kerr’s presence in the space in front of the defense could help tilt the battle back in Portland’s favor.

Wins if … Sinclair or Morgan have a big day. That will be true most days this season, but in Kansas City, that may be all Thorns FC have. This is going to be one of their toughest tests of the year.

Other Games, Week 1

Sunday, 5 p.m. Eastern – Chicago Red Stars vs. Seattle Reign – Two midfield-heavy teams with potential problems in attack, this could end up 0-0 if Seattle’s midfield can protect their defense. Laura Harvey would take that result. (Link to stream.)

Sunday, 6 p.m. Eastern – Sky Blue FC vs. Western New York Flash – Abby Wambach and her home town team go to New Jersey to face Sky Blue, a team hoping U.S. national team defender Kelley O’Hara still has the attacker’s instincts she showed before her conversion to left back. If O’Hara and Lisa De Vanna have good days, Sky Blue wins. (Link to stream.)

Sunday, 6 p.m. Eastern – Boston Breakers vs. Washington Spirit – Boston’s all attack with problems in defense. Washington’s the opposite: Strong at the back with questions going forward. Boston’s the safe bet here, but if Stephanie Ochs can capitalize on the promise she showed coming out of San Diego two years ago, the Spirit could surprise their hosts. (Link to pay stream.)

More NWSL previews:

And more:

New angle allows us to circle back on, re-tell Eden Hazard’s ball boy “assault”

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If you’re a 22-year-old professional athlete and you resort to kicking something out of the hands of an 17-year-old, you’ve made a big mistake. I think most reasonable people would agree. It doesn’t matter if that kid is the teenage embodiment of Eric Cartman. The moment you decide to resort to that violent act — whether you eventually make contact or not — you’re in the wrong. You’ve made a bad life choice.

That’s the subtext of yesterday’s Eden Hazard discussion. The Chelsea star, frustrated by the asinine actions of a juvenile ball boy, swung his right foot under the person we now know as Charlie Morgan. He jarred the ball loose and tossed it to the goalkeeper while the teen recoiled against the sideboards.

At least, that’s what yesterday’s replays showed. For those of us who weren’t watching in real time, we were given a view from behind that very clearly shows a player kicking out before the person on the ground reacts by rolling away.

Today, we get another GIF, one that gives some credence to commenter claims Hazard “just” poked the ball away:

Hazard’s shin may have still made contact with Morgan’s ribs (the contention I made yesterday), but the reverse angle forces us to acknowledge: That may not have happened. And if it did, it’s not enough to justify the weight of the original outrage.

In one sense, that matters. A lot of people have made that contention all along, coming to the defense of Hazard. Most of us saw that as reflexive Chelsea fans who would support a player even if he shot an intern with an air rifle. As it turns out, they may have been correct Chelsea fans who may or may not support a player who shot an intern with an air rifle. Such is fandom — such is the type of skewed dialogue we get when dealing with the passions of blind devotion — but it’s important to remember those passions aren’t always wrong. Next time this happens, it might do some good to stop, listen, and talk it out (in more civil tones).

But in another sense, none of that matters. There is a reason Eden Hazard apologized to Charlie Morgan. It’s because he knows he was wrong, in the same way we knew the moment this happened he was very, very wrong. He allowed a 17-year-old to get the best of him, kicked out, and rightfully will be suspended. The second his right foot starts to come down on Morgan, he’s wrong, no matter the result.

source:  Some have tried to mitigate that by claiming a 17-year-old is not a “boy” – irrelevant pettifogging. In the divide between manhood and childhood, there’s no doubt where Morgan falls. Nobody’s calling Morgan the infant some conveniently imagine when they read “boy.” Nobody’s trying to portray him as fragile and unaccountable. But he is still a boy, just as all 17-year-old males are. They can be big and unmanageable, but their still young, naive, and nowhere near as physically capable as the 22-year-old version of themselves will be. Hazard gets no credit for kicking an old boy instead of a young one.

This also isn’t the best time for the I told you sos. Within 24 hours this has gone from something unfathomable to the type of jokes were any impassioned opinions become woefully disproportionate. Save your vindication for something that matters.

More than that, the evidence we had near-24 hours ago we pretty strong. If this had been in a courtroom, we would have had photographic evidence, witness testimony, and a confession. And Hazard would have been convicted.

source: Getty ImagesThankfully, this wasn’t an actual trial, so just as we do every time new views surface, we stop, reconsider, and potentially correct our narratives. The idea that Hazard nailed Morgan in the side — the idea we had reason to believe after yesterday’s game — is very possibly wrong. At the same time, there is a reason Hazard apologized.

Now, instead of looking like a complete idiot, Hazard looks like a well-meaning moron. The felony becomes a misdemeanor. He didn’t kick the kid, nor does it appear he was careless with his poke. But it was still a terrible decision, and as immature as Morgan was in denying that ball, Hazard was more immature by concluding kicking out at a ball in the hands of a boy was a viable tactical decision. Having played organized soccer for most of this life, there is no way he could have been under the at-the-time misconception his actions approached acceptable.

In light of the new camera angle (which, I’m told, was shown live), it’s hard to think this all isn’t overkill. Hazard made a mistake, and he needs to be suspended. But the photo shows some consideration in his actions. His apology showed remorse. And the ball boy provided sufficient provokation.

Action needs to be taken to illustrate Hazard’s decision is unacceptable, but will this turn into the career-defining mistake I defined in yesterday’s post? Thankfully, no.

Thoughts as Seattle’s GM reacts to NWSL allocation, losing Alex Morgan

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I think generally speaking, I could speak for all the clubs when I say I’m extremely surprised they would place (Christine) Sinclair and (Alex) Morgan in the same city.

That was Seattle Reign FC general manager Amy Carnell speaking to the Seattle Times in the wake of yesterday’s NWSL dispersal. After many expected her team to get the league’s brightest star, Carnell learned Alex Morgan had been allocated to the Reign’s rival, Portland Thorns FC. There she’ll join Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and U.S. playmaker Tobin Heath in what seems destined to be the league’s most threatening attack.

It’s a fair assessment. While the rest of the league may not have been as upset with the allocation as Portland’s northern neighbors, seeing Morgan and Sinclair on the same team was jaw-dropping for even a casual women’s soccer fan, let alone people who’ll have to compete with them.

It made dispersal twice as hard to take for Carnell. Not only did her team lose out on a player they expected to be their cornerstone, but the 23-year-old ends up being paired with one of the world’s other elite forward, both playing for a team 175 miles to the south.

I think for us it’s a little bit surprising because she was here last summer with (the Sounders Women). I think U.S. Soccer made the decision there, and obviously a player like Sinclair has deep ties to Portland. … I think No. 1, everyone’s surprised those two forwards are on the same team, and then No. 2, I think we were a little surprised we didn’t get her.

You have to sympathize with Carnell, but it just doesn’t make marketing sense to put Solo and Morgan in the same city. And Solo was definitely going to Seattle.

As far as women soccer draw are concerned, Morgan and Solo are on their own level. Abby Wambach (allocated to Western New York) is a step below, with Megan Rapinoe the only other play who can move the dial (even then, she can only nudge it slightly). You just can’t take the two people who can reach beyond the fences of women’s soccer and drop them into the same market.

You could argue that Morgan in Portland creates too much competitve imbalance, but let’s not hand the league to the Thorns just yet. The 2009 Los Angeles Sol had Marta, Camille Abily, Shannon Boxx and Aya Miyama yet still managed to lose in the WPS title game (albeit without Abily, away at Euro 2009).

Even if Portland lives up to expectations — even if the allocation creates an imbalance — think about the scene: NWSL’s premier star playing in front of what’s destined to be the league’s biggest and more lively crowd. The potential for a number of television-friendly games at Jeld-Wen featuring the league’s biggest draw is an awfully appealing prospect. Perhaps it proved irresistible. That might not be fair to the other seven clubs, but it’s probably best for the league.

But Morgan’s dispersal isn’t the problem, nor is her pairing with Sinclair, who was destined to go to Portland (where she has significant ties). The problem is adding Tobin Heath, defender Rachel Buehler, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to that duo. More narrowly, Portland getting somebody like Heath should be the real focus. There’s no way Thorns FC should have gotten Morgan and a player with Heath’s talents from U.S. allocation.

There’s more from Carnell in Joshua Mayers’ Q & A at the Times’ website (you should check it out), but I’ll leave you with the Seattle GM’s thoughts on the pluses and minuses of being allocated Lyon’s Megan Rapinoe:

Honestly, it’s unfortunate. We’re thrilled to have her. She is a world-class player, and personally, her style of play is so unique. We wanted her, and she’s worth the wait, but it’s tough to essentially lose a core player for two thirds of your season. It’s unfortunate, but in the long term, when you’re building a team, you have to look at it that way, as well. We’re very happy to have her and she’s a big part of our club.