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Manchester United to hit five U.S. cities this summer

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Manchester United announced a five-city American tour this summer, as Jose Mourinho will bring the Red Devils ahead of a hopeful return to the UEFA Champions League.

Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Santa Clara and Washington are the cities in the press release, leaving one more to be announced. Utah will be a first for United.

[ MORE: Should USMNT injuries be a worry? ]

United was whispered to be involved in an U.S. based Manchester Derby, so one of those markets could be in for a historic match. The MLS All Star Game is set for Aug. 2 in Chicago, and could be an option for United if it fails to qualify for the Community Shield (which is extremely, extremely unlikely).

The Red Devils didn’t hit our shores last summer after spending July of 2014 and 2015 in the States. In 2014, they faced Roma, LA Galaxy, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and Liverpool. The following year: Club America, PSG, San Jose Earthquakes, Barcelona.

NWSL Playoffs set: Portland, Washington, Chicago, Western New York

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The National Women’s Soccer League will crown its fourth champion in mid-October, and for the first time in three years the winner will not be FC Kansas City.

FCKC finished sixth after the 20-game regular season concluded this weekend, six points out of the final slot occupied by the Western New York Flash.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

The Flash join Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit in attempting to topple NWSL Shield winners Portland, a Thorns side which won the title in 2013 and has only missed the playoffs once.

Washington hosts Chicago on Friday in the first semifinal, while the Flash travel to Oregon for an Oct. 2 semi.

Portland Thorns (1) vs. Western New York Flash (4)

The two best goal differentials in the league meet at Providence Park, where Mark Parsons’ Thorns and their league-best defense will be tasked with stopping the highest-scoring offense in the NWSL. That means stopping Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams and runner-up Jessica McDonald, who’ve accounted for 21 of WNY’s 40 goals.

The Thorns are loaded. Women’s soccer legend Christine Sinclair, who once lifted a trophy for the Flash, is there with a quintet of USWNT mainstays. French star Amandine Henry, too, as well as leading goal scorer and Danish star Nadia Nadim.

USWNT regulars on each side
Portland: Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Emily Sonnet, Lindsey Horan

WNY: Samantha Mewis

Washington Spirit (2) vs. Chicago Red Stars (3)

The two sides split the season series, with Chicago hosting a 3-1 victory on Saturday. Sofia Huerta had a goal and an assist, as she and Christen Press combined for nine shots. They’ve combined for 15 goals on the season, though the Red Stars have only found nine goals elsewhere.

No Washington player has scored more than five goals this year, and the Spirit haven’t had a multi-goal game in September, but Argentina national teamer Estefanía Banini’s five goals in 13 matches in an impressive haul.

USWNT regulars on each side
Washington: Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn

Chicago: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, Christen Press

MLS Combine begins Friday: Names to know one week from the SuperDraft

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How important, for better or worse, is the MLS Combine in relation to a player’s draft prospects?

Eighteen of the 21 players who were first round selections at the 2015 MLS SuperDraft participated in the combine, and it took to pick No. 8 for a non-combine player to be selected (Clement Simonin of NC State).

All five of the Generation Adidas players aren’t heading to the combine. Outside of those five, you’ll see most of Jan. 14’s draftees coming from the Combine.

[ MLS: Meet the five Generation Adidas players for the 2016 SuperDraft ]

The 2016 Combine will pit four squads of 15 players against each other for matches on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday. Full rosters are here.

A disclaimer: the MLS Combine is far from ideal. Many players won’t be playing in their natural positions, and most have been out of game action for a month or more.

We’ll list the draft order below, and won’t bother you with a mock draft at this point. But here are some names to monitor over the next five days, ones who could make big moves under the bright lights.

Brandon Vincent, D, Stanford — Jordan Morris is a stud, sure, but his college teammate could honestly be the No. 1 overall pick if Chicago sees it close and personal this week.

Callum Irving, GK, Kentucky — The Canadian backstop played with the Whitecaps Academy before starring for the Wildcats.

Neco Brett, F, Robert Morris — A bit mercurial and undersized, you cannot ignore that Brett scored 15, 14 and 13 goals in his last three seasons in Moon. The Jamaican born striker has speed to burn and a classy touch.

Patrick Hodan, M, Notre Dame — Has a legitimate chance to be a 10-year vet in the league. A solid leader who was invited to Andreas Herzog’s U-23 College ID camp in the summer.

Kyle Fisher, D, Clemson — After a College Cup season with the Tigers, Fisher is poised to be a first year contributed in Major League Soccer.

James Moberg, M, Washington — Big and coming off a season-ending knee injury, the 6-foot-2 senior has a chance to show off the promise of elite playmaking he showed in his first three seasons (6, 9 and 6 assists).

Thomas Sanner, F, Princeton — 6-foot-4 forwards with noses for goal don’t grow on trees, and Sanner is the Tigers’ third-all-time leading scorer with 32 in 64 games.

  1. Chicago Fire
  2. Colorado Rapids
  3. Philadelphia Union
  4. New York City FC
  5. Real Salt Lake
  6. Philadelphia Union
  7. Orlando City
  8. San Jose Earthquakes
  9. Toronto FC
  10. New England Revolution
  11. Sporting KC
  12. L.A. Galaxy
  13. D.C. United
  14. Montreal Impact
  15. Seattle Sounders
  16. Vancouver Whitecaps
  17. FC Dallas
  18. New York Red Bulls
  19. Columbus Crew
  20. Portland Timbers

State of the NWSL after Week 18: Saying goodbye to four, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 19

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In the three days since we last talked NWSL soccer, the only changes on the local women’s soccer league’s landscape are four teams being closer to a 23rd game, four others falling 72 hours closer to the ends of their seasons. While we’ll get at least one more week with Kansas City, Western New York, Portland and Sky Blue after this weekend’s games, we’ll have to say goodbye to Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington.

And rather than coming back next year, restarting these NWSL posts, regretting that I never thanked these teams for their parts in the NWSL’s first season, I want to summon the spirit of Alanis Morrissette and …

thank you India,
thank you terror,
thank you …

… all the teams that we’re not going to see after Sunday’s games:

FOR DIANA MATHESON, THANK YOU, WASHINGTON SPIRIT – It’s a shame Diana Matheson didn’t have much of a profile among American soccer fans before this NWSL season (what do we care about a Canadian star with 152 caps, am I right?). At least, it seems like she didn’t have much of a profile down here, because few talked about Matheson’s allocation to Washington as being a boon to the otherwise dispersal-deprived Spirit. Coming into the final week of the regular season, she’s scored eight of her team’s 15 goals.

More generally, her success is a reminder of how insular U.S. women’s soccer culture can be. Matheson has been Washington’s best player. Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann have been crucial to FC Kansas City’s success. Sophie Schmidt’s provided valuable goals for Sky Blue. Portland’s Karina LeBlanc has been the league’s best goalkeeper, and Kaylyn Kyle’s been transformed into a valuable central defender for Seattle.

Canada is more than Christine Sinclair, which we all knew. But in the buildup to this season, we were so focused on the U.S. allocations that we overlooked the extent to which Canada’s allocations would influence the campaign. And Australians, too, for that matter! So thank you, Washington, for providing the platform from Matheson’s success.

thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you Diana Matheson!

FOR REINCARNATION, THANK YOU, SEATTLE REIGN FC – Because I’m based in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s horrible start caused a lot of curious, well-meaning colleagues to inquire about the future of Reign FC. Would Laura Harvey be fired? Would owner Bill Predmore just walk away? Would the NWSL revoke their franchise and give it to the Sounders?

And of course, the right answer at that point of the season was:

Over the summer, Seattle not only improved on the field but off. The crowds at Starfire Sports started to come around. The energy around the franchise changed.

Missing Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez (otherwise known as their entire original U.S. women’s national team allocation) ultimately left Seattle’s season D.O.A., but come summer, the team was reincarnated as something that defined itself by something other than playoff ambition. So Seattle, thank you for not defining yourselves by your spring results.

thank you `Pinoe’s hair
thank you Solo’s glare
thank you, thank you Fishlock!

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 21 38 +13
2 2 W. New York 21 35 +15
3 4 Portland 21 35 +6
4 5 Sky Blue 21 35 +5
5 3 Boston 21 30 +2
6 6 Chicago 21 27 -5
7 7 Seattle 21 18 -13
8 8 Washington 21 13 -23

FOR THE CHALUPACABRA, THANK YOU, CHICAGO RED STARS – During the year without a women’s professional league, some of us forget how good Lori Chalupny is. We remembered how goos she was, but as the Red Stars became more dependent on her throughout season, we were jolted awake, as if a 5’4″, red-headed dervish had wedged a shoulder into our rib cage, knocking us out of our WPS-induced slumber.

And it’s no coincidence that Chicago, as they allowed themselves to rely more-and-more on Chalupny, climbed the table. It’s also no coincidence their playoff hopes effectively ended the moment Chalupny’s ankle was hurt in Portland.

Most media members’ MVP ballots are going to have Lauren Holiday one, Abby Wambach two. After that, Lori Chalupny may have been as good as anybody in the league. And for giving the former U.S. international a chance to show she’s still international-quality, thank you, Chicago.

how `bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out?
how `bout, Tom, giving Lori Chalupny a try out?

FOR SURVIVING THE ONSLAUGHT, LEARNING A LESSON, THANK YOU BOSTON – Despite a roster with talents like Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly, and Lianne Sanderson, Boston’s first season is going to be be remembered for charge people to access their games online. While other teams made streams free, the Breakers charged for theirs, a decision only made worse when NWSL mandated teams to make games available online.

Boston entered a agreement with their broadcast partner, MediaBoss Television, before the NWSL sent out its mandate. From their point of view, they felt locked into a commitment, and while the situation created a ton of negative publicity, the club told Equalizer Soccer that pay-per-view helped them offset costs.

But these clubs are getting major subsidies from U.S. and Canadian soccer. It’s not unreasonable for the fans or federations to demand things like free streams, implying some of the subsidies go to things like quality equipment, consistent internet connections, and a certain standard of on-air personnel (all of which have been a problem with Boston’s pay broadcasts).

To the Breakers’ credit, it appears they’re shooting for a free stream next year. And at times, it seemed like they were more frustrated by this year’s arrangement than the casual fans who tweeted their displeasure with even pay-walled Breaker broadcast.

Regardless, thank you, Boston, for surviving the swell of negativity. And thank you for making it a learning experience (potentially).

Aaaaaaye yeeeeeeaaaaaah!
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!
Yeeh, yeaaaah!

RANKINGS OF POWER

In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – This was tough. Keeping the Spirit eighth after a six-point week? That hardly seems fair, but in my heart of hearts, I believe that if they played team number seven on at a neutral site, they’d likely lose.

But let’s stop being such bummers about this. For weeks, I’ve been writing nothing be negatives about the Spirit, recycling the same analysis, the same point of view, because nothing was changing.

Now something’s changed. Two games! Two wins! Two home shutouts! Who cares about some stupid power ranking when your win column goes from “1” to “3” in four days.

“Keep your rankings, Farley,” I’d say, if I were them. “We’ll take our wins.”

7. Seattle Reign (5) – Between kickoff in Rochester and Matheson’s late goal in Maryland, Seattle’s run-in went from “playing for pride” to “yeah, I guess.” A season-ending derby on Saturday against Portland could charge the batteries.

6. Chicago Red Stars (4) – Jackie Santaceterina’s second half brace salvaged a point against visiting Sky Blue, but the reality of their week was still bleak. They lost at Washington and didn’t get full points at home against a previously struggling Sky Blue.

5. Sky Blue FC (7) – We’re giving them major credit for taking a point at Chicago, but more importantly for Jim Gabarra’s side, this weekend represented progress from their previous performances. Remarkably, the team still has a chance at a home playoff game.

4. Portland Thorns FC (3) – Portland seemed happy with a draw in Rochester, and after losing three days earlier in Boston, that feeling was understandable. The change of approach, however, was a bit concerning for Portland fans, as the Thorns shouldn’t have to completely shift gears just because Alex Morgan is out of the lineup. Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath is more than most teams have at their disposal.

3. Boston Breakers (6) – Cat Whitehill’s got seven points from three games as Breakers’ coach, and in taking wins over Portland and Kansas City, the Breakers are playing better than they have all season.

2. Western New York (2) – Didn’t play particularly well against either Boston or Portland but managed to hold on to second place. A full week off should recharge the team head of a tough finale against the Breakers.

1. FC Kansas City (1) – They’re 10-match unbeaten run is over after their worst performance of the season, but it’s going to take more than one banana skin to knock them off this list’s top spot.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 11 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 7
4 tied at 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
Katy Freels (SBFC) 6

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Saturday, August 17

Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers (8:00 p.m. Eastern) – A Flash win gives them home-field advantage in the semifinals (and the entire playoffs, if Kansas City loses). The only problem: They’re 0-1-2 against Boston this season, their loss coming in Rochester earlier this season (2-1, Apr. 27).

Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC (11:00 p.m. Eastern) – By the time the teams kick off in Tukwila, Portland will know if their quest for a home playoff game’s alive. They need to out-point Western New York to have a chance at the second seed, and since goal difference will be important should they end up tied with Sky Blue, Portland can’t settle for merely a victory. But given how Thorns FC have played over their last four games (1-2-1), any win is a good one for Portland.

Sunday, August 18

FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars (4:10 p.m. Eastern) – This one only matters if Western New York wins on Saturday. If not, FC Kansas City will have already clinched the league’s top seed. And if the Flash beat Boston, the Blues need only a point to stay in Overland Park throughout the playoffs.

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC (5:00 p.m. Eastern) – Whether they have a chance at something beyond the postseason’s fourth seed, Sky Blue has work to do. Last week in Chicago was progress, but they’re still not ready for the playoffs. Jim Gabarra has 90 minutes to find a postseason solution.

Walking through Week 18 of the NWSL season

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The minimal certainty we had last week remains just that: Minimal certainty. FC Kansas City is still in control of their playoff destiny, three points clear of the pack, but they were expected to seal up home field advantage on Saturday in Boston. That didn’t happen, and with the three teams vying for second place all drawing this weekend, we also didn’t get much clarity. First place maintains a sliver of doubt. Second place is an enigma wrapped in a passive riddle wrapped in that hip-to-ankle leg brace that sent fans into hysterics on Wednesday night.

Concerns about form aside, Week 18 sets up a dramatic end to the NWSL’s first season. Kansas City need only draw at home against Chicago to earn home field advantage, but the rest of the picture’s unclear. Western New York’s struggled with Boston all season, and that was before the Breakers’ post-Whitehill surge. Portland seemed to be plummeting, but now their Saturday foes (Seattle) appear derailed. And Sky Blue FC — the team that was limping into the playoffs a week ago — are showing signs of life ahead of their season finale in Washington.

But that’s Week 19. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:

Wednesday, August 7

Boston Breakers 2, Portland Thorns FC 1 – Portland’s recovery from their devastating loss the previous Sunday to Kansas City was overshadowed eight minutes into Wednesday match. That’s when Boston defender and former Thorn Jazymne Avant’s challenge on Alex Morgan twisted the U.S. international’s left knee, leaving her to be stretchered from the match moments later. Portland’s replacement, Tiffany Weimer, eventually gave Thorns FC the lead before second half goals from Lianne Sanderson and Heather O’Reilly snatched a surprise victory for Boston.

Implications: Morgan was eventually diagnosed with a grade 1 MCL sprain with a recovery time for 2-4 weeks. The low-end of that timeline would have her back for the league’s semifinals (played on Aug. 24). The high-end might see her miss not only the rest of the NWSL season but also the U.S.’s Sept. 3 friendly against Mexico.

On the field, it was an emotional loss for Portland, whose defensive struggles continued, allowing their eighth and ninth goals in four games. Once the league’s best defense, Thorns FC looked incapable of keeping goals out by the end of Wednesday’s match, Boston scoring twice in the last 24 minutes to reverse Weimer’s opener.

For Boston, the match was a welcome reversal from defender Cat Whitehill’s coaching debut, one that saw Western New York pull back a two-goal deficit the preceding Friday. The win also ran their unbeaten run to three, pulling them back to “five hundred” (7-7-6).

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 21 38 +13
2 2 W. New York 21 35 +15
3 4 Portland 21 35 +6
4 5 Sky Blue 21 35 +5
5 3 Boston 21 30 +2
6 6 Chicago 21 27 -5
7 7 Seattle 21 18 -13
8 8 Washington 21 13 -23

Western New York Flash 1, Seattle Reign FC 0  – Any suspicion Seattle would wilt after being eliminated from the playoffs seemed alleviated in the first half, when Reign FC’s intensity helped push the match to intermission scoreless. One second half breakdown, however, undid Laura Harvey’s team, with Abby Wambach setting up Carli Lloyd in the 54th minute for the game’s only goal.

Implications: Combined with Portland’s loss, the win moved Western New York into second place ahead of the teams’ Saturday meeting at Sahlen Park. Perhaps as important in the long run, the Flash bounced back from a down performance at Dilboy. Instead of ceding control for most of the match only to rally late, Western New York were the slightly better side throughout.

Washington Spirit 1, Chicago Red Stars 0 – Without Lori Chalupny, Chicago became the second team to lose to Washington this season (first at Maryland Soccerplex Stadium) when Lupita Gorbis beat Erin McLeod in the 58th minute, an almost unheard of open play, game-winning Spirit goal. How the match ended, however, was more interesting than the final score, with two long lightning delays near the end of the second half preventing the game from being completed before Soccerplex’s curfew.

Implications: On Wednesday, the weather overshadowed Washington’s breakthrough. In hindsight, who cares. One week after I evoked the 2011 Atlanta Beat when discussing the Spirit, they shoved that comparison down my throat. Congratulations, Washington. I deserved that.

For Chicago, their playoff hopes ended with the loss, something that gave the curfew extra significance. After the match, however, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames took to Twitter to thank Washington for trying to hard to get the match back underway and give Chicago a chance to save their season. Ultimately, Mother Nature wasn’t a Red Stars fan.

Saturday, August 10

Boston Breakers 1, FC Kansas City 0 – Kansas City’s 4-6-0 formation that was talked about two weeks ago? They started it on Saturday, inserting former Hermann Trophy-winner Teresa Noyola into the lineup for the willing-if-ineffective Melissa Henderson. The change resulted in Kansas City’s flatted performance in the season, their 10-match unbeaten run snapped after Sydney Leroux’s 11th goal of the season. The Blues went on to be outshot 7-2 (shots on goal), surprising given how successful their striker-less formation was against Boston in Overland Park.

Implications: For the Breakers, the removal of Lisa Cole hasn’t been too little, too late as much as it’s just been too late. They’re 2-0-1 under Cat Whitehill, have taken points from the league’s top three teams, and have only given up a three goals in as many games. Granted, all the games have been at home, but Boston may have actually been able to salvage their season had they installed Whitehill three weeks earlier.

For Kansas City, the streak had to end sometime. Better now than in the playoffs. Still, they had a chance to lock down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, leaving the coming weekend’s season finale to work out kinks and rest ailing bodies. Now, their game against Chicago means something.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 11 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 7
4 tied at 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
Katy Freels (SBFC) 6

Chicago Red Stars 3, Sky Blue FC 3 – Against the newly eliminated Red Stars, Sky Blue solved one problem, failed to address another. Three goals (two from Monica Ocampo) and a strong performance from Katy Freels gave SBFC fans reason to think their attack’s returned. Unfortunately, their team also gave up two leads, with Red Star Jackie Santacaterina providing two second half equalizers in one of the season’s more exciting matches.

Implications: Yes, this was a missed opportunity for Sky Blue, but bigger picture, it’s progress. The team hadn’t been playing well for some time headed into this match. Against a good team, on the road, they had their moments. Again: progress.

For Chicago, two second half comebacks showed a lot of heart, considering the team was still without their best player (Chalupny) and had been eliminated from the playoffs three nights before. And for Santacaterina — somebody whose been a valuable squad player for Dames all season — it was a deserved moment in the spotlight.

Washington Spirit 1, Seattle Reign FC 0 – All that fight the eliminated Reign showed in Rochester? In Boyds, not so much. Given the difference in quality between the two squads, Seattle should have won this match. Instead, they played down to their competition. To Washington’s credit, they took advantage, with Diana Matheson’s eight goal of the season in the 83rd minute giving the team their third win.

Implications: Don’t take too much away from the Spirit. Over the course a season you’ll play teams that are on their games and teams that are down. Part of the challenge is taking advantage of the latter, which Washington did. Earlier this season, they weren’t making the most of these opportunities.

It’s important to note how far Washington’s come. They’re still the eighth of eight teams, but whereas last week we were talking about the Spirit as one of the worst teams in U.S. women’s professional soccer history, now they’ve turned it around. Two straight wins over quality teams? That’s unquestionably progress; progress that wasn’t apparent seven days ago. Well done, Mark Parsons.

Western New York Flash 0, Portland Thorns FC 0 – Last week I was complaining that the NWSL and FOX Soccer didn’t put this game on national television. They clearly knew something I didn’t. Not only was Alex Morgan not available (having flow back to Portland with her knee injury), but this game was an absolute dud. Western New York seemed tired. Portland seemed in survival mode. While that seven-eight matchup at Boyds wasn’t exactly the best advertisement for the league, either, it was better than the game in Rochester.

Implications: Western New York stay second in the league, but thanks to Sky Blue’s draw in Chicago, there’s a trio of teams sitting three points behind Kansas City.

The scenarios (correct me if I’m wrong):

  • Kansas City takes home-field outright with a point on Sunday against Chicago. The only way they don’t take home field with a loss is if they’re involved in a three- or four-way tie that also includes the Flash. In that scenario, KC’s head-to-head advantage gets usurped by Western New York’s edge in goal difference.
  • Western New York needs to win, have Kansas City lose, and have Portland or Sky Blue win to take home field. A win guarantees them at least second place (and a home game). Barring any outlandish results that significantly change goal difference, they’ll win tiebreakers with Portland, Sky Blue, or a three-way tie between all three clubs.
  • Portland needs to better Western New York’s result (Thorns are at Seattle; WNY hosts Boston). They also need to stay ahead of Sky Blue (at Washington) on goal difference. Do both those things, and Thorns FC hosts a playoff game.
  • Sky Blue needs to better Western New York’s result. They also need to, vis-a-vis Portland:

(a) better Portland’s result; or
(b) stay even with Portland and pull ahead in goal difference (they’re -1 right now); or
(c) stay even with Portland, pull even on goal difference and out-score Portland, which will give them the edge on the league’s third tiebreaker: goals scored; or
(d) stay even with Portland, pull even on goal difference and even in goals scored, which will give them the edge on the league’s fourth tiebreaker: head-to-head road record (Sky Blue has three points at Portland; Portland has one point at Sky Blue).