NWSL Week 2 Review

[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]he second week of play in the National Women’s Soccer League saw the return of a couple of old staples from previous women’s soccer leagues come back into play.

We saw the Chicago Red Stars play a match in front of a massive crowd at Toyota Park, the stadium where the team played during its WPS days. Although the Red Stars will play only one match at their old stomping grounds before moving back to their regular home at the Village of Lisle, the Boston Breakers played their first match at Harvard Stadium, the home venue they played at during WPS before moving to Dilboy Stadium for the past two years. We also saw a young, emerging USWNT star make her professional debut and a USWNT veteran do something we’ve never seen her do before at the club level.

Who Shined

Diana Matheson
It was really only a matter of time before the midfield general for the Washington Spirit got going. And she put in quite a performance in the Spirit’s match against FC Kansas City. She was all over the field: from making countless runs through the midfield to making key stops that slowed down FCKC’s possession-oriented style to striking a long-distance laser that Blues goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart had no chance of stopping. Matheson was the heart and soul of the Spirit team last year and while the cast of characters around her has changed, the Canadian WNTer will need to continue to play a main part if the Spirit want to obtain the success they’re hoping to achieve.

Julie Johnston
It was a much anticipated debut for the former Santa Clara Bronco and US 2012 u-20 World Cup Champion as her Chicago Red Stars faced the Western New York Flash. She didn’t disappoint. As a holding midfielder/center back (she was listed in the pregame and in the box score as a midfielder, but really shifted in between both the midfield and the back line), she shut down most of the Flash’s attack through 90 minutes and was poised in possession as well, looking more like a five-year veteran rather than a rookie. To top that, Johnston scored the game’s only goal, climbing up to head home a Vanessa DiBernardo corner kick. It will be a tough performance to top for Johnston going forward but it could be a glimpse of what’s to come from this promising talent.

Monumental Stats of the Week

A couple of firsts happened this past weekend in the NWSL.

Ella Masar scored the Houston Dash’s first goal in franchise history against the Boston Breakers. After the club’s inaugural match saw the Lone Star State side go scoreless despite many close chances, Masar got on the end of a rebound from a Tiffany McCarty shot in the second half against Boston and poked the follow-up attempt home. Staying with Houston, the club achieved it’s first win in franchise history by defeating Boston, 3-2, on Sunday night. After going down a goal within the first 60 seconds, the team showed a lot of heart to get back in the match, and with some key substitutions, the club earned three points on the night.

The final first from this weekend came in the form of a goal in the Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns match. Christie Rampone scored her first goal at the professional club level. Yes, that Christie Rampone. The one who has now played in all three women’s professional leagues in the United States and has appeared in more than 100 professional club games in her career. Granted, she’s a center back and only has a handful of goals after appearing in roughly 300 matches for the USWNT, but I found it surprising to learn the goal she scored against the Thorns was her first goal at the professional club level. It must have been a momentous occasion for Captain America to see her name up on the score sheet nonetheless.

What Needs Some Work

Boston’s Void at Center Back
When Boston announced that Kia McNeill would not be playing in the 2014 season, it left a major gap in the center of defense the Breakers had to fill. McNeill was a rock in the center alongside Cat Whitehill in 2013 and it seems the Breakers haven’t found an answer yet for McNeill’s replacement. Courtney Jones, who has played all over the field in her post-collegiate career, has struggled in both matches for Boston. Jones has committed penalties in each match and has had plenty of nervy moments alongside veteran Whitehill. Plus, the Breakers have conceded six goals and you would be hard pressed to find how any of those goals are the fault of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Might be time for Head Coach Tom Durkin to try some different combinations in the back before the Breakers next match.

The Oh-Dear Moment(s) of the Weekend
Unfortunately for Kelley O’Hara, she had a 20-minute span against the Thorns that she’ll want to forget. First, she committed a penalty where she tried to collect her own misclearance inside the Sky Blue box and handled the ball, allowing Portland’s Allie Long to bury the resulting penalty to level the match, 1-1. In stoppage time, Sky Blue earned it’s own penalty kick, which O’Hara took. The ensuing kick saw the USWNT defender scuff it wide of the goal. That could have been three very valuable points for Sky Blue but they had to settle for a second consecutive draw.

Worth a Shout

It was great to see Chicago back at Toyota Park. A fair amount of people stayed after the Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution match. Since it was a single admission doubleheader, the 15,743 attendance will carry over to the Red Stars’ account for this season.

So far this season, 22 goals have been scored in eight matches, an average of just under three goals a game. I’m liking where this is going so far. Plenty of top quality goals to choose from as well.

Counting this as a honorable mention to the Oh Dear Moment of the Weekend category, Alyssa Naeher came out of her box and collected a long attempted pass from Houston this past weekend, only to eventually get carded for handling the ball outside the box. She was a good three paces outside the box and probably still getting re-acquainted to Harvard Stadium and her surroundings. You can also cue in the “Too Many Lines on the Field” argument at this point as well.