Usually, by around the third or fourth week of any soccer season, a few teams break away from the pack in the standings. Looking at the National Women’s Soccer League standings, the Seattle Reign, Portland Thorns and Washington Spirit have created some distance between themselves and the rest of the teams in the league. Of this trio, however, the Reign are the only ones that have distinguished themselves on the pitch with consistent performances.
In only the third week of the season, it’s interesting to see a team like the Reign, which was completely revamped in the offseason, look as if it’s been playing together for months. For the next three matches the Reign will have to leave the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium and take to the road. If the club can earn results on the road, then we’ll truly know that Laura Harvey’s squad is for real.
We also saw the the 2013 NWSL Champions return home to their raucous crowd for the first time as well as a few gritty efforts elsewhere around the league from teams that needed to pick up valuable points. Let’s look back at Week 3.
It’s been a very strong start for the veteran German international but her performance this weekend at home against FC Kansas City was memorable. Angerer recorded six saves on the evening and while she couldn’t deny Lauren Holiday from the penalty spot, there was hardly another blemish on her account. Angerer’s making saves while leading a back line that has two rookies in key positions. She seems to thrive when working with young defenders as evidenced by leading a young squad to a EURO 2013 title. Thorns fans were looking for a performance like this one, especially after the season that former goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc put together last year.
While the engine of the Boston Breakers side comes in the form of Heather O’Reilly, the heart and the soul of the squad is Lianne Sanderson. She has the ability to dictate the game from her attacking midfield position as distributor or goal scorer. On Sunday against Sky Blue FC, the England international did a bit of both, scoring twice and assisting on another goal in the Breaker’s 3-2 win over the New Jersey club. The crucial moment to pick out of Sanderson’s night was her goal right before halftime, as she took a bouncing ball over the top, and with Lindsi Cutshall on her back and Sky Blue goalkeeper Jill Loyden rushing in, deftly flicked the ball over Loyden into an empty net. At that point it was still 1-1 going into halftime, but that piece of skill changed the outcome of the half and swung the momentum toward the Breakers.
What You Might Have Noticed But Still Stood Out
Sophisticated Runs from Beverly Goebel What stood out to me was the sophisticated runs Goebel made, especially in the midweek match against the Spirit. Time and again Goebel would drift into pockets of space in and around the box and when she received the ball, her runs opened up more pockets of space for the Reign. In the attacking, possession-style of play the Reign deploy, having players like Goebel on the pitch are instrumental for the team’s success.
Heather O’Reilly and Lisa De Vanna On the Same Page
There is good news for Breakers’ fans after watching this weekend’s match. It looks like O’Reilly and De Vanna are establishing a connection. As dynamic as both players are, sometimes trying to anticipate each other’s runs is challenging. But there were a few times against Sky Blue that O’Reilly found De Vanna with killer timed passes, giving the Australian front-runner good looks at goal. We have seen one goal from this combination so far this season in Boston’s previous match against Houston, but with De Vanna & O’Reilly successfully linking up more and more on the field, expect more than a few goals in the coming weeks between these two.
A Hat Tip to Coaches
Tom Durkin It was clear after the first two matches that the combination of Cat Whitehill and Courtney Jones wasn’t working in the center of defense after a multitude of mistakes and penalties conceded. So Durkin threw a few changes into this week’s starting lineup, including pairing Ashley Grove with Whitehill and throwing Chelsea Stewart in as a roving midfielder/defender. While the Breakers gave up two goals on the night, the defensive performance as a whole looked much better than it did in the squad’s first two matches.
Mark Parsons It was a tough week for the Spirit, travel-wise — FC Kansas city at home Saturday, travel to Seattle midweek, and Chicago on the weekend (three games in eight days) — and injury-wise — Tiffany Weimer out for the season and Christine Nairn picking up a quad injury. Parsons managed tired legs well, inserting Jordan Angeli and Bianca Sierra into the starting lineup, giving Veronica Perez significant minutes and resting Jodie Taylor and Crystal Dunn before subbing both in in the second half. After getting outplayed at Seattle, the Spirit had to regroup and find a way to grind through 90 minutes against the Chicago Red Stars to get the result. That’s exactly what the club did, earning a 1-0 result by converting on one of its few chances in front of the net via a Tori Huster header as well as limiting the Red Stars to one shot on target to preserve the clean sheet. The Spirit now sit in third place with six points.
Off the Pitch
We saw the Reign’s Kendall Fletcher back flip during a goal celebration in the midweek match against the Spirit. After seeing that, I think it might be a great idea to settle a really important issue once and for all: Who has the better back flip goal celebration in Seattle — Fletcher or the Seattle Sounders’ Obafemi Martins? Wouldn’t it be pretty cool to see a video like that and get some nice cross-promotion between the two clubs in the process? I would be game to see something like that happen.
It was a pretty shocking moment when I got the release on Wednesday afternoon to see Washington Spirit forward and OGM‘s Editor-in-Chief Tiffany Weimer will miss the rest of the season with an ACL tear. To say I was absolutely gutted for Tiff after reading the email was an understatement, knowing how much work she put in during the offseason to get ready to give it all for the Spirit this season. I wanted to take the opportunity to wish Ocho a speedy recovery so you can get back out there nutmegging people as soon as possible. #OchoStrong