[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]chedule-wise, Week 8 of the National Women’s Soccer League was relatively light. Five games were played and while there wasn’t a whole lot of movement in the standings, some statements were made. From overhauling a starting XI to battling back against NWSL championship finalists to tying best-start records, there was plenty to notice around the league. Let’s take a look back at Week 8 in the NWSL.
Seattle Remain Unbeaten
An 8-0-2 record through the first 10 games is a complete 180 degree turn for the Seattle Reign, who started off the 2013 season with a 0-9-1 record. With its 2014 start, Laura Harvey’s side can place its name alongside teams such as LA Sol, FC Gold Pride and the Western New York Flash for best starts. The Reign are playing a brand of soccer that’s easy on the eyes and enjoyable to watch. After going down 1-0 to Sky Blue FC on the road this weekend in the first half, the second half was one-way traffic in favor of the Reign. Nahomi Kawasumi saw her first action since returning from national team duty with Japan at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup tournament and walked the ball into the net after finishing off a great service into the box. It will be interesting to see if the Reign can continue the pace it’s set in the first 10 games into the second half of the season.
Durkin Makes Changes
Last week, I talked about hoping to see Boston Breakers Head Coach Tom Durkin make lineup changes after weeks of frustrating results. Durkin not only made one or two changes, he overhauled the entire lineup for the mid-week match against the Portland Thorns. And it worked brilliantly. Jazmine Reeves bagged her first professional hat trick, Nkem Ezurike scored a goal and players that haven’t seen much action — Bianca D’Agostino and Chelsea Stewart, for example — were impressive in the 4-1 win while regulars Heather O’Reilly and Lianne Sanderson came off the bench.
What was confusing, however, was the usual standard lineup Durkin reverted to against the Washington Spirit on Sunday which resulted in a 3-2 loss. When fringe players give an effort coaches want to see, they’re usually rewarded with more playing time. Not in this case as the lineup combination that has struggled this season couldn’t close out the Spirit, while the players who helped in the win over the Thorns on Wednesday sat, played sparingly or instead, played in the Breakers reserve side’s 1-0 win against the New England Mutiny.
Nairn Continues to Shine
When Christine Nairn played for the Reign last season, it felt like her name ended up on the scoring sheet every week. The former Penn State Nittany Lion faded toward the end of 2013, but this doesn’t look to be the case in 2014. While she’s playing in the same role for the Washington Spirit, the offense is flowing through her as opposed to Seattle. With three goals on the season, including another peach of a set-piece goal this weekend in a win over the Boston Breakers, Nairn looks much more in rhythm within Mark Parsons’ system and appears to be avoiding the “sophomore slump.”
Houston’s Never Say Die Attitude
While the Dash might be a little bit of a longer shot to make the NWSL playoffs this season, it won’t be for a lack of effort. Randy Waldrum’s side is a young team balanced by a few veterans and it will take a bit more time before it all gels together. This past weekend, the Dash traveled to Western New York and took three points from the disjointed Flash, runners-up to the 2013 NWSL championship. The Dash now run into a favorable portion of its schedule as it hosts seven of the next 10 matches and see the arrival of Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg. If the Dash want to make a push for a playoff position, now’s the time to start.
The NWSL announced a television deal with ESPN. Nine games will be shown across ESPN channels. Three regular season matches as well as the league semifinals and final will be shown on ESPN2. ESPN3 will stream an additional three regular season matches. Overall, this is a good move will give the league needed national exposure. Last year, Fox relegated its slate of games to Fox Sports 2 and the Fox Soccer Channel as it was being phased out.
Lianne Sanderson had a big Sunday for Boston despite the loss. The English international linked up well with Lisa De Vanna against the Spirit and buried her chances. If the Breakers want to get back to their winning ways, Sanderson will need to be firing on all cylinders.
What’s to Come
With the USWNT entering camp in preparation friendlies against France, rosters are going to be a little thin for the next couple of weeks. Each team’s depth will be tested as well as their ability to call up quality amateur reserve players. These factors, combined with the tightly packed schedule, could make for some interesting matchups as well as a chance for teams to grab or sneak away with valuable points from teams with thinned-out rosters.