With almost two-thirds of the 2014 regular schedule complete, it’s a bit scary to think that a team has nearly claimed a playoff spot with the end of the season still roughly six weeks away. Of course, I’m talking about the Seattle Reign, who have tallied a 13-0-3 start after picking up a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Boston Breakers on Sunday following a 2-1 win over the Western New York Flash in a midweek game. The Reign have eight matches remaining and hold a 21-point advantage over the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns (who both have a match in hand on Seattle), so there’s a possibility Seattle can clinch a playoff berth within the next two weeks.
Minus the Seattle “Invincibles,” there are some other key talking points from Week 13 in the National Women’s Soccer League. Here’s what happened this past week.
Road Team Success
Usually, a good measure of success for teams looking to make the playoffs is to win roughly 75 percent of their home matches and hover around .500 on the road. Anything but that has happened so far in the NWSL this season as road teams have had better success in 2014. This week there were six matches played and the road team won three of them while two games resulted in a draw. The only two teams to have consistent success at home this season are the Reign with a 6-0-2 record and FC Kansas City with a 6-0-3 record. If you combine the other seven teams’ home records, the results don’t look good. The remaining teams have played to a combined 17-30-8 record at home. Even if you add in Seattle’s and FCKC’s records, you still see a sub .500 record for home teams. Therefore, taking points on the road will have to be a premium for sides looking to make the playoffs in the last stretch of the season.
Chicago Came Back at Portland. Again.
It seems no lead the Portland Thorns enjoy against the Chicago Red Stars at Providence Park will ever be safe. After last season’s dramatic match in which the Red Stars erased a 3-1 deficit late in the second half to snag a point against the eventual champions, this season’s game at Providence Park saw the Thorns sitting on a 2-0 lead in the second half. The Red Stars came roaring back through a pair of Christen Press goals to steal a point against the Thorns.
The Red Stars looked pretty solid throughout the 90 minutes on Friday, even when trailing. The formation of having Press out wide to start and Jen Hoy doing all the running in the first half eventually paid dividends as the field opened up for Press later on. It was impressive to see Emily Van Egmond sitting in behind Lori Chalupny all game and shutting down a good majority of the Thorn attack. With these two teams set to face off two more times in the next couple of weeks, expect nothing less than the Red Stars trying to take three points to give themselves a little bit of wiggle room in the playoff picture.
Lots of complaints emerged about the officiating in the midweek match between the Boston Breakers and Washington Spirit. The Breakers were awarded two penalty kicks in the first 10 minutes of the match and then had Maddy Evans sent off midway through the second half on a straight red card for a tackle. The Spirit tied the match on a penalty kick. The game’s aftermath had players, coaches, fans, and team personnel confused and angry.
It’s becoming a weekly exercise to question the refereeing of matches by fans and players alike. A league that prides itself on having the best players needs to have all sides functioning at a high level, and that includes the referees. This season, more so than last year, has featured questionable officiating in several matches. The NWSL and PRO (Professional Referee Organization) need to solve this problem and solve it quickly.
The match between the Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC was cancelled on Wednesday night after a four-hour weather delay and will be made up later in the season. This was the first time in NWSL history that a match was postponed due to weather. The make-up match should add more congestion for teams in an already packed schedule.
New U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Jill Ellis was interviewed during halftime of the Seattle Reign broadcast and hinted at what the rest of 2014 will look like before World Cup qualifiers happen in October.
This was another week in which Boston Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was on her game, making several high quality stops despite falling to Seattle on Sunday night. Despite the Breakers’ record this season, you have to hope Naeher’s performances are enough for an opportunity to compete for the third goalkeeper spot in the USWNT World Cup roster.