It was Lights, Camera, Action this week in the National Women’s Soccer League as ESPN aired its first regular season game of the season. The fans at Providence Park, as well as the viewers on television, saw a plethora of goals and a great performance by the host Portland Thorns. Another high-scoring result in favor of the Thorns was huge as they now jump on top of the clustered heap of teams vying for the final two playoff positions. With four of the six matches this week ending in 1-1 draws, it’s likely we won’t know the full complement of playoff teams until the final week of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from NWSL Week 15.
Four of the six matches this past week played out to a 1-1 draws. Of those teams involved, the Chicago Red Stars drew at home to the Portland Thorns in the midweek match and again away to the Seattle Reign on the weekend. In a five-game stretch in which the Red Stars faced the Thorns three times and the Reign twice, they didn’t lose a match. That being said, going 1-0-4 could hurt the team in the long run as picking up seven points out of 15 isn’t the greatest record. Looking ahead, the Red Stars will be home for four of their final five matches with two matches against teams out of playoff contention, so valuable points are there for the taking. Meanwhile, the Western New York Flash drew at home to FC Kansas City and didn’t make any headway in the standings. The Flash are one or two bad results away from missing out on the playoffs.
Sky Blue Come Alive to Thwart the Spirit
It was a rough week for the Washington Spirit as they traveled to Houston on Thursday and to New Jersey on Sunday. The Spirit walked away with one point against two teams in the bottom third of the standings. Against Sky Blue FC, the New Jersey-based club displayed a rare offensive spark as Kelley O’Hara scored twice and Nadia Nadim and Sophie Schmidt each added goals before the Spirit picked up two late consolation goals. With five games left in the regular season and four of those games against teams with playoff potential, the Spirit can’t afford big losses as they have a negative-eight goal differential, which could be the difference in making the playoffs or not.
With Portland, Washington, Chicago and Western New York right next to each other for playoff spots, goal differential is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head record. The Spirit must tighten up the defense in the last few games.
At least that’s the best I could do to spell out the theme song for ESPN (or at least SportsCenter) but the mother ship went up to the Northwest on Sunday to broadcast the Portland Thorns/Boston Breakers match. The one thing fans got from that day was a whole lot of goals and not a lot of defense. Three points is three points for the Thorns, who have struggled at home this season, and while a 6-3 win might not be the most flattering result, it’s still a result. The good news for Thorns fans is Christine Sinclair is scoring goals. In 16 previous matches, the Team Canada Captain scored three goals. Sinclair scored a hat trick on Sunday, doubling her total in one game. Give a lot of credit for those goals to the contributions of Vero Boquete and Steph Catley. Boquete is showing the form she displayed with the Philadelphia Independence during the 2011 WPS season; quick feet and magisterial distribution skills. Catley has become better every time she’s taken the pitch for the Thorns, especially with her service from the flanks.
Western New York Flash signed former Washington Spirit Reserves goalkeeper DiDi Haracic this past week after Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams tore her ACL during the match on July 12th against the Spirit. Haracic, a former standout at Loyola University (MD.), was called up as an amateur player to back up Kelsey Wys four times this year. Wys will assume the number one goalkeeper position on the depth chart. Williams is the second Flash goalkeeper to see her season end due to a torn ACL. Williams was signed to replace A.D. Franch, who tore her ACL in preseason.
It fell off my radar last week but FC Kansas City traded Melissa Henderson to the Houston Dash for a 2015 third round NWSL draft pick last week. Henderson, who is now reunited with her former college coach Randy Waldrum, made her second consecutive start and had a couple of shots on target against the Washington Spirit last week. This move will benefit her as she was falling down the depth chart in Kansas City. If Henderson stays with Houston next season, there’s little doubt the Dash will have the fastest front line in the league with Kealia Ohai, Tiffany McCarty, and the rest.
Anyone else out there noticing how deadly the forward duo of Jen Hoy and Christen Press have been for the Chicago Red Stars? Hoy’s pace to get out wide and beat defenders combined with Press’s ability in front of the net proved to be the factor in the 1-1 draw on Sunday against the Seattle Reign. Hoy dispossessed Lauren Barnes and after a long run, fed one across the box to Press, who coolly finished the play past Hope Solo. Expect these two to cause havoc in the final weeks of the season.
WPSL and USL W-Leauge Playoff Picture
As I mentioned last week, I’m keeping an eye on what’s happening in the USL W-League playoffs and the WPSL playoffs. Last season, a couple of NWSL teams pick up players after the league playoffs came to a conclusion. Sky Blue FC, for example, signed Ashley Nick after she helped the Pali Blues win a USL W-League title.
In the Women’s Premier Soccer League, the national finals will take place in Gambrillis, MD. (hosted by the ASA Charge, who fell in the Northeastern conference semifinals) and will see the Houston Aces (the 2013 WPSL national runners-up) face CFC Passion (CT) in one semifinal, and the Chicago Red Stars Reserves face Beach Futbol Club in the other. The second semifinal will be the one to watch as the Red Stars list Illinois forward Jannelle Flaws on the roster as well as other top local collegiate players while Beach Futbol has rolled this season, going 14-0-0 and outscoring the opposition, 50-14. Those semifinal matches will be held on Wednesday.
In the USL W-League, all the favorites moved out of their respective conference championship matches this weekend. The Washington Spirit Reserves cruised to a 6-0 win over Braddock Road Stars Elite on Friday to win the Northeastern conference. The Spirit Reserves were backed by former Washington Spirit first team amateur call-up Kelsey Pardue’s brace and another Adelaide Gay clean sheet. They will face the Ottawa Fury, who defeated K-W United FC, 4-0, on Saturday. The Fury have plenty of former NWSL players including Lisa Marie-Woods, Tiffany Cameron, and Bryanna McCarthy, so it’ll be a fun match to watch.
On the other side of the bracket, the Charlotte Lady Eagles got past the Gulf Coast Texans in a penalty kick shootout to win the Southeastern conference but will have to face the LA Blues, who had to put in a little extra work to dispatch the Colorado Pride in the Western conference Finals. The W-League semifinals will take place at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL., on Friday evening and will be streamed on the USL W-League Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/uslwleague.
What’s to Come
As I mentioned in previous weeks, there will be some fun things to come in this column as the regular season heads into the final stretch. I’ll do a breakdown of the top broadcasting teams in the NWSL, give out a couple of regular season player awards as well as top social media awards. Stay tuned.