[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]his past week gave fans of the National Women’s Soccer League a preview of what a potential final could look like during Saturday’s FC Kansas City—Seattle Reign match. Outside of the top two teams, the playoff picture for spots three and four became a little clearer and there was another successful television broadcast that showed a raucous crowd in Portland witness a much closer contest than expected. Plus, I break down what’s to come this week for playoff “bubble” teams and select the three NWSL broadcast teams who have consistently proven themselves to be at the top of their games when it comes to calling matches.
Washington’s Six-Point Week
If Washington Spirit coach Mark Parsons had hoped to get six points from two games and sit in third place heading into the final two weeks of the season before last week’s games, he got his wish. With some inspired play and some clutch finishing by Christine Nairn in the midweek match against FC Kansas City and a 94th minute goal from distance by Yael Averbuch against the Chicago Red Stars, the Spirit are in third place and in great position to take one of the two remaining playoff spots. The Spirit will have to make a cross-country trip to Seattle this weekend but if they can take a point off the Reign, the team should be in good position to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Portland Keeping It Too Close for Comfort
In front of an NWSL-record 19,123 fans at Providence Park, the Portland Thorns scratched out a 1-0 win against the Houston Dash. The Thorns maintained a good portion of the possession and had the better chances, but it seems the inability to finish off opponents, especially at home, has been the story of the season for Paul Riley’s team. However, this home result gives the team a little boost as it has underperformed in the Northwest this season. However, with the inspired play of Vero Boquete and the steady climb to prominence of Australian outside back Steph Catley, the Thorns could find their way into a number four playoff spot. They play at Boston before hosting Seattle on the last day of the regular season, so taking three points from these matches can knock the Western New York Flash out of playoff contention. This would leave Chicago (who were on the wrong end of a 2-1 result to the Washington Spirit this past Saturday) as the only team capable of catching the Thorns.
The game to keep an eye on this weekend is the Chicago Red Stars hosting FC Kansas City on Saturday night at 8pm ET. Plain and simple, the Red Stars need a victory as they trail the Thorns by five points for fourth place. Rory Dames’ side has a game in hand on Portland and the Western New York Flash but with the Thorns playing at Boston this week and the Red Stars playing three games in eight days to finish the season (including against Western New York the night before the Thorns play the Reign), you have to think they’ll need to win all three games to have a legitimate chance at the playoffs.
For the first time in NWSL history, mandatory water breaks were implemented in two matches this week. Several people pointed out that the breaks basically amounted to extra coaching breaks and disrupted the flow of the game. I’m all for mandatory water breaks because let’s face it, players are running in 90+ degree weather for 90 minutes. If you don’t have these water breaks, there are serious risks to players’ health that can come into play (see Lauren Holiday playing against Sky Blue FC a few weeks ago). So while coaches can and do talk tactics with their players during the break time, I would rather not risk player safety playing during hot temperatures.
NWSL Broadcasting Teams
After hours of recapping and reviewing notes, plus watching replays an extra couple of times, it’s now time to talk about NWSL broadcasting. First, there are several solid broadcasting teams in this league. So to be fair, I decided against official rankings because at the end of the day, there are things some broadcasting teams bring to the table that others can’t and vice versa. There is no perfect broadcast; for a good laugh, search You Tube for “ESPN This Is SportsCenter Perfect Show” and watch as Kenny Mayne tries his luck at a perfect broadcast. What I decided to do was recognize three broadcasting teams for what they bring to each broadcast.
Michael Minnich and Danielle Malagari
We start in the nation’s capital with Washington Spirit’s crew of Michael Minnich (play-by-play; former broadcaster for the Washington Freedom) and Danielle Malagari (color commentary; former University of Maryland team captain and player for the W-League Washington Freedom and D.C. United Women). These two have been working together for two seasons. What really stands out is their ability to provide solid banter during a broadcast. Banter is one of those things I really look for in a soccer broadcast. In a sport that can span roughly two hours from start to finish (pre- and postgame, halftime, injuries, delays), any broadcaster can spit out facts for days but providing useful commentary during lulls in action or acknowledging good plays off the ball keeps viewers interested and engaged. It also helps to receive some praise from players as this broadcasting team did from Portland Thorns’ midfielder Tobin Heath via Twitter a couple of weeks ago.
Scott Sudikoff and Katherine Donnelly
Traveling up I-95 to Boston, we find the Breakers’ broadcast team of Scott Sudikoff (play-by-play; current voice of various Boston-area collegiate sports and a sportscaster on WEEI 93.7-FM) and Katherine Donnelly (color commentary; formerly of the University of Boston and WPSL-Elite Boston Breakers). This is the first year this team has worked together (Sudikoff was the play-by-play broadcaster for the Breakers last season). What I like about this team is 1) how quickly they have gelled, and 2) how listener-friendly they make their broadcasts. You never know how long it will take for a broadcasting team to start really complementing one another, but this pair has been fairly quick in getting up to speed in working together. There is always a line to toe with statistics and Sudikoff always has the right amount of detail and information for each player while Donnelly adds in the right amount of analysis from a player’s perspective. Overall, the Breakers have a very solid broadcasting team on their end.
Tom Glasgow and Lesle Gallimore
Finally, from the Seattle Reign we have the duo of Tom Glasgow (play-by-play; current Sports Director at KOMO 4 News Radio and lead voice for various NCAA football and basketball for ROOT Sports) and Lesle Gallimore (color commentary; head coach at the University of Washington). This broadcasting team is known for its knowledge of the game and ability to tell the whole story. Painting a complete picture is something every broadcaster strives to do. Glasgow and Gallimore paint a great picture every game and don’t miss or leave out many details. The knowledge they have of the game and players is second to none. Granted, a lot of it is due to Gallimore, who has previously coached or coached against a big portion — most, really — of the NWSL. She and Glasgow do their homework before every match and it shows.
That’s it, my broadcast team “rankings” for the NWSL. Again, there are several solid broadcasting teams and many have come a long way in a short period of time but the teams listed here are second to none and enrich the broadcast for viewers every game.