Some thoughts, scattered at best, on soccer that are too long for social media. Not takes on purpose, I promise.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) opened up its fifth season over the weekend with all 10 teams in action. It was the first games of the season and it showed, particularly in defense. But the opening game does not a championship-winning team make. Usually.
Also, ACL tears suck.
Game gifcaps with more information are available for each match.
Houston Dash 2–0 Chicago Red Stars
Goals from Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly paced the Dash past the Red Stars. Christen Press played the role of play maker behind Jen Hoy and Stephanie McCaffrey. It didn’t work. Often, Press dropped so far back to defend; Press away from goal is not good. Daly had a wonder goal and if her form of late continues, it should make England manager Mark Sampson more than a little nervous about leaving her out of his Euro 2017 selection.
Houston travels to Seattle in what will be an interesting matchup in the midfield. Chicago hosts Kansas City and will be looking for a better attack but face a Blues team
Washington Spirit 0–1 North Carolina Courage
It wasn’t a rematch, stop calling it that. This isn’t the Spirit team that wowed in 2016 with possession-based soccer, and the reasons why have been dissected elsewhere. The Courage have retained its championship-winning team and added Debinha, who was fun to watch and showed her creativity in her debut. The Spirit lost Jo Lohman in the first 20 minutes to a now-confirmed ACL tear and she’s out for the season. It’s going to be a long season for the Spirit, mainly because scoring is going to be hard to come by. Woeshington. When the team had the ball, there were zero ideas going forward. The Courage, on the other hand, know how to attack — this is a Paul Riley team, after all — and with Debinha in the fray, should cause even more headaches for opposing teams.
Washington heads to Orlando to get pummeled by the Pride. North Carolina will open at home against Portland in what might be a sneak peek of the league final.
Portland Thorns FC 2–0 Orlando Pride
Dodgy defense. Clap, clap. Dodgy defense. To be fair, that chant could be leveled at many of the teams after opening weekend, and it certainly works for both of these teams. It’s curiously applicable to a Pride team that boasts the defensive pedigree it has in Steph Catley, Ali Krieger, and Alanna Kennedy. Saturday’s hammering was a direct result from an uneven performance from the midfield. The Pride’s center backs were left exposed and overworked; blown marking and being beat for pace, for example, and that’s not something I’m used to seeing from the likes of Kennedy and Krieger. Christine Sinclair torched Krieger on the day, and Krieger might be better on the outside of that defensive line. The Pride will settle down though, and be okay. Maddy Evans was absolutely robbed by Allie Long on the Thorns’ second goal. The Pride midfield will be a concern — Marta and Alex Morgan will score and stretch defenses, sure, but it might be a lot of long ball for the Pride. Portland’s defense was shaky but eventually settled. On a team that is stacked and strong in each line, the Thorns’ defense is its weakest part, and teams that can press high, should.
Portland will travel to North Carolina and hope its defense doesn’t start as slowly as it did against Orlando. The Courage have the finishers to make them pay if they do. Orlando opens up its new stadium against Krieger’s old team, Washington, so yeah, no story lines there. Plus, Marta. This should be a really good game for the Pride and give the team momentum moving forward.
Seattle Reign FC 1–1 Sky Blue FC
I liked this game. It ended up being decided by dueling penalty kicks but it was fun to watch. It was deliberate play, especially from Sky Blue. Sky Blue started its rookies and they held their own. The kids from New Jersey (Christie Pearce is 41. Okay, age has been mentioned, now drink!) are alright and if Sky Blue can keep it together and hone the attacking part, they might make some noise. It’s nice to see Kelley O’Hara out of defense. Seattle will be a work in progress after losing Keelin Winters and Kim Little. Jess Fishlock is a complete engine and she’ll need help in a midfield that’s still working it out. Lauren Barnes was a rock in defense. And of course, Haley Kopmeyer was terrific.
Seattle stays at home to welcome Houston. The Reign’s defense might be in for a long night if the Dash can continue to bring the proverbial heat in the attack with Ohai and Daly. Sky Blue heads to Boston in a matchup that could favor its attack over the Breakers’ shaky defense.
FC Kansas City 2–0 Boston Breakers
Goals by comeback kids Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez was en route to making this a dream season opener for the Blues until Rodriguez went down with what has now been confirmed as a season-ending ACL tear. Heartbreaking for A-Rod. A bright spot for the Blues was the play of Christina Gibbons; she’s a player, flat-out, and hopefully will see more looks at the senior U.S. Women’s National Team level. For Boston, it was… Boston. A shaky defense that had a good player in Christen Westphal playing center back doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence right now. Rose Lavelle showed flashes of technical ability but the question for Boston is who else will?
Kansas City travels to Chicago to face a Red Stars team looking to gain the form that has several people putting them atop the podium in the fall. The Blues’ should look to exploit the high line the Red Stars for some reason played against the Dash. Boston opens up at home and has to figure out its back line.
Again, opening games do not a championship season make.
Player of the Week Vote
I must mention Amber Brooks, Yael Averbuch, Lo’Eau LaBonta, Sydney Leroux, Debinha, Amy Rodriguez, Christine Sinclair, Sam Mewis, Adriana Leon, and Allie Long as well.
go90 and Lifetime
For the most part, it worked. A bad feed in the Houston-Chicago game and mistimed ads during the Kansas City-Boston game aside, the go90 apps worked well. The concern is in the quality of the international streams, which was inconsistent. For a league that has international players, a quality stream for fans outside of the United States is a must.
As for any hiccups, we got to know which players were watching by those who tweeted about their frustrations, including Krieger, Daly, and Labbé.
The Lifetime Game of the Week was terrific, production-wiser. A+. And Lifetime is putting in the work:
A+E has an equity stake in the league and they’re taking it seriously. If the league succeeds, the return on the investment is larger. Now, how much of an equity stake? That is the question and it’s worth continuing to ask until an answer is given — how much of its soul has the NWSL sold?
Which leads me to…
Bad! Seriously, the games shouldn’t be in the afternoon. I understand the need for backup games and the demands of television, plus the requirements of the deal with A+E, I do. These are marquee events and should be treated as such and that means evening games when possible. Perhaps — and this is an admitted long shot — game times can change to evenings in year two of the deal.
There is also the consideration of playing in Houston or Orlando at 1 pm local time in the heat. Additionally, if Los Angeles is added, playing at 10 am is such a nonstarter — youth and rec games are played all day on Saturdays and Sundays in Southern California.
In short, heat considerations and attendance are both things to watch this season.
The Chicago Red Stars are doing it right. The My Kind of Town (#MKOT) re-brand has been excellent. Why? Because it showcases the players as athletes and not causes. It’s grown-up and doesn’t pander to fandoms. It uses the team as the focus and not individual players.
Leroux’s stomping goal celebration was a contender but I have to give it to Ohai this week.