Author Archives: Ray Curren

NWSL Week in Review: Five Things (Week 3)

Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers had just seen one of the biggest championships in sports, the English Premier League, potentially slip through his fingers. It had been two decades – an eternity for a club like Liverpool – since its last title, and Rodgers’ team had kept the ball for the majority of the afternoon, yet ended up on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.

So Rodgers was a little ticked off.

“We were the better team with the ball. We just could not unlock them,” Rodgers said, decrying Chelsea’s winning tactics as negative and unsporting. Did I mention winning tactics?

For one match, we know (and surely Rodgers should have) that can work extremely well, especially with a master tactician like Jose Mourinho at the wheel. But for a whole season? Well, the jury’s still out on that one.

Under relative unknown Vlatko Andonovski, FC Kansas City appeared to be on its way to the inaugural NWSL regular season title, using a possession-based, fluid style that drew lots of admirers far from Kansas. But then FCKC lost its last two games and followed that up by losing to Portland in the playoff semifinals.

Whoops.

And now three games into 2014, Kansas City – somewhat predictably – leads the NWSL in shots attempted and, although Seattle might be giving them a big run for their money, is probably near the top of the possession statistics. For their troubles, they have just a single point and sit at the bottom of the NWSL.

Time to panic? FCKC did lose Desiree Scott in the offseason and the defense has not been close to the same without her, having conceded seven times. But they’re still seeing a lot of the ball and getting shots off. Amy Rodriguez has looked lively, and there has to be better soccer ahead for two of last year’s stars, Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak.

In short, I don’t think it’s time for Vlatko and crew to throw out the playbook that worked so well last season. At least not yet.

Onto what we learned in Week 3 of the NWSL season:

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: Five Things (Week 2)

When you read an article like this in the New York Times of all places, the first reaction – understandably – is straight up anger. Because if you’re reading this, it’s highly likely you have a passion for women’s soccer, and when you see misinformation, or more importantly, half-truths, about a cause that is near and dear to your heart, it hurts. You know the history, you know how hard people have worked to make this version of women’s professional soccer in this country work, and that it’s going to take time to succeed in this culture.

As poorly written as it is, though (hey, New York Times, I can write in proper sentences if you want to hire me), it’s hard to discount completely the overall premise, which is that the NWSL – while far from desperate – faces an uphill struggle to become somewhere where the best women’s soccer players in the world can draw a decent salary to play the game professionally.

And the juxtaposition was striking on Saturday in Maryland as Washington and Kansas City played what I thought was the most entertaining NWSL game I’d seen in two seasons, not just with the goals and chances, but with the technical display of the players. There were a few defensive miscues and poor touches, sure, but some of the best soccer players in the world showed why they are.

At the end of the day, 2,577 came to see it. Should we care? Probably not as much as people say we should, but you wish people could see what you see. Maybe someday they will. Until then, we’ll just keep fighting the good fight, and watching the beautiful game.

Without further ado, five things we learned from the second weekend of the NWSL campaign:

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: Five Things (Week 1)

I guess the fact that the NWSL has returned for a second season is something to celebrate with the recent history of women’s professional soccer leagues in North America. Of course, your mind knows that the backing of USSF (as well as Canada) made that possibility virtually zero, but your still mending heart is a tad bit gunshy these days.

The tendency in all sports is always to put more emphasis on on opening game than we should. It’s been seven months since we’ve seen a game, and our minds like to project a single performance over the rest of the summer. So it’s not time for teams like Boston and Washington to panic, or for Seattle and Western New York to start making plans for the NWSL final quite yet. I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and say that the Reign have a much better chance than they did at this time last season.

Without further ado, five things we learned from the opening weekend of the NWSL campaign:

Continue reading

We Hardly Knew Ye, Tom Sermanni

(NOTE: I wrote this on AWK last November when Tom Sermanni was hired.)

Had he known his job was on the line, it’s likely Tom Sermanni might have had a different mindset heading into the Algarve Cup last month. But with 15 months until his next (and really first) meaningful game at the World Cup in Canada, he was still in the process of trying to find out what he had.

The Algarve Cup has always been an oddity in the women’s soccer world, a tournament played in front of virtually no fans in Portugal, but featuring most of the best teams in the world. Even if you witnessed it online, you were one of the few, it wasn’t even available through ussoccer.com, let alone a cable television network.

Like seemingly everything else historically in women’s soccer, the USWNT has ruled the Algarve, winning 8 of the last 11 coming into the 2014 edition, with two of the non-winning years the result of penalty kicks in the finals. However, although it’s the stiffest competition the United States will likely face until next year’s Algarve, it’s also perhaps the only time a relatively new coach like Sermanni can look at new players in pressure situations (see: actual real live World Cup contenders).

Continue reading

U.S.-Canada Review: Sydney Being Sydney

For 92 minutes Sunday afternoon, you had a coming out party of sorts for the new United States women’s national team. Tom Sermanni used his first real “test” against quality opposition to tweak some things and look at some people. It was a fairly decisive 3-0 victory over a solid opponent, and he was able to do it with plenty still in reserve.

Then Sydney Leroux happened.

Oh, Sydney.

Ironically, on a scale of 1 to Emmanuel Adebayor running 110 yards to slide in front of his former club’s supporters, Leroux checks in at approximately a 2. She pointed to the United States crest and to the crowd, and that was about it, really. Maybe a little jumping up and down.

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: It’s Alex Morgan’s World…

The line on a perfect sunny Monday afternoon in southern Connecticut snaked around the block, girls of all ages and jersey colors grasping the same baby blue object in their hands.

Many of them were skipping their youth soccer practice, some had their training cancelled altogether, a few had even come up with mysterious ailments to get home from school early in order to get to the front of the line hours in advance.

All to get about 15 seconds – give or take – with their hero, snap a photo, and get her autograph.

Welcome to Alex Morgan’s world.

 

 

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: Concussions Are No Fun

It was 10 minutes into one of the final games of the high school season last fall, and our tall center back – perhaps the biggest key to anything we did in keeping from conceding goals – went up for a lofted ball into our box, something she does a few dozen times a game (in some cases in which we were outclassed, probably more).

She won the ball, per usual, but not cleanly. It caromed straight up in the air and was eventually kicked out of bounds. As I looked toward her, she was rooted in the same spot she headed the ball, blinking her eyes. A teammate went over to her, followed quickly by the referee, who waved me on. While she had never actually been knocked off her feet and could answer any question I threw at her, her pupils were clearly dilated and she said she had a little bit of a headache.

Because we were playing at a large school, the trainer had to be called from the volleyball game at the nearby school, which took about five minutes.

“It doesn’t look too bad, and I’ll leave it up to you, but I wouldn’t put her back in the game.”

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: Roses For All in Portland

It was the worst of times, not in the women’s soccer world, but in just about everyone’s world in America last week as sports receded into the background while the nation searched for two terrorists. It’s weeks like this where our games can seem so insignificant, especially when “real life” hits close enough to home that one of the NWSL games has to be postponed because the entire greater Boston metro area was in lockdown and the Breakers could not leave to get to Kansas City.

The last portion of the preceding paragraph would be preposterous just days earlier, but there we were Friday night paralyzed watching as there was at least an ending that saved us more horror. The Breakers, like the rest of Boston, were able to try to get back to some sense of normal on Saturday, although it’s understandable if it takes a little while.

And yet this weekend we were able to see the hope for the NWSL. On Saturday, Washington and Western New York played before an overflow crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex, which was in remarkable condition (and featured real live grass). A day later, more than 16,000 piled in to Jeld-Wen Field to see Portland and Seattle, and while the number was obviously stupendous, the demographics appeared almost as striking.

We love young players to attend games, as a coach of young girls, I hope this league gives them a chance to have role models and the like, but what struck me Sunday is that – while there was still a family atmosphere – it sounded, well it sounded like a professional soccer match: chants, the din actually following the play, and – yes – roses for the goal scorers.

Well, maybe we don’t see that last one around the world very much.

Continue reading

NWSL Week in Review: About Those Little Things

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Well, you’ve pretty much got me for life, don’t you?

And so, here we are again with another women’s professional league, the NWSL opening up this weekend. Unfortunately – and probably unfairly – for the NWSL, it has the burden of two failed leagues that came before it on its shoulders, but while reality and perception can often take diverging roads, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish which one is which without careful examination.

I’m not here to solely bring the bitter negativity, obviously I want the league to succeed as much as anyone. However, I feel it’s important to talk about things that may become issues as the league attempts to progress through the season, and hopefully throughout several campaigns to come.

But having lived through the WUSA on PAX and the WPS on Fox Soccer Channel, I think it’s important to be able to have perspective on what works this season. I hope, sincerely, that once everything gets worked out, most of the talk will be about what’s going on in between the lines. However, it may be a little while before we get there.

I’ve had some limited experience in both soccer game day operations (working with the PDL’s Connecticut FC Azul) and live Internet broadcasts on sportingnewsct.com, so I have at least a modicum of knowledge about two businesses which are and will be integral to the overall success of the league. Or maybe because I have that experience I overrate the importance of them.

Either way, both had their share of problems on the opening weekend of the NWSL, which I’m not going to go as far as inexcusable like some others before me have, but it was certainly disappointing. I made a concerted effort to watch all four games, and here’s what I got:

Continue reading

The Sermanni Dilemma: Where Does The USWNT Go From Here?

Tom Sermanni Courtesy U.S. Soccer

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – For those who have been around long enough to remember the reference, the U.S. women’s soccer team trip through Connecticut had the feel of the old-school Ice Capades last week. You know, when the Olympic figure skating stars came back and tried to make some money (because they were still amateurs previously) by touring the country showing off their routines and signing autographs for screaming fans?

No one really cared how well they did, no one kept score, the people just wanted to see the Olympic stars in action.

There were obviously no triple axels from Alex Morgan – at least not that I saw – and cool costume choices were limited to both teams’ kits (the Where’s Waldos? against a minor league hockey team someone in the press box commented), but although some of the best players in the world were on the field, you had the distinct feel that competition was secondary as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

As you can probably surmise already, I was torn. For someone who loves tactics and competition, both of which made the World Cup and Olympics an instant hit, I wasn’t going to get much of it here, which was frustrating when the top two teams in the world (at least according to the FIFA rankings) were below me.

But it’s not like I was a victim of false advertising or something, I was attending the “Nike Fan Tribute Tour, presented by Panasonic” for crying out loud. Abby Wambach had a goal (her 148th) and was all smiles afterward, even though the U.S. was generally outplayed (and outshot) and was forced to settle for a 2-2 tie, the first time since 2004 the USWNT failed to win in consecutive home games.

Wambach, like me, seemed a bit torn, mentioning that “this wasn’t our best soccer”, but quick to praise the nearly 20,000 people who braved a fairly hideous weather evening to see her and the U.S. play.  Morgan voiced similar sentiments, and you got the feeling she was a bit tired – mostly mentally – although she did have two assists. She sounded like an entertainer nearing the end of a long tour, but knowing that the people here deserved the same show that the people who came a month ago did.

And the fans that dodged the raindrops in Hartford cannot be discounted when discussing the overall dynamic here. Having lived here most of my life, I can tell you that Connecticut is not a great sports market, and the fact that 18,000+ showed up on a rainy, chilly Tuesday night is a testament to the popularity and success of Morgan, Wambach, and the U.S. machine.

Also, let’s be honest, most of them could care less about tactics, or whether interim coach Jill Ellis is integrating new players into the fold, or even the final score. As a youth coach, the talk at our practice the following day didn’t involve rising German star Dzenifer Marozsan, how the U.S. can stop her, or even why the U.S. doesn’t seem to have any players like her ready to join the USWNT in the near future, but how nice Abby Wambach was after the game, and who got whose autograph.

Continue reading