Monthly Archives: May 2016

WPSL DC-Area Week Two Recap

ASA Chesapeake Charge 2, Virginia Beach City FC 2

The Charge were supposed to kick off their 2016 season on Saturday, May 21, by hosting the Richmond Strikers, but that match was called off due to the weather.

Instead, on an unseasonably cool Tuesday evening, they hosted Virginia Beach at Arundel High School’s Carroll Field.

Chesapeake have lost some key players after several years of being a WPSL powerhouse, including forwards Laura Kane, Maria Kresge, and Cheyenne Skidmore; defender Jennifer Gillette; and goalkeepers Lyndse Hokanson and Erin Quinn. In fact, on this evening despite being the home team they had just twelve players. As a result, while they still play quality soccer they’re no longer quite so formidable.

As for the visitors, when the Virginia Beach Piranhas played in the W-League (before they folded after the 2013 season), they were notorious for their physical play. With a head coach (John Germanos) and assistant coach (the legendary Mercy Akide-Udoh) who coached and played for the Piranhas, respectively, it’s no surprise that this team is similar. This game featured numerous fouls, complaints from both benches about uncalled fouls, and at least three yellow cards.
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The League is Dead! Long Live the League!

United Women’s Soccer Rises from the Ashes of the W-League

The USL W-League set the standard for elite women’s amateur (and occasionally professional) soccer since its founding in 1995. So it was a great disappointment when the league – after losing teams for several years – folded last November. That left the Women’s Premier Soccer League as the only second-tier league in the United States, and the WPSL, while vast (103 teams this year), has a reputation more for allowing any team in that can afford the dues than maintaining high standards.

Into the breach stepped a number of teams frustrated with the situation, led by the New England Mutiny, who had already expressed dissatisfaction with the WPSL in a late-season press release.
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WPSL DC-area preview (and opening match) 2016

It’s a different landscape for elite women’s soccer in the DC-area this year. With the folding of the W-League, the Spirit Reserves and the Braddock Road Stars Elite (now the Washington Spirit Academy) have come over to the Women’s Premier Soccer League to help form the Colonial Division along with perennial WPSL powerhouse ASA Chesapeake Charge. This means that the Charge and the Spirit teams – long separated by the lack of love between the W-League and the WPSL – will finally play each other for the first time ever, and in home-and-home series. That’s certainly something I’m looking forward to.

The remaining teams in the division are Fredericksburg FC, the Richmond Strikers, and Virginia Beach City FC, but I’m just going to look at the aforementioned ones that I’ve been following.
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Chris’ 2018 NWSL Draft Big Board Top 50 – Sullivan Still #1

Positional Top Fives

GK

1. Casey Murphy – Rutgers
2. Cassie Miller – Florida State
3. Emily Boyd – Cal
4. Caitlyn Clem – Wisconsin
5. Anna Maddox – Samford

DEF

1. Jessie Scarpa – North Carolina
2. Emma Koivisto – Florida State
3. Brittany Basinger – Penn State
4. Hailey Harbison – Pepperdine
5. Michaela Abam – West Virginia

MF

1. Andi Sullivan – Stanford
2. Emily Ogle – Penn State
3. Mikaela Harvey – Texas A&M
4. Rachel Corboz – Georgetown
5. Gabby Seiler – Florida

FW

1. Frannie Crouse – Penn State
2. Megan Schafer – Penn State
3. Jorian Baucom – LSU
4. Ani Sarkisian – Michigan
5. Savannah McCaskill – South Carolina

Overall Top 50

1. Andi Sullivan – MF (DMC), D (CB) – Stanford

This shouldn’t shock anyone with even a remote sense of the college game, as Sullivan would probably get consideration as the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft were she in it. It’s one thing to come into DI with such monumental expectations as Sullivan did, it’s quite another to exceed those expectations as Sullivan certainly has. A former captain of the U.S. U20s, Sullivan was immediately one of the nation’s best in 2014 and a consensus Freshman of the Year as she helped Stanford to another successful season. She took it to another level this past season, winning first team All-America honors and ending up as a Hermann Trophy semi-finalist and will likely be a contender for the award her final two years on the farm as well. Has proven to be durable on the pitch and clutch for the Card as well, with some big goals for the club last year from her deep midfielder role. Can absolutely crush a ball and is a threat to rifle home shots from distance any time she gets a clear window to goal. Is savvy enough to play in a deep role in midfield or even at center-back, as she’s done with Stanford. It’s likely a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Sullivan gets called up to the full USWNT, and she’ll be hard to displace at the top of this list come draft day in 2018.

2. Jessie Scarpa – D (CB), F (CF) – North Carolina

Scarpa is one of many players in this class with a multitude of options as to where they might play at the next level after having featured in different positions in her two seasons thus far as one of UNC’s brightest young prospects. While still recovering from injury for much of her freshman year, Scarpa still shined quite brightly as a center-back for the Heels and was hardly overawed by the fierce competition of the ACC. But Scarpa tried a different role as a sophomore, fully healthy again, moving into a center forward role and leading the line in both a 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 for the Tar Heels. Eight goals and eight assists was an impressive return considering Scarpa had played a completely different role a season earlier, and it doesn’t seem too likely that Scarpa will be moving back to the backline for UNC any time soon, especially considering the scoring woes for the Heels otherwise. Efficiency numbers are a concern, but that’ll probably be reevaluated after another year of leading the line. A mainstay with the U20s for the U.S. during the current cycle, it would be a shock if Scarpa didn’t get the call for the final squad, and given some of the deficiencies of the current squad, the Tar Heel star may need to shine brightly for the U.S. to find glory in Oceania this Fall.

3. Frannie Crouse – F (CF, LF), MF (AML) – Penn State

Take the time to look up and down this list, and you’ll see that there just aren’t a lot of A-level forwards in this draft class, meaning someone like Crouse is going to rise to the top rather easily given her two seasons at PSU thus far. Crouse signed on to the college scene with a flourish in 2014, netting ten times on solid efficiency numbers and improved to eleven goals this past season while more than tripling her assist total with seven. Crouse’s efficiency numbers did dip considerably, as she took twenty-two more shots as a sophomore, but her shot on goal percentage did rise. More importantly, Crouse saved those goals for the biggest matches and did most of her damage against PSU’s toughest opponents in 2015, underlining her ability to get it done in the clutch. Coaches rave about Crouse’s workrate, and her closing speed to the ball is almost frightening at times. 2016 will be a big test for Crouse, as many of her teammates from last year’s national title winning team will be at the U20 World Cup, meaning the forward will have to carry her team on her back at times given the upheaval. If she can manage it, Crouse could all but solidify a spot near the top of the board going into her senior season.

4. Emily Ogle – MF (MC, AMC) – Penn State

The 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and likely member of the 2016 U20 World Cup team for the U.S., Ogle is another Penn State prospect who has played a vital role in the glories of the past two seasons, including 2015’s title winning campaign. Ogle played a bit of a deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 as a sophomore but still managed to make it work for her, netting seven goals on thirty-one shots and putting up a sterling 54.8% SOG mark, which is quite the impressive pair of stats for a central midfielder. Ogle was an absolute workhorse in the midfield last season, starting all twenty-seven matches and scarcely coming out for the national champion Nittany Lions. Proved to be a clutch player as well, netting four goals in the NCAA Tournament, including the winner in the quarterfinal against West Virginia. Perhaps overshadowed by Raquel Rodriguez last year in the center of the park, Ogle could be the center of attention the next time she steps foot on the pitch for PSU. Which might be in 2017, as the Ohio native, as stated above, figures to be in Papua New Guinea for the U20 World Cup this season for the U.S.

5. Emma Koivisto – D (RB, CB) – Florida State

Full Finnish international is already a key component to the overall growth of women’s footy in her homeland as a part of the full WNT. Already in double digits in caps for Finland, Koivisto will be key for the country’s hopes of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2017 next Summer, but she’s already proven to be a major influence in Tallahassee as well in her two seasons with the Seminoles. Another in the long line of marauding international full-backs that have come through the FSU program like France’s Ines Jaurena, Koivisto won a starting spot as a rookie here right away and hasn’t looked back, missing time only for international call-ups for qualifiers for Finland. Didn’t quite match the offensive statistics that she put up as a rookie but was part of a backline that was just as stout as it had been in the past few years. As is the case with almost every international that comes through Tallahassee, the question is whether Koivisto will stay on these shores or chase the money in Europe. Either way, there shouldn’t be any shortage of suitors for the Finnish full-back.
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Spirit continue to roll with 1-0 win over Dash

Goal-scorer Lohman looks for passing options with Estefania Banini and Crystal Dunn looking on.

Goal-scorer Lohman looks for passing options with Estefania Banini and Crystal Dunn looking on.

It can’t be much fun playing the Spirit. When you’ve got the ball, they’re after you no matter where it is on the field, whether it’s Crystal Dunn making your goalkeeper hurry her punt or Ali Krieger man-marking your flank run. When they’ve got the ball, it becomes a game of keep-away that they’re becoming experts at.

On that note, I can’t believe more of a fuss isn’t being made of the 50-second, 17-pass sequence that led to their lone goal. If DC United had done the same thing it would have made SportsCenter. To recap:

37:21 – Stephanie Labbé sends a goalkick to midfield.
37:24 – Tori Huster heads it to her right.
37:30 – Christine Nairn tracks it down and sends it on to Ali Krieger.
37:32 – Krieger sends a backpass that Megan Oyster either taps or just dummies.
37:35 – Labbé kicks the ball forward again.
37:39 – Nairn saves the ball right before it goes out-of-bounds and sends it to Krieger.
37:43 – Krieger passes it to Huster on her left.
37:44 – Huster one-touches a lob across the midfield stripe.
37:46 – Cali Farquharson comes running back and saves possession by heading it on one bounce to Joanna Lohman.
37:47 – Lohman one-touches it to her right to Nairn on the right sideline.
37:53 – Nairn starts to bring the ball forward but then turns and passes it back to Krieger.
37:57 – Krieger brings it forward a few yards and then passes it forward to Diana Matheson on the right sideline.
38:00 – Matheson has a poor first touch but hustles to maintain possession and pass it back to Nairn.
38:01 – Nairn one-touches it forward to Dunn.
38:05 – Dunn dodges around trying to find a way in but gives up and passes it back to Krieger.
38:07 – Krieger collects the ball, then finds an open Nairn making a run down the right sideline.
38:10 – Nairn runs to the ball and with her first touch sends a high ball to Lohman, who’s wide open in the goalmouth.
38:12 – Lohman heads the ball off the underside of the crossbar and in.

Almost a minute of possession with every player involved except the left side backs Shelina Zadorsky and Alyssa Kleiner (who can take some credit as they helped ensure the goal kick that started it all). See it all at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUyoeiCSp0U&feature=youtu.be&t=2697

With this year’s almost impregnable Spirit defense, that was all that was needed for the win. “Our back line is so tough, and in training I’m like, ‘You guys are brick walls,’ said Crystal Dunn after the game. “I’m just so happy that translates into the games. They are so connected and they rely on each other and they work hard for each other.”

The scary thing is that this team hasn’t peaked yet: Dunn scored fifteen goals last year, better than a goal every two hours of playing time, but hasn’t scored yet this year. Of the other forwards, Katie Stengel has a tap-in on a ball that looked to be going in anyway, and that’s it.

As with last week, the team and Dunn seemed to get more threatening late. “There was about a 10-15 minute period in the second half where we needed to put one in to kind of put this game away,” said Diana Matheson after the game. But Houston Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams made a succession of big saves to thwart any game-clincher.

“We’ve just got some players maybe pressing a bit, needing a goal,” said Jim Gabarra, “and once they come I think it will be a lot smoother.”

It’s not that Dunn is playing hurt as she has for much of her Spirit career – last year we would tease her about how many icepacks she had on her as she gimped over to the post-game press scrum. This year, we noticed that she ran over to us, icepack-free.

No icepacks? “No! I’m feeling strong and healthy.”

Bothered by not scoring? “It’s fine. My team’s winning. I mean, that’s the only way I’m justified in not scoring. As a forward, I feel like my job is to score, but at the end of the day we’re getting points, and we’re rockin’ it, so it’s all good.”

Meanwhile, the surprise of the team so far this year has to be Joanna Lohman, at 33 the oldest player on the team and (so far as I can tell) the second-oldest field player in the league (after Christie Rampone). But for now only two players in the league have more goals than her: Christen Press and teammate Diana Matheson.

Seven years ago – during the first season of WPS – Gabarra cut her from the roster when you would have thought she was in her prime. Now that she’s at an age when most players have long retired, it’s a different story. “She does a lot of the dirty work, and she manages to get the job done,” he said. “She does a lot of things in the midfield, there, and the team plays off of her. I think she’s a little bit the soul of the team.”

“Jo is a workhorse,” added Dunn. “Ever since she’s been on the team, she’s been nothing but energy and it’s just incredible. I mean at her age, she’s outrunning everybody and I’m trying to keep up with her.”

With the first quarter of the season done, the Spirit are in first place with thirteen points, three clear of the Chicago Red Stars. But their next three games are on the road, where historically the Spirit have done very poorly. But once they’ve played at Portland, Houston, and Boston, we should have a much better idea of whether or not they’re for real this year.

Spirit vs. Thorns: Battle for 1st ends in scoreless draw

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

The Washington Spirit are still waiting for production from their bevy of forwards. Other than a late tap-in last week from Katie Stengel on a ball that looked to be going in already, all the goals have come from defenders or midfielders. Against the Portland Thorns, the failure to get the ball in the net cost them two standings points in a match when they were clearly the better team on the night.

The good news – surprising given the past for both the Spirit and head coach Jim Gabarra, whose teams have been much more known for scoring than prevention thereof – is that the defense has been stalwart, allowing just one goal in four matches and currently riding a 204-minute shutout streak. But for a perfect sequence of passes that led to a Maya Hayes goal for Sky Blue in the 66th minute of that match, they could have four clean sheets instead of just three.
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Chris’ 2019 NWSL Draft Big Board Top 25 – Connolly A Clear #1

Positional Top Fives

GK

1. Rose Chandler – Penn State
2. Devon Kerr – Ohio State
3. Sarah Le Beau – Auburn
4. Ella Dederick – Washington State
5. Vera Varis – UCF

DEF

1. Alana Cook – Stanford
2. Kaleigh Riehl – Penn State
3. Natalie Jacobs – Notre Dame
4. Ellie Jean – Penn State
5. Ally Prisock – USC

MF

1. Megan Connolly – Florida State
2. Taylor Racioppi – Duke
3. Betsy Brandon – Virginia
4. Natalia Kuikka – Florida State
5. Jordan DiBiasi – Stanford

FW

1. Mimi Asom – Princeton
2. Michelle Xiao – Stanford
3. CeCe Kizer – Ole Miss
4. Leah Pruitt – San Diego State
5. Kyra Carusa – Stanford

Overall Top 25

1. Megan Connolly – MF (AMC) – Florida State

Quite simply on another level compared to the other freshmen in Division I in 2015. Connolly probably put together one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory at this level last season and could realistic stake a claim as one of the nation’s best players as she enters her sophomore season having already been named a first team All-American last season and a semi-finalist for the Hermann Trophy. Had some gigantic shoes to fill as a rookie coming in for Dagny Brynjarsdottir in the club’s #10 role in the 4-2-3-1 and now looks like she may have the potential to someday eclipse the Icelandic great in the annals of FSU history. Despite missing three games for international commitments with Ireland, Connolly still netted nine goals and ten assists, but her contributions were more than just what she got on the stat sheet, as her presence at the heart of the attack helped free up the rest of the club’s frontrunners. Connolly’s ability to make things happen and make everyone else around her better is undoubtable, and the Irish international could make history as the first foreign player to be taken #1 if she decides to stay on these shores. If she doesn’t, Connolly will surely be a hot commodity for any ambitious European club.

2. Alana Cook – D (CB) – Stanford

The Card got a stud and a half with Cook, who looks like the crown jewel in another outstanding recruiting class for Paul Ratcliffe’s program. All Cook did as a rookie was step right into a defense that has built a legacy of being a brick wall and partner Maddie Bauer to give Stanford one of the best center-back duos in the nation. Cook had been a mainstay at U17 level coming into Stanford but hadn’t really seen her career ignite at U20 level to follow but put together a brilliant rookie season, winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors to go along with many other plaudits celebrating her season. Netted three goals to go with her superlative defensive play and should again partner with Bauer in central defense to dominate opposing offenses this year. Cook had worked her way back into the reckoning for the U20 World Cup after last season but looks set to miss out like her Stanford brethren after the controversial redshirt requirement was enacted. It just means the New Jersey native will have to do her best on the backline of a national title contender in 2016.

3. Taylor Racioppi – MF (AMC) – Duke

Another of the youngsters who made the U.S. U20 World Cup roster during the ill-fated 2014 cycle, Racioppi probably put some of the hard lessons learned during that tournament to good use during last year’s dream season for the Blue Devils. Racioppi was miscast as a makeshift center-forward early on for Duke at times last season which definitely isn’t her game, but the Blue Devil offense really got going once Racioppi slid back into a more natural attacking midfield role. Led Duke in assists with six as a rookie and finished second in goals with seven, though her efficiency numbers were ghastly, and many of those goals and assists didn’t come against elite competition. Blue Devils were pretty young in parts in the attack, so Racioppi’s play could grow exponentially as the supporting cast around her matures. Figures to have Duke contending for more College Cup berths in the next few years, but Racioppi is likely to be one of the main keys for success for this year’s U20 World Cup team as a likely starter for the competition.

4. Kaleigh Riehl – D (CB) – Penn State

A lynchpin for the U20 team for the U.S. and all but assured of a spot on the final roster for the 2016 edition of the event should she keep herself in the running for a spot. Riehl quickly established herself as not just one of the best freshmen defenders in the country last season but one of the college game’s best overall defenders after anchoring a backline that carried PSU to their first national title. Started all twenty-seven matches as a rookie and went the distance in eighteen of those matches while being the glue in the middle of a very young back four. Not a prolific scorer or assister from her center-back spot but good for the odd goal or assist and saved them for some pretty big matches as a rookie. I’m not quite sure if she’s a franchise cornerstone type of player yet, but Riehl currently tracks out as a player with great pro potential after last year and will be looking to raise her profile again at the U20 World Cup this year.

5. Natalie Jacobs – D (CB), F (RF) – Notre Dame

First things first, is she a center-back or is she a forward? Jacobs plays centrally for the U.S. U20s but featured frequently as a right-forward in the Irish’s 4-3-3 as a freshman last season, so there’s certainly versatility there if nothing else. Came into South Bend as one of last year’s most heavily hyped recruits and did well as a rookie for the perennial ACC contender, starting fifteen matches for the club. There is a worry that Jacobs didn’t particularly show an acute touch in front of goal though, taking fifty-two shots as a freshman but just scoring four times to go with a brutal 40.4% SOG mark. Five assists help her cause, but if her efficiency numbers can’t improve, it might be time for a full-time switch back to central defense. It’s tough envisioning Jacobs not being on the U20 team for the Fall’s U20 World Cup, so her timetable could get pushed back, but regardless, the competition in Papua New Guinea is likely to be a big determinant of where Jacobs’ stock ends up after this year.
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