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.
It’s easy to make too much of one game. WUSA had huge crowds at the beginning of its run, WPS had its matches right after the 2011 World Cup. But there’s a feeling that Portland may be able to change the game here. That will take time, of course, and hopefully this time the NWSL will give the professional game time to grow in North America.
For now, we can look at pictures like this and smile.
The shortened NWSL Week in Review:
WASHINGTON 1:1 WESTERN NEW YORK
What we learned:
The Spirit again have to be happy with the effort they gave, they were feisty throughout in front of their home fans, and Diana Matheson (who ended up scoring from the penalty spot) was especially busy and effective finding spots in the middle, popping up all over the field. The beleaguered (at least in the preseason) backline did fairly well, even if Tori Huster and Robyn Gayle had to get physical to do it.
And yet again, you had to consider Washington fortunate to get a point in the end. Abby Wambach missed a couple of great chances before the Flash finally scored, and the Spirit didn’t look particularly dangerous going forward before Jasmyne Spencer won an equalizing penalty late, which looked controversial on the webcast, but reports from the site seem to indicate a clear jersey pull.
I found it interesting that I recognized Aaran Lines’ lineup almost exclusively from last year’s WPSL Elite campaign, with the notable exceptions of Wambach and Adrianna Franch obviously. The Flash only have one point through two games, and goal scoring is a bit of a concern, but there’s no huge reason to panic. Lines trusts workers like McCall Zerboni and Kim Yokers, and – even though the results haven’t shown It early – his recent record shows his trust will pay dividends in the long run. It was a bit odd that he didn’t give Jodi-Ann Robinson more minutes because she’s been supremely effective, but she may be battling an injury. She could be a big difference if healthy, however.
Woman of the Match:
Samantha Kerr – She not only scored the Flash goal, but the 19-year-old Australian was dangerous down their right side in their entire match. It’s interesting that these college age Australians are so successful, and yet their American counterparts will spend most of the summer looking for somewhere to play (likely in a lower league), but that’s a debate for another day.
You might have missed ….
Well you probably didn’t miss Wambach’s concussion scare late in the game, but it’s still interesting that she was allowed to finish the final five minutes of the game after being hit by a teammate’s kicked clearance from not far away. The incident shows what makes concussions so scary, Wambach played the final minutes rather effectively, but soon after had no memory of it and was “out of it” according to opposing goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Let’s hope everyone with the Flash makes sure Abby is completely healthy before green-lighting her return to the field, even if their home opener is this weekend.
Washington – vs. Sky Blue (Sat.); Western New York – vs. Boston (Sat.)
PORTLAND 2:1 SEATTLE
What we learned:
Again, not to delve too far into hyperbole, but we hope this will be a landmark day for women’s soccer in this country. On the field, for missing several players they originally thought they might have, the Reign played a fairly solid game, and if they’re able to get to halftime with the game scoreless, who knows?
Jess Fishlock, who somehow did not make Great Britain’s Olympic team last summer, seems like she could be a star in this league. Like Matheson for the Spirit, she was everywhere and added a little attitude on top, which – if done correctly – can be great for NWSL. Heck, I want to see her play next week at this point. It’s hard to see (minus the likes of Megan Rapinoe at least) where the goals are going to come from. Teresa Noyola maybe? Christine Nairn will try, but she doesn’t seem like a natural striker at this level. But there’s time to figure that out.
Many were impressed with Christine Sinclair’s performance, and we know how good her game is by now, but you began to see the havoc that Alex Morgan can wreak on defenses when the ball is played into space and she’s able to run onto it. Seattle was clearly discombobulated on several occasions by her speed, and scoring instincts. She beat three Reign defenders at one point in the first half, and if it weren’t for a well-placed Kate Deines would have scored the opener. The goal Morgan did score was a nice pass from Sinclair, but was more a defensive gaffe, as Elli Reed was unable to recover after a pretty hideous giveaway in their own third. We’ll see if Portland can play with the same tempo on the road.
Woman of the Match:
Marian Dougherty – If you’re like me, you know her as Marian Dalmy, who had 11 caps with the national team, but never scored like she did Sunday on a beautiful header late in the first half. Even beyond her set piece prowess, she provides a solid veteran presence in the back for the Thorns, and didn’t make many mistakes there against Seattle.
You might have missed …
The Nikki Washington-Fishlock battle was fairly fascinating. It came to a head in the second half when Washington fouled Fishlock on what looked like a 50-50 play, followed by a vociferous celebration of that fact by Fishlock. A couple of minutes later Washington got her “revenge” by leaving a leg out and taking down Fishlock at midfield. Washington took her yellow card and went back to her position without complaint. See, Luis Suarez, not that hard.
By the way, wonder what Washington – who somehow found her way to six different WPS teams in its history, including magicJack, thought of the crowd and the atmosphere Sunday?
Portland – at Chicago (Sat.); Seattle – at Kansas City (Fri.)