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.”

We lost 3-0 without her. Three weeks later, she finally passed the strict concussion protocol put in place by our school (asymptomatic followed by one day each for running in a straight line, agility tests, non-contact practice, and full practice) and was able to play in our playoff game.

I’m no saint. But I know enough about head injuries not to mess with them. Most coaches I work with and go against are smart enough by now to have caught on. But at the highest levels, like we saw with Abby Wambach last week, it’s not necessarily that easy. At 1-1 in stoppage time, all of Wambach’s instincts were to continue when she got hit in the head by a kicked ball.

In hindsight, it’s easy to proclaim she should have come off (and obviously she should have), but in that moment, who is going to pull the trigger? You can’t blame Wambach too much, the “warrior” mentality is what she’s been most celebrated for over her historic career. Hopefully, the incident will serve as a learning experience for everyone in the soccer field, and the next time a star player goes down with a head injury, coaches and medical personnel will be able to override the “heat of the moment” principle and get all people with head injuries off the field so they can be properly diagnosed.

Because concussions are no fun. The one described above was one of four for my team last season, one for every month. Ironically, the one that looked the worst – when a girl hit her head hard on the turf after a collision – turned out to be the quickest recovery of the four, only missing about 10 days before coming back. (It’s far from isolated, I’ve heard similar numbers from high school and college coaches I’ve come into contact with over the years.)

Recovery remains somewhat of a mystery, unlike broken feet and torn ACLs, students that suffer concussions (especially multiple ones) are sometimes forced to miss days and even weeks of school while their brain begins to recover, not a month seems to go by without me hearing of a 17 or 18-year old that is forced to “retire” because of post-concussion syndrome, with studies continuing to show that women’s concussion rates run at a significantly higher rate than their male counterparts.

I’ll finish on a positive note: things are improving. A couple of decades ago, Wambach would have deemed as “having her bell rung” and probably wouldn’t have missed a day of practice, let alone the Flash’s home opener Saturday. She says she’ll be fine for Wednesday’s game, and if she passes the league’s concussion tests, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to play.

Like most professional leagues, the NWSL limits teams to three substitutions for a 90-minute game. Major League Baseball, of all people, has amended its disabled list too add a 7-day list for concussions. Previously, any injury deemed worthy of the disabled list had to be at least 15 days. Might it be time for the NWSL to lead the way and add a fourth sub for head injuries? Yes, like anything else, it can be manipulated, but the message it sends alone might be worth it.

Onto the NWSL Week in Review:

 

FRIDAY

KANSAS CITY 2:0 SEATTLE

What we learned:

Much was made about Jess Fishlock’s performance – and it was well-deserved, even though NWSL Player of the Week might be a slight stretch – however the Reign was still outplayed in a loss and offered very little going forward in this match with the exception of one great chance created by Fishlock. Kristina Larsen and Lauren Barnes were both fine college standouts at UCLA, but struggled in this match, you didn’t really notice either on the field. Christine Nairn is used to being more of a distributor, as is Keelin Winters. And, unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a while before Megan Rapinoe walks through that door.

Of course, Seattle won’t be the only team whose attack will look impotent against Kansas City this season. Desiree Scott and Becky Sauerbrunn might be the most underrated players on their respective national teams, and both have proven it through two matches in NWSL. It obviously must be said that both of Kansas City’s matches were at home on the fast (and, Friday night, wet) turf, but FCKC certainly looks like a contender early.

Woman of the Match:

Lauren Cheney – Another UCLA mention. Cheney’s second assist was in reality just a boot downfield that Renae Cuellar just ran down (showing Seattle’s defense – which had switched to three by then – slow in the process), but Cheney should fit the playmaking role Kansas City wants her to play very well. It will be interesting to see when a team (like Chicago) is intent on shutting her down what happens.

You might have missed ….

Only Merrit Matthias knows the last time she played defense before this season, and I think it was a fairly bold move by Vlatko Andonovski to play her there. Amidst a few growing pains, Matthias has been very effective and with Scott and Ken Buczkowski backing her up, can afford to get forward. Woth keeping an eye on as the season moves along.

Next up:

Kansas City – at Seattle (Sat.); Seattle – vs. Kansas City (Sat.)

 

SATURDAY

WASHINGTON 1:2 SKY BLUE

What we learned:

Spirit fans can say they played an even game after giving up a goal on a corner (and not a good one at that) just 83 seconds into the game, but I thought Sky Blue was better, at the very least, more dangerous. While other teams seem to lack offensive weapons, Sky Blue threw Danesha Adams (another UCLA player), Kelley O’Hara, Lisa De Vanna, and Katie Freels at them, not to mention Caitlin Foord, Manya Makoski, and Sophie Schmidt, all of whom got into the attack at one point or another duting the match. Entertaining, to be sure.

There were some positives, maybe the biggest again being Diana Matheson, with the Canada contingent continuing to acquit themselves tremendously to NWSL, which anyone that watched the Olympics obviously shouldn’t have been all that surprised with. We did see a few signs of the leaky backline that plagued the Spirit in the preseason, and they won’t be able to score that many goals to overcome a sloppy defense.

Woman of the Match:

Lisa De Vanna – Every time you looked up, De Vanna was running at the Washington defense, and showing tremendous speed in the process, running away from players. We know about her heart, but her goal scoring ability may make De Vanna one of the top markswomen in the league this season.

You might have missed …

Yes, it was O’Hara at forward in this game, and she looked at home, although she did commit a couple of early hard fouls before settling in. It will be interesting to see if Jim Gabarra continues to rotate O’Hara as the season goes along or whether she is rotated according to opponent.

Next up:

Washington – vs. Portland (Sat.); Sky Blue – at Western New York (Wed.)

 

WESTERN NEW YORK 1:2 BOSTON

What we learned:

You obviously can’t directly compare Abby Wambach to Kyah Simon, first of all they’re completely different players, but Simon was key to everything the Breakers did in WPSL Elite last season offensively, and the fact that Boston was able to control good portions of this game without her (and playing with an 18-year-old goalkeeper in Cecilia Santiago, as well as a couple of other injuries) is a good sign for Boston, who was playing for the first time in two weeks.

There is no reason to panic through three games for the Flash. As was previously mentioned, Wambach should be back on Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see whether they can try to piece together things using a lot of the same roster it played last season in WPSL Elite. Of course, they struggled there at times last year as well and in the end won the title, so we have to be careful not to make too much out of early-season struggles.

Woman of the Match:

Heather O’Reilly – Both goals in a road victory should do the trick. NWSL teams shouldn’t need me to tell them that if O’Reilly is allowed to run up and down the right wing with immunity, she will punish you, and she’s been dangerous in both games Boston has played so far.

You might have missed ….

It turned out there was a decent crowd in Rochester even without Wambach playing, but there was plenty of irony in the WNY feed cutting out in the second half against the Breakers. Just another one of those things that needs fixing as we go forward. Luckily, there was plenty of other action going on Saturday night.

Next up:

Western New York – vs. Sky Blue (Wed.); Boston – vs. Chicago (Sat.)

 

CHICAGO 0:2 PORTLAND

What we learned:

It turned out to be a fairly comfortable victory for the Thorns, but through 60 minutes, the Red Stars had done a decent job of shutting down the Christine Sinclair-Alex Morgan duo for an hour. Obviously, the first Portland goal came from an Morgan-forced mistake, but it’s hard to downplay the impact Danielle Foxhoven has had on the Thorns attack when she’s been on the field. I guess the argument could be made that she’s come on against tired defenders, but the thought of Sinclair being able to sit behind Foxhoven and Morgan has to give opposition defenses nightmares right now in NWSL. But it’s only April.

Lori Chalupny continues to be Lori Chalupny, and I still think Zakiya Bywaters will score her share of goals for Chicago, so I wouldn’t be that worried if I were the Red Stars, although they are on the road again this week in Boston.

Woman of the Match:

Danielle Foxhoven – Tough to give this award to a substitute is always a tad bit dicey, but Foxhoven changed the game in the second half. As I said, it’s not always that easy for a coach, sometimes there’s a balance between offense and defense that has to be maintained, but you can probably count on Foxhoven seeing more minutes going forward, maybe even Saturday at Washington. Uh oh.

You might have missed …

The crowd of 2,855 doesn’t seem too bad, but remember that’s with Alex Morgan playing. One person does not a league make (see: Marta), but it will be interesting to see the road attendance of Morgan this season compared to other teams. You hope while they show up to watch Morgan, they pay attention to Sinclair as well, although Foxhoven set her up, it was a pure class finish.

Next up:

Chicago – at Boston (Sat.); Portland – at Washington (Sat.)

 

5 thoughts on “NWSL Week in Review: Concussions Are No Fun

  1. depressedPTFCmid

    Several corrections on your PTFC match

    Foxhoven didn’t set anyone up for a goal. Morgan was the 1st PTFC player to touch the ball before both goal scorers shot.

    Chicago isn’t on the road AGAIN. They’ve played both games at home

    You should add a section of “FLOP OF THE MATCH” as well. Would be interesting.

    Reply
  2. cow pasture alum

    What players besides O’Hara, if any, have been playing at positions that they don’t habitually play for their national teams? Given the institutional support provided by said NT programs, this question will come up again and again, I’m sure.

    Reply
    1. Ray Curren Post author

      It’s been an issue on the men’s side with Geoff Cameron, but hasn’t seemed to affect him too much. Becky Sauerbrunn was rotating between center back and outside back. I think the players can figure it out, but it’s worth watching.

      Reply
      1. cow pasture alum

        It’s less of an issue with Cameron, if only because his paycheck isn’t coming from Chicago. It is easy to see Sauerbrunn playing both inside and outside for the WNT; she’s probably done both in the past. Do you think Sermanni is likely to return O’Hara to the attacking role she played in college?

        Reply
        1. Ray Curren Post author

          No, I think O’Hara is the left back for the USWNT for the foreseeable future. Interesting point about the paycheck thing, but I don’t think Sky Blue can worry about that, they want to win games and if O’Hara fits best for them at forward, then so be it.

          Reply

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