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:
1) If you can’t defend them, just outscore them
Sometimes tactics can be overrated, especially when they keep your best players off the field. Mark Parsons played Diana Matheson and Crystal Dunn at outside midfield spots. Neither one is a natural fit there, and predictably both drifted toward the middle of the field, but when they did, their quality and Dunn’s athleticism wreaked havoc on a usually organized FCKC defense. Matheson and Dunn combined on two goals and a Christine Nairn brilliant free kick was enough for a confidence-building victory. With a midfield of Dunn, Matheson, Nairn, and Yael Averbuch, the Spirit shouldn’t struggle for goals this season. Washington only conceded once, but still did not exactly look like a defensive force to be reckoned with against Kansas City. But the passion was back in their play, and sometimes (see: Liverpool men) your best defense is a good offense.
2) Not time to worry about Kansas City yet, but …
Kansas City still knocked the ball around and dominated possession in the second half, but the rate at which they fail to create chances and then waste the ones they got is troubling. Outside of Lauren Holiday repeating her MVP season from a year ago, they’re left to depend on Amy Rodriguez – self-admittedly not 100 percent – to score. Neither Erika Tymrak nor Merrit Matthias has shown 2013 form yet this season, but it has been only two matches, no time to panic yet.
3) Failure to battle will result in a loss
Aaran Lines was extremely unhappy with his team’s effort in Chicago, and the Flash looked nothing like the team that ran rampant over Washington the week before. The Red Stars, complete with plenty of new faces, eventually started to take the game to them and Julie Johnston (whose name you will probably know soon if you didn’t already) got the winning goal. The Flash have a week off and should have Abby Wambach returning for their home opener, so this should just be a blip on their radar.
4) Some depth in Houston
Rafaelle Souza scored 22 goals last season at Ole Miss, but it seemed like a long way from the SEC to the NWSL until Souza came on at halftime and combined with Teresa Noyola to pick the Boston defense apart en route to the first win in franchise history. The Dash also got a good performance from Tiffany McCarty, and as I pointed out last week, if they can hold their defense together until reinforcements arrive in a month, look out. Boston played much better than it did in its opener, and a team with Lisa de Vanna, Lianne Sanderson, and Heather O’Reilly should score, but they’ll have to figure its defense out. Courtney Jones appears like she might be made scapegoat heading into next week, but the problems are deeper than that.
5) Another great escape from Portland
The Thorns actually had much more of the ball than they did against Houston, but were extremely lucky to escape with a point when it won the battle of the second half penalty kicks. Christie Rampone scored her first professional goal, but it was the brilliance of Sophie Schmidt – who carried Sky Blue offensively for much of last season – who created the goal with her header off a corner kick. Christine Sinclair and Allie Long provided most of the offensive impetus, but the Thorns still couldn’t score in the run of play. But they were spared a loss when Kelley O’Hara missed a penalty kick in stoppage time. O’Hara (2) and Rampone had the only shots on goal for Sky Blue in the match.