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.
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:
1) The NWSL actually has a disciplinary committee
Carli Lloyd was suspended for two games Monday for “using excessive force” against Chicago, which came nine days after the incident, and to my knowledge, was the first of its kind for the NWSL. The MLS Disciplinary Committee has been a moderate success, and it would be nice to see the NWSL follow suit, but that also means looking at reckless tackles such as Chicago’s own Julie Johnston taking a bad touch against Washington and nearly doing some major damage to Danesha Adams’ leg trying to retrieve it (in the 67th minute if you wanted to find it on YouTube). Or referees can just start giving such tackles the red cards they deserve.
2) Cascadia rising
Megan Rapinoe (who also may be facing a suspension for a kick out a couple of weeks ago) still wasn’t healthy Sunday, but Seattle took Houston apart anyway. The biggest difference between the Reign and Portland currently is that Seattle has most of its team (including Kim Little) with them to start the season, while the Thorns will have to wait another month. Yet Jess McDonald, whom Alex Morgan will likely replace when she finally gets healthy, stepped up with two goals – including a brilliant second – as Portland posted another early-season victory. They meet on Sat., May 10 by the way in Portland, where all they did was draw 14,000 people on a rainy Saturday night in their win over Kansas City Saturday.
3) Stopping the bleeding
It would appear Kaylyn Kyle is headed to Houston and the backline is a work in progress, but Boston was able to grab three points over equally struggling Sky Blue Sunday night. Most of the Breakers success ran through Lianne Sanderson, who is making her case to be considered with the top players in NWSL with two more goals and an assist. Tom Durkin played Heather O’Reilly in the middle for most of the night and Sky Blue not only scored twice, but missed several other opportunities, even with Maya Hayes going without a shot. Meanwhile, Sky Blue has to turn around and host Seattle Wednesday, which does not bode well for them based on current form.
4) Clean sheet for Washington
The weather was miserable in suburban Chicago last Saturday, but that shouldn’t take away from a gutsy effort from the Spirit, two words that didn’t really come near each other at any point last season. But there was Tori Huster not only looking confident in the middle of the Washington defense, but scoring the winner (albeit controversially) at the other end. Mark Parsons, intelligently, is trying to pace Crystal Dunn, especially with a tough run of games in quick succession early in the season, but with her healthy, the Spirit may have playoff aspirations yet.
5) Aside from the bad tackles …
It’s probably not coincidence that two of the more aggressive players in NWSL have also been the most impressive in the early-season. The USWNT depth at center back is fairly thin right now, which may give room for someone like Julie Johnston to find a home if the new coach can tame her propensity for being a little too aggressive. But Johnston is fearless, has athleticism, and is is constantly seen roaming forward the ball (which may be the only thing she has in common with her potential backline partner Becky Sauerbrunn stylistically), all qualities that have served her well for Chicago thus far this season.
Meanwhile, with Portland’s missing personnel, Allie Long has stepped in and been the biggest reason the Thorns have been able to not only stay afloat, but thrive. When Vero Boquete arrives, Long should be able to fit into a more natural holding midfielder role, but should find the opportunities to get forward when Portland is at full power as well.