NWSL Preview 2015 – Washington Spirit

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

1st -
2nd -
3rd – FC Kansas City
4th – Portland
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5th -
6th -
7th -
8th – Houston
9th -

From worst to…well, not first, but making the playoffs in 2014 after such an inept start to their NWSL experience had to feel gratifying for the Washington Spirit. Washington just about snuck into the playoffs on a tiebreaker with Chicago, proving the decision to keep Mark Parsons in charge after he took over in the middle of the 2013 horror show was the right one. While most expected the Spirit to be better than their first season miserable selves, few probably expected a run to the playoffs given the massive turnaround needed.

Not that that turnaround didn’t come with some real bumps in the road. Washington’s defense was still terrible, with the team conceding nearly two goals a game and finishing with a negative goal differential. It was a good thing then that the club got goals galore from offseason signing Jodie Taylor, who was a bit inconsistent but often set opposing defenses on fire when she was in a groove. In the end, there was just enough offense to offset just enough of the wretched defense to get the Spirit to the postseason.

And Parsons has at least gone some way to rectify some of the defensive woes the club suffered through last season thanks to the club’s 2015 draft and a few trades. But Washington also faces the prospect of trying to grind out goals from a frontline that looks dubious on paper to say the least. Taylor was traded to Portland, and Natasha Harding, a planned replacement, was denied a visa. It means Parsons is going into battle with a strikeforce composed of players coming off serious injuries and with much to prove at this level. Odds are, the Spirit aren’t going to be so fortunate in the league table if they conceded forty plus goals this season.

Coach/Tactics

Mark Parsons stepped in in the middle of 2013, taking over a club short on confidence, but it wouldn’t be until 2014 until he began to really put his imprint on the Spirit. The Spirit manager seemingly made a faustian bargain, trading defensive solidity for attacking impetus, enabling Washington to reach the postseason despite conceding a bucketful of goals. While ‘score one more than your opponent’ may please the neutrals, it’s also a strategy that probably isn’t going to work out in the long run, perhaps explaining why the Spirit underwent a massive defensive overhaul in the offseason.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – FC Kansas City

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

1st -
2nd -
3rd -
4th – Portland
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5th -
6th -
7th -
8th – Houston
9th -
Ten games into the 2014 season, you might have wondered whether the club’s late season collapse in 2013 had inflicted permanent psychological damage to the franchise. Through ten matches, the team was 3-4-3, with the twelve points out of a maximum of thirty a far cry from the dominance some thought could be in the cards with the team that Vlatko Andonovski had assembled on paper. The defense had given up multiple goals in five of those ten matches, and suddenly, some wondered if even the torrent of goals from the resurgent Amy Rodriguez would be enough to get FCKC into position to challenge for honors.

And then something clicked. FCKC won seven straight to surge up the table, eventually finishing a convincing second place on the season. Suddenly, the title was again a possibility despite a few lingering signs of worry such as the infamous Sunday Night Massacre in July against a Portland side that put seven past them. But they’d gain the sweetest revenge in the playoffs by humbling the Thorns in the semi-final before pulling off the upset in the final against Seattle. A side that couldn’t close the deal in 2013 had finally grown up. FC Kansas City were deserved champions.

To say it’s been a chaotic offseason might be putting it kindly. While fringe players like Morgan Marlborough and Katrina Gorry were shipped out, FCKC also made some serious gambles with some trades, losing some depth by trading the versatile Merritt Mathias to Seattle and signaling a big sea change on the backline with the trade of Kassey Kallman, one of last year’s best rookie, to Boston for Heather O’Reilly. Those moves could prove to be a set of fatal errors considering the club’s defensive depth has been whittled down to the bare bones going into the regular season. With Jenna Richmond taking a year off, the club has lost some of its defensive bite in midfield as well.

Which makes it a good thing that FCKC figures to score in bunches this season with almost all of last year’s big guns returning along with some big additions. The defending champs might need all the goals they can get this year.

Coach/Tactics

Vlatko Andonovski’s been on a roller coaster the past two years. From unknown commodity in early 2013 to pass master genius that season as FCKC flew up the table to big game bottler as the collapsed down the stretch to genius once again as they took home the title last year. While the ethos trumps good sense at times in KC, Andonovski’s passing style has made the club a pleasure to watch for the neutrals, something that most definitely cannot be said of some of their rivals.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – Houston Dash

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

1st -
2nd -
3rd -
4th – Portland
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5th -
6th -
7th -
8th -
9th -

MLS money doesn’t equal instant success. It’s a truth that Houston learned the hard way last season as their ambition didn’t match the results on the pitch, leaving them rock bottom in their first season. While recent news has been smattered with worrying ticket sales, the gate probably isn’t going to be helped by an underperforming team on the pitch either. It was a message received loud and clear if some of the club’s offseason moves are any indication. The trade for Carli Lloyd cost the club a lot, but it was one that brought a big name to the Dash at last, the team’s strategy of loading its spine with USWNT players seemingly thrown in the fire for now.

Drafting Morgan Brian was the obvious move, but it nonetheless was one that should give the Dash one of the league’s best midfields when both USWNT players are with the team. Add in the trade for Jessica McDonald, and the team hopefully won’t lull fans into a coma as was the case with last year’s offense that couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat. Defensively, the Lloyd trade cost the club Whitney Engen and Becky Edwards, two big pieces of the spine for the Dash last year. Considering the club still gave up forty-four goals last year, it was a palatable sacrifice.

But depth is still a big concern here. The bottom half of the roster still can’t match the Dash’s rivals, and the club gets hit hard during the WWC. But if they can take advantage of opportunities when everyone’s with the club, they might just stand a chance of making a solid move up the table in 2015.

Coach/Tactics

Randy Waldrum came to the Dash amidst a shocking decision to step away from Notre Dame, a school which he had led to unqualified success during his tenure at the helm. Perhaps it was time for a new challenge or one at least that would increase the odds of him one day laying claim to the USWNT job, one Waldrum has been tipped for on more than one occasion. After one season in charge in Houston though, Waldrum clearly has a long way to go to get the Dash into a position to replicate the success he enjoyed in South Bend.
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USWNT – USA vs New Zealand – SoccerMeter Stats

USA 1st Half New Zealand
1 Goals 0
11 Shots 1
17:03 Time of Possession 16:32
51% Time of Possession % 49%
307 First Touches 270
190 Passes 152
62% Pass Completion % 56%
25 Number of Pass Strings 19
5.5 Average Pass String Length 5.3
10 Longest Pass String 9

 

USA 2nd Half New Zealand
3 Goals 0
11 Shots 1
17:08 Time of Possession 13:58
55% Time of Possession % 45%
285 First Touches 239
182 Passes 137
64% Pass Completion % 57%
30 Number of Pass Strings 19
4.3 Average Pass String Length 4.6
9 Longest Pass String 9

 

USA Game Total New Zealand
4 Goals 0
22 Shots 2
34:12 Time of Possession 30:31
53% Time of Possession % 47%
592 First Touches 509
372 Passes 289
63% Pass Completion % 57%
55 Number of Pass Strings 38
4.9 Average Pass String Length 4.9
10 Longest Pass String 9

NWSL Preview 2015 – Portland Thorns

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

When Portland brought in Paul Riley as their manager before the 2014 season, few could’ve expected the Thorns to need a win late in the regular season to just qualify for the playoffs. When the Thorns did their best Galacticos impression in signing Nadine Angerer and Vero, few could’ve foreseen the limp playoff semi-final defeat to FC Kansas City, the side they had vanquished at the same stage in 2013. Instead of being the NWSL’s most dominant team, they were its most frustrating. A team capable of beating playoff side Washington, 6-1, and eventual league champions FCKC 3-1 and 7-1. They were also a side that lost to Boston, 4-1, to Western New York, 5-0, and to Seattle, 5-0, amongst other infuriatingly inconsistent results throughout the season.

Judging by the above, you’d think that the Thorns would ante up on defense, but instead, the club have doubled down on offense. The team may have lost Jessica McDonald and Vero, but they’ve also added Jodie Taylor and Genoveva Anonma to a very crowded frontline. The other additions are, for the most part, massive gambles. Kathryn Williamson and McCall Zerboni’s stock sunk after an underwhelming season in WNY, while Kendall Johnson seemingly stagnated at SBFC after a promising rookie season. Canadian duo Kaylyn Kyle and Rhian Wilkinson have failed to impress thus far in the NWSL, while Sarah Robbins is untested at this level.

What Paul Riley makes out of this coterie is anybody’s guess. But one thing’s for sure: The pressure is on. Ambition has always been high given Portland’s resources, but the bar was raised even higher after the club won the title in 2013. Simply scraping their way into the playoffs this year might not be good enough after last year’s close shave.

Coach/Tactics

A pro WoSo league without Paul Riley just didn’t feel right, so Riley’s entrance into the NWSL with Portland was much appreciated by neutrals everywhere. And it was quickly apparent that Riley hadn’t changed a bit, from the media banter to the more undesirable tics, such as the complete apathy towards the draft and college talent. But at times, Riley also looked like a man out of time, as his Thorns defended nothing like his Philly WPS sides of old, putting in some of the most shocking defensive performances in the two-year history of the league.
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Spirit fall to Cavaliers, 1-0

It was a cold and windy night, and the fearsome Makenzy stalked the plains of the Soccerplex.

“Doniak, in the first half, gave us the runaround,” said head coach Mark Parsons when asked what made the difference between last week’s win and this week’s loss.

While she didn’t score, the stellar UVA forward set up the goal with a strong run down the right side in the 35th minute. She got past flank defender Estelle Johnson and sent in a cross that was either muffed or dummied by Kristen McNabb, then was put away from close range by Alexis Shaffer.
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NWSL – Eight Thoughts on The Blockbuster Seattle-WNY Trade

Is it possible for both teams to lose a trade?

Monday’s bombshell trade featuring a pair of USWNT forwards was an odd one, with the WNY Flash turning an asset who was likely never going to play for them again into Sydney Leroux and Amanda Frisbie. At the same time though, they paid a steep price besides the rights to Abby Wambach, giving up Amber Brooks, recently acquired this offseason, and a first-round pick in the 2016 NWSL Draft, which may be the most important asset of all when all is said and done. And that may be the ultimate gain for the Reign, who don’t particularly seem to benefit in the short-term at all.

Some specific points:

1. I’m not particularly convinced that Abby Wambach is 100% done in the NWSL. This season? Probably. But next year? Wambach hasn’t given any indication that she intends to hang them up before the 2016 Rio Olympics, and it beggars belief that she’d be able to remain on the USWNT if she doesn’t play meaningful club football between now and next Summer. Wambach could potentially swing it if she stars in a successful WWC for the U.S., but if she and the USWNT fall on their face this Summer, it seems highly unlikely that Wambach would be selected for the Olympic roster if she can’t prove she can at least resemble an international calibre player.

Whether that proof comes with Seattle or another NWSL Pacific Northwest team (or a European side) is up for debate, but Laura Harvey at least acquired a nice bargaining chip if Wambach doesn’t want to play for the Reign.

2. That being said, why on Earth does the Reign need Amber Brooks? And for that matter, why on Earth is Seattle taking on a player that the Flash were willing to flog off on them before she played a competitive match for them. On paper, Seattle is stacked with defensive midfielders, with the combo of Keelin Winters and the more offensive minded Jessica Fishlock unlikely to budge from their starting roles. Mariah Nogueira is the blunt object of choice in defensive midfield off the bench and arguably has been just as or more impressive than Brooks thus far as a pro in the NWSL. If nobody else gets moved, where does Brooks figure in? Could Laura Harvey pull off a narrow diamond 4-4-2 with Brooks involved? It might work in the early part of the season with Beverly Yanez and Danielle Foxhoven a potential center-forward partnership. But with wide attackers like Megan Rapinoe and Katrine Veje joining up later, such a narrow formation makes little sense. For that matter, neither does Brooks in Seattle given the club’s current personnel.
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Spirit Start Strong With 4-0 Win Over Virginia Tech

Spirit, Hokies introduction lineup

The Washington Spirit line up to take on Virginia Tech in their preseason opener.

After leading scorer Jodie Taylor was traded away and runner-up Diana Matheson got injured, followers of the Washington Spirit have been wondering who’s going to score for them this year. They got four answers on Saturday as DC downed Virginia Tech, 4-0, in their first match of the 2015 preseason.

Argentine forward Estefania Banini started off the scoring in the 14th minute, collecting the ball in the goalmouth and doing some dodging and dancing reminiscent of Amy Rodriguez’s Algarve Cup goal before sticking the ball in the back of the net. That score would be the only one of the first half.

In the 52nd minute, Banini centered the ball from the left to Amanda DaCosta in front of goal, who made a nifty move as the Tech defense tried to close her down and stuck the ball in. Eleven minutes later, DaCosta would slip the ball to Christine Nairn, who tucked the ball in from uncharacteristically close range. And Laura del Rio would finish off the scoring in the 67th minute from 20 yards out, chipping the ball over the goalkeeper and into the upper right corner of the net.
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NWSL – Who Are Ya? Camp Invitee Mini-Dossier – WNY Flash (UPDATED – 03/25/15)

Megan Brigman – D – Seattle Reign FC (North Carolina) – A draft pick last year for the Reign, Brigman was unable to distinguish herself in a loaded crop of defenders, playing little for the regular season champs. A big and quick defender with the physical tools to compete for a roster spot, Brigman will be trying to earn a contract on the main roster. There are a lot of numbers in the backline already though, so Brigman will have to impress in the preseason to stick on the roster from the start of the season.

Dominika Conc – MF – Tennessee-Martin – Slovenian international is trying to become the first player from her nation to compete in NWSL and (probably) pro WoSo in the U.S. And she’s got a fair shot at it too. Something of a cross between a box-to-box midfielder and a playmaker, Conc is physical enough to win balls while having a tremendous range of passing. And flair. Oh, so much flair. Flicks, backheels, and even a Cruyff turn or two. The Slovenian is great in tight spaces and made defenders look like fools constantly in the OVC.

Kristen Hamilton – F – Denver – Draft pick from last season gets a second chance to stick after getting injured in last year’s camp. Was one of the most decorated mid-major players of all-time, winning player of the year honors in three different conferences for the nomadic Pioneers. Last year of college was marked with fourteen goals, twelve assists, and great efficiency numbers across the board. Given the Flash’s lack of proven forward depth, she’s got a chance of sticking if she can shake the rust off.
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NWSL – Who Are Ya? Camp Invitee Mini-Dossier – Washington Spirit

Emily Banes – F – Towson – In one sense, it might be a season too late for Banes, who came out of 2013 having scored fifteen goals, as much as the previous three seasons combined. Banes did a hell of a job in putting up those goals on just fifty-six shots, though she also was inconsistent in the sense that she put just 48% of those shots on goal. If she can shake the rust off, Banes might stand a decent shot here considering how shaky the frontline looks on paper.

Che’ Brown – GK – Houston Aces (Radford) – You could make a legitimate case that Brown was the greatest Big South player of all-time, having won three Defensive Player of the Year awards in the league. Plays a high risk, high reward style in goal that sees her play well off her line and be quick to charge out to try and head off danger which can be a blessing and a curse at this level. An acrobatic flier that loves to make the big save. Average kicking game and can get burned by that risky style but could probably do a job as someone’s #3 with upside towards a #2 someday.

Erin Quinn – GK – Towson – Three-year starter in goal for a disappointing Towson program. Quinn was often kept busy by her less adept backline, forcing her into 93+ saves in each of her three seasons starting for the Tigers. Had a solid season in goal as a senior for the Tigers, which probably helped get her this shot at being Washington’s #3. Less developed than either Brown or Lillard though and may need more seasoning on the W-League reserves side for 2015.

Kelsey Pardue – MF – Longwood – Another familiar face who was with the reserve side the past two seasons. Was a consistent producer for Longwood through four seasons, culminating with two straight years of All-Region Third Team honors. Solid as a call-up but hard seeing her evolving into much more.

Jade Seabrook – D – Navy – A Patriot League legend for the Midshipmen, Seabrook graduated from Navy as a three time league Defensive Player of the Year. The superstar center-back certainly has the talent to get a shot at this level, but the big surprise is that she’d get an exception to do so from her commitment to the Navy. It remains to be seen if there are any limitations to Seabrook turning out for the Spirit this year, but if she’s available, the Navy defender could be a real steal in the end.
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