Spirit down defending champs in home opener, 3-1

Double goal-scorer Christine Nairn collects a throw-in from Alex Singer.

Double goal-scorer Christine Nairn collects a throw-in from Alex Singer.


The Washington Spirit won their season home opener for the first time in team history, downing the defending NWSL champion FC Kansas City, 3-1, on two goals from Christine Nairn and one from Crystal Dunn before a packed crowd of 4,136.
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NWSL – Round Two Fantasy Preview

So I had a solid round to begin the 2015 season but still lagged behind the leaders due to some pretty untimely zeroes, coupled with leaving the likes of Allie Long and Beverly Yanez on the bench. Christine Nairn, Estefania, and Alex Morgan (my captain) were complete busts, while Kim Little’s missed penalty proved to be an anchor around her scoring value last week. I’d be most concerned with Morgan, as she had a perfect opportunity to rack up points against a hapless Boston defense and tossed up a goose egg.

This round’s pretty easy, maybe one of the easiest ever on paper in terms of NWSL fantasy league. Seattle and FC Kansas City both have two games this round, though the second one is against each other, which might temper some of your enthusiasm in taking defensive players from either squad. Amongst the single-game sides, Portland has the biggest advantage going up against a WNY side that looked well out of their depth against Seattle last week. If you aren’t thinking well out of the box, you’ll want to flood your squad with Seattle, FCKC, and Portland players.

GK

Barnhart (FCKC) – Put up negative points against SBFC last week in a loss. Don’t count on it happening again, with toothless Washington to play first. Might concede a few against Seattle, but I think she’s got the best matchup, so she’s my GK for the round.

Solo (SEA) – A quiet 11.00 points in round one. Matchup against Chicago could be trickier than some might think, so she’s below Barnhart in my rankings but could easily rack up the points, nonetheless.

Angerer/Betos (POR) – Betos started with Angerer coming back from international duty and racked up 13.00 points. Against WNY, whoever’s in goal is a great option if you need an unallocated GK. Lineups should be in by the deadline to eliminate guesswork.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – Chicago Red Stars

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

1st – Seattle
2nd -
3rd – FC Kansas City
4th – Portland
-
5th – Sky Blue FC
6th – Washington
7th – WNY Flash
8th – Houston
9th – Boston

In the end, Chicago came up just short of the playoffs, losing out to Washington for the final spot on head-to-head, as the Spirit proved to be perfect foils for the Red Stars, topping them in all three of their meetings in 2014. It was another disappointing setback for a franchise that continues to try and finally make the breakthrough to the postseason. At second place in the goals allowed table, the Red Stars certainly had the defensive part of the game figured out, but a seventh place finish in goals scored underlined the club’s inconsistent offense, seemingly a hallmark for the franchise.

The Red Stars have always seemingly had the long game in view though, and they made a big move in the draft to gain one of Boston’s higher picks through trade. The trio of Danielle Colaprico, Arin Gilliland, and Sofia Huerta come highly regarded and may finally be the ticket to this club being something more than just a spoiler for the league’s bluebloods. Rory Dames has been patient in helping to build his team for the future, with little turnover in the way of players and has what looks like a settled roster as a result. But Chicago also, unthinkably a few years ago at the start of the league, has a good many players missing for the Women’s World Cup. Dames will be banking on his eye for talent being an acute one, as many of those young players are going to have to live up to their billing for the club to finally break its playoff duck.

Coach/Tactics

Blessed with a great eye for young talent and ability to get the most out of that talent, Rory Dames will enter 2015 with real pressure for perhaps the first time in this job. The playoffs are expected of the Red Stars thanks to the talent he has been able to accrue, and his side were desperately unlucky to miss out on the postseason in 2014. While roster turnover has disrupted almost every other side in the run up to the new campaign, Chicago has stayed mostly intact. Add in some shrewd drafting, and the Red Stars have one of the league’s deepest teams on paper.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – WNY Flash

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

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

Sitting through the 2014 season had to be like chewing nails for the WNY Flash, a franchise accustomed to success. A side that had known nothing but success in the W-League, the WPS, WPSL Elite, and after 2013, the NWSL, was instead mired in mediocrity last year. A side that had been kept mostly intact from the 2013 team that had won the regular season title and lost in the final looked shockingly stale, with losses of key players like AD Franch and Estelle Johnson keenly felt. The defense crumbled, while untimely injuries forced the team to a third-string keeper at one point. The end result was a seventh place finish, something most probably felt was unfathomable at the beginning of the season.

Instead of minor tweaks, the Flash opted to blow it all up, likely a wise move considering how stale things looked for much of the year. The organization brought in Charlie Naimo to help reinvent the team, and the first step of that reorganization was basically conducting a fire sale, trading away almost all of the club’s top talent for high draft picks in a top heavy draft. The result is a drastically different team that looks to have some fantastic young talent but that also looks short on depth. Most aren’t expecting much in terms of a playoff run from the Flash, but Naimo, head coach Aaran Lines, and co. aren’t exactly the unambitious type, meaning it may not exactly be a shock if this WNY side hangs around the playoff picture longer than many may expect.

Coach/Tactics

For head coach Aaran Lines, 2014 was the first real mark of adversity he’s faced since the Flash went professional in the final year of WPS. Lines has found it remarkably easy to collect trophies all the way up to last season, where the Flash looked curiously short of answers as their season disintegrated. For Lines, 2015 represents a real gutcheck season. Highly respected as one of the creme de la creme in terms of coaches of domestic WoSo in the U.S., Lines saw some of the sheen come off of his star given the struggles of last season. I doubt anyone is expecting WNY to march right back to a title this year, but if there aren’t signs of a bright future, some may wonder if Lines’ time at the top of the coaching ladder may have come and gone.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – Seattle Reign

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

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

It’s harsh to say that ninety minutes undid all of the good work that Seattle did in the twenty-five matches that came before their final loss to FC Kansas City. But, inevitably, there had to have been a little hollowness after being he league’s dominant team for so many months and falling short at the final hurdle. Only time will tell if that loss was the beginning of a fall for the Reign, but the club’s offseason activity has revealed a faith in the course that Laura Harvey has set the club upon. While many questioned Harvey after the club’s woeful 2013 season, her decisive and total remodel of the Reign after that campaign paid immediate dividends, as Seattle turned into a dominant force. With the Reign seemingly tapering off at the end of last year though, some had to wonder if Seattle peaked too soon and ran out of steam at the end of the year when it counted most.

Where chaos has reigned over much of the league in the offseason with tons of turnover being the norm elsewhere, Seattle returns mostly intact from last season’s regular season winners. In fact, the starting defense and midfield look to be the same units that were so dominant last year. The frontline is where all the questions are. Naho’s loan ended, while Sydney Leroux was traded in a shocker at the end of the preseason. The cupboard isn’t bare, with Beverly Yanez and Megan Rapinoe joining midseason arrival Katrine Veje up top, but the frontline may be the one area in which Seattle looks a little vulnerable this year.

At least that’s what opponents of Seattle have to be saying to themselves. Because if that frontline doesn’t miss a beat, it could be a long year for everyone else in the NWSL. The Reign clobbered their brethren for almost all of 2014, and they’ll be favorites to do much of the same this year.

Coach/Tactics

Laura Harvey enters her third season with the Reign hoping to finally win the big one. There had to be some degree of skepticism attached to Harvey after a brutally disappointing 2013 season which had been blighted by unexpected setbacks and poor player recruitment before that first season. Some also had to wonder if Harvey could motivate her charges after the club all but mailed it in in 2013 after being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. A long-term contract extension after the season was a big vote of confidence, but Harvey entered 2014 with much to prove.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – Boston Breakers

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup (Cat Whitehill potentially gone as FOX commentator.)

Other Previews/Projections

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

It’s not been a particularly peachy offseason for the Boston Breakers. The club has suffered through a wave of retirements, a necessary trade of one of their remaining allocated players, the move of Lianne Sanderson back to England, two of their Brazilian signings getting nixed through a long-term residency, and the general mocking laughter from pundits at-large after the club gave up two high picks to Chicago for the draft rights of Stephanie McCaffrey. This coming off a season that saw them escape the basement only thanks to Houston imploding down the stretch. Boston ended up a whopping fifteen points out of the playoff places in eighth place at season’s end.

Instead of picking second and likely taking hometown product Sam Mewis, Boston had insanely traded away their top first round pick to Sky Blue FC for Lisa De Vanna the previous offseason. The same De Vanna who barely registered an impression with Boston and who was traded to Washington in midseason. At least Boston managed to score without the Australian, finishing with the fifth highest goals scored total in the league, netting one more than playoff bound Washington. Though with big scoring Jazmine Reeves and Lianne Sanderson also gone, it almost feels like the Breakers are starting from scratch on offense.

And the defense, oh, the defense. Fifty-three goals allowed and a seeming revolving door of incompetence. Boston made a very aggressive move to rectify those problems by trading for Kassey Kallman. But other than that, not much, with a trade for Amy Barczuk the only other notable move. And she may end up in midfield anyway. If Kallman isn’t the solution, it could be another long season for the Boston defense.

Coach/Tactics

Tom Durkin probably wasn’t near the top of many’s shortlist when he was named full-time head coach of the club before the 2014 season. And it was very much a trial by fire last season, as some of Durkin’s moves were ingenious (essentially starting all the reserves against Portland in a stunning win), while others were insane (starting Courtney Jones at center-back at the start of the season). Boston wasn’t exactly the league’s most consistent side, and the end result was Durkin’s club finishing near the bottom of the league having scored plenty and conceded more.
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NWSL – Round One Fantasy Preview + AWK Eliminator Fantasy Group Details

Shorter than usual due to preview writing focus.

Anyway, here are some details about the the AWK Eliminator fantasy group that is (probably) the biggest out there at the moment.

http://www.nwslfl.com/group-23.html

PW: totalelimination

We’re moving away from weekly eliminations, and splitting the season up into five, four round segments with a TBA number of the bottom teams eliminated after each segment. I say TBA, because the number of teams continues to swell as the deadline approaches. Once the group closes tonight, I’ll make clear in next round’s preview as to how many teams go out after each segment.

Also: Winning a round is your golden ticket. Teams who win rounds cannot be eliminated for the rest of the season. Additionally, since I can’t leave the group I created, if I’m in the elimination zone after a segment, anyone above me is safe, even if they’re in the elimination zone too.

GK

If you can keep the thoughts of Sydney Leroux’s possible REVVVEEEEEENNNNNGGGGGE out of the back of your mind, HOPE SOLO is probably your best goalkeeping option this week, with the Reign heavy favorites against a young Western New York side. If you’re looking for a non-allocated option, Portland’s NADINE ANGERER is probably the best bet, though she played in Europe in midweek, and Boston’s record against the Thorns was shockingly good last season. I’d stay away from the keepers from FCKC and SBFC (too close to call), and WNY (uncertain situation + bad matchup). I fancy Washington to beat Houston, so ASHLYN HARRIS isn’t a bad GK option if you want an allocated player and are staying away from Solo. Houston’s BIANCA HENNINGER and Boston’s ALYSSA NAEHER are picks for the especially brave, but I’d stay away from the latter as an allocated player.
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NWSL Preview 2015 – Sky Blue FC

Projected Full Strength Lineup

Possible Lineup During Women’s World Cup

Other Previews/Projections

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

What if? It’s the question that probably haunted Sky Blue FC through the offseason. What if Jim Gabarra’s side hadn’t been so conservative last offseason and had added a few more pieces of quality? What if players like Hayley Haagsma and Taylor Lytle hadn’t missed most or all of the season with injury? What if they had Nadia Nadim at the start of the season? What if the season had lasted just a few games more?

The last question is easy to answer: Sky Blue FC would’ve likely made the playoffs. Gabarra’s side finished the year on fire, winning their last five matches and nearly pulling off the greatest escape. In fact, the only side SBFC lost to after June 8 was the eventual league champions, FC Kansas City. The way the club finished last season has infused an optimism here that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

So has securing Nadim on a permanent deal. And bringing in highly touted rookies Sarah Killion and Kristin Grubka. And trading for Samantha Kerr. And keeping much of the core from last year’s team together. The goal of a title is presumably within their grasp if all goes right. But this is also the most expectation associated with SBFC, perhaps ever. How they handle that pressure will define SBFC’s season.

Coach/Tactics

Jim Gabarra’s been the man in the middle after tasting glory when he won the WUSA title with the Washington Freedom over a decade ago. His Freedom clubs since and SBFC sides have never been bad but have never been spectacular. It’s a record that has seen Gabarra’s sides in the playoffs more often than not but struggle to make significant process once there. For a side that added aggressively in the offseason, the status quo probably won’t be acceptable. Gabarra knows that anything less than the playoffs this season will be seen as a major disappointment, and this might be the most pressure he’s faced as a boss in a long, long time.
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Washington Spirit 2015: The Parsons Master Plan

Head coach and general manager Mark Parsons oversees his team's warmups before the Virginia Tech match.

Head coach and general manager Mark Parsons oversees his team’s warmups before the Virginia Tech match.


On July 1, 2013, Mark Parsons took the reins of a team with a 1-7-3 record that hadn’t scored in 456 minutes. He was able to coax 2 more wins and 2 more ties out of a roster that, frankly, was not of NWSL caliber. It wasn’t enough to keep the Spirit out of last place but was sufficient to keep them from being historically embarrassing. Scoring was the primary problem, with the team putting away just 16 goals the entire season.

With #1 draft pick Crystal Dunn and a host of new players, the 2014 team squeaked into the 4th and final playoff spot, tying with Chicago in standings points but winning the head-to-head tiebreaker despite a -7 goal differential. Parsons credits the team’s standings success to the players’ toughness and never-say-die attitude: “We scored 50% of our goals in the last 30. We scored 6 goals in 90 minutes plus that won us points. The fact that we had the physical condition to do that but more importantly the mental ability, the mental strength and the hard work.”

They then fell to the regular-season champion Seattle Reign in the semifinals. Defense was the greater problem that year, with 43 goals yielded, ahead of only eighth-place Boston (53) and last-place Houston (44).

Come year 3, and Parsons has dramatically rebuilt the team again, with just three non-allocated players who were regulars last year (Tori Huster, Christine Nairn, and Alex Singer). But this time he is satisfied with the roster. “Last year we went looking for first-tier players, but they weren’t always available, so we had to settle. This year we have the players we want.” We noted that it was a lot of turnover, and he agreed. “I don’t think we want to be in this place where we’re turning over 10-11 players, half the team. I feel like we needed to, we had to, we wanted to keep moving forward, and we look like we’ve done that. It’s exciting.”
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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
-
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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