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NWSL Week in Review: Five Things (Week 3)

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.

Whoops.

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:

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WPSL Elite: The Show Must Go On; At Least It Should

The Chicago Red Stars enjoyed a big crowd against Western New York on July 14, but had to forfeit a game just five days later when they couldn't make it to New England.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – My first year coaching high school soccer, we were matched up with a clearly inferior team that was, unfortunately for them, inferior to just about everyone they played that season. They would soon be moved to a league where they could be more competitive, but on this day, the rookie coach (a.k.a. me) spent most of the second half figuring out how to manage the final scoreline.

I emptied the bench, switched positions, but still the score made it to nine, a total that is embarrassing to look back on, honestly. A few minutes before the end, a girl who had never scored before found herself alone on goal, and almost sheepishly poked the ball in. There was no applause, just silence. 10-0 was the final.

I met with the Athletic Director the next day and tried to plead my case: it was an accident, I was unprepared, I didn’t expect it to get that bad. He – being one of the finest people I’ve worked for and a former coach at many levels – cut me off. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened, it happened, and it makes us look bad. When they look in the newspaper, people are going to see the score. That’s it. Don’t let it happen again, please.”

Which brings us to the Chicago Red Stars and last Thursday’s game with New England.

Most of you reading this know by now that Chicago was forced to forfeit that game when they couldn’t make it to Massachusetts in time due to delayed and cancelled flights.

The intent here is not to kill the Red Stars (New England’s Ciara McCormack took a few shots at them in her blog already), who agreed to play in WPSL Elite this season despite the geographic trouble of playing in an east coast league. I met Arnim Whisler (whose responses you see in McCormack’s blog) two weeks ago in Chicago, and I can say with complete confidence that women’s soccer in this country needs people like Whisler and the market of Chicago. The Red Stars have been great for WPSL Elite, and should be great in whatever the league morphs into next season.

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