I guess the fact that the NWSL has returned for a second season is something to celebrate with the recent history of women’s professional soccer leagues in North America. Of course, your mind knows that the backing of USSF (as well as Canada) made that possibility virtually zero, but your still mending heart is a tad bit gunshy these days.
The tendency in all sports is always to put more emphasis on on opening game than we should. It’s been seven months since we’ve seen a game, and our minds like to project a single performance over the rest of the summer. So it’s not time for teams like Boston and Washington to panic, or for Seattle and Western New York to start making plans for the NWSL final quite yet. I’m going to go out on a limb, though, and say that the Reign have a much better chance than they did at this time last season.
Without further ado, five things we learned from the opening weekend of the NWSL campaign:
Well, here we are again, the end of another major women’s tournament, and time again for the AWK All-Curren Team. I call it that not out of a massive ego, but to indicate that it is indeed my choices and opinions. I point that out up front because for some reason choosing the best team from the Olympics was even tougher than the World Cup, even though there were fewer teams.
As with the World Cup, I sought to put together a real squad, one that could actually play (as opposed to starting nine forwards where we could score at will, but might end up playing Marta and Alex Morgan at outside back) a legitimate match.
And as always, feel free to put your choices in the Comments. Just remember, if you put someone in, someone has to come out and vice versa.
Among the players who barely missed the cut:
Portia Modise (South Africa), who had the goal of the tournament, and was very active in midfield for South Africa, who had their moments. Not enough moments for her to make the 18, though.
Renata Costa (Brazil) had a very good tournament defensively despite her team’s lack of organization.
Ali Riley and Ria Percival (New Zealand) might have cancelled each other out, as the entire New Zealand defense, including Jenny Bindon and Katie Hoyle, had a great tournament.
Two players who barely missed the cut at the World Cup did so again here in Louisa Necib (France), who got off to a good start, but held the ball a little too long in some key spots for my taste, and Yukari Kinga (Japan), who was just edged out.
Lotta Schelin (Sweden), who probably suffered from a lack of support more than her failings.
And, perhaps the last cut, Yuki Ogimi (Japan), who scored three times in the tournament, including in the final, but in a tournament loaded with attacking players, we just couldn’t find a spot for her this time around. Next time.
“We didn’t accomplish what we set out to,’’ observed Kelly Smith. “We’ve broken these records, inspired a lot of people but we didn’t get a medal. We fell short and all the players are hurting.”
In the ultimate reality show that is sport, the ending is not always assured. In fact, it’s very rarely assured. And until they start the Robotic Olympics (I expect about 2048 or so), the games are going to be played by humans, who have bodies that tend to break down. Kelly Smith’s body has been telling her for a while that the end of her playing career is near. She was able to get through three group stage games, leading Great Britain to an undefeated record, but just couldn’t go today, and the team wilted without her (and a lot of help from a resurgent Canada).
What was supposed to happen is that the country was supposed to continue to rally around Great Britain into the semifinals with the heavily favored United States. There was to be record crowds, record television audiences, and a chance to grow the women’s game in a place where it seemed to have a great place to do so. Instead, in front of a non-sell out in Coventry (although it was close), everything came to a screeching half.
Someone tell the writers of this show they’re terrible.
Ironically, I got home today from camp and flipping through HBO, came across “Bend It Like Beckham”. I’m going to guess most of you have seen it, I happened to come in at the scene where a match is going on and some young men in the crowd are making fun of women playing soccer, “Can’t you just see them as proper footballers?,” one of them tries to interject before laughter erupts from the others.
Believe it or not, that movie came out a decade ago. Since then, women’s soccer in Britain has grown in the number of teams, but the prevailing attitude still seemed to be a little different than it is in more accepting countries, at least overtly, as much of the discussion seemed to revolve around how the U.S. looked more than how they played.
A couple of weeks later, at the hallowed ground of Wembley Stadium, more than 70,000 people packed the place to cheer Great Britain to a 1-0 win over Brazil, and a new era has been born. Well, we’re not that naïve, are we? But still a run to the gold medal game would certainly do wonders for the sport in the birthplace of the game, and with more structure for a professional league in place, could it be a watershed moment? And all they have to do is get by ….. the United States in the semifinals. Gulp. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it:
One of the toughest things when trying to project what’s going to happen in a tournament as it progresses is how much a single performance matters in the context of the entirety of it. Great Britain was awesome against Cameroon, arguably the best game I’ve seen anyone play at the Olympics to date. But was it because Britain was that good or was Cameroon – even though they seemed to be playing hard – that poor? And even if it was Britain, can they replicate it in the next few outings? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I was encouraged.