Christine Sinclair, Marian Dougherty, Emilee O'Neal

Looking back at Week 2 of the NWSL season

4 Comments

When Women’s Professional Soccer began in 2009, the excitement around a new league slowly faded into concerns for the product. Beyond nebulous, qualitative concerns about aesthetics and quality, the league just wasn’t producing goals. During its first offseason, league officials came to openly discuss hopes the league would start producing higher scoring games. With a competition producing only 1.07 goals per game, the marketing battle was going to be that much harder.

The NWSL is having no such problems. Through six games, the league’s yet to have a 0-0. Only one match has failed to produce two goals, while this weekend’s game gave fans five scores in 180 minutes. Among the battles this league has to avoid their ancestors’ fate, lack of goals may not be one of them.

The bigger debate surrounds quality. Those who’ve covered WPS and its predecessor, Women’s United Soccer Association, have expressed reserved approval, while the league’s executive director, Cheryl Bailey, has continued to express satisfaction with the league’s standard of play. Newer fans have expressed concerns, perhaps hoping the NWSL’s clubs would replicate the wide-open style that’s endeared Pia Sundhage’s national teams to the masses, but that’s an unrealistic standard. On a more level playing field, coaches are going to be more risk averse.

With the teams’ low budgets preventing them from bringing in significant international talent, there was reason to expect a worse product than WPS. Yet to this point, that hasn’t happened. At time play has been open; at others, it’s combative. You know, like any other league. The absence of players like Marta and Kelly Smith may lower the league’s Q score, but those losses haven’t had an effect on the product.

With two more well-played games this weekend, NWSL looks to be transcending its self-imposed limitations. Where quality’s not an issue, the league can focus its energies elsewhere. For now.

Here’s what happened in Week 2:

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

source:  Portland became the second team to win this season, but given the team’s expectations, it’s difficult to say they stood out. What has stood out (at least, compared to expectations) is the Washington Spirit‘s start. Through almost two weeks (four of the league’s teams didn’t play this weekend), the Spirit sit third.

On Saturday, Mike Jordan’s team got another draw – a second straight match decided by late fireworks. Whereas last week the Spirit were giving up a late equalizer to Sydney Leroux, this time Diana Matheson won them a point from the spot. From a team picked by many to finish last in the league, two early results are forcing some re-evaluation.

It’s too early to deem Washington’s youth movement a success story, but it is worth asking how they’ve taken points from the Flash and Boston. The obvious answer is Ashlyn Harris, whose stellar play in goal has allowed the Spirit to get full value out of their limited chances on goal. Coming off a Woman of the Match-level performance in Boston, the U.S. international gave another impressive performance, making a highlight reel save on Abby Wambach in Saturday’s first half.

Washington were the beneficiaries of some good fortune, that late penalty at the Maryland SoccerPlex allowing them to salvage a Saturday result, but if the play of Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs is any indication, the Spirit won’t need such fortune going forward. McCarty, used as Washington’s lead attacker, looks like one of the fastest players in the league, her ability to beat the defense creating more room for Ochs, who has consistently out-worked opposing defenders over the season’s first two weeks.

They may yet end up in eighth, but after two weeks, it’s time to consider a more positive scenario. On paper, the squad isn’t impressive, but in action, they have enough pieces to compete for the playoffs. Just like everybody else.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

Here’s the shortest possible case for Christine Sinclair, best women’s soccer player in the world (pictured, above): She does so much more than score goals (which she arguably does better than anybody else).

On Sunday, Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone dropped Sinclair into attacking midfield, deploying her below Seattle’s two holders – Keelin Winters and Kaylyn Kyle. It was an approach that worked in the last 30 minutes against Kansas City, when Portland looked much better after struggling for much of the match. At JELD-WEN, the move assured Portland’s most important player would more touches.

After 20 initial, contentious minutes, the effect was obvious. Sinclair was the key to a Thorns attack that relied as much on transitions as their favored possession-based play. At the top of midfield, Sinclair was able to secure possession on second balls created by Becky Edwards and Allie Long, her quick passing to Alex Morgan taking advantage of the few instances where Winters came forward, tried to win a battle, but failed.

Early in the second half, that defensive work paid off. “Sinc” forced a Reign turnover that led to Morgan’s game-winning goal, her pass across the Seattle penalty area creating an easy finish for Portland’s second goal.

Also of note: The Flash’s Abby Wambach and Samantha Kerr, the Spirit’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, as well as our unsung hero, below

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Sat., Apr. 20 Washington 1-1 W.New York
Sun., Apr. 21 Portland 2-1 Seattle

ROUND’S BIG STORY

We’ve already done one pass on Portland’s crowd – 16,479 people that created the league’s first must-see event (well, second, if you count last Saturday’s opening game). Effusive players after the game speculated how the intimidation factor could create an even bigger home field advantage, though the league should hope the crowd’s effects transcend mere wins and losses.

Of course, the huge numbers mean big business for Portland, but other MLS teams with strong fanbases may see Sunday’s game, think about the wage subsidies provided by the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican federations, and conclude the obvious: We could actually make money off a women’s professional team. While it may be naive to assume Portland’s success can be replicated, executives in Vancouver and Toronto may look at Sunday’s game and see possibilities, not problems.

That doesn’t help the league’s current teams, many of which wil struggle to average one-fifth of Sunday’s crowd. The hope for those teams is in people turning on the YouTube streams (and come July, FOX Soccer), seeing Portland’s atmosphere, and wanting to  to give their local team a try. Though they can’t expect a Rose City Riveter presence for their team, they can hope to see one develop.

UNSUNG HERO

Western New York’s AD Franch was Week 1’s best player, and Christine Sinclair showed why she’s one of the world’s best in Week 2, but combine the weeks and choose the league’s best player and you’re likely to come up with Jessica Fishlock, the Welsh international that’s proved to be the best European import of the young season.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. PST
Rank
1 Portland 2 4 1
2 Sky Blue FC 1 3 3
3 Washington 2 2 6
4 Boston 1 1 7
4 Kansas City 1 1 2
4 Chicago 1 1 8
7 Seattle 2 1 5
7 W. New York 2 1 4

On Sunday, the energetic style of Seattle’s diminutive midfielder didn’t win her new friends among the highly-partisan crowd, but that couldn’t obscure the fact that she was clearly the game’s best non-Sinclair. Her disruptive presence at the top of Laura Harvey’s midfield three constantly presented problems for Portland’s four, often creating second balls that made life easier for the deeper Keelin Winters. Pressing holder Becky Edwards — forcing the Thorns pivot to play more balls to her defenders than she would have liked — Fishlock was also able to quickly jump into attack, positioning that paid off with her late goal.

“I think she was an unknown coming into this league, coming from Wales,” Winters said last week, the beginning of the explanation behind Fishlock’s surprise. The Welsh national team gets very little prime international exposure, and having played at Bristol Academy in England before coming to the States, she didn’t get attention should have received at clubs like Arsenal, Birmingham City, or Everton.

But Seattle head coach Laura Harvey, imported to the Pacific Northwest from Arsenal, clearly knew what she was getting in Fishlock – a player who can have an immediate, game-changing impact for the Reign. Through two weeks, she’s been one of the league’s best players.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

How will a week off affect Boston, Chicago, Kansas City and Sky Blue? … How quickly will Abby Wambach bounce back from her late-match concussion? … Will Sinclair have to stay in midfield until Tobin Heath returns? … When will McCarty and Ochs’ efforts start translating into goals? … Did preseason predictions underrate Seattle’s to-this-point solid defense?

LOOKING FORWARD

The league gets back to a four-game schedule this weekend, with Kansas City hosting Seattle in the league’s first Friday affair. On the east coast, two the the league’s best strikers will face-off in Rochester when Abby Wambach’s Flash host Syndey Leroux’s Boston Breakers. That will be PST’s Game of the Week.

Friday, April 26

FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC

Saturday, April 27

Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC
Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers

Everton 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: One shot on target, one goal, three points win for Baggies

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park on February 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England - Getty Images
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • WBA’s only shot on target goes in
  • Everton out attempts WBA 34-5
  • Baggies win despite 24 percent possession

Salomon Rondon’s early goal allowed West Brom to sit back and absorb Everton’s attack, and the Toffees couldn’t find a finish despite dominating in a 1-0 loss at Goodison Park on Saturday.

It was a trademark Tony Pulis win, as the Baggies blocked shot after shot in turning away a strong Ross Barkley performance that lacked finish.

West Brom’s 32 points are now eight clear of the drop zone, and just three back of 10th place Everton.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Off a Stephane Sessegnon corner, Jonas Olsson rose above his mark to push a header back post. Everton keeper Joel Robles couldn’t meet the arcing ball before Rondon’s chest pushed the already en route offering over the line.

The Toffees had controlled the early goings leading up to their concession, and picked up where they left off after Rondon’s goal. But the Baggies sank back into their preferred pack of defenders, and Everton had to get creative. Ross Barkley was especially dangerous, but Goodison Park was left waiting for the final ball.

The Baggies barely got to halftime, as the Toffees’ fantastic, desperate work rate had them buzzing inside the box and winning several corners by the time three minutes of stoppage time reached their end.

The second half was more of the same, with Everton finishing the day with nearly 30 more shot attempts, but one less goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Norwich City 2-2 West Ham United: Payet drags Irons out of first half hole

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: John Ruddy (L) of Norwich City catches the ball under pressure of Michail Antonio (C) of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and West Ham United at Carrow Road on February 13, 2016 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Payet shines again with goal, assist
  • Norwich blows 2-0 lead
  • Hammers move into fifth place

West Ham United overcame another sleepy first half, with goals from Dimitri Payet and Mark Noble leading the Irons back for a 2-2 draw versus Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan scored to stake Norwich to a lead that looked set to boost them out of the drop zone, but the draw keeps them behind Newcastle on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was Brady who punished West Ham’s lackluster first 45 with a 20-yard laser in the 55th minute.

And after Slaven Bilic made a pair of attacking substitutions, Steven Naismith and Hoolahan made the Irons pay dearly for a partially blocked shot.

Naismith’s shot deflected into the 18, and Hoolahan was within a hair’s length of onside as he buried a low shot past Adrian. 2-0 on two shots on target. Wow.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A poor touch or bounce, your call, for Michail Antonio stopped West Ham from getting a breakaway goal as John Ruddy had time to parry Antonio’s rip in the 69th minute.

Payet pulled one back with a rebound goal 17 minutes in scheduled time, after Victor Moses caused a turnover and took a quick shot.

And the newly-extended Payet continued his season wizardry with great vision to spot Noble from the end line. It was 2-2 within minutes after Noble blasted his shot home.

Swansea City 0-1 Southampton: Sixth-straight shutout; Long’s header wins it

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 13:  Southampton players celebrate their team's first goal by Shane Long (obscured) during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Southampton at Liberty Stadium on February 13, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Saints now six games without conceding
  • Up to 6th, 1 point behind United in 5th
  • Swansea 3 points off bottom three

Southampton beat Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Saints recording their sixth-straight shutout and Shane Long heading home the winner 20 minutes from time.

A tight game played out in South Wales but the away team had the better chances and Long’s flick proved to be enough to seal a fifth win in their last six games for Ronald Koeman‘s side.

With the victory Saints climb to sixth place on 40 points, while Swansea remain on 28 points.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The first real chance of the game fell to Graziano Pelle but his volley on goal was saved down low by Lukasz Fabianski after the goalkeeper initially missed a punch when he came charging out.

Saints had another chance early when James Ward-Prowse‘s teasing free kick was headed just wide by Jose Fonte at the back post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The game then calmed down as Gyli Sigurdsson had an effort from distance which flew over and Ryan Bertrand‘s effort looped onto the top of the net. Saints looked dangerous on the break with Long having a shot blocked and Oriol Romeu twice being denied by brave Swansea defending.

Alberto Paloschi’s flick-on found Sigurdsson but he volleyed way over and then Long should’ve done better when unmarked six-yards out but headed straight at Fabianski.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

In the second half Saints continued to push forward as Romeu glanced a header wide and then Pelle had a goal disallowed as Fabianski appeared to drop the ball under the challenge of Fonte but the replay showed it was a poor decision by referee Jon Moss.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Saints did take the lead with 20 minutes to go as Ward-Prowse’s inch-perfect cross from the right found Long and he headed home into the corner as Fabianski failed to clear the ball away. 1-0 to Southampton and that’s how it finished with goalkeeper Fraser Forster keeping his sixth consecutive clean sheet since returning from injury.

A remarkable defensive run continues as Saints also continue to cement their spot in the top six.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford: Deeney adds to Eagles miserable run

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Troy Deeney of Watford celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park on February 13, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Palace has lost 6 of 7
  • Deeney braces move Watford eighth
  • Adebayor scores for Eagles

Troy Deeney won and converted a PK, then scored a late winner as Watford took all three points from Selhurst Park in a 2-1 win on Saturday

Palace’s 2016 struggles continued, with Emmanuel Adebayor‘s equalizer going for naught. The Eagles now have one point in seven matches and continue their free fall down the PL table.

Papa Souare took a late red for a hard tackle, to add insult to Palace’s injury.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It took just a quarter-hour for Watford to seize the lead, as Mile Jedinak wrapped up Deeney with both arms, and the Hornets captain tumbled in the box to earn a PK he’d finish to make it 1-0.

But Palace equalized just before halftime, working hard to keep a long throw in play before crossing for Adebayor to put a looping header past Heurelho Gomes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Adebayor could’ve made it 2-1 if not for a sweeping single leg save from Gomes after a dangerous Wilfried Zaha sent a low ball through the six.

With Palace looking okay to pick up another needed point, Deeney was Johnny-on-the-spot to trap and belt home an ineffective header from Damien Delaney.