A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.
A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.
The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”
The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.
A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”
Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.
Pulisic slides into a 3-4-3 with Navas, Cristian Gamboa, Hector Moreno, Kendall Waston, Roman Torres, Bryan Ruiz, Hector Herrera, Wilde-Donald Guerrier, Hirving Lozano, and Alberth Elis.
Waston, Torres, and Elis play in MLS.
The Female Best XI was predictable USWNT-heavy, with Marta and Jessie Fleming the only foreign players in the team. The U.S. players are: Franch, Abby Dahlkemper, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Menges, Allie Long, Carli Lloyd, Lindsay Horan, and Morgan.
What looked like a battle of two of the NWSL’s best strikers fell through on Thursday when Abby Wambach was ruled out of Western New York’s Saturday match against Sydney Leroux and the Boston Breakers. Without his offensive focal point, Flash coach Aaran Lines will need another plan of attack if his team’s to claim their first victory of the young season.
Kicking off at 7:35 p.m. in Rochester, Boston’s visit to Western New York is ProSoccerTalk’s NWSL Game of the Week.
THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Boston putting last week behind them
When the Breakers arrived at Logan Airport last Friday, armed guards reminded them of the week that was – five days that started with a bombing at the Boston Marathon and ended with a manhunt in Watertown, where defender Kia McNeill was isolated while that section of the city was locked down.
“There were a lot of players that wanted to be with their friends and family,” Boston Breakers general manager Lee Billiard told Equalizer Soccer. “They didn’t want to leave them behind. They didn’t want to leave Kia McNeill behind either.”
The Breakers’ game in Kansas City was eventually rescheduled, the team leaving Boston’s airport to spend the weekend at home. As a result, the team hasn’t played a game in two weeks, undoubtedly the least of their worries, but one that could still have an impact on the field come Saturday night’s kickoff.
“For us, it’s a little bit of a set back,” head coach Lisa Cole told ProSoccerTalk. “Other teams have had the opportunity to have that one extra game that puts them a little bit ahead. But I also think because of the extra week we were able to address some tactical and technical things we needed to address.”
Having not played since their home opener, an April 14 draw with the Washington Spirit, Boston’s weekend off has also built anticipation.
“We’ve obviously dealt with some pretty crazy things this past week,” Sydney Leroux said of the team’s state of mind. “I think we’re ready to play soccer … the team’s in a good place now.”
Speaking to the BBC last Friday, Billiard highlighted the role sports, particularly in Boston, can play in helping a community move on. It’s a sentiment Cole echoed ahead of the Breakers’ return:
You don’t need to get over it or degrade what happened, but you do need to keep moving forward … for our fans, I think that’s important. Now’s the time to be energizing our fans and help put things behind them.
2. Teams making defense out of nothing at all
Among the things Boston and Western New York have in common – from their focal point strikers, to their participation in WPS, to their regional rivalry and their winless starts – the state of their defenses after this winter’s player allocation would have been a point of mutual empathy. Both teams were left them with questions in goal and defense – questions the league’s roster restrictions have made it difficult to answer.
“I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed,” Lines said, when asked about the challenges handed to him by getting only two U.S. internationals (Wambach and midfielder Carli Lloyd). “We weren’t given a defender … and then you couldn’t just go out and build the rest around that, either.”
As opposed to being able to build a squad through his own devices, Lines had to go through a supplemental draft, college draft, and limited free agency. Those steps that left him with a defense that has two combined international appearances.
But Western New York’s luck was different in the college draft, where the allocation of goalkeepers to most of the six teams picking front of Western New York meant Adrianna Franch, a national team prospect from Oklahoma State, fell to the Flash at seven. Over the first two weeks of her professional career, Franch has been among the NWSL’s best goalkeepers.
Sky Blue FC
W. New York
“At goalkeeper I’ve gone in with a rookie,” Lines said, explaining why he was willing to take the chance with inexperience. “If I hadn’t had the success the club’s had over the previous years (winning three straight titles across three different leagues), maybe I wouldn’t have gone in and made that step, but I was convinced with [her] ability.”
Ask opponents and the traits that most frequently come up about “A.D.” are quickness and poise, the latter speaking to the attitude she’s brought to her first year in professional soccer.
“It (hasn’t) been too different for me,” Franch said of her transition from college life to the pros, “because from my point of view with going to school with scholarships, it is in a way a job. You have to work for your scholarship and make sure you’re on time for everything and focused. That’s helped me with this adjustment.”
Boston, allocated 18-year-old Cecilia Santiago, had their chance at Franch but passed. As a result, Lisa Cole had to find a starting goalkeeper on the open market.
“It’s been difficult,” Cole said of that search. “Adrianna Franch, she’s gone a great job in her first two games, but I think a rookie goalkeeper needs to have a good solid six months.”
Cole’s eventually settled on Ashley Phillips, a 27-year-old veteran of the WPS Breakers, whose integration has been overshadowed by other problems along Boston’s defense. While Cole can rely on veteran duo McNeill and Cat Whitehill in the middle along with Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson on our right, left back has turned into soccer’s version of Spinal Tap’s drummer.
“I was excited about at the beginning of the season with Casey Short coming in,” Cole said of the Florida State defender Boston took in the first round, “We knew we’d have the ability to play Heather (Mitts, now retired) or Rhian there until she develops. (Then) Casey Short went down (knee injury). Now Bianca (D’Agostino) going down (knee injury). Then Julie King, who we thought would play these this weekend, has been injured. Jo Dragotta, who played there for us in the first game, (is injured). So it seems like anybody I put in that position gets hurt.”
With the restrictions on how rosters were formed, almost every team had question marks. But Western New York and Boston began the season with major questions at the back, and although neither team has given up more than one goal in a match (through three games), each coach will need more than early returns to alleviate their concerns.
3. Good luck stopping Syndey Leroux
She has 16 goals in 34 international appearances, numbers that would be even more daunting if Leroux wasn’t battling for playing time with Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. Her five goals in Olympic qualifying last January are tied for a U.S. Soccer record, and at despite being only 22 years old, the former UCLA Bruin may be the most physically daunting attacker in the NWSL.
Yet ask Leroux to describe herself, and you’ll get a completely unconscious answer:
I’m fast, I guess. That’s what I’ve heard before … I don’t really know. It’s a tough question. I’d like to say that I think that I play hard. And smile, I guess.
Without the burden of modesty, opponents say the same thing, though their descriptions paint a more tormenting picture.
“Pace, that’s the first thing,” Franch said when asked to describe her U-level teammate. “Her movement on and off the ball is good … She never gives up. Doesn’t matter if the ball’s running out (at) the endline. She makes sure she gives all her effort at the end of that. Forcing keepers or defensive backs to play that long ball. She’s always putting that pressure on.”
We always think of elite strikers as having great technique or “predatory instincts,” both of which Leroux has. But her combination of world-class speed and almost unmatched tenacity is a defender’s worst nightmare, one that has left opponents struggling for ways to restrain her.
“You can’t necessarily stop her completely,” Cole said of her star attacker. “I think you need to limit her touches, probably limit the number of times she gets a ball behind a defense, because she’s so dangerous running at a goalkeeper … As she develops, she’ll be close to impossible (to stop).”
Against Washington in week one, Leroux’s tenacity paid off, her 91st minute goal salvaging an opening day draw. Particularly with Wambach sidelined, Leroux’s skillset makes her the player most likely to decide Saturday’s game.
W. New York
Star to Watch
Adrianna Franch – She has been her team’s best player through two games. Until Lines’ attack can start converting chances into goals, the first year star will have to continue to produce veteran performances.
Sydney Leroux – Western New York’s defense has been very good through the season’s first two weeks, but Leroux’s much better than Lisa De Vanna, a quality attacker given multiple one-on-ones with Franch in league one.
Veronica Perez – The key to W. New York’s transition game, the Mexican international’s ability to turn on a ball and get her team into through the middle third demands attention from opposition coaches.
Heather O’Reilly – The U.S. international is one of the best wide players in the world – a unique talent in a league that lacks players who can break down opposing fullbacks. Her threat along Boston’s right will stretch the defense for Leroux.
Win if …
… Franch and the defense stay strong while their wide play with Perez and/or Samantha Kerr can compensate for the absences of Wambach.
… W. New York’s attack can’t click or Leroux can’t be contained.
Other games, Week 3
FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign FC (Friday, 8:35 p.m. Eastern) – A battle of midfields could be settled by Kansas City’s attack as two teams search for their first victories of the season. An attacking core of Renae Cuellar, Casey Loyd, Lauren Cheney, and Kristie Mewis makes Kansas City more likely to break through the midfield slog.
Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern) – For the third week in a row, Portland goes up against a team playing two holding midfielders. If they don’t have a way to offset that by now, Thorns FC’s midfield really does need to be reevaluated.
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern) – The Spirit’s two draws have come largely on the saves of Ashlyn Harris, but if Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs can translate threats into chances, they’ll break through for their first win. Sky Blue, coming off a bye week, are one of two teams to win a game over the league’s first two weekends.
Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up: Western New York Flash.
As historical pedigree goes, no team in the new National Women’s Soccer League comes close to the Western New York Flash. The Flash have won three consecutive championships in three different leagues. This new venture in NWSL offers a chance at going 4-for-4 in four different leagues.
It’s a mind-boggling statistic, one that speaks to both the consistent quality of the Flash under Kiwi coach Aaran Lines as well as the instability of women’s soccer.
“I have people remind me from time to time of what we’ve accomplished,” Flash head coach Aaran Linestold me in a recent chat. “Honestly, the more I accomplish with the Flash, the more I want to accomplish. Winning makes me hungrier to win. That’s certainly every conversation I have with players; it’s one of the things I look for.”
Last time out at the professional level (last year’s title was in a semi-pro league, though the Flash were pro), Lines had Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Marta at his disposal — easily the most potent front line in the world for club or country. This time around, Abby Wambach makes her homecoming to Rochester, N.Y. hoping to keep the trophies in Western New York.
Who you know: Wambach, the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, is three goals shy of tying Mia Hamm for the all-time international goal scoring record (158). Wambach will be motivated to win her first club title since a 2003 WUSA triumph alongside Hamm, with the Washington Freedom. Carli Lloyd — the Olympic gold medal game hero in 2008 and 2012 — will start the season sidelined with a shoulder injury but should be back sometime in May. As successful as she’s been on the international level, Lloyd struggled in all three seasons in WPS and has something to prove in Western New York.
Who you should know: Veronica Perez, a Mexican international midfielder who tore up the amateur USL W-League last season with Seattle Sounders Women. McCall Zerboni was arguably the Flash’s most important player on the star-laden 2011 roster. A strong season could earn her a national team call-up, about two years after one may have initially been warranted.
What it means: Western New York will contend for the title again, but its defense remains in question. First round college draft pick Adrianna Franch is viewed by many as the future goalkeeper for the United States, but she’ll have to lead what could be a makeshift back line to start the season. The Flash have some good defenders on their roster, but how they will fit in together remains unclear…for now.
Western New York begin their season at Sky Blue FC on Sunday.
Tim Howard isn’t the only prominent U.S. keeper sidelined by injury. The top two on the U.S. Women’s goalkeeper depth chart are also out, contributing to a minor epidemic in goal for the senior national teams.
Hope Solo underwent successful surgery yesterday, but the damage to her wrist was more extensive than originally thought. After Friday’s procedure to repair torn cartilage in her left wrist, Solo will be out for three-to-four months. Whereas some hoped she could return his spring, Solo will be sidelined until closer to summer.
For the national team, the loss isn’t that big of a deal. Solo’s in no apparent danger of losing her starting job, and while the U.S. has some interesting matches coming up, this is the down point of their cycle. Nothing major’s going to happen in the next four months.
That’s not the case for Solo’s club team. The Seattle Reign have already lost Amy Rodriguez (pregnancy) and will be without Megan Rapinoe (in France) to start the season. The absence of Solo means none of Seattle’s three original U.S.-allocated players will be with them to start the NWSL season.
Unfortunately, Solo isn’t the only U.S. goalkeeper dealing with injuries. On Thursday Jill Loyden, who had started two of the three preceding games for the U.S., broke her left hand in practice, leaving the Sky Blue FC keeper sidelined for up to three months:
“It’s certainly unfortunate, but I’ve already overcome this injury before so I have no doubt it will heal and I’ll be able to join the U.S. team again soon,” said Loyden. “I know that the other goalkeepers will step up because they are phenomenal players.”
So who’s left? There’s Nicole Barnhart, who started on Friday, and Ashlyn Harris, now seemingly destined to get her first cap soon. But with the U.S. facing Germany and the Netherlands in early April, we’ll likely see a third goalkeeper called up in April.
That may mean Jane Campbell, the 18-year-old who was surprisingly called in to Tom Sermanni’s camp in Jacksonville. That may mean Adrianna Franch, the former Oklahoma State star who was recently drafted in the first round by Western New York.
Whomever is called in better watch out. Be it Solo, Loyden, or Howard, U.S. goalkeepers are falling like flies.