Christine Nairn

Looking back at Week 6 of the NWSL season

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Scheduling-wise, Week 6 was the strangest yet on the NWSL calendar; either a horrible idea that shook up the routine of all but two of the league’s team or a welcome way of breaking up to monotony of the league’s scheduling treadmill. In a competition comprised of only eight teams, two didn’t see action, yet the league still scheduled five games, four taking place in the Pacific Northwest. That meant while Chicago and Western New York were enjoying early-season reprieves, Seattle and Portland were hosting Thursday-Sunday dyads against continent-crossing Sky Blue (New Jersey) and Washington.

Though the games produced the season’s first major surprise, Sky Blue stifling Portland at JELD-WEN for a 1-0 victory, it was Thorns FC’s Cascadia partners, Reign FC, that ultimately stole the week’s headlines. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons. On Thursday, Laura Harvey’s squad became the first team to give up four goals in a game at home, losing 4-2 to what was previously thought to be an attack-challenged Washington Spirit. Three days later, Seattle lost 3-0 to Sky Blue, completing a week that evoked the worst of comparisons.

Before the last year of Women’s Professional Soccer, the Atlanta Beat traded away almost all of their star players, an apparent reaction to a 2011 season that would see most quality internationals spend their summer in Germany, at the World Cup. The argument put forth at the time by head coach James Galanas was that the competition for spots and the resulting continuity would help the Beat overcome their talent deficiencies. Atlanta went on to score seven goals in 18 games, lose 13 times, and finish last, 12 points behind their closest competition.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Thur., May 16 Seattle 2-4 Washington
Thur., May 16 Portland 0-1 Sky Blue
Sat., May 17 Kansas City 2-0 Boston
Sun., May 18 Portland 2-0 Washington
Sun., May 18 Seattle 0-3 Sky Blue FC

The Beat, however, have one thing the Reign do not: A win. Through seven games, Seattle is 0-6-1. They’ve allowed a staggering 15 goals while scoring only four times, and after being outscored 7-2 last week, the trend line’s about to hit rock bottom. All six of their losses have come in succession, and in five of those games, Seattle has given up at least two goals.

Megan Rapinoe will be back from Lyon in a month. Hope Solo will be there, too. Once those U.S. internationals join the team, Seattle actually has a decent squad on paper, one that complements their two most-prominent faces with Jess Fishlock, Keelin Winters, Teresa Noyola (one of the few sparks this week), and Christine Nairn. As Harvey and owner Bill Predmore search for solutions to their present, they can take some solace in their future.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s two big names may arrive too late. Thoguht Reign FC are only six points back of the playoff line (fourth place), the two teams sitting on that boundary – Boston and Western New York – have both played two fewer games. As the league quickly sprints away from its quarter pole, Seattle’s hole may already be too big.

Here’s what else happened in Week 6:

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

On paper, the team has little that stands out, especially with U.S. international Kelley O’Hara struggling to have an impact for Sky Blue FC. But in their organization at the back, the rotations of their midfielders and attackers, and the play of their two young fullbacks, you see SBFC coach Jim Gabarra has amassed a team that’s fulfilling that old-timey cliché. Right now, Sky Blue is greater than the sum of its parts.

They’re also 5-1-1 and, thanks to their new tiebreaker advantage over Thorns FC, the surprise leaders in the NWSL. That advantage was earned late Thursday night when a gruff display in Portland was blown open by substitute Taylor Lytle, whose first NWSL goal came from 24 yards in the 80th minute, sending Portland to their first defeat of the season.

Combined with a rout at Seattle (a more impressive performance, though a less notable outcome), Sky Blue collected six validating points. While you can look at a team that lacks game-breaking talent and is getting relatively little production from its attackers (O’Hara, Lisa De Vanna, Danesha Adams combining for three goals), their results are beyond reproach. They’re tied for the league’s best attack, and only one team has conceded fewer than Sky Blue’s four goals allowed.

The explanations aren’t easy, but it’s happening, and at some point, you have to give Gabarra credit. You have to credit a back four that’s rebounded from their May 1 loss at Western New York. You have to credit a midfield which has supplied six of the team’s goals.

And at some point, we have to stop doubting Sky Blue. Or, at least, we have to start imagining this team as more than a plucky upstart that could snatch a playoff spot. When they post results like last week’s, we have to start asking: Are we seeing a contender?

MVP … OF THE WEEK

There have been many ‘Ali Krieger is back’ moments since the U.S. international blew out her knee during in January 2012. There was her return to live action with Frankfurt II on September 2. There was her first team appearance a week later, and five months later, there was her return to the U.S. women’s national team.

source: Getty ImagesAt various points along the way, fans have used “she’s back” to claimed she’s returned to her former form, but if there were scarce, lingering doubts as to whether the 28-year-old right back had fully returned, she blew those out of the water last week.

In Seattle, Krieger scored her first goal of the season, charging through the Reign defense on a Lori Lindsey free kick to put home the rebound. It was part of a performance that has become customary in Mike Jorden’s set up. Playing a wing back’s role in a fullback’s spot, Krieger teamed with Diana Matheson to torment Seattle’s left flank, a tactic Washington’s leaned on against each of its recent opponents.

In Portland, that plan was on full display. In a first half that saw the Spirit dictate the game’s terms, Krieger constantly took advantage of Thorns FC’s narrow midfield, switches to her side allowing her to gain steam as she charged past Allie Long before beating Portland left back Nikki Marshall. Multiple times, she was able to get in crosses for Tiffany McCarty and Stephanie Ochs. Multiple times, she was able to threaten Karina LeBlanc’s goal from the right side of the box.

In this league, you don’t see many fullbacks who can provide a credible, consistent threat going forward. Krieger is not only one of them, she’s somebody Washington has come to lean on. And in Week 6, her performance in that role made her the NWSL’s best player.

Also of note: Never aging Christie Rampone has put together four strong games in a row; Caitlin Foord was a part of two shutouts and created a nice goal against Seattle; Lauren Cheney continues to play the No. 10 role better than anybody in the league; obligatory mention of Christine Sinclair, this time for one of the week’s most skillful goals (as well as her contributions at the top of midfield); oh, poor Jess Fishlock; and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

ROUND’S BIG STORY

With the U.S. national team set to face Canada on June 2, some team’s rosters are going to get real thin, real quick. The United States are scheduled to play three times between June 2 and June 20, while Canada has two friendlies in that time. Given some teams are leaning heavily on the countries’ allocated players, early June will test the league’s depth.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Diana Matheson (WAS) 4 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 3
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 4 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 3
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 4 5 tied with 2
Alex Morgan (PTFC) 4
Renae Cuellar (FCKC) 4

So coaches can’t be thrilled that, a week before players start leaving for national team camps, injuries are starting to take their toll:

  • Sky Blue FC saw Brittany Bock, out since the season opener, leave Sunday’s game after five minutes after apparently breaking her left wrist. She had just recovered from a rib injury. Goalkeeper Jill Loyden still hasn’t played a game, recovering from a broken hand, while Lisa De Vanna picked up a knock late in Seattle.
  • FC Kansas City were forced to scratch WPS iron women Becky Sauerbrunn for Saturday’s win over Boston with what was reported as a hamstring injury. Late in the match, center back partner Lauren Sesselmann picked up a right ankle injury and was forced from the game.
  • For Washington, Ashlyn Harris was kept out of Sunday’s game for what was originally identified as a “coach’s decision.” Later the Spirit clarified, saying the U.S. international failed a late fitness test.
  • And in Seattle, where defenders Kate Dienes and Elli Reed had joined Hope Solo as injury absences, Keelin Winters is still not fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury 12 days ago in New Jersey. She may have hurt her shoulder late Sunday, compounding troubles for a team that will miss Jenny Ruiz in their next match after the defender picked up the league’s first red card.

Portland and Boston were able to escape this week’s action without any additional injuries (the Breakers got their share out of the way in preseason). Chicago and Western New York? If they have new injuries, we won’t know the extent until Friday.

For the league’s other four teams, though, the season’s stresses are starting to be felt. Unfortunately, they may need to get healthy before next week, when their rosters will really be thinned out.

UNSUNG HERO

source:  It says something about the lack of awareness of Canadian internationals that this, a section designed to shine light on a player casual fans may not know, has turned into a tribute to CONCACAF’s second power. It also says something about the quality the Canadians have brought to this league that Sophie Schmidt, Diana Matheson, and Desiree Scott have already been honored in this space.

Desiree Scott, however, deserves further recognition. As far as pure destroyers at the base of midfield, there’s nobody better than the diminutive Canadian, somebody whose job became more difficult on Saturday when partner Jen Buczkowski was moved into central defense. Scott, however, didn’t miss a beat, wandering midfield slightly less than she would have were Buczkowski next to her, instead protecting Vlatko Andonvoski’s makeshift defense. Making like difficult for Lianne Sanderson and the Breakers’ attack, Scott helped turn around the Blues’ slow start and keep one of the league’s deepest attacks off the scoresheet. FC Kansas City went on to win, 2-0.

Depending on what you want from a sitter, you might prefer another NWSL deep midfielder to Scott. If you like more of a holder, somebody who can act as a pivot, Portland’s Becky Edwards is probably your woman. Like more of a box-to-box profile? Maybe Lori Lindsey’s your choice. If you want a versatile, all-arounder, Keelin Winters is an option.

But if you’re looking for a pure destroyer – somebody who can imitate a Claude Makelélé in more than just relative stature – there’s no question who best fits that profile. Desiree Scott is one of the keys to a K.C. team that’s kept three clean sheets in five games. On Saturday, with their captain and best defender (Sauerbrunn) on the sideline, Scott played the most important role in the Blues’ shutout of Boston.

At some point, Desiree Scott becomes so good and so acknowledged, she can no longer be ‘unsung.’ But we’re not at that point. Today, a few people will click on this post and read about her for the first time. But in the future, hopefully the near future, her quality will be old news.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 5 Sky Blue 7 16 +7
2 2 Portland 7 16 +7
3 1 Kansas City 5 10 +4
4 3 Boston 5 8 +2
5 4 W. New York 5 7 +0
6 6 Washington 7 6 -2
7 7 Chicago 5 2 -7
8 8 Seattle 7 1 -11

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Can Sophie Schmidt keep making up for her forwards’ lack of production? … Will Sunday’s win continue to mask Portland’s problems connecting Edwards to Sinclair? … Will Kansas City be able to hold on when they lose six starters next week? … Is Sydney Leroux wearing down? … Can Washington’s attack sustain this output? … How often does Laura Harvey dream of London?

LOOKING FORWARD

The NWSL returns to business as usual in Week 7: eight teams; all active; each playing once. While Portland’s first visit to Seattle will draw the attention of the those hoping for a rivalry atmosphere, the ProSoccerTalk Game of the Week will take place in Overland Park, where FC Kansas City, number one in our rankings, takes on the league’s number one – Sky Blue FC.

Friday, May 24
Western New York vs. Chicago Red Stars

Saturday, May 25
Boston Breakers vs. Washington Spirit
Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC
FC Kansas City vs. Sky Blue FC

Three good questions for Seattle Reign head coach/general manager Laura Harvey

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No NWSL team has had a more turbulent preseason than the Seattle Reign. They were allocated a star that had previously committed to spend the spring in France. Then the player expected to be their leading scorer became pregnant. The face of their team was forced to undergo wrist surgery which will sideline her until June, while just this week their general manager left the team.

For Seattle’s newest professional team, the NWSL’s first season can’t start soon enough.

Laura Harvey’s hiring from Arsenal Ladies remains one of the high points of the offseason. The 32-year-old who won four titles (in four years) during her time London was brought in to coach the team. With the departure of Amy Carnell, she’ll also assume general manager’s duties, a doubling down by owner Bill Predmore. If Harvey has trouble adapting to the game in the States, Seattle problems will be compounded. On the other hand, if she can adapt quickly, the Reign will reap the benefits of a promising coach managing her own roster.

Shortly before boarding a flight to Chicago (where the Reign open their season on Sunday), Harvey took some time to talk to PST about the upcoming season. Here are our three good questions.

1.) None of your originally allocated U.S. players are with you to start the season. Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez are all out for various reasons. Which loss hurts most?

They all hurt in different ways. I think maybe the Hope one hurts the most because we initially thought we did have her, then we had to plan quite late in the day that we weren’t going to have her.

We knew pretty much from day one about the Megan situation, and obviously as much as (Amy Rodriguez’s situation) is disappointing for our team, it’s hard to be annoyed by that when someone’s pregnant.

They all hurt in different ways, but we had to react pretty quickly to the Hope one. The position that she plays is sometimes the hardest one to replace. But we got there in the end.

(Note: Michelle Betos, a 25-year-old who attended Georgia, appears set to start the season in goal.)

2.) The team went out and traded for a Keelin Winters, a midfielder on the fringe of the national team. Combined with the early return of Theresa Noyola and Christine Nairn’s fall in the draft, you have, on paper, a strong midfield. Can you describe what Winters adds to what you were originally given? And how do you plan to set up your midfield?

Keelin has the experience of playing at the highest level domestically both in the States and in Europe (note: Winters spent the fall with Germany’s Turbine Potsdam). She adds experience which, if you look across our team, I think that’s the one thing we lack – experience at this level. She’s a dynamic all-around midfielder who can give you a lot in attack and is a good defensive midfielder, too. That’s probably the main thing that she brings.

How we’ll set up our midfielder could chance game-to-game depending on who we’re playing. We’ll look to try to overload midfielder areas to allow our best players to get on the ball. We field our midfield area is strongest, so we’ll try to overload in there.

3.) Now the inevitable question about your outlook on the season. On one hand, good coaching can cover a myriad cracks, especially in defense (in my opinion). On the other hand, people are looking at the team on paper and saying this is a bottom-two squad. What are your expectations for the season?

I have big expectations. I don’t think it should ever be any different. In the experience I’ve had is coaching and managing club teams, you have to be realistic with expectations.

And there is a realism. Other coaches in the league have stated this, but at the minute everything that people talk about is on paper. The game is not won there.

Coaching helps. Organization helps. Being prepared helps. Getting your players in the best physical and mental state helps, and it doesn’t matter if they’re World Cup winners, have a hundred caps for their country, or they’re rookies who have just come out of college. As long as they’re prepared mentally, physically and they know what their job for the team is, then you have a chance of winning games.

We’ll find out in August who’ve won the most games, and by then we can judge who set the right expectations and (who) didn’t. If anyone (said they’d) set an expectation not to finish in the top half of the league, I think they’d be lying. I don’t think anyone goes into the league not expecting to get into the playoffs.

That should be everyone’s expectation level. For sure, that’s the same with us. We’re setting the bar high and we’re hungry, we’re enthusiastic, and we’re not going to shy away from any obstacle that comes our way. The first one will be in Chicago on Sunday.

(Follow-up, on Rapinoe and Solo situations lending to the temptation to look at this as two seasons in one.)

Potentially, yes. June, July, August for us – those could be a complete game-changer. If we can maintain on the tails of all the other teams come those dates, we have a chance of finishing. Undoubtedly any team getting Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo back into the team will be a better team for it. You can’t deny that. We have that to look forward to.

Injuries, keeping your best players fit for as long as possible, (these) will be a major factor for teams in this league. If you can keep your best players on the field as long as possible you have the best chance of being successful, and we’re no different to that. Already we’ve had setbacks, as we all know. Megan’s been a bit different than an injury, but if can get [Rapinoe and Solo] back fit and healthy, we have a chance of being successful.

I don’t go into [a season] any other way. If somebody wants to tell me we’re going to finish bottom of the league, I’ll put any money on us moving up.

The NWSL season starts on Saturday in Kansas City. Here is more preview content from PST:

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Chicago makes Bywaters first pick in NWSL history

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She’s 21 years old, part of the United States’ U-23 player pool, and the current Pac-12 Player of the Year, but a few minutes after 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Friday morning, UCLA forward Zakiya Bywaters had another claim to fame. The Las Vegas native became the first college draft pick in National Women’s Soccer League history.

“I always knew after school I wanted to play professional soccer, I just didn’t know the means of how I was going to get there,” Bywaters said after the Chicago Red Stars made her the day’s surprise first overall pick. “I just took it day-by-day and made sure the environment I was in was helping me prepare for this day, so I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

It looks like a need pick for Chicago. After last week’s allocation, the Red Stars were left reliant on 34-year-old Maribel Dominguez for goalscoring. Bywaters’ athleticism, speed, and versatility led to her being selected ahead of highly-rated prospects Kristie Mewis (Boston College) and Christie Nairn (Penn State). The two midfielders fell to third and seventh, respectively.

Those steals made Kansas City and Seattle two of Friday’s winners. With Mewis, Kansas City gets a potential star to complete a spine that includes likely striker Lauren Cheney, ball winner Desiree Scott, defensive general Becky Sauerbrunn, and veteran goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. In Seattle, Nairn’s best-case scenario would give former Arsenal Ladies coach Laura Harvey the type of midfield punch she enjoyed in London with England international Kelly Smith.

Another potential steal fell to Portland in the third round. North Carolina’s Amber Brooks, who signed with Bayern Munich last week, was selected with the last pick of the third round. Should the midfielder/defender return this summer, Thorns FC will add another first round-level talent. The fact that her name wasn’t pulled from the draft hints the former Tar Heel will play with Portland this summer.

But theme of the day was addressing need. With only six-or-seven players on each team’s books, the league’s eight clubs used the draft to address holes. The Boston Breakers selected three midfielders to complement right winger Heather O’Reilly. A Washington Spirit team lacking attackers took forwards with their first two picks. Five goalkeepers were taken among the day’s 32 picks.

Here are the full results (as copy-and-pasted from the link, above):

First round

1. Chicago Red Stars – Zakiya Bywaters, F, UCLA
2. Washington Spirit – Tiffany McCarty, F, Florida State
3. FC Kansas City – Kristin Mewis, M, Boston College
4. Sky Blue FC – Lindsi Linsonbee-Cutshall, D, BYU
5. Boston Breakers – Casey Short, M/D, Florida State
6. Western New York Flash – Adrianna Franch, G, Oklahoma State
7. Seattle Reign FC – Christine Nairn, M, Penn State
8. Portland Thorns FC – Kathryn Williamson, D, Florida

Second round

9. Chicago Red Stars – Rachel Quon, D, Stanford
10. Washington Spirit – Caroline Miller, F, Virginia
11. FC Kansas City – Erika Tmyrak, F/M, Florida
12. Sky Blue FC – Kendall Johnson, M/D, Portland
13. Boston Breakers – Mariah Nogueira, M, Stanford
14. Western New York Flash – Amy Barczuk, M, Colorado
15. Seattle Reign FC – Mallory Schaffer, M, William and Mary
16. Portland Thorns FC – Nicolette Radovcic, F, Central Florida

Third round

17. Chicago Red Stars – Taylor Vancil, G, Florida State
18. Washington Spirit – Holly King, M, Florida
19. FC Kansas City – Whitney Berry, M/F, Kansas
20. Sky Blue FC – Ashley Baker, G, Georgia
21. Boston Breakers – Jo Dragotta, D, Florida
22. Western New York Flash – Victoria DiMartino, F, Boston College
23. Seattle Reign FC – Kristen Meier, M, Wake Forest
24. Portland Thorns FC – Amber Brooks, M/D, North Carolina

Fourth round

25. Chicago Red Stars – Jen Hoy, F, Princeton
26. Washington Spirit – Colleen Williams, M, Dayton
27. FC Kansas City – Nia Williams, D, Missouri State
28. Sky Blue FC – Becky Kaplan, F, Maryland
29. Boston Breakers – Maddy Evans, M, Penn State
30. Western New York Flash – Jackie Logue, D, Wake Forest
31. Seattle Reign FC – Haley Kopmeyer, G, Michigan
32. Portland Thorns FC – Roxanne Barker, G, Pepperdine

And thanks to US Soccer, we have the draft by team:

2013 NWSL Draft Team Selections
Listed per team with overall draft selection, name, position, college and round
Chicago Red Stars
1. Zakiya Bywaters, F (UCLA) – first round
9. Rachel Quon, D (Stanford) – second round
17. Taylor Vancil, GK (Florida State) – third round
25. Jen Hoy, F (Princeton) – fourth round

Washington Spirit
2. Tiffany McCarty, F (Florida State) – first round
10. Caroline Miller, F (Virginia) – second round
18. Holly King, MF (Florida) – third round
26. Colleen Williams, M (Dayton) – fourth round

FC Kansas City
3. Kristie Mewis, M (Boston College) – first round
11. Erika Tymrak, M/F (Florida) – second round
19. Whitney Berry, M/F (Kansas) – third round
27. Nia Williams, D (Missouri State) – fourth round

Sky Blue FC
4. Lindsi Lisonsbee-Cutshall, D (BYU) – first round
12. Kendall Johnson, D/M (Portland) – second round
20. Ashley Baker, GK (Georgia) – third round
28. Becky Kaplan, F (Maryland) – fourth round

Boston Breakers
5. Casey Short, M/D (Florida State) – first round
13. Mariah Nogueira, M (Stanford) – second round
21. Jo Dragotta, M (Florida) – third round
29. Maddy Evans, M (Penn State) – fourth round

Western New York Flash
6. Adrianna Franch, GK (Oklahoma State) – first round
14. Amy Barczuk, M (Colorado) – second round
22. Vicki DiMartino, F (Boston College) – third round
30. Jackie Logue, D (Wake Forest) – fourth round

Seattle Reign FC
7. Christine Nairn, M (Penn State) – first round
15. Mallory Schaffer, M (William & Mary) – second round
23. Kristen Meier, M (Wake Forest) – third round
31. Haley Kopmeyer, GK (Michigan) – fourth round

Portland Thorns FC
8. Kathryn Williamson, D (Florida) – first round
16. Nicolette Radovic, F (Central Florida) – second round
24. Amber Brooks, M (North Carolina) – third round
32. Roxanne Barker, GK (Pepperdine) – fourth round