Diana Matheson

State of the NWSL after Week 18: Saying goodbye to four, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 19

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In the three days since we last talked NWSL soccer, the only changes on the local women’s soccer league’s landscape are four teams being closer to a 23rd game, four others falling 72 hours closer to the ends of their seasons. While we’ll get at least one more week with Kansas City, Western New York, Portland and Sky Blue after this weekend’s games, we’ll have to say goodbye to Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington.

And rather than coming back next year, restarting these NWSL posts, regretting that I never thanked these teams for their parts in the NWSL’s first season, I want to summon the spirit of Alanis Morrissette and …

thank you India,
thank you terror,
thank you …

… all the teams that we’re not going to see after Sunday’s games:

FOR DIANA MATHESON, THANK YOU, WASHINGTON SPIRIT – It’s a shame Diana Matheson didn’t have much of a profile among American soccer fans before this NWSL season (what do we care about a Canadian star with 152 caps, am I right?). At least, it seems like she didn’t have much of a profile down here, because few talked about Matheson’s allocation to Washington as being a boon to the otherwise dispersal-deprived Spirit. Coming into the final week of the regular season, she’s scored eight of her team’s 15 goals.

More generally, her success is a reminder of how insular U.S. women’s soccer culture can be. Matheson has been Washington’s best player. Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann have been crucial to FC Kansas City’s success. Sophie Schmidt’s provided valuable goals for Sky Blue. Portland’s Karina LeBlanc has been the league’s best goalkeeper, and Kaylyn Kyle’s been transformed into a valuable central defender for Seattle.

Canada is more than Christine Sinclair, which we all knew. But in the buildup to this season, we were so focused on the U.S. allocations that we overlooked the extent to which Canada’s allocations would influence the campaign. And Australians, too, for that matter! So thank you, Washington, for providing the platform from Matheson’s success.

thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you Diana Matheson!

FOR REINCARNATION, THANK YOU, SEATTLE REIGN FC – Because I’m based in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s horrible start caused a lot of curious, well-meaning colleagues to inquire about the future of Reign FC. Would Laura Harvey be fired? Would owner Bill Predmore just walk away? Would the NWSL revoke their franchise and give it to the Sounders?

And of course, the right answer at that point of the season was:

Over the summer, Seattle not only improved on the field but off. The crowds at Starfire Sports started to come around. The energy around the franchise changed.

Missing Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, and Amy Rodriguez (otherwise known as their entire original U.S. women’s national team allocation) ultimately left Seattle’s season D.O.A., but come summer, the team was reincarnated as something that defined itself by something other than playoff ambition. So Seattle, thank you for not defining yourselves by your spring results.

thank you `Pinoe’s hair
thank you Solo’s glare
thank you, thank you Fishlock!

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 1 Kansas City 21 38 +13
2 2 W. New York 21 35 +15
3 4 Portland 21 35 +6
4 5 Sky Blue 21 35 +5
5 3 Boston 21 30 +2
6 6 Chicago 21 27 -5
7 7 Seattle 21 18 -13
8 8 Washington 21 13 -23

FOR THE CHALUPACABRA, THANK YOU, CHICAGO RED STARS – During the year without a women’s professional league, some of us forget how good Lori Chalupny is. We remembered how goos she was, but as the Red Stars became more dependent on her throughout season, we were jolted awake, as if a 5’4″, red-headed dervish had wedged a shoulder into our rib cage, knocking us out of our WPS-induced slumber.

And it’s no coincidence that Chicago, as they allowed themselves to rely more-and-more on Chalupny, climbed the table. It’s also no coincidence their playoff hopes effectively ended the moment Chalupny’s ankle was hurt in Portland.

Most media members’ MVP ballots are going to have Lauren Holiday one, Abby Wambach two. After that, Lori Chalupny may have been as good as anybody in the league. And for giving the former U.S. international a chance to show she’s still international-quality, thank you, Chicago.

how `bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out?
how `bout, Tom, giving Lori Chalupny a try out?

FOR SURVIVING THE ONSLAUGHT, LEARNING A LESSON, THANK YOU BOSTON – Despite a roster with talents like Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly, and Lianne Sanderson, Boston’s first season is going to be be remembered for charge people to access their games online. While other teams made streams free, the Breakers charged for theirs, a decision only made worse when NWSL mandated teams to make games available online.

Boston entered a agreement with their broadcast partner, MediaBoss Television, before the NWSL sent out its mandate. From their point of view, they felt locked into a commitment, and while the situation created a ton of negative publicity, the club told Equalizer Soccer that pay-per-view helped them offset costs.

But these clubs are getting major subsidies from U.S. and Canadian soccer. It’s not unreasonable for the fans or federations to demand things like free streams, implying some of the subsidies go to things like quality equipment, consistent internet connections, and a certain standard of on-air personnel (all of which have been a problem with Boston’s pay broadcasts).

To the Breakers’ credit, it appears they’re shooting for a free stream next year. And at times, it seemed like they were more frustrated by this year’s arrangement than the casual fans who tweeted their displeasure with even pay-walled Breaker broadcast.

Regardless, thank you, Boston, for surviving the swell of negativity. And thank you for making it a learning experience (potentially).

Aaaaaaye yeeeeeeaaaaaah!
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!
Yeeh, yeaaaah!

RANKINGS OF POWER

In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – This was tough. Keeping the Spirit eighth after a six-point week? That hardly seems fair, but in my heart of hearts, I believe that if they played team number seven on at a neutral site, they’d likely lose.

But let’s stop being such bummers about this. For weeks, I’ve been writing nothing be negatives about the Spirit, recycling the same analysis, the same point of view, because nothing was changing.

Now something’s changed. Two games! Two wins! Two home shutouts! Who cares about some stupid power ranking when your win column goes from “1” to “3” in four days.

“Keep your rankings, Farley,” I’d say, if I were them. “We’ll take our wins.”

7. Seattle Reign (5) – Between kickoff in Rochester and Matheson’s late goal in Maryland, Seattle’s run-in went from “playing for pride” to “yeah, I guess.” A season-ending derby on Saturday against Portland could charge the batteries.

6. Chicago Red Stars (4) – Jackie Santaceterina’s second half brace salvaged a point against visiting Sky Blue, but the reality of their week was still bleak. They lost at Washington and didn’t get full points at home against a previously struggling Sky Blue.

5. Sky Blue FC (7) – We’re giving them major credit for taking a point at Chicago, but more importantly for Jim Gabarra’s side, this weekend represented progress from their previous performances. Remarkably, the team still has a chance at a home playoff game.

4. Portland Thorns FC (3) – Portland seemed happy with a draw in Rochester, and after losing three days earlier in Boston, that feeling was understandable. The change of approach, however, was a bit concerning for Portland fans, as the Thorns shouldn’t have to completely shift gears just because Alex Morgan is out of the lineup. Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath is more than most teams have at their disposal.

3. Boston Breakers (6) – Cat Whitehill’s got seven points from three games as Breakers’ coach, and in taking wins over Portland and Kansas City, the Breakers are playing better than they have all season.

2. Western New York (2) – Didn’t play particularly well against either Boston or Portland but managed to hold on to second place. A full week off should recharge the team head of a tough finale against the Breakers.

1. FC Kansas City (1) – They’re 10-match unbeaten run is over after their worst performance of the season, but it’s going to take more than one banana skin to knock them off this list’s top spot.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 12 Lauren Holiday (FCKC) 9
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 11 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Abby Wambach (WNY) 7
4 tied at 8 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 6
Katy Freels (SBFC) 6

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Saturday, August 17

Western New York Flash vs. Boston Breakers (8:00 p.m. Eastern) – A Flash win gives them home-field advantage in the semifinals (and the entire playoffs, if Kansas City loses). The only problem: They’re 0-1-2 against Boston this season, their loss coming in Rochester earlier this season (2-1, Apr. 27).

Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC (11:00 p.m. Eastern) – By the time the teams kick off in Tukwila, Portland will know if their quest for a home playoff game’s alive. They need to out-point Western New York to have a chance at the second seed, and since goal difference will be important should they end up tied with Sky Blue, Portland can’t settle for merely a victory. But given how Thorns FC have played over their last four games (1-2-1), any win is a good one for Portland.

Sunday, August 18

FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars (4:10 p.m. Eastern) – This one only matters if Western New York wins on Saturday. If not, FC Kansas City will have already clinched the league’s top seed. And if the Flash beat Boston, the Blues need only a point to stay in Overland Park throughout the playoffs.

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC (5:00 p.m. Eastern) – Whether they have a chance at something beyond the postseason’s fourth seed, Sky Blue has work to do. Last week in Chicago was progress, but they’re still not ready for the playoffs. Jim Gabarra has 90 minutes to find a postseason solution.

Sydney Leroux celebration more about the reaction than the act

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“Classless” was the description that came out of the booth of Sportsnet, the network that broadcast Sunday’s game across Canada. Most reading this post were thankfully spared our neighbor’s coverage of today’s Canada-United States match, wherein the celebration of Sydney Leroux’s 93rd minute goal was labeled “way too American” – the type of sly generalization that’s never used in a positive light.

As the ball reached the back of Erin McLeod’s net, Leroux turned to a crowd that had been booing her since her 74th minute introduction. Reaching to the upper-left corner of her kit, Leroux held up U.S.’s centennial crest, displaying it to the crowd as she shuffled twice in front of a section of fans. Then, turning back toward her teammates, she held a finger to her lips, shushing more than those who had berated her over the preceding 20 minutes. The Surrey-born U.S. international was speaking to fans at 2012 Olympic qualifying in Vancouver, the constant stream of people deriding her on social media, and anybody who’d failed to respect the decision she made two years ago, one that led her to represent the U.S. instead of Canada.

“Shh,” she said told them all, a symbol that’s so over-utilized in world soccer as to become cliché. Andrey Arshavin may be most famous for using it, though at the peak of his powers, he was shushing nobody in particular. For the Russian Prince, the action was so obligatory, it became cute. Nobody labeled him classless, but because Leroux’s use was contextually appropriate, it was somehow, paradoxically uncalled for?

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And the lifting of the badge? There aren’t many opportunities for people to do the same in international soccer, but at the club level, we see it often enough to be familiar with the practice. Again, Leroux wasn’t breaking new ground.

(Full celebration can be seen in the animated gifs to the right, which were collected from a search of Tumblr.)

So what does it even mean to call that recycled, easily recognizable celebration “too American?” Can we even remember another American evoking those actions? How can something be “too American” if Leroux might be the first U.S. player to do it?

On the surface, Sportsnet’s remarks lazily play into an insensitive trope – the stereotype of the brash American – but said in the context of a 3-0 loss, as boos rained down on Leroux from a near-capacity BMO crowd, the comment carried none of the levity usually associated with the innocent jibes that often target Americans. It was bitter. It was ugly. It was reactionary and slightly venomous. The missive was a xenophobic response to a source of legitimate frustration, one with which U.S. fans could otherwise empathize.

That’s because the States have their own Sydney Leroux: Giuseppe Rossi, the New Jersey-raised Fiorentina attacker who turned his back on the United States to play for the Italian national team. Despite completely understandable reasons for doing so — a cultural connection from moving to Italy at 12 years old; the relative statures of the U.S. and Italian teams — fans of the U.S. national team have never forgiven the former Clifton resident, often ignorantly described his as traitor. As if soccer allegiances ever provide a reason to use such exaggerated labels.

Sportsnet’s comments are of the same ilk. Ascribing any player’s actions to an entire culture should never be done lightly, especially when done in a context that portrays you as upset a talent that could have played for your home nation didn’t elect to put on your uniform. There’s little Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, or Desiree Scott could have been done to be labeled “too Canadian,” and if that label did come out, it probably wouldn’t have been used as a pejorative toward Lauren Sesselmann, a Wisconsin-born defender who started for the Canadians today.

You can understand why the crowd in Toronto would boo a player like Leroux, just as you could see a U.S. crowd directing derision at Rossi. We tolerate far more frivolous reasons for denouncing players, just as we put up with far more crude ways of celebrating touchdowns, home runs, and goals from players who aren’t at conflict with the crowd. If Giuseppe Rossi responded to the barrage of negative feedback he’s received from American fans by lifting the Italian flag after scoring on U.S. soil, would that be classless? And if Sydney Leroux uses the common finger-to-lips pose as a rebuttal to her critiques, that seems neither particularly American nor remarkably crass.

If xenophobic commentary like Sportsnet’s becomes common, would if be fair of me to label it as “too Canadian”? Regardless of the source? Or if Sportsnet’s broadcasters don’t like this response, can they lump similar critiques in with their “too American” missive? Or perhaps we shouldn’t go there at all. Perhaps we should just learn not to begrudge athletes their responses, just as we should learn to respect the decisions of Leroux, Rossi, Sesselman, Owen Hargreaves, Neven Subotic, and Jonathan de Guzman.

Sydney Leroux’s goal at BMO did little to change the dynamic between her and her country of birth. Nor did her celebration. The only thing that changed was the language surrounding the conflict. And unfortunately, it’s changed for the worse.

NWSL Game of the Week: Washington Spirit at Portland Thorns FC

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While two of the league’s early powers face off Saturday in Overland Park (Lauren Cheney and FC Kansas City hosting Sydney Leroux and the Boston Breakers), a battle from teams at different ends of the NWSL’s early spectrum will take place in Portland. On Sunday afternoon, the Thorns FC, fresh off their first loss of the season, will host Washington, a team who broke out Thursday in Tukwila.

A rematch of the teams’ first meeting two weeks ago, Portland hosting Washington is this round’s ProSoccerTalk NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Opposites in almost every way

By now you know: Portland was almost everyone’s favorite to win this league. And if that’s one of the few things you’ve heard about the new women’s league – that Portland has Alex Morgan (above); and Christine Sinclair; and these great facilities; and oh my god it’s women’s soccer’s Shangri-La — you probably haven’t heard much about Washington, who were the consensus pick to finish last. Go back two months, and this match looked like David knocking on Goliath’s door, only with five-digits worth of neighbors heckling David while doing do.

The contrast between the two sides extends beyond preseason expectations. Portland was giving an established, potent attack while Washington has had to rely on drafted kids. The Spirit have the likes of Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson in midfield, while the Thorns had to turn to free agency during Tobin Heath’s Parisian sojourn. Portland was given a bedrock center half (Rachel Buehler) while the Spirit’s allocated defender (Ali Krieger) is a fullback, yet Washington was given Ashlyn Harris, to date the league’s best keeper.

Leave those initial impressions behind and fast-forward to mid-May, where all the lip service the league’s coaches have given to the quality of each side – arguments encouraging fans and media to look beyond the big names — is starting to have merit. Back in March, their comments seemed like empty platitudes – the kind of hogwash that’s more American folklore than something that correlates to reality. Overlooked, under-appreciated Washington, whose attack was considered one of the league’s weakest, just exploded for four goals against Seattle. And Portland? They were shocked at home by Sky Blue, with a late song from Taylor Lytle giving Jim Gabarra’s a 1-0 win. Goliath’s not so big, David’s not so small, and the rash predictions of a preseason spent evaluating teams we’d never before seen has proved predictably fallible.

Portland and Washington may have been at opposite ends of March’s spectrum, but the gap appears to be closing. Despite their strong record (now 4-1-1), the Thorns are still struggling to meet their potential, while after a break out performance in Tukwila, the Spirit may have just received a first glimpse of their’s.

After Sunday’s game, comparisons to David and Goliath may prove as foolish as our preseason assumptions.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 6 13 +5 3
2 Sky Blue 6 13 +4 5
3 Boston 4 8 +4 2
5 W. New York 5 7 +0 4
5 Kansas City 4 7 +2 1
6 Washington 6 6 +0 6
7 Chicago 5 2 -7 7
8 Seattle 6 1 -8 8

2. Young, talented, and unproven: Spirit’s attack still coming into its own

It’s not that Washington got a bad allocation, as far as their attackers were concerned. They didn’t get any help up top. One goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders – no forwards. That meant Mike Jorden and the Spirit organization were reliant on the supplemental draft, college players, and limited free agency to forge an attack, a daunting task given each team’s financial constraints.

Come Week 1, Washington had three main options:

  • With the second overall pick in the college draft, Washington went for Florida State’s Tiffany McCarty, a local product who had spent time with the W-League’s Washington Freedom. Only 5’4″, McCarty has the speed to beat anybody in the league, though finding an end product has proved more difficult than blowing past some of the world’s best defenders.
  • Stephanie Ochs, an industrious striker from San Diego, was selected third overall in WPS’s last draft before that league officially folded in 2012. After a year in relative limo, spending some time with the U.S. U-23s, Ochs signed on with Washington, her work rate a potentially potent complement to McCarty.
  • Caroline Miller, last year’s ACC Offensive Player of the Year, slipped into the college draft’s second round. A consistent part of the U.S.’s youth national teams, the former Virginia attacker was seen a possible Week 1 starter, even if she’s eventually settled into a substitute’s role.

They represented three lottery tickets. In a league where few teams have more than one true goal-scoring threat, all Jorden needed is for one to come good. Combined with Diana Matheson’s play making and Lori Lindsey’s occasional attacking contributions, the Spirit could be viable. It was just a matter of getting one player to click.

Early, though, it wasn’t happening. The Spirit scored one goal in each of their first five games, with Matheson being the team’s only consistent threat. Long balls that tried to use McCarty’s speed weren’t being converted into chances, while Och’s determination was often left unrewarded.

On Thursday, however, that changed. Perhaps a floundering Reign FC side contributed to the outburst, but after flying cross-country for a battle of winless sides, Washington finally broke through. McCarty scored her second goal of the season. Matheson found her fourth. Defenders Krieger and Tori Huster also got on the scoresheet as Washington tied a (young) league record for goals in a game: four. The Spirit won, 4-2.

Along the way, Ochs and Miller also made contributions, providing a glimpse of how Washington’s attack may come around before their lottery tickets are cashed. As long as his Jorden’s young attackers can threaten, the game opens up for players like Matheson, who’s now tied for the league lead in goals.

Washington’s forwards are still be a work in progress, but with nine goals in six games (as many as team in the league), they may not have to wait for something to click. Perhaps something already has.

source: AP3. Tactics or talent? There’s a problem in Portland’s midfield

When the Thorns opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Kansas City, many remarked on the trouble Cindy Parlow Cone’s midfield had in Overland Park, the quartet of Angie Kerr, Allie Long, Nikki Washington and Becky Edwards unable to generate chances for Morgan and Sinclair. Since, Cone has made adjustments, dropping Sinclair into Kerr’s spot while the team continues becoming more familiar with each other.

It hasn’t helped that Portland has played four games on the road. Half their matches have been on the type of multi-purpose, turf surfaces that most midfield creativity. While every team’s facing similar problems as they try to establish a style and a systems, Portland’s time on the road combined with a want to play a possession-style has presented the Thorns with some distinct obstacles.

Thursday, however, those excuses went out the window. Against a Sky Blue team who, like their previous opponents, sat deep and dared the Thorns to break them down, Portland still seemed to lack ideas. And this wasn’t on the road, on a bad field. This was at home, on the same field they practiced on all week. Still, the movement Cone had promoted all preseason was non-existent. There was no combination play, no significant buildup. The team was playing into Sky Blue’s jam-packed block.

Having carried a four-game winning streak into Thursday’s game, Portland is clearly capable of winning despite their shortcomings. But they can’t reach their potential without improvement. The cohesion and familiarity, which has only been evident on one goal this year (their second last Saturday at Chicago), needs to improve. They need to draw compact defenses out of their positions, and if they can’t, they have to kind a way to play wide. To date, the Thorns have had almost no presence down the flanks, their wide midfielders pinching in to contribute to the congestion.

That’s meant Long (left midfield) has been in focus, with onlookers asking if there’s more that can be done to serve Morgan and Sinclair. Same goes for Washington (right midfield, pictured), though at some point, when the players are repeatedly trying the same, unsuccessful approaches, you have to look beyond their individual play. Why are the Thorns persistently trying to work through the middle? Why aren’t they going wide, be it with by more readily overlapping their fullbacks, overloading a flank, or just playing behind their opposing fullbacks? Instead of trying to go through teams’ two-woman shields, why aren’t they playing in, out, and around the defense, trying to pull players out of position while encouraging Morgan to make better runs behind the center halves?

Perhaps Long and Washington need to do more, but when you consider how Portland’s played through six games, it’s unclear they’ve been asked to do anything different. At some point, the team needs to change it up.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns FC Washington Spirit
Star to Watch Christine Sinclair – The natural forward has been draw into attacking midfield to try and solve the team’s biggest problem. She’s still Portland’s best player, but while adjusting to her new role, Sinclair has yet to discover how to balance a midfielder’s demands with her goal-scoring talent. Diana Matheson – Arguably the league’s best player after five-plus weeks, the Canadian international is capable of creating chances by going either from the middle or by going wide. To date, however, she’s been handling the goal-scoring herself. She’ll go into Sunday’s match tied for he league lead in goals (four).
Still Important Alex Morgan – The U.S. international leads the league in shots and shots on goal, but the quality of chances need to improve. Part of that is on Morgan’s teammates to put her in better spots. Part of that is on Morgan, who’s still adapting to a markedly different style than what she’s flourished in for the U.S. national team. Ashlyn Harris – No NWSL keeper has been better about decisively coming off her line to collect opposition through balls. If Portland’s plan to beat Washington depends on running through the Spirit defense, they better hope Harris is off her game.
Win if … … they either add another trick to their attack, thus finding a way around what’s bound to be blockade in the midfield, or they get something special from Sinclair or Morgan. … they stay tight and deep through the middle, eschew risks for organization in defense, and find a moment’s magic from Matheson going forward.

OTHER GAMES, WEEK 6

Seattle Reign 2-4 Washington Spirit (Thursday) – While we’re only six games into the season, you have to consider whether Reign FC can come back from this. If there was one game they were going to win, it was this one – returning home, against another winless side. Instead, they become the first team to give up four goals at home.

Portland Thorns 0-1 Sky Blue FC (Thursday) – Jim Gabarra’s team moves into a tie for first after an 80th minute blast from Lytle handed Portland their first loss. One of the least-entertaining match of the season, Lytle’s long shot was the only real test either keeper saw. Karina LeBlanc, ultimately had no chance to stop the winner.

FC Kansas City vs. Boston Breakers (Saturday, 8:35 p.m. Eastern) – The Blues are coming off their first loss of the season, falling 2-1 at Western New York. Venturing out of the Eastern time zone for the first time this year, Boston looks to remain the league’s last undefeated team. Watch for the how Leigh Ann Robinson and Lauren Sesselmann deal with Heather O’Reilly.

Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit (Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern)

Seattle Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC (Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern) – Last weekend, Sky Blue got two first half goals en route to a 2-0 win over Seattle at Yurcak Field. While a change of venue would seem to embolden the Reign, there’s an increasing feeling the first-year club is in a flat spin. Based on mid-week results, it appears these teams are going in opposite directions.

2013 NWSL preview: Washington Spirit

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The Washington Spirit will play home games in the Maryland SoccerPlex, home to what once was the region’s — and the country’s — most storied women’s professional soccer franchise. The history remains, but the Washington Freedom haven’t played a game since the 2010 WPS season (we’ll save the long, dramatic story of what happened to the team in 2011 and let you read that here).

The Freedom won the 2003 WUSA title and after that league folded, they won the amateur W-League in 2007.

But this Washington, D.C., franchise, set to play in the National Women’s Soccer League, carries none of that history. The Spirit aren’t the Freedom, and they don’t want to be. They may, however, want to replicate the success and sustainability of the club that lasted 10 years and three different leagues.

As it stands, this team that fans will be able to watch at the SoccerPlex will likely need all the help it can get. The Spirit lack a proven goal scorer and will rely on untested rookies to find the back of the net. A fairly strong defense (if fully healthy) could combat a lack of goal scoring for the Spirit, but the signs (including a 2-0 loss to the University of Maryland and 6-3 loss to the University of Virginia in preseason, ugly results even if the roster was depleted) are that this team will struggle.

Who you know: Ali Krieger (pictured) and Ashlyn Harris will be the anchors in the back and Harris will have to be lights-out in net to keep this team in games. Krieger, Harris and midfielder Lori Lindsey are all familiar faces in D.C. having all previously played in Washington with the Freedom. Diana Matheson, who scored the game-winning goal for Canada in the 2012 Olympic bronze medal game, will be looked at as a playmaker.

Who you should know: Candace Chapman anchored the back line of two WPS championship teams. If healthy — a big ‘if’ — she’ll be the best free agent signing this team made. Ingrid Wells, 24, could have a future with the U.S. national team and rookie Caroline Miller could be one of Washington’s young players who steps up.

What it means: Washington looks very unlikely to make the playoffs, but if the defense can hold steady and some of the younger players in attack find a groove, the middle of the table and the final couple of playoff spots are wide open amongst a few teams. The issue with the Spirit is that there are just too many ‘ifs’.

The Washington Spirit open the season on the road on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET against the Boston Breakers.

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