Laura Harvey

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Women’s Ballon d’Or nominees: Three USWNT players, West Virginia junior

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We now know the players and coaches nominated for the highest individual honors in women’s soccer, and there are plenty of connections to the 2015 World Cup champions.

Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd are nominees for World Player of the Year, while USWNT coach Jill Ellis is up for World Coach of the Year.

Seattle Reign boss Laura Harvey is also up for the latter honor, and will combat the coaches for Canada and England amongst others.

[ MORE: Giggs, Neville allow homeless to stay winter in hotel ]

Another candidate for POY is plying her trade in the American college game, as West Virginia junior Kadeisha Buchanan is up for the honor.

Surprisingly, World Cup semifinalist England did not have a player on the final list.

FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year nominees
U.S. — Lloyd, Rapinoe, Solo
France — Amandine Henry, Eugenie Le Sommer
Germany — Nadine Angerer, Celia Sasic
Japan — Aya Miyama
Canada — Kadeisha Buchanan
Switzerland — Ramona Bachmann

FIFA Women’s World Coach of the Year nominees
Calle Barring – Sweden U-19
Colin Ball – FFC Frankfurt
Farid Benstiti – Paris Saint-Germain
Jill Ellis – USWNT
Laura Harvey – Seattle Reign
John Herdman – Canada
Gerard Precheur – Lyon
Mark Sampson – England
Norio Sasaki – Japan
Thomas Worle – Bayern Munich.

NWSL Roundup: Seattle’s opening day was as amazing as Laura Harvey’s offseason

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If there were awards for offseason success, Seattle Reign FC general manager/head coach Laura Harvey would have won them all. Completely overhauling a squad that never competing for a 2013 playoff spot, the former Arsenal and Birmingham City boss accumulated the league’s most enviable collection of attacking talents, with U.S. internationals Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe leading a group that also features Arsenal signing Kim Little, INAC Kobe loanee Beverly Goebel, and Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi. Add the returning threat of Jessica Fishlock in central midfield and Seattle’s attack is diverse, deep, and more than a little bit frightening.

Boston felt the brunt of that fright on Sunday, though the Breakers can take solace in holding Leroux off the scoresheet. Having traded Leroux this winter, Boston was left out-gunned as Rapinoe piled on to Little’s first two NWSL goals, giving Seattle an eye-opening 3-0 win in its first game at Memorial Stadium.

It was the weekend’s most lopsided result, one that would imply one team’s greatness met another’s failures. Yet Boston wasn’t that bad. After making it to halftime 0-0, however, the Breakers couldn’t withstand a second 45 minutes. Seattle’s midfield was too strong, their attack too quick, and their defense too untested to leave with a draw. While Tom Durkin’s team has obvious holes, some will be addressed when the likes of Lisa De Vanna and Kristie Mewis return to the starting lineup. Others will be addressed by merely leaving Seattle.

It was a proof of concept for Harvey’s offseason overhaul; a validation off an offseason that saw the two-time English Women’s Super League winner continuously shuffle her deck. If Sunday was any indication, she’d forged a powerful hand, one which could render the team’s 2013 disappointment a distance memory.

Elsewhere

FC Kansas City 1, Sky Blue FC 1 – FCKC, a contender throughout 2013, spent its first season looking for a striker to play on top of its 4-2-3-1 formation. This season, Vlatko Andonovski’s throwing numbers at the problem, going 4-4-2 in the team’s 2014 debut. The result was an uneven performance, with Amy Rodriguez’s first NWSL tally equalized by Sky Blue’s Katy Freels early in the second half.

Houston Dash 0, Portland Thorns FC 1 – The first game in Dash franchise history saw Randy Waldrum’s team push the defending champions, though fears about the team’s attack were given fuel when Allie Long’s first half goal held up. Still, the Dash may have surprised onlookers with their quality on day one, a quality that will improve as their first choice defenders come available.

Washington Spirit 1, Western New York 3 – Even without an injured Abby Wambach, the Flash had a relatively easy day against the revamped Spirit. Unfortunately for Washington fans, a defense that allowed the most goals in 2013 proved equally suspect on Sunday, with Spanish international Vicky Losada’s two goals and one assist providing a Player of the Week-caliber performance in her debut.

Off: Chicago Red Stars

Standings Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
1. Seattle Reign FC 3 1 1 0 0 3 0 3
2. Western New York Flash 3 1 1 0 0 3 1 2
3. Portland Thorns FC 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
4. FC Kansas City 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
5. Sky Blue FC 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
6. Chicago Red Stars
7. Houston Dash 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 -1
8. Washington Spirit 0 1 0 1 0 1 3 -2
9. Boston Breakers 0 1 0 1 0 0 3 -3

NWSL: Other general managers should probably stop taking Laura Harvey’s calls

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Laura Harvey’s become everybody’s fantasy league nightmare –  the person who just won’t stop chasing deals. Since the National Women’s Soccer League season ended on Aug. 31, the Seattle Reign have made five trades, the rest of the league’s general manager surely growing tired of  “Laura Harvey, Seattle, WA” popping up on their called ID.

No, Laura, I don’t need another trade offer from you … Yes, Laura, I do realize you like to deal, and I know you’re interested in all on my team’s best players … I just don’t have time for this … You’ve made so many trades, this isn’t even realistic anymore.

But as anybody who’s ever been in a keeper league knows: The person that won’t stop flooding inboxes always stacks up talent. It’s annoying, and you loathe the fact that they’re putting so much time into it, but through pure persistence, the owner finds people’s weak points. They close deals that make you call their trade partners and scream, “Why did you do that?”

“Don’t you know not to listen to Laura? You are ruining the league for everyone! Just stop taking her calls.”

Take this week’s big trade: Harvey got one of the league’s jewels – one of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s vaunted four-deep world-class attack. Sydney Leroux, arguably the player with more pure potential than anybody in the league, was sent west from Boston, where she grabbed 11 goals in 19 games last season. To get her, the Reign gave up a talented prospect (Kristie Mewis), a fungible backup goalkeeper (Michelle Betos), and first and second round picks in the 2015 draft.

This is the kind classic, Fantasy Manager 101 “bag of stuff” deal that infuriates the rest of the league, the one that leaves every other GM saying “I could have beat that.” Going one way, you have a player who’s capable of leading the league in goals. Going the other, you have your typical focal point-plus-grab bag that Seattle will never miss.

source: Getty Images
New Seattle Reign forward Sydney Leroux returns to the Pacific Northwest after scoring 11 goals in 19 games last year in Boston (Photo: Getty Images.)

There were a number of factors that led to the end of Leroux’s time in Boston, factors beyond Harvey’s persistence or the coincidental going home narrative laced throughout the trade’s announcements. Having never played a full professional season before, Leroux’s transition to the professional game was not exactly a smooth one. A relationship with then-head coach Lisa Cole that saw the natural striker sometimes played wide and eventually sat early in the season never improved. As questions about intensity were accompanied by days away from the team documented on the player’s Instagram, the link between star and club seemed to suffer. Leroux’s 2014 would have to be better.

Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Sydney Leroux business. Sure, the Pacific Northwest native may have preferred playing on the West Coast, but if Boston doesn’t want to make this deal — if they’re willing to take a chance on rebuilding a relationship with one of the league’s most talented players — they don’t make the deal. And they certainly don’t accept a discount rate for some of the world’s best attackers. If Boston had to decide if they wanted to be in the Leroux game, this week’s trade told us their decision.

It’s not that either side wanted it to fail. It’s that it never clicked. It’s a relationship that ended in a passive, mutually filed divorce. That’s why you didn’t hear a lot of surprised reactions when Breakers general manager Lee Billiard made the tough call, deciding to make a deal where he gave up the best player. Boston wasn’t going to get a Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan in the deal. None of those players were available. He had to trade down.

From his point of view, Kristie Mewis may have been as good a centerpiece as Billiard was going to get. The Boston College and Hanson, Mass. talent has huge local ties, something that’s led Billiard to covet her since January’s draft. But she’s also in transition. A skilled, attacking player at BC, Mewis now projects as a left back for the U.S. Women’s National Team. With Boston short on fullbacks and having traded last year’s number one pick (defender Casey Short) to Chicago, it’s assumed Mewis will be patrolling the left flank at Dilboy Stadium. If Mewis becomes one of the league’s best left backs (and I really should bold and italicize that if), this deal becomes merely lopsided instead of a steal.

But where the swap gets even more interesting (if that’s even possible) is with Seattle. A team that was decimated at the beginning of 2012 by the absences of all their U.S. stars (Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez) has completely reloaded. In three months’ time, they’ve done from a team unable to avoid a seventh place finish to a potential competitor.

source: Getty Images
After returning early from wrist surgery, Hope Solo appeared in 13 of Seattle’s 22 games in the NWSL’s inaugural season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In goal, Hope Solo will be ready from game one, whereas a wrist injury kept her out of action until the middle of last season. Even when she returned, she didn’t seem right, whether it was her wrist, the lingering effects of shoulder surgery before the 2011 World Cup, or both. This fall, however, she has looked closer to her normal self for the national team, sparking hope she’ll be full-on Hope Freakin’ Solo come April.

Defense, however, was Seattle’s big problem, and although there are still no stars in the squad, there are a lot of decent options. U.S. international Stephanie Cox heads a deep fullback corps that includes Nikki Marshall, Elli Reed, and Kiersten Dallstream. In the middle, Canadian international Carmelina Moscato will try to rebound from a bad 2012, with reliable options like Lauren Barnes and natural midfielder Kate Deines also available. Even if a couple of players flop (as happened last year with Canadian international Emily Zurrer), Harvey has options.

Last season, the midfield, had to carry the team, but the load was so heavy that the team would occasionally hit a wall in the middle of the second half. This year, Jessica Fishlock and Keelin Winters won’t have to shoulder as much of the load, and with promising destroyer Mariah Nogueira having also been acquired from Boston (seriously, why so generous, Boston?), Leroux won’t be the only Breaker gift in Harvey’s squad.

But it’s in attack, where Seattle struggled desperately in the absence of Rodríguez (pregnancy), where the Reign has improved the most. Of course, there’s Leroux, but on Wednesday, Seattle announced the acquisition of Kim Little, a Scottish international who has spent the last six years at Arsenal in England. In her former North London charge, Harvey has a player who already has 32 UEFA Champions League goals to her credit. Once Megan Rapinoe returns mid-year from her time at Lyon, Seattle will have one of the most talented and balanced attacks in the league.

Compared to the team that started on Aug. 17 against the Thorns (the Reign’s last game), there haven’t exactly been wholesale changes. Seven players that were chosen that day could be in Harvey’s XI come April. It’s the fact that she’s been able to acquire the likes of Leroux, Little, Nogueira and Moscato while giving up almost nothing from her core that’s so galling:

source: Getty Images
Scottish international Kim Little led England’s Women’s Super League in goals in 2012, scoring 11 times in 14 games for eventual league champions Arsenal. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • Leroux was acquired with spare parts plus the Mewis, who Harvey got from Kansas City for Rodríguez earlier this fall.
  • Little’s discovery rights were obtained from Washington for Christine Nairn, a talented player but one who is actually the same age as Little.
  • Nogueira, a promising 22-year-old who was staring at Stanford this time last year, was obtained for two third round picks.
  • And Moscato cost Harvey midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, who was one of the worst in the league at her position before being moved into central defense.

Most of these trades make sense for both teams, but from Seattle’s point of view, they’re four upgrades that didn’t cost Harvey anything that worked (Fishlock and Winters in the middle) or drew fans (Rapinoe and Solo on the posters). Come April, Seattle should reap the benefits of Harvey’s rotisserie baseball management.

The offseason’s only three months old, the college draft is still a couple of months away, and teams don’t even know who the next set of allocated players will be. Yet Harvey has already assembled a roster that looks as strong as Western New York’s, Kansas City’s or Portland’s – the three teams that finished bunched at the top of last year’s standings.

While talent on paper doesn’t necessarily mean production on the field, it does mean better odds for a Seattle team that seemed cursed in 2013. But over the course of three months, Seattle’s general manager/head coach has put all that in the past. You may not want her in your fantasy league, but thanks to her Let’s Make a Deal approach to the offseason, Laura Harvey has made the Reign the NWSL’s most talked about team, not to mention a contender in 2014.

U.S.’s South Korea friendlies come at expense of NWSL: Is it worth it?

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Laura Harvey confessed: It was something she’d have to get used to. Last Sunday, in the wake of a demoralizing home loss to FC Kansas City, the Seattle Reign coach was looking forward to the Sunday’s rivalry match without Hope Solo and Kaylyn Kyle, two important parts of her back five. True, Portland was going to be without the likes of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, called in to U.S. and Canadian camps despite matches scheduled outside of FIFA breaks, but while Harvey was at Arsenal LFC, she didn’t have players taken from her out of window. This was something new; something frustrating.

That’s life in a federation-sponsored league. The U.S. and Canada (with help from Mexico) are shouldering much of burden for the NWSL, the three federations paying the salaries of players placed in the new eight-team league. What recourse did the Reign have? There’s no appetite to bite the hand.

For Canada, you can see the logic of the call-ups. John Herdman’s team travel to Germany for a Wednesday game that’s an important part of his team’s development. Ahead of hosting the 2015 World Cup, Canada’s looking at consistent matches against high-level competition to make their capable team into a more consistent one. How does Canada become a team that can regularly give performances like last year’s Olympic semifinal? By repeatedly putting the team in a position to step up.

The U.S. is in a different place. Their June 15th and 20th friendlies seem more a function of pre-NWSL habit than any kind of development need, something easily argued against when noting new coach Tom Sermanni has only been on the job six months. But while you can just as easily argue that players need time in camps to be evaluated properly, you could also argue that staying with their clubs while getting direction from both national team and club staff would help players settle into routines, habits that will better promote development.

Perhaps the North American club game isn’t there, yet. The type of improvement we’ve seen from Christen Press since she’s been in Sweden? Or the glimpses of six month’s further polish evident in Tobin Heath? Perhaps the NWSL can’t provide that, yet. Maybe these camps are still very much needed, even if the scheduling of South Korea — a decent if ultimately unthreatening opponent — hints these games may be part of an old, pre-league playbook: Schedule friendlies, sell tickets, and otherwise occupy this low point of the cycle.

But as the NWSL pushes on with a five-game week, three of which take place tonight, it’s hard to see how these mid-season benefit either U.S. Soccer or the NWSL in the long run. If the argument for throwing money behind the NWSL espouses the developmental value of a strong domestic league, then let the league be strong. Unless you have an opponent like Germany and a need like Canada’s, take the long view. Make the little sacrifices needed to embolden the NWSL so that in the this type of discussion eventually becomes irrelevant.

In their two games against South Korea, U.S. Soccer may raise money that will help pay their players’ salaries, this supporting the NWSL. But the domestic league was always going to be about little sacrifices: by owners; by players; and by the federations. Not calling in the national team players for mid-season matches against South Korea? That would have been just another small sacrifice toward the NWSL’s health.

(Author’s note: The original post made two references to the U.S.’s friendlies being out-of-window in regards to the international calendar. Those references were incorrect and have been removed.)

2013 NWSL team preview: Seattle Reign FC

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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: Seattle Reign FC.

Earlier today we talked to Laura Harvey, the former Arsenal Ladies manager who has recently seen ‘general manager’ added to her head coach’s responsibilities in Seattle. The 32-year-old is used to the dual role, her job in London asking her to build as well as coach the squad, but with Harvey abruptly taking on the extra duties after Amy Carnell resigned on Monday, there is a sense of disorganization emanating from Reign FC. If the club carries similar problems into the regular season, road games at Chicago, Portland and Kansas City will punish them ahead of their home opener on May 4.

Unfortunately, scheduling and front office transitions aren’t the only problems for Seattle. They’re not even the biggest issues. Reign FC will start the season without their three original U.S. allocations, and featuring a roster stocked in midfield but thin everywhere else, there are questions whether they can score or prevent goals.

The transition to the NWSL was always going to be difficult for a coach who had significant talent advantages in London, but thanks to some preseason misfortune, Harvey’s first task will be to revitalize hope in Seattle.

Who you know: Seattle were allocated three of the most recognizable names in U.S. women’s soccer: Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Amy Rodriguez. At the time, Seattle’s looked like one of the stronger allocations, even if Rapinoe was going to be in France until June. But then word came that Rodriguez was pregnant and out for the year. With Solo having recently undergone wrist surgery, none of the team’s big three will be with them in Chicago.

Carnell did go out and trade for Keelin Winters, a strong, all-purpose midfielder on the fringe of the U.S. Women’s National Team, but until Solo and Rapinoe return this summer, this team will lack the star power that could attract some Sounders fans to the team’s games in Tukwila.

Who you should know: Teresa Noyola is a former MAC Herman Trophy winner who will provide the creative presence in Harvey’s midfield. Christine Nairn, a Herman Trophy finalist last year, and Welsh international Jessica Fishlock can provide goals from the middle, while Canadian Kaylyn Kyle adds a deeper presence. Though it lacks headlining talent, Seattle’s midfield is as deep as any in the league.

What it means:  According to Harvey, Seattle will try to overload the middle in an attempt to make their midfield advantage decisive. The extent to which they can force their early matches into a batter of midfields will determine their survival.

If Seattle can stay within reach of the rest of the league, they’ll likely have a base to build from when their stars return. If the Reign can’t be within a couple of games (say, six-to-eight points) come mid-June, their Solo and Rapinoe aren’t likely to save them.

The first game in FC Kansas City history will take place Saturday against the Portland Thorns.


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