Nicole Barnhart

United States to be surprisingly strong for Sunday’s Australia friendly

4 Comments

The roster announcement for the upcoming friendlies was a weird one. The U.S. have games scheduled against Australia (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, 30), but for Sunday’s match against the Matildas, European players weren’t set to take part. With the match scheduled outside of a FIFA window, clubs weren’t compelled to release players like Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain) and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), compelling the U.S. to name 25 players for games where only 18 will dress. The team named a squad that can straddle the international window.

The U.S., however, are set to benefit from Tyresö’s misfortune, the Swedish club having lost their chance to take first place in the Damallsvenskan. That means the suddenly huge American enclave playing just outside Stockholm will join the team ahead of Sunday’s game in San Antonio. Reportedly flying straight from their team’s Champions League match in Paris, Whitey Engen, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, and Christen Press will be available for selection on Sunday, Tyresö having given them permission to miss the weekend’s season finale at Linköping.

That means Press won’t have a chance to build a campaign that win claim Sweden’s scoring title. With 23 goals in 20 games, the Stanford alum is seven ahead of Linköping’s Pernille Mosegaard-Harder, having scored 40 times (in 41 games) since moving to Sweden two years ago. Although she had scored eight goals as a rookie in Women’s Professional Soccer’s final season (2011), few saw this kind of dominance in Press’s game during her first professional debut. Her move abroad shows the type of benefits players can see when challenging themselves in Europe’s best leagues.

Despite that success, Press is still fighting for regular time with the U.S., her relatively recent inclusion with the national team creating a game of catch up. Current FIFA Player of the Year Abby Wambach remains the well-established focal point, and Alex Morgan’s the strike force’s other attacking star, leaving Sydney Leroux (despite 21 goals in 39 appearances) is in the same boat as Press – fighting for time in the world’s deepest strike force.

source: Getty Images
Christen Press, seen here embracing U.S. national team teammate Carli Lloyd, had 23 goals this season for Tyresö in Sweden. Her club has given her permission to join the U.S. this Sunday in San Antonio. (Photo: Getty Images.)

It’s those type of positional battles that make these friendlies worthwhile, and from the spectator’s point of view, they provide some needed drama during what could be lopsided matches. While Australia and New Zealand each have some world-class talents, they’re also seen on a lower level than the U.S. If teams like Germany and Japan can compete with the States while the likes of France and Sweden could beat them on a given day, Australia exists on a level close to England or Italy, where a victory would be a notable upset. New Zealand is even farther below that.

So the main competition on Sunday will be internal, with the Australians providing a type of control. And at almost every level of the field, the Matildas’ standard will be used to gain new information about the U.S.’s obscure depth chart.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is number one. Nicole Barnhart is number two. As opposed to other places on the field, there are no questions about that order, even if there questions about Solo’s lingering health issues (recent shoulder, wrist problems). At some point, presumably, that intrigue will dissipate. Perhaps the break between the NWSL campaign and these friendlies will have given her time to fully recover.

Defense: Kelley O’Hara’s still out at left back as she recovers from ankle surgery, which means Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis are likely to split time (though a few other fullbacks candidates have been called in). Which one has an edge? Don’t expect Sermanni to tell, even if Dunn looks a little ahead of the still-converting midfielder.

In the middle, 38-year-old Christie Rampone is assumed to be a starter, but Sermanni’s done enough rotating to obscure his preferences. Conventional wisdom has Rachel Buehler, Whitney Engen, and Becky Sauerbrunn competing for one spot.

Midfield: If there’s depth in central midfield, it’s still coming through. Göteburg’s Yael Averbuch’s been recalled once more. Morgan Brian’s missing Virginia’s game with North Carolina to come along. Neither fully established in the team, let alone challengers to Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, though one may start Sunday in Texas. With Heath and Rapinoe only joining the team for the New Zealand matches, Holiday is a candidate to start wide (though not the only one).

In those wide roles, Heather O’Reilly seems to be competing with Rapinoe and Heath for two spots, one of which she seemed to lose at the end of Pia Sundhage’s tenure. But having been awarded her fair share of starts since Sermanni took over, O’Reilly’s place on the depth chart is unclear. Has she possibly reclaimed a place in the U.S.’s first XI?

Who knows. Tom Sermanni may not even know, or care. The games that really matter are still long off with qualifying for Canada 2015 still over a year away. It may not even be worth coming up with potentially irrelevant conclusions.

At some point, Sermanni will need to test what he has, but that point’s not going to come this months. Against Australia and New Zealand, expect him to keep us in the dark.

How U.S. women’s national teamers have done, past the mid-point of the NWSL season

1 Comment

Just over halfway through the NWSL season, here’s how prominent U.S. national team members have fared during the first year of the new women’s domestic league.

… WITH FLYING COLORS

Lauren Cheney Holiday, FC Kansas City – Perhaps surprisingly, Holiday has been the league’s best player, sliding into a playmaker’s role in which she’s rarely been used in before. The product leaves her second in the league in both goals and assists. The former Lauren Cheney missed last week’s games while getting married to Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday, hence the name change.

Bottom line: 11 games, eight goals, five assists, and the league’s leading MVP candidacy

Sydney Leroux, Boston Breakers – A strong week has Leroux up to a league leading 10 goals, and while some midseason questions gave the impression Leroux’s professional debut was becoming a rocky one, her response has led the Breakers back into playoff contention. Talent-wise, she is the full package, and since summer arrived, she’s been converting those talents into goals.

Bottom line: 11 games, 10 goals, one assist

Heather O’Reilly, Boston Breakers – As performances start to wane with the busy summer schedule, O’Reilly’s renowned intensity remains undeterred. Playing two games in four days last week, O’Reilly’s energy was vital to Boston’s four-point week. While much of her effort is being still applied down the flanks, O’Reilly’s also bolstered Boston’s efforts through the middle, making her one of the more valuable players in the league.

Bottom line: 12 games, three goals, five assists

Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC – The U.S. captain has been the league’s best defender, and while her team has leaked goals at times, it’s to be expected given the youth that surrounds her. There’s no way Sky Blue’s at the top of the league without her.

Bottom line: 13 starts, only three fouls committed

Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Has been the leader of one of the league’s best defensive pairings, her ability on and off the ball making her Rampone’s only rival for league’s best defender.

Bottom line: 12 games, one assist, only one foul committed

source: Getty ImagesAbby Wambach, Western New York Flash – You may have heard more about when Wambach wasn’t playing than what she’s done on the field, but between the lines, Wambach has been one of the league’s best players, and certainly its best forward.

Bottom line: 11 starts, seven goals, four assists

IF ONLY THEY WERE HERE MORE

Carli Lloyd, Western New York Flash – Has been one of the league’s best attacking midfielders, but a shoulder injury’s seen her limited to eight games. One of those featured a hat trick, though.

Bottom line: Eight games, seven starts, four goals

Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – Has been solid since returning in the middle of June, though her real effects have been on the team’s confidence and lineup. Seattle’s playing like a team that knows it has the talent to match its ambitions, and with Rapinoe at one wing spot (and some other moves), the Reign now have an XI capable of challenging anybody’s.

Bottom line: Four games, three starts, one goal

Hope Solo, Seattle Reign FC – Gave her team an immediate boost when she returned in late May from wrist surgery, then had a memorable mistake that cost her team a game against FC Kansas City. Since she’s ranged from great to good, more than you’d get out of most goalkeepers.

Bottom line: Six games, 39 saves, 1.00 GAA, no shutouts

GETTING THE JOB DONE

Nicole Barnhart, FC Kansas City – Until this last week, Barnhart’s solid but unspectacular performance still made her one of the league’s best keepers. Lately, however, the unspectacular tag has been dropped as Barnhart’s made some crucial plays for the Blues.

Bottom line: 13 games, 46 saves, 0.85 GAA, seven shutouts

Rachel Buehler, Portland Thorns FC – Part of the joint-best defense in the league, and while she’s still prone to the occasional error, her leadership has been valuable next to rookie center back Kathryn Williamson.

Bottom line: 12 starts, playing every minute she’s been available

Ali Krieger, Washington Spirit – Had a strong start to the season and is one of the few fullbacks in the league that’s providing a consistent, credible threat going forward. Like her teammates, has shown some signs of disillusionment as her club’s struggled.

Bottom line: 12 starts, one goal

source:  Alex Morgan, Portland Thorns FC – At times, she’s struggled, making her broader success look like the product of the U.S. national team’s approach. But as the year’s gone on, her game’s started to round out. Unfortunately, it has yet to yield the kind of numbers that will draw fan attention. Like Krieger, her fortunes (or, misfortunes) are starting to reflect her team’s.

Bottom line: 12 starts, five goals, three assists, league leading 51 shots and 29 shots on goal

MIXED BAGS

Ashlyn Harris, Washington Spirit – The popular goalkeeper has been betrayed by an inexperienced and ineffective defense, but she hasn’t done herself any favors while trying to organize them. Mix in a couple of soft goals, a few great saves, and you have Harris’s uneven season.

Bottom line: 11 starts, 50 saves, 1.73 GAA, no shutouts

Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – Has struggled as much as any allocated player. Has played left wing and struggled, showing her present and future are probably at left back. Too bad her team has a rookie (Kendall Johnson) that’s performing well in that position.

Bottom line: 12 games, 10 starts, three assists

Others: Heather Mitts was allocated to Boston but retired before the season started; Amy Rodriguez announced her pregnancy before the season started and will not play this year; Amy LePeilbet’s knee inury has kept her out all season; Jill Loyden’s has returned from a broken hand but has failed to make an appearance for Sky Blue; Tobin Heath joins the Portland Thorns this week after playing in Paris until June; Shannon Boxx made two appearances for Chicago before undergoing surgery; Lori Lindsay (Washington) and Keelin Winters (Seattle) are both U.S. allocations but have failed to figure in recent national team camps.

Walking through Week 13 of the NWSL season

3 Comments

It was another unimpressive week at the top of the NWSL, hinting at some mid-week doldrums for teams preparing for the season’s home stretch. Yet some teams are dealing with those doldrums better than others. Despite failing to impress in their game, first place Sky Blue stretched their lead at the top of the league, while a FC Kansas City side missing the league’s best player closed their gap on second place Portland.

The team of the week, however, was one in the table’s bottom half, though that may not be for long. Coming into Week 13, Boston was six points out of fourth and facing two games in the Pacific Northwest. With a little help from New York’s results, Boston now controls their own playoff destiny, the four-point gap between them and their rivals mitigated by their schedule.

Let’s walk through Week 13:

Wednesday, July 3

Washington Spirit 1, FC Kansas City 1 – For the second week in a row, FC Kansas City traveled east mid-week, outplayed their opponent, but gave away two points late. This time it was the returning Diana Matheson from the spot equalizing Erika Tymrak’s early second half tally to give head coach Mark Parsons a point in his Spirit debut. While the details were encouraging for the Blues – strong performances throughout midfield; Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann making their case as the league’s best center back tandem; Nicole Barnhart being her usual, steady self – a late penalty drawn by Tiffany McCarty made it all for naught.

Implications: For Washington, the point was a morale boost in the wake of Mike Jorden’s departure. For Kansas City, though, all the positives can’t detract from the fact that points missed in New Jersey and Washington hurt their chances to track down Sky Blue.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 3 Sky Blue 15 30 +10
2 7 Portland 14 26 +5
3 1 Kansas City 15 25 +7
4 2 W. New York 14 23 +9
5 6 Boston 14 19 +1
6 5 Chicago 13 15 -6
7 4 Seattle 14 9 -12
8 8 Washington 13 7 -14

Seattle Reign FC 1, Boston Breakers 1 – Seattle extend their unbeaten run to four, but this could have been more than a one-point result. Some late confusion in front of goalkeeper Hope Solo saw a ball deflect off defender Kaylyn Kyle, hovering unplayed in the six before Sydney Leroux stole an equalizer. Still, the Reign midfield was ferocious, the Jessica Fishlock, Keelin Winters, Kate Deines trio disrupting anything Boston tried to build from Mariah Noguiera forward. For a team that should be judged by progress not points, the draw was still an encouraging one.

Implications: Boston needed to make up ground on the top four, but the first game of their Cascadia road trip only saw them tread water. But given the strength of their opposition, it’s hard to deride the Breakers for “only” getting a draw in Seattle.

Thursday, July 4

Chicago Red Stars 1, Western New York Flash 0 – After a game wherethe Flash had more chances but Chicago stole the only goal, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames proclaimed goal scorer Lori Chalupny one of the league’s top five players, whether she’s in the U.S. national team or not. It was a not-so-subtle allusion to the fact nobody’s clear why Chalupny, a one-time mainstay in the national team, has never been allowed back once concussion symptoms cleared, allowing her club career to continue. Thursday’s goal will only increase the call for clarity, though given it’s a health issue, we may remain in the dark.

Implications: They’re valuable points for Chicago, who can persist in their playoff chase with an ‘anything can happen approach,’ but the Flash half of the result will likely be more important to playoff positioning. Like Kansas City, Western New York needs to maximize points against teams in the bottom half in order to give themselves the best chance for a home playoff game. There’s no shame in losing at Chicago, but it’s still a missed opportunity.

Saturday, July 6

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 8 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 5
Abby Wambach (WNY) 7 Leigh Ann Robinson (FCKC) 5
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 6 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 5
5 tied at 5 3 tied at 4

Sky Blue FC 1, Washington Spirit 0 – Monica Ocampo, coming off a three-goal week, got a rare start, rewarding Jim Gabarra’s decision with the only goal in Sky Blue’s ninth win of the season. That Sky Blue couldn’t put together a more impressive performance against the league’s worst team speaks to the inconsistency they’re carried into this game. Though the standings said this was a first versus eighth matchup, the gap wasn’t that large between two largely unimpressive sides.

Implications: It’s becoming more difficult for Gabarra to justify keeping Ocampo on the bench behind Danesha Adams or Kelley O’Hara, but with his team four points clear on the rest of the league, he gets even more license to do what he wants. At the same time, each of the league’s top four needs to worry about preparing themselves for the postseason, which requires getting your team performing to its potential. That the Mexican international left the game with a shoulder injury may give Gabarra a reprieve on a tough decision.

Portland Thorns FC 0, Boston Breakers 2 – Two first half goals from Sydney Leroux vaulted the U.S. international to the top of the league’s scoring charts, her performance building on standout days from Heather O’Reilly and Alyssa Naeher for an easy win at JELD-WEN. In the first half, the Portland defense looked shakier than it had the whole season, while the attack didn’t get going until the second half, when Christine Sinclair moved into her natural forward’s role. Left scoreless again, the Thorns have only 18 goals in 14 games, a rate notably worse than the league’s top-four attacks.

Implications: Portland may have hit rock bottom. A two-goal loss at home to a team outside the playoff picture is worst-case scenario-type stuff. The beneficiary of that fall is Boston, whose four-point road trip has revitalized their playoff hopes.

Sunday, July 7

FC Kansas City 0, Western New York 0 – Although Aaran Lines saw standout winger Sam Kerr return to the lineup, the Flash were unable to take advantage of the Lauren Cheney-less Blues, left with one point and no ground gained on the team above them in the standings. For Kansas City, Erika Tymrak continues to impress, the first-year pro making a run for Rookie of the Year since winning a spot in the starting lineup. As opposed to Wednesday, however, Tymrak’s efforts never led to a break through.

Implications: Third place, Kansas City maintains their two-point lead on Western New York, although the Flash hold a match in hand. But after a one-point week, Western New York find Boston on their heels, with the rivals set to play each other two more times this season.

source:  And finally … our Player of the Week

Sydney Leroux claimed three goals for Boston, with Heather O’Reilly assisting on each score, but for a team that has had trouble defending for most of the season, the play of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher may have been the most important part of Boston’s big week. Credited with 12 saves while conceding only one, Naeher’s numbers actually understate her contributions, her decisive play coming off her line in each second half helping preserve her team’s results.

Head coach Lisa Cole was particularly effusive after Naeher’s performance in Portland:

“I thought today was one of [Naeher’s] overall best performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Alyssa since she was about 13 — maybe even younger than that. I thought she was outstanding today, not only making saves, but coming for through balls and then being good on her distribution.”

“Both Ashley (Phillips) and Alyssa have been good for us, and then they’ve had one or two little mistakes that they’ve give up soft goals. What I’ve said to them is ‘you’ve both overall been good for us,’ but we need one of them to be great … Not everyday, but sometimes we need an outstanding performance, and I thought Alyssa gave that to us today.”

Defense has been a problem all year for Boston, but the return of the Penn State grad threatens to solidify Cole’s biggest weakness. If you’re wondering if Boston’s latest surge has staying power, look to their talents in attack, the strength of their midfield, and know Naeher may be capable of papering over their holes at the back.

State of the NWSL, after Week 11: Midseason awards, rankings of power, and a look ahead to Week 12

2 Comments

You may want to skip this …

So this is blogging, right? We all agree I don’t have to speak as if this is a 4,000-word Sports Illustrated feature? Good, because I need to break down the fourth wall, the third dimension for a moment and explain what’s going on with the NWSL coverage some of you have come to expect on this blog. And I promise not to do this too often (this is my first time in 15 months).

Through the first two months of the season we were chugging along. Friday previews and Monday recaps. It was all good. We had a consistent audience, and the clubs were helping us out. We were living out our excessively verbose, typo-laden dreams!

Then came June, with its transfer window madness, U.S. men’s national team onslaught, and those mid-season NWSL callups. In its wake, we’ve had to make some adjustments.

Starting now, we’ll wrap up each weekend with a quick look at the results then circle back on Wednesday with something a little more ambitious – something talking about the issues around the league as well as the week’s upcoming games. That will be my contribution, Jeff Kassouf will chime in as his time permits. Life won’t be that different. And don’t worry: Mommy and Daddy still love each other.

Hopefully this will carry us through the season, because now that we’re at the half-way point, we’ve got to look at our situation the same way the NWSL’s teams look at their’s. It’s time to figure out what’s working, what needs to be tweaked, and lay out a plan for the season’s home stretch.

… and start reading here

Perhaps paradoxically, the first thing we’re going with our plan for the future is look to the past. Especially for people who haven’t been able to watch every game, a nice (if trite) midseason awards piece is a quick way to get up to date. And with the NWSL gone from PST for a few weeks, we definitely need to get back up to date.

Using the awards handed out at the end of Women’s Professional Soccer:

source:  COACH OF THE HALF-SEASON – Jim Gabarra, Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue was supposed to be a borderline playoff team. With teams like Portland, Kansas City, Western New York and Boston carrying greater star power on paper, the New Jersey-based club were thought to have drawn a short allocation straw.

Gabarra has helped make up the difference. Although Christie Rampone has stood out, the team’s success has been more a reflection of the team’s organization then any individual performances. With help from Rampone, Gabarra has his parts transcending their whole, the reason why Sky Blue sit top of the league going into tonight’s match.

Runner up: Aaran Lines, Western New York

source:  ROOKIE OF THE HALF-SEASON – Kathryn Williamson, D, Portland Thorns

Portland played one preseason game, a exhibition at Merlo Field against the University of Portland. In that game, Pilot attacker Amanda Frisbee got the best of the Thorns’ number one draft pick, leading many to think Emilee O’Neil would eventually start in central defense next to Rachel Buehler.

Cindy Parlow Cone, however, has never wavered in her support for the former Florida Gator, who has arguably been the team’s best defender. And because she hasn’t missed any time with national team commitments, she’s been one of the most valuable defenders in the league, part of a team that has the NWSL’s lowest goals against average.

Right now, if you define the field in terms of college draftees, the Rookie of the Year race isn’t particularly close.

Runner up: Kendall Johnson, LB, Sky Blue FC

source:  GOALKEEPER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Karina LeBlanc, Portland Thorns

There’s been no standout goalkeeper over the season’s first half. Western New York’s Adrianna Franch was first out of the gates. Ashlynn Harris has been given plenty of chances to shine for Washington. Kansas City’s Nicole Barnhart has been the most consistent keeper.

Karina LeBlanc, however, edged ahead of the logjam on Sunday. Her Player of the Week-caliber performance preserved a draw in New Jersey when the loss of midfielder Becky Edwards (gone for the season with an ACL tear) made Portland’s defense into a row of sitting ducks. Giving the league’s best goalkeeping performance since Franch’s debut, LeBlanc salvaged a point for the Thorns, lowering her league-best GAA to 0.64.

Runner up: Barnhart

source:  DEFENDER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC

This one isn’t particularly close. Along with Kansas City’s Becky Sauerbrunn, Rampone is one of the two central defenders who’ve really stood out. Add in her influence as a de facto assistant coach, helping to bring along a starting defense featuring 19, 22, and 23 year olds, and you have the league’s best defender.

A little voice in the front of my head tells me this is where I’m supposed to reference her age. Rampone is, after all, 38 years old, though any allusion to her longevity ends up confounding the picture. This isn’t somebody that’s inexplicably defying the odds, holding on to success during a Maldini-esque fade into a legend’s deserved sunset. Rampone somebody who could easily play through Rio 2016.

As quickly as we’ve seen Rampone track the likes of Alex Morgan (as she did in shutting her out last week), it’s not difficult to imagine a 41-year-old captain pushing for a fourth gold medal.

Runner up: Sauerbrunn

source:  PLAYER OF THE HALF-SEASON – Lauren Cheney, FC Kansas City

Second in the league in both goals (six) and assists (five), it’s easy to make a statistical case for Cheney. That would be a disservice, though, to a player whose value so obviously transcends her numbers. Boiling Lauren Cheney down to goals and assists is lazy. It’s boring! It takes the joy out of the league’s most-watchable player.

From day one, head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s instilled the sometimes striker, winger, and deep midfielder as his playmaker, making one of the team’s off-field leaders into the focal point of Kansas City’s attack. The result is textbook display of how to play a 4-2-3-1’s number 10. Her intelligence, always a strength of her game, is on display in each of her team’s movements, her skill and vision helping to make striker Renae Cuellar one of the league’s early goal scoring leaders. Her off the ball movement, better than anybody’s in the NWSL, helps key teammates even when she’s not pulling the strings, and lest anybody forget the goalscoring talents she’s shown at UCLA and internationally, Cheney’s been good for two goals every three games.

In a league of Morgans, Wambachs, and Solos, there’s no more enjoyable player to watch than Lauren Cheney, and no matter how you define most valuable – either by raw performance or importance to the team – Cheney has been the league’s standard.

Runner up: Rampone

TEAM OF THE HALF-SEASON

Pos. Player, Team
G Karina LeBlanc, Portland Thorns FC
RB Ali Krieger, Washington Spirit
CB Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC
CB Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City
LB Katherine Reynolds, Western New York
DM Desiree Scott, FC Kansas City
CM Lori Chalupny, Chicago Red Stars
RW/AM Diana Matheson, Washington Spirit
AM Lauren Cheney, FC Kansas City
LW/AM Samantha Kerr, Western New York
ST Abby Wambach, Western New York

Others of note:  Barnhart, Jen Buczkowski (Kansas City), Kate Deines (Seattle), Edwards, Jessica Fishlock (Seattle), Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue), CoCo Goodson (Sky Blue), Joanna Lohman (Boston), Alex Morgan (Portland), Heather O’Reilly (Boston), Leigh Ann Robinson (Kansas City), Lianne Sanderson (Boston), Christine Sinclair (Portland), Williamson, Keelin Winters (Seattle)

RANKINGS OF POWER

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

8. Washington Spirit – The Spirit were particularly ineffectual in Overland Park, giving Kansas City their easiest win of the season. You want to give the Blues some credit, but other teams have put up more resistance against similar KC performances. Washington’s attack has never come around, though the addition of German international Conny Pohlers can’t hurt.

7. Seattle Reign FC – Seattle are still winless and four points back of Washington, but a poor call awarding Western New York a penalty kick was the only thing that kept them from their first win. If this team isn’t cursed, their season sure is.

6. Boston Breakers – Have not won a game since May 25, going 0-3-1 during a spell that’s seen their defense give up 11 goals. It’s approaching now-or-never time for a team that’s seven points back of a playoff spot.

5. Chicago Red Stars – With three wins in five games since Inka Grings and Sonia Fuss signed up, Chicago’s turned their season around, but seven  back with 10 to play, it may be too late for the Red Stars to crack the top four.

4. FC Kansas City – Andonovski’s team showed signs of snapping out of their funk, but ultimately, Washington didn’t pose much of a challenge. We won’t know where a rebounding Kansas City stand until they face more stalwart competition.

3. Portland Thorns FC – A new look met with mixed results in New Jersey. The team got a point at Yurcak but were fortunate to avoid a loss. It’s unclear they’ll be able to replace Edwards.

2. Western New York Flash – Had we published them last week, our rankings would have had the Flash at number one. But a draw at Chicago followed by a lucky tie against visiting Seattle see the Flash cede their spot.

1. Sky Blue FC – Another impressive performance against Portland allows Gabarra’s group to claim to the top spot. The only worrisome part about Sky Blue’s season: They seem to match up particularly poorly against Western New York.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Wednesday, June 26

Boston Breakers vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:00 p.m. EDT) – If Seattle pushed the Flash, they can beat Boston. The team has been on the road for almost a week, however, and there could be a carry-on effect from a frustrating result in Megan Rapinoe’s return.

Sky Blue FC vs. FC Kansas City (8:00 p.m. EDT) – The last time these two met, Lauren Sesselman’s early, controversial red card left the Blues shorthanded for most of the game. This one should be a better test for Sky Blue.

Friday, June 28

Western New York Flash vs. Washington Spirit (7:05 p.m. EDT) – Samanatha Kerr and Adrianna Martin will be with their national teams, but this one shouldn’t be much trouble for the Flash, who need to win games like these to maintain hopes of a semifinal in Rochester.

Saturday, June 29

Seattle Reign FC vs. Chicago Red Stars (11:00 p.m. EDT) – So Seattle makes the longest road trip in the league, get only three days rest, and are forced to face a team that hasn’t played since last Wednesday? This team really is cursed.

Sunday, June 30

FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns FC (4:10 p.m. EDT) – At the beginning of the season, this matchup was speculated as a possible final preview. Sunday’s still is, but both teams look far more vulnerable than we imagined in April.

Boston Breakers vs. Sky Blue FC (6:30 p.m. EDT) – This will be the third time these teams have met this month but the first occasion where both sides will have their U.S. and Canadian internationals. Sky Blue has won both meetings by a combined score of 8-3.

Looking back at Week 9 of the NWSL season

1 Comment

TUKWILA, Wash. – Good luck predicting how Seattle will lose their next game. The first-year club, whose combination of poor play and continual misfortunate leaves them winless at the bottom of the NWSL, lost another heartbreaker on Sunday. Two weeks after a penalty call, later judged to be erroneous, gave Portland a 1-0 win at Starfire Sports, a Hope Solo own goal left Reign FC on the wrong end of a 1-0 result against FC Kansas City.

The play was a combination of brilliant and bizarre. Mid-way through the second half, Kansas City’s Lauren Cheney danced on the ball above the Seattle penalty area, a sublime display of light touches and subtle turns creating time to play a ball behind right back Kiersten Dallstream. Erika Tymrak’s overlapping run tracked the ball down near the byline, where she fired a ball toward the six-yard box.

What resulted was a rare exhibition of the paradox that is Hope Solo. Her success is based on her unmatched athleticism, a trait that’s allowed her to overcome technical faults. On Sunday, however, when she came off her near post to overplay the cross, the technical side got the best of her. She mishandled a ball fired right at her, directed it over her own line, and cost her team a point.

Technical faults or not, it was an error you never see Solo (or many goalkeepers) commit. After the game, she took responsibility for her mistake, before sprinting off, stopping to sign a handful of autographs for fans prescient enough to claim an early spot on the path toward the Reign’s dressing room.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Wed., June 5 Boston 2-2 W. New York
Thu., June 6 Portland 4-3 FC Kansas City
Sat., June 8 Sky Blue 0-3 W. New York
Sun., June 9 Chicago 1-0 Boston
Sun. June 9 Seattle 0-1 FC Kansas City

“There’ll be no one hurting more than Hope,” Reign head coach Laura Harvey said after the game. “The good thing about her and the professionalism that she has and the type of character that she is, she comes straight off the field and takes responsibility and is accountable.

“I don’t really believe [the result was] her fault. I think we have to flip it and say we have far too much possession to score (no) goals.”

Her fault or not, there is an undeniable irony to Solo, of all people, being the one to cost the Reign points, especially given how influential she’s been at the back since her late-May return. And with Solo being vocal, public presence trying to rally support for an under-attended team, there was a feeling of unfairness as she was left to stand alone, bent at the waist in a time-killing stretch, knowing she had probably cost her team the game.

In front of 1,377 in Tukwila, Seattle fell to 0-8-1. Even with the resurgence of former cellar dwellers Chicago providing reason for optimism, Reign FC’s prayers are looking increasingly futile. They’re 12 points out of a playoff spot.

TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

source:  Road games at Boston and Sky Blue would present significant challenges for any team, but crammed into a week where the team would have little first-team preparation coming off the international break, Western New York were facing significant challenges.

Aaran Lines’ team responded. Against a team that had beat them earlier this season at Sahlen Stadium, the Flash went into Somersville Wednesday and got a 2-2 result from the Boston Breakers. Three days later, Western New York handed first place Sky Blue their worst loss of the season, beating the league leaders 3-0 at in Piscataway.

With Kansas City’s dip in form, Portland’s uneven play, and the week’s results from Boston and Sky Blue, Western New York are now the form team in the league. We bumped them up to number two in our power rankings last week, an evaluation that ultimately understated their quality.

As of Saturday, the Flash are the league standard. We’ll see how long it lasts.

MVP …. OF THE WEEK

source: Getty ImagesIf you were waiting for Alex Morgan to have an NWSL breakout, congratulations. On Thursday, it arrived, Morgan giving the best performance of her club career in Portland’s 4-3 victory over FC Kansas City.

The U.S. international was at her relentless best, carrying over the international form that saw her score twice last week in Toronto. Taking advantage of an early Becky Sauerbrunn slip, Morgan blasted a first half shot into Nicole Barnhart’s upper 90, tying her with Sophie Schmidt for the league lead in goals. In the second half, conjuring nightmares for Kansas City right back Merritt Mathias, Morgan created Danielle Foxhoven’s goal. And the mid-way through the period, Morgan nearly got completed a brace, but her shot’s deflection off Allie Long leaving the Thorns star with a one-goal, two-assist night at JELD-WEN.

In a week where others play twice, it takes a special showing to claim Player of the Week honors in 90 minutes. But on Thursday, Morgan was undeniably special, almost single-handed collapsing one of the league’s better defenses.

ALSO STOOD OUT

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 2 Sky Blue 10 22 +9
2 3 Portland 10 22 +7
3 1 W. New York 8 14 +4
4 4 Kansas City 8 13 +3
5 5 Boston 9 12 +0
6 6 Chicago 8 8 -5
7 7 Washington 8 6 -5
8 8 Seattle 9 1 -13

Chicago continues their rise – The Red Stars’ first win of the season came against an international break-depleted Portland. There was nothing shorthanded about Boston on Saturday, with the Sonja Fuss-led Chicago defense holding the high-powered Breakers scoreless in a 1-0 victory. Now 2-4-2, Chicago’s only five points back of fourth.

Portland’s adjustments show through – We’ve been hard on Portland in recent weeks, the Thorns looking unimaginative as they had trouble creating chances. Against Kansas City, everything changed, with three of Portland’s four goals the result of Thorns FC working wide-to-in. It’s a tactic the team’s rarely shown throughout the season, but as coach Cindy Parlow Cone explained post-game, it’s one she’s implored her team to use for some time. On Thursday, something finally clicked. And the Thorns exploded.

Sydney Leroux back in Boston team – It was definitely a message-sending move. Before the international break, Boston coach Lisa Cole benched her best attacker, alluding to a “bazillion” reasons for doing so. Among those bazillion may have been dwindling form and lack of intensity in training. This weekend, Leroux was back in the XI, nearly scoring a goal after putting a ball off the bottom of Chicago’s crossbar.

FC Kansas City just doesn’t look right – Break out the milk carton, because the possession-hogging Kansas City team that consistently dictated their first months’ matches? They’ve gone missing. They lost at home to Sky Blue (while playing with 10), were outgunned in Portland, and as head coach Vlatko Andonovksi conceded after Sunday’s match, were outplayed in Seattle. Blame losing Renae Cuellar, who left in the first half against Portland. Without her, Lauren Cheney has moved to forward, with Kansas City losing their midfield focal point.

Don’t read too much into Sky Blue’s loss – Give credit to Western New York, but if you’re looking for hints Saturday’s 3-0 loss is the beginning of a Sky Blue slide, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. The first goal allowed was aided by a blown offside call. The second was caused by an aberrational Manya Makoski error. The Flash’s final goal came after Jim Gabarra had pulled defender Coco Goodson in an attempt to chase the game. Sky Blue may not be better than Western New York at the moment, but they’re not three goals worse.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Will the lopsided loss have a lasting effect for Sky Blue? … How long will Kansas City be without Renae Cuellar? … Will the Washington Spirit ever play again? … What nefarious demon is contriving new ways for Seattle to lose games? … How will teams like Portland, Kansas City survive the latest international distraction? … Is this season really almost halfway over? … And is it too late to add more games?

LOOKING FORWARD

With one mid-week kickoff, the NWSL has a five-game set in Week 10, with Kansas City and Chicago pulling a home-and-home between Thursday and Sunday. Portland and Seattle play their third derby of the season, while Boston and Sky Blue will try to bounce back from disappointing losses at Dilboy Stadium.

Thursday, June 13
Chicago Red Stars vs. FC Kansas City

Saturday, June 15
Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash

Sunday, June 16
Portland Thorns FC vs. Seattle Reign FC
FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars
Boston Breakers vs. Sky Blue FC