Sixty days before the opening match of the NWSL the league released its 88-game schedule. As reported by The Equalizer earlier in the day, FC Kansas City will have the honor of hosting the debut match against Portland Thorns FC on Saturday, April 13. The other six teams will open their schedules a day later. As expected, all eight clubs will play 22 matches, the last of which is Sunday, August 18. Two weeks of playoffs will follow concluding with a championship match August 31. The higher seeded team will serve as the home team in each semifinal and the final.
The expectation was that teams would see each other three times with one extra match against the closest rival to fill out the 22. They settled on a slightly different model that essentially splits the league between the teams on the eastern seaboard and the teams farther west. Teams in the East will play each other four times each and they will play two Western clubs twice and two others thrice. The reverse is in play for the West.
The format will raise the ire of those who staunchly support competitive integrity, but it will serve to save on travel costs and give regional rivalries extra chances to blossom.
Here are some of the highs, lows, and general observations of the freshly released schedule:
-Thorns-Kansas City is a stout opener. We won’t know for sure for some time, but the general consensus is that these are the two top teams on paper and neither are expected to have any significant absences at the start of the season. However it turns out it will make good fodder for the over analyzers like ourselves.
-All six non-Cascadia teams will make a multi-day trip to the Pacific Northwest where they will play the Thorns and Reign without having to return home. On the flipside the Reign have two multi-game trips east and the Thorns have one.
-Of the 88 matches, 64 of them are scheduled for weekends with three more on Friday nights and three more Wednesday, July 3.
-No team will leave its time zone on the final weekend of the regular season. That will make for well-rested playoff teams but could make the final round of the anticipated Thorns-Reign series a dud if there are no playoff implications.
-The Spirit play the fewest games, 11, through the end of June. That roughly coincides with when the European based players are eligible to return. They include Spirit GK Ashlyn Harris. Reign FC, hardest hit by the Euro option, have 13 games through June.
-Week 2 features the first Cascadia matchup, in Portland, plus Abby Wambach’s first trip to Washington as a visiting player when the Spirit host the Flash.
-The other Cascadia showdowns are: May 25 in Seattle; June 16 in Portland; and August 17 in Seattle
-Abby and Alex – Wambach and Morgan, of course. They lifted each other to new heights as U.S. teammates last summer. The two Abby vs. Alex matchups in NWSL are July 14 in Portland and August 10 in Western New York. Morgan played the 2011 WPS season in Western New York, winning a title with the Flash.
-The only time all eight teams play on the same day is Saturday, August 10.
-The Red Stars may have gotten the short end of the stick with home dates on Mother’s Day (May 12 vs. Thorns) and July 4 (vs. Flash.) If WPS is a guide both of those dates are attendance challenges.
-Using the Monday-Sunday week, the only team without a full week off is the Thorns. Their longest gap between matches is 10 days from June 6-16. Meanwhile the Spirit have two full weeks off when they go from May 25 until June 15 without a game.
-FC Kansas City might have the toughest stretch of the season when they play nine matches in 32 days between June 6 and July 7.
-FC Kansas City also opens with three home matches in 14 days. That is another challenging scenario when it comes to attracting fans.
-I would have stayed away from having the Thorns open against the Reign. It should be a match that sells itself as should opening day regardless of the opponent.
Full List of Home Openers
Boston Breakers: April 14 vs Washington Spirit
Chicago Red Stars: April 14 vs Seattle Reign FC
FC Kansas City: April 13 vs Portland Thorns FC
Portland Thorns FC: April 21 vs Seattle Reign FC
Seattle Reign FC: May 4 vs FC Kansas City
Sky Blue FC: April 14 vs Western New York Flash
Washington Spirit: April 20 vs Western New York Flash
Western New York Flash: April 27 vs Boston Breakers
-Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long has not attended a Timbers match, but she said, “Everytime I watch on TV I just think what a sick atmosphere. I would love to play in that kind of atmosphere.”
-Thorns FC conducted open tryouts and attracted more than 80 players, some as old as 50. Coach Cindy Parlow Cone will decide which ones to invite to pre-season and believes there is a real shot for one or more to make the final roster.
-Of the three newly capped national team players, the lone NWSL-er is Kristie Mewis of FC Kansas City. The others are Christen Press (Tyresö, Sweden) and Julie Johnson (Santa Clara).
-Mewis was also in the news at the U-23 level as one of six NWSL players called in ahead of a three-match swing in La Manga, Spain. The others are Lindsi Lisonbee (Sky Blue FC), Casey Short (Boston Breakers), Zakiya Bywaters (Chicago Red Stars), Tiffany McCarty (Washington Spirit), and Stephanie Ochs (Washington Spirit).
-Kika Toulouse is a graduate of the U-23 squad and she was picked up by the Spirit on Tuesday. The defender played at Ragsveds IF in Sweden last year.
-Thorns FC have JELD-WEN Field listed for all 11 home matches following speculation they would play some at Merlo Field at the University of Portland. The truth is that ticket sales seem to be going well enough that they’re just about sized out of Merlo.