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NWSL Week in Review: Rapinoe Not In It For Herself

Kealia Ohai did not score until July 16, but four goals last week has her atop NWSL with nine (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Kealia Ohai did not score until July 16, but four goals last week has her atop NWSL with nine (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Unfortunately, it is probably a good indication of where the NWSL is in the national sports pecking order that the news of Megan Rapinoe kneeling for the national anthem didn’t break until after Sunday’s game between Seattle and Chicago was already long over.

But once it was known, it blew up, probably predictably given both the culture of the nation and the media (particularly sports media). It seems like a given from your (or my) perspective that Rapinoe would know that her action would be picked up by media outlets far and wide, many of whom not only didn’t cover the NWSL, but didn’t know women’s professional soccer existed prior to Sunday. Maybe not, though.

Then came the comments and the hot, scalding takes by people on social media nationwide decrying Rapinoe for disgracing her country, just as Colin Kaepernick had done the week before. I don’t know Rapinoe personally and have only interviewed her a couple of times over the years, but one thing stood out in the sea of criticism: her being selfish for directing the spotlight to her in a league that is starved for attention (but will finally make it to national television on Wednesday).

We can beg to differ on whether Rapinoe’s action was disrespectful or misdirected, but Megan Rapinoe is not selfish. And this act is not, either. It was only brought to light when she was asked about in in a postgame news conference and her statement tells you all you need to know.

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe said. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

She later tweeted about “keeping the conversation going”. Although surely inundated with requests to appear on any number of media shows, she gave a short interview to ESPN’s Julie Foudy and hasn’t been seen or heard in the now more than 24 hours since that national anthem. I’m sure she won’t disappear completely, but the protest isn’t primarily about her.

For now, at least. Rapinoe has indicated that her protests will continue, and she will almost certainly be in the U.S. national team that will take on Thailand on September 15 in Columbus. Protesting in an NWSL match is one thing, protesting with a United States jersey on is quite another.

Or is it? One of the great things about our country is we can all agree on is our freedoms, which has existed since the founding of our nation; the ability to peacefully protest what we think is wrong about it. Debating issues should make us stronger in the long run and able to consider where each side is coming from so we can find some way to exist together even if we don’t completely agree.

As with Kaepernick, support for Rapinoe has been slow from the American sports world, even within the long image-conscious national team. Will her USWNT teammates support her if she doesn’t stand next week? Will they ostracize her for putting them in an “awkward” spot? Might some come out against her?

Honest questions, but Rapinoe honestly may care very little. She sees an injustice, not only systemic ones to African-Americans and other minorities, but to Kaepernick for exercising his Constitutional right to protest them non-violently. And her conscience, shaped by her experiences, won’t let her be quiet.

“Being true to yourself is a really beautiful thing,” Rapinoe said when she came out publicly two years ago. And she’ll continue to whether it’s popular or not.

What else did we learn as the NWSL playoff race is nearing its final twists and turns?

SATURDAY

Washington 1:1 Western New York

What Went Down: The Spirit are one point closer to the NWSL Shield, but it’s the Flash who were probably more impressive in this one, an opponent that no one at the top will see in the postseason and be happy about (even Paul Riley’s former team, Portland). Western New York is just so annoying to play against with great athletes all over the field, pressuring everywhere and playing direct enough where keeping the ball out of your own end can be extremely difficult.

Eventually, the Flash ended up with a 25-8 shot advantage in this match on the road and will probably feel like they should have had three points. And while they still have work to do to even qualify for the postseason and certainly don’t have the quality on the ball that a Portland or even a Washington does, they won’t be eliminated without a real battle.

Player of the Game: Samantha Mewis – Mewis seems to fit with Riley’s style more than Jill Ellis’ at the moment. She was actually put at an outside midfield spot here, although she (and McCall Zerboni) spent more time than not clogging up the middle. While she is counted on to be a physical presence, she does have enough quality on the ball to make things happen as well, and ended up with a deflected equalizer here.

Under the Radar: Katie Stengel – It didn’t look like Stengel would be a regular starter for long at the beginning of the season with a couple of poor performances. But she has been excellent of late, and carried it over into a match with all internationals on hand here, finally being rewarded with a nice goal that gave Washington a valuable point. She still doesn’t have great speed, but is surrounded by enough when she plays; a good complement who can finish.

Inside The Numbers: 32 – Number of goals scored by Western New York this season, still tops in the league (five better than Washington).

Up next: Washington – vs. Seattle (Wed.); Western New York – at Boston (Wed.)

Houston 4:2 Orlando

What Went Down: A quite crazy match in Houston, where Kealia Ohai continues her form that likely has to get her a national team call-up sometime in the near future, as (after not scoring until July), she now leads the NWSL in goals. The Dash dominated most of the proceedings, which made you wonder why they hadn’t earlier in the season. We’ve said it before, but maybe next year will be it for Houston with a healthy Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian, although it remains to be seen what Lloyd’s future plans are after this season with some Americans being rumored to head to Europe.

Orlando refused to quit, as it has done most of the season, and almost stole an unlikely point. Tom Sermanni has a lot of holes to plug in the offseason and it will be interesting to see how he goes about it. You can’t question his commitment to his players. Alex Morgan was involved in an unfortunate incident after scoring late in the game where she was confronted by a fan who ran on the field. Fellow Cal alum Sam Witteman helped usher Morgan away, but Sermanni sprinted out and got there before security to get between Morgan and the invader. A little scary.

Player of the Game: Kealia Ohai – If we knew what transformed strikers from “out of form” to “in form”, we’d all be geniuses, but Ohai is most certainly “in form” at the moment, and it’s a shame her season will come to an end in a couple of weeks. But, as I said, she has to get called into a national team camp before the 2017 campaign.

Under the Radar: Morgan Brian – Brian has been in much, much better form of late, which leads us to believe that she really was injured at the beginning of the season when she struggled so much. Her class and vision on the ball is something to see when she’s playing well.

Inside the Numbers: 8 – Number of shots by Oahi in this one, with five of them being on goal in a tough day for the Orlando defense. Poor Ashlyn Harris.

Up next: Houston – at Portland (Wed.); Orlando – at Sky Blue (Wed.)

SUNDAY

Kansas City 2:1 Sky Blue

What Went Down: Sky Blue’s playoff hopes were slim anyway, but they were essentially ended here. It didn’t look like it would end this way in the first half as Sky Blue dominated, but FCKC with little to play for did a great job in the second half to regain control of the game and eventually get the win on Yael Averbuch’s long-distance free kick.

It will be interesting to see where both of these teams go in the offseason. Sky Blue is very young, but could probably use a center back and possibly a goalkeeper, while we really don’t know who will be suiting up for FCKC in 2017. There were two nice scenes here at the end. First, support for former FCKC star Lauren Holiday, who revealed she had a benign brain tumor that is scheduled to be removed after she gives birth to her first child in a couple months. Second, Vlatko Andonovski – who missed last week’s game to return to Macedonia after the death of his father, pointed to the sky at the final whistle in his first game back. Sometimes it’s about more than the soccer.

Player of the Game: Yael Averbuch – It’s been a tough season for Averbuch, who was pressed into a leadership role a bit for the two-time defending champs with all the subtractions from last year’s roster. But she’s been there every week in a position (center back) that is not exactly natural for her and was able to bury another set piece for the game-winner here.

Under the Radar: Sam Kerr – Kerr has battled injuries, but I’m not too sure how far you get among the best players in the world these days before you get to Kerr. If she’s able to stay healthy, she should continue to give NWSL and international defenses fits for the next few years.

Inside the Numbers: 6 – Number of shots Kerr took in this match, with all of them on frame. Sky Blue only had eight shots total in the entire contest.

Up next: Kansas City – at Chicago (Wed.); Sky Blue – vs. Orlando (Aug. 27)

Portland 5:1 Boston

What Went Down: Believe it or not, the Breakers actually got off to an excellent start here and had a couple of early chances. But they let Christine Sinclair walk a ball in off a corner kick and after they conceded a second, seemed to lose their will, which often happens to a team that’s going through a tough season when they get down. There has been some more life of late, and we’ll see what that brings for 2017.

For the Thorns, they did this without Tobin Heath (largely) and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and would love to slot in at second to get a home game in the semifinals. The league would obviously like that as well. With Christine Sinclair in form and the rest of the supporting cast starting with Lindsey Horan and Allie Long (as well as Heath), they have to be the favorites going forward, don’t they?

Player of the Game: Nadia Nadim – Ohai is in the league’s best form, but Nadim is scoring some goals, too, recording a hat trick here (one was a penalty, but still). She also added an assist on an Allie Long tap-in and looks to be healthy heading down the stretch run of the campaign.

Under the Radar: Julie King – Her goal at the end was relatively meaningless, but King remains one of the most dangerous players in the NWSL on set pieces. Not sure how far that can take her, but watch every time Boston gets a chance to set something up, King is always near the ball.

Inside the Numbers: 17,152 – Attendance in Portland Sunday. Rumor has it that Paul Riley’s return to Portland this week will be completely sold out. Might he be back in a couple of weeks for an NWSL semifinal?

Up next: Portland – vs. Houston (Wed.); Boston – vs. Western New York (Wed.)

Chicago 2:2 Seattle

What Went Down: While most around the globe will discuss the Rapinoe controversy, this was a tough, tough result for the Reign, who scored twice in the first 10 minutes and would have been right back in the playoff discussion with three points. But they gave up a goal off a corner late in the first half, and Merritt Mathias pulled down Casey Short, which allowed Christen Press to equalize from the penalty spot (a nice moment for Press after how the Olympics ended for her and the USWNT).

The Reign didn’t generate a whole lot of offense after the original flurry, but did force Alyssa Naeher into a couple of amazing saves, which she seems to do just about every week these days. But we didn’t see Seattle’s midfield dominate, maybe because Chicago’s midfield is pretty darn good as well. The point was very important for the Red Stars, who are now five points ahead of the Reign with just three games left. That’s a long way to make up.

Player of the Game: Alyssa Naeher – I mean, she only had four official saves, but she’ll likely take home Save of the Week honors again and seems to have an uncanny knack for the dramatic when her team needs it most. We’ll see how being a national team regular will help (or hurt?) her in NWSL.

Under the Radar: Manon Melis – She continues her form by getting a goal and an assist in the first nine minutes and likely would have added to it had Naeher not intervened. It likely won’t be enough for this year’s playoffs, but Seattle will need her to keep this form when 2017 begins.

Inside the Numbers: 21 – Number of goals in the NWSL this weekend, which is a far cry from earlier in the season, when we were begging for somebody, anybody to score.

Up next: Chicago – vs. Kansas City (Wed.); Seattle – at Washington (Wed.)

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