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NWSL Week In Review: Where do non-playoff teams go from here?

Carli Lloyd, the reigning best player in the world, is up for the award again in 2016. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)
Houston and Boston are among the teams whose seasons ended this week. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Houston and Boston are among the teams whose seasons ended this week. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Sadly, the close of the regular season means that we say goodbye to 60 percent of the NWSL’s teams until the spring. But before they walk out the 2016 door, it gives us a chance to assess what they need to do before 2017 gets here in a few months. It does not appear that we’ll have expansion for next season (but likely will in 2018), so the draft picks these teams have “earned” (for those who haven’t traded them) should be used wisely.

Quickly, in reverse order of standings:

Boston

The Breakers have seemed to get worse every season in NWSL, so their needs are pretty much everywhere at the moment. Hopefully, they’ll add Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan through the draft. Boston couldn’t score this year, but also gave up 47 goals, 17 more than anyone else in the league. After that, holes are still everywhere. Matt Beard was obviously dealt a terrible hand, but even his moves – like bringing in goalkeeper Libby Stout – didn’t seem to work well. Unless they somehow get another allocation from the U.S. women’s national team, it’s hard to see where players that will make them significantly improved will come from. But we shall see.

Orlando

The Orlando Pride, led by Alex Morgan, had a decent 2016, but must address needs in 2017. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The Orlando Pride, led by Alex Morgan, had a decent 2016, but must address needs in 2017. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

I still consider the Pride’s inaugural season a modest success. They knew they were sacrificing on the field to get Alex Morgan and it showed, particularly at the end of the season. Next season, moving into a new stadium, I’m sure they want to compete on the field more. They don’t have a first-round draft pick (traded to Western New York), so they’ll have to get creative. If Lisa De Vanna stays in 2017, she should be able to help Morgan (if she doesn’t take big bucks from Lyon in France), but they were just outclassed in the midfield all season and like Boston, it’s not that easy to just go out and find really good players with the rules on internationals and salaries they can offer. I’m sure Tom Sermanni has some plans.

Houston

Even with the resurgence at the end of the season, the Dash are still probably the biggest disappointment this year, although much of it might have been due to injuries to Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian. On paper, the Dash are probably a playoff team next season right now, but can they keep the band together and happy? You never know, and Rachel Daly might be fielding an offer or two from Europe as well with the 2017 Euros beckoning. The Dash also don’t have a draft pick, having traded theirs to Seattle.

Sky Blue

There is plenty of optimism for Sky Blue, at least on the field, at least if Leah Galton and Sam Kerr can return. They did a great job in the draft last season, and could be right in the playoffs if they can get a player (probably a defender) or two to help them out. There’s no indication that Christie Rampone is ready to retire, but after playing every minute in 2016, can she do it again at the age of 42 (?!?) next year. While attendance improved a bit toward the end of the season, Sky Blue would seem to benefit from a long-speculated move somewhere.

[MORE: Tasha Kai undergoes successful surgery on left ankle]

Kansas City

We expected the two-time defending champs to drop a bit, but it wasn’t until a few games in when you could see just how much they were missing from the past two championship teams. Like we’ve talked about before, it’s just not easy to replace standout players in the NWSL, but FCKC could welcome back Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez next season. Neither of those, though, will fill the hole left by Lauren Holiday and we’ll see what FCKC can do about that. Their poor attendance is also a concern for a team as successful as they’ve been. Even with all their problems, they still almost finished .500, giving up only 20 goals — tied for second-best in the league.

Seattle

While it’s hard to figure out exactly what went wrong with the Reign this season (last season’s NWSL Shield winners), they did score 11 fewer goals than last season and it was worse when they were really struggling back in the spring. They just couldn’t get enough production out of people like Beverly Yanez, who was fantastic and prolific in 2015. Kim Little, by her extremely high standards, was not as dominant in 2016, either, and Manon Melis being injured for a stretch really hurt. It remains to seen whether Hope Solo returns next season, and the Reign hope to do better in the draft than they did last year, also.

What else did we learn as the fourth NWSL regular season is officially over? Some thoughts:

SATURDAY

Orlando 1:2 Kansas City

What Went Down: Another pretty gutty effort by FCKC, who got down a goal and fought back in the heat of Orlando, even though they game meant nothing except pride (no pun intended). In the end, even with the two in the second half here, Kansas City only scored 18 goals all season (and only conceded 20), which means that if reinforcements come in as expected, they might be back in the title race in 2017.

Lisa De Vanna never got into the flow in Orlando, but with a full season should be effective. Sermanni’s other Australians never seemed to return from the Olympics in the same form that they left — and Steph Catley was injured — so that might help the cause, too. Just as they did in this match, they just lost the midfield way too many times.

Player of the Game: Heather O’Reilly – Obviously, O’Reilly played as she has her entire career: at full-speed. And it was only fitting that she was allowed to take the winning penalty and converted it.

Under the Radar: Becky Sauerbrunn – Sauerbrunn’s form for FCKC this season was not as exceptional as it had been the last couple of seasons, but she was excellent in this match, and after a hectic couple of seasons, should be fine once 2017 begins.

Inside The Numbers: 10 – Number of goals Kansas City scored this season not by Shea Groom, including the two here. FCKC will definitely benefit to have some kind of complement for Groom.

Up next: Orlando – SEASON OVER; Kansas City – SEASON OVER

Boston 0:4 Western New York

What Went Down: The Flash gave Seattle no hope of maybe sneaking in the back door to the playoffs as they scored just two minutes in and rolled to an easy victory and what would have been an unlikely playoff berth a few months ago. Western New York out-shot Boston by a ridiculous 16-2 margin in the first half and that was pretty much that. It’s amazing how many shots the Flash have gotten off this season, which is probably why they’ve scored so many goals. Hmmm.

It’s definitely back to the drawing board for the Breakers, but they just need more quality on the field. They had a sellout crowd, though, even as poor as they’ve played this season.

Player of the Game: Lynn Williams/Jess McDonald – Unfortunately in the end, this duo may cancel each other out in the NWSL MVP race, but together they’ve been close to unstoppable for the league this season. Saturday, they combined for 13 shots, seven on goal, with each scoring once.

Under the Radar: Samantha Mewis – Mewis got a goal in front of her hometown crowd (including her sister, obviously) and seemed to be a perfect fit for Paul Riley and his system all season: physical, good in the air, has great size. She’ll be key in any hopes the Flash have for an upset of the Thorns on Sunday.

Inside the Numbers: 17 – Number of goals that Western New York scored against Boston in four meetings this season. Boston scored 14 in the entire 20-game campaign. The unbalanced “rivalry” schedule certainly played out in the Flash’s benefit this season.

Up next: Boston – SEASON OVER; Western New York – at Portland (Sun.)

Chicago 3:1 Washington

What Went Down: It was an odd situation for the Spirit, who would win the NWSL Shield with a victory, but was also possibly going to have to play the Red Stars in a game that means much more next week, so do you show your entire hand? Either way, Chicago had to gain a little confidence in not only winning this match, but pretty much dominating, at least the first hour until Crystal Dunn started to get loose. It’s kind of a glass half empty/full thing, if you’re with the Spirit, the game was just a glorified scrimmage, but if you’re the Red Stars, it showed you can beat Washington. I guess we’ll find out Friday.

Player of the Game: Sofia Huerta – Why I’m not coaching at that level, part 654: There’s no way I thought that moving Huerta into the midfield would have helped her form, but I was dead wrong, Huerta has thrived in an attacking mid role. She is very strong on the ball and very difficult to stop running at defenders as she showed in this match. I’m not sure how many new players Jill Ellis wants to bring into U.S. camp, but her name should be coming up.

Under the Radar: Vanessa DiBernardo – DiBernardo is not a player that always stands out, but when she is getting the ball in good positions, her passing is among the best in the world. It’s definitely something to watch Friday; if DiBernardo is getting a lot of the ball with no pressure on her, it’s bad news for the Spirit.

Inside the Numbers: 8 – Number of shots by Crystal Dunn. Especially in the second half, Dunn was outstanding and won a few battles against Dani Colaprico, which is another battle to watch on Friday night.

Up next: Chicago – at Washington (Fri.); Washington – vs. Chicago (Fri.)

SUNDAY

Sky Blue 1:3 Portland

What Went Down: If there was any doubt that Sky Blue would be motivated, Tasha Kai scored just six minutes in and almost doubled the lead through Sam Kerr a few minutes later. But Allie Long scored a somewhat controversial goal (she looked offside on a Tobin Heath free kick) to even the match and then the Thorns showed their quality in the second half, eventually taking the lead through Lindsey Horan and finishing the job of winning the NWSL Shield when Long scored her second.

The Thorns had trouble with the Flash just a couple of weeks ago, and would like to start better than they did in this one. There’s plenty of optimism for Sky Blue going forward, but we’ll have to see who they add in the next few months.

Player of the Game: Allie Long – While she has moved around since moving to the USWNT, Long has always been at her best in the NWSL when playing in a more advanced position, or at least given the freedom to get into the box as she did here. Unfortunately, Carli Lloyd already does that for the national team, but Long might be able to fill that role eventually.

Under the Radar: Emily Sonnett – Sonnett has had some growing pains in learning to play at the NWSL level, but her talent was on full display Sunday as she kept Kerr in check and helped hold Sky Blue to just six shots total on the evening.

Inside the Numbers: 10 – Number of assists for Tobin Heath this season after picking one up on Long’s first goal. Is it enough for her to win MVP of the league? She’s probably not the favorite, but you can certainly make a decent case for her.

Up next: Sky Blue – SEASON OVER; Portland – vs. Western New York (Sun.)

Houston 2:3 Seattle

What Went Down: The final game of the 2016 regular season might have been the wildest as the Reign looked completely disinterested for most of the first half, at one point allowing Carli Lloyd to have 87 touches (estimated) in the box before she scored the second Dash goal to give them a 2-0 lead. In fact, Houston should have been up 4- or 5-0 with the chances they were getting.

But improbably, Seattle – which also had nothing to play for – came all the way back in the second half starting with a Manon Melis goal that came off a defensive mistake, and then Houston, not for the first time in the last couple seasons, fell apart completely. The end result saw Kim Little finally get loose to tie the match and Beverly Yanez (off a wonderful cross from Carson Pickett, who had a very difficult rookie season) won it in the 82nd minute. Houston has a lot of soul-searching to do in this offseason.

Player of the Game: Manon Melis – Things might have been different for the Reign had Melis been able to play the entire season because she has been excellent in the last couple of months, finishing the season with another solid performance here.

Under the Radar: Kim Little – It was not an MVP season for Little this time around, but she had a great second half and should use the disappointment for motivation next season.

Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of times before Sunday a team in the NWSL had come back from a two-goal deficit in the regular season to win. The streak finally came to a crashing halt in the final game of 2016.

Up next: Houston – SEASON OVER;  Seattle – SEASON OVER

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