The Lowdown: XI things to be thankful for, NWSL style

Dan Lauletta November 22, 2016 28
The Flash capped the 2016 NWSL season by winning the championship on penalties. (photo by Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The Flash capped the 2016 NWSL season by winning the championship on penalties. (photo by Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The Lowdown is back! And with Thursday being Thanksgiving it’s time for the list of XI things to be thankful for in NWSL. I did this last year and some of the items are repeated but I intentionally did not go back to read that one before typing this one out. So we’ll see how much my perspective had changed in the last year.

I. Flash 4, Thorns 3, aet

Not only is this match easily the best advertisement for NWSL over its four-year existence, it has to be in the conversation for game of the year in North American sports. From the first minute to the last, this match had it all. There were great saves and great finishes; defensive mastery and defensive blunders; questionable calls and questionable non-calls. Most importantly the entire two hours was played with the sort of intensity and ferocity that we all want from our favorite athletes. Simply put, the match mattered a great deal to all who took part in it, and it showed. If you missed it, go ahead and give it a watch. If you watched it, consider doing so again. And if you’d rather not, just take a look at the effort from the Flash on Lynn Williams’s go-ahead goal in extra time.

II. NWSL Championship Media Day

In its continuing effort to make the NWSL Championship a bigger deal every year, the league arranged a small media day this year in Houston where every player from each team was made available during two, 30-minute sessions (both of which ran over time). This led to far greater variety in the stories my colleagues and I were able to produce from the week. Hopefully it showed. This format should also bolster future story opportunities and serve as an enticement for more media to make it their business to cover what should soon be the seminal women’s soccer weekend of the year.

III. Lynn Williams

Williams’s second season in NWSL was a masterpiece. She scored 11 goals and helped the Flash to an unlikely championship. Along the way she was named to the league’s Best XI, voted Most Valuable Player, and made her national team debut, scoring 49 seconds in (a team record that stood three days until Kealia Ohai broke it by a second). But what stood out about Williams was being able to speak to her during NWSL Championship week. She came across as intelligent, insightful, and completely unencumbered by the accolades, some of which had been bestowed upon her that very day.

NWSL is filled with fascinating people. Williams is just one, and admittedly she garnered more attention because of the excellent season she had. But if I had to pick one player to run out in front of cameras to help promote the league, it would be her.

IV. The family

My family stays behind the scenes, except when they make the rare cameo at Yurcak to take in a Sky Blue match. But like others who spend much of their free time covering NWSL and women’s soccer, I could not do it without their support. The words “Sorry, big trade just announced,” are all too common in my house.

V. The Equalizer Staff

You may notice them on our bylines nearly every day, but the fact is The Equalizer Staff at large is filled with many dedicated people who contribute to this site in a variety of ways. From writers to editors to photographers, every person who contributes to Equalizer does it out of passion for the women’s game and wanting to be part of something great. Some contribute mostly ideas, and they can be as valuable as anything else. The staff has grown in 2016, my first as managing editor, and together we hope to provide more great coverage in 2017.

VI. Sky Blue broadcast team

Corey Cohen proved to be an outstanding broadcast partner who never came to the booth unprepared. Danielle D’Avanzo, who has forgotten more about soccer than I will ever know, helped ring in the matches by guiding me through pregame and helping me to see deeper into the game. Evan Davis took it upon himself to spruce up halftime and was an ample substitute for Danielle when called upon. Together with Curt Ciumei and his team, Sky Blue broadcasts continued to improve in 2016.

VII. NWSL Coaches

The NWSL coaches are a fun lot – most of the time. While their personalities differ wildly, they are similar in that every one of them is willing to take time out to discuss their teams, the league, and soccer in general. Often the most beneficial of these chats are the ones that never make it to print, but they are invaluable in helping me and other writers understand the league as well as some of what each club is trying to accomplish. I will single out one this time – Christy Holly. The Sky Blue coach went above and beyond this year both in supporting the broadcast team and taking me deeper into the tactical side of soccer.

VIII. The women’s soccer media movement

The days of The Equalizer being a novelty are long gone. This is not a bad thing. The rise (and sometimes fall) of other sites strictly dedicated to or with heavy focus on women’s soccer has been a boon to all who yearn for NWSL to become sustainable for the long term. They have also forced Equalizer and myself to continue striving to be better at what we do. sprouted up from nothing and has dared to take on social issues around the sport as well and delved into the past with founder RJ Allen’s piece on the 2009 Sky Blue side. They were also considerate enough to loan us Chelsey Bush.

IX. A culture of inclusion

When Britt Eckerstrom’s house burned down just ahead of preseason leaving her, Tori Huster, and Tiffany Weimer with next to no soccer equipment, a GoFundMe quickly sprang to life and almost as quickly exceeded its stated goal. (A similar campaign after the season, for Alexa Newfield, fell short of its goal but still generated nearly $12,000 in less than 30 days – that one remains active). It is an easy cliché to speak about how great the “woso community” is when one of its own is in trouble, but I can also say that I have been associated with many other industries where that is simply not the case as it seems to be here. We’re not a perfect group, but inclusion is not a problem around women’s soccer.

Similarly, when Jen Cooper and the Houston Dash combined to put NWSL Championship tickets on offer to donate to GonzoSoccer kids, there was some concern there would not be enough children to use all of the tickets. And the support that poured out of NWSL and its teams following the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub felt genuine from a league and industry that long ago became a safe haven for LGBT folks.

(note: the most impressive tribute I saw came from the Pride’s brother side, Orlando City SC who placed balloons over prime seats, one for each victim of the shooting.)

X. People going the extra mile

Nothing keeps my energy for covering NWSL high like someone going the extra mile to make things easier to do the job. At the NWSL Championship, Dave Maurer’s effort to track down a photo of Sabrina D’Angelo’s jersey with her grandfather’s name on the back made the perfect accessory to Kieran Theivam’s outstanding story about the game’s MVP. A few weeks earlier in New Jersey, Alyssa Naeher waited for me to finish an interview just so she could answer for me what were very likely the same questions she had just answered for others. It was Naeher’s first match after Hope Solo was suspended by U.S. Soccer, so you know how excited she must have been to answer them once, let alone twice. When I asked Joanna Lohman about writing a long-form story, she not only agreed but invited me into her world for a day (This story is due out next month.)

If you have done something similar over the last year, it was very much appreciated.

XI. The readership

A site can only be as good as its readership allows it to be, and those who loyally return to our pages certainly make a difference. As a small-scale operation, we don’t pay full-time editors, but not to worry, our smart and perceptive readers are always around to let us know when we have messed something up. But whether you’re fact-checking us, blindly believing every word, or somewhere in between, know that everyone who reads The Lowdown or any other part of Equalizer is very much appreciated. And for those if you who follow along on Twitter (@thedanlauletta) keep those dissenting opinions coming my way. They keep me on my toes.

Everyone in the U.S. have a very happy Thanksgiving!

  • VaFan51

    Ah, great stuff. The NWSL was a great source of joy for me this year, as well. (Aside from the debacle on the baseball field.)

    I would like to elaborate on II of the XI.
    I totally agree on that Thorns-Flash match. It is stored on my DVR and I watch it every so often, just to see again the joyous qualities mentioned above, to which I would add the colorful, delightful atmosphere in Portland.

    Obviously, part of what made that match great was the visiting team and I might add the WNY Flash team to any list of the best of 2016. Their blend of lots of youth and a few savvy veterans made for a combination that was exciting to follow over the course of the season. I didn’t start out the year as a Flash fan, but I became one.
    And I totally agree on the sense of community that pervades the league (and, indeed, much of woso). I want the league and the fan-base to grow and grow and grow, but I never want us to lose that feeling of love for the game and for the players and the feeling that we are all in this together.

    • Steglitz49

      Your last paragraph seems needlessly morose and dejected.

      You seem to contend that the male fans that play small fortunes to watch their men’s teams play in some ways love the game less than WoSo fans. The truth seems to be the opposite given how many they are and how much they are prepared to spend on it.

      • VaFan51

        Sigh. I was neither morose nor dejected, but joyful when I was writing that. Woso in the U.S. has a bit of a small-town feel to it — a feeling of a community where it sometimes seems everybody knows everybody. It was not intended as an attack on white male dominance. There really is a lot of paranoia in the air these days.

        • Steglitz49

          I think it is true the world over. It is just that the teams that belong to the wealthy men’s clubs have more money and better facilities — and are starting to accumulate the stars one by one and two by two.

        • mockmook

          Why are you sighing? Are you now morose and dejected? 😉

  • Diane (DeeG)

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, Dan, and to all the staff, contributors, and readers of The Equalizer!

    • Steglitz49

      Thank you — and may yours be special too!

      The thing I like about Thanksgiving is that (traditionally) there are no presents. You offer yourself to each other. Marvelous!

  • AlexH

    Slightly off topic but I am thankfull that Klinsmann got the ax. He was about as untouchable as they come so maybe the WNT lifers might have a fire warming their butts now.

    • Steglitz49

      Is it known who will replace him? Lagerbäck? Sundhage?

      • Ethan

        If you haven’t figured out already, Bruce Arena has replaced Klinsmann.

        • Steglitz49

          Is he for the long haul or just a placeholder?

  • GT

    I would add that the Washington-Chicago semi-final was also a very hard-fought entertaining match. Also a great advertisement for women’s professional soccer. With respect to the Sky Blue FC broadcast I agree that Corey Cohen is very professional and well prepared. Clearly better than the previous play-by-play announcers. However, IMO the broadcast still lacks, pizazz, passion, humor and at times was downright boring. Especially when compared to some of the other NWSL teams broadcast. Sorry.

    • Silver Frost

      Top three broadcast teams for NWSL:

      1.) Thorns
      2.) DC
      3.) Orlando

      • Steglitz49

        and, to think that WNY won it all.

      • JL

        My ranking of the commentary teams:

        Houston. Cooper is one of the better analysts in the league (although I wish sometimes she would cut back on the random bits of trivia. Less is more), and while Petersen started off a bit rough, he got much better over the 2 seasons. I hope whoever Houston brings in to replace him is as good as he was.

        Washington. Minnich and Malagari are a great pair, but it works just as well when it’s just Minnich in the booth. They’re one of the least biased commentary teams in the league.

        Seattle. The fill-ins are terrible (I hope they never bring back that guy who did a couple games this year), but Glasgow and Gallimore are great, even if their bias is a bit obvious at times.

        Boston. While I don’t particularly care for Donnelly, Sudikoff does well with balancing calling the action on the field with the Twitter reactions. Plus he tries very hard to be as neutral as possible.

        WNY. The video quality seriously needs to be upgraded, which I’ve heard they’re planning on doing this offseason. But Guiliano and Kirmse have good chemistry with each other, and do know the sport well. Plus they don’t hesitate to call out players on both teams when they screw up, or praise both teams when they do well.

        SkyBlue. Could be worse, could be better. Cohen is an upgrade over some of the previous commentators (those two idiots from Season 1 can stay far away), and you can tell that Dan knows his stuff. Like Jen, we could do with a few less facts from him that only the hardcores would want to know.

        Chicago. They’re kind of eh. Not much about their broadcast teams really stands out to me. And their video stream is always choppy for me, even when not watching live.

        Orlando. Good visuals, poor and often uninformed commentary. I realize that the broadcast booths are usually far away from the field, but the constant confusing of players is inexcusable. Once or twice is okay, but several times every game doesn’t cut it.

        Portland. Like Orlando, it looks gorgeous. Benefits of being in an MLS stadium. But Schatz is a major turn-off. She makes zero attempt to hide her bias towards the home team, which is infuriating, since the majority of people who watch these games are either neutrals or fans of the away side.

        Kansas City. Blah visuals, and horrendous announcers. It’s either the guy who sounds like he’s trying to put everyone to sleep, or the guy who yells at the most inappropriate times. Having a two person booth with an analyst who isn’t a novice would help them immensely.

        • Steglitz49

          I found your statement about Portland that — “the majority of people who watch these games are either neutrals or fans of the away side” — a bit strange. Do you mean that the people in the stadium in Portland are the only people in Oregon who watch WoSo?

          The population of Oregon is 4m (20% less than Norway’s) of whom 600,000 live in the city and 2.4m in the metro area of Portland. I suspect that the majority of the TV-audinece for Portland’s WoSo are locals.

      • guest

        My favorite webcasts are Houston, Orlando, New Jersey, and Portland, with honorable mention to Boston. Ann Schatz’s antics at the mic are getting a bit old, it’s clear she knows nothing about the game, the color commentator tends to drone on, but the atmosphere in Portland makes up for all that. Houston has a smart broadcast and Jen Cooper is nothing if not enthusiastic with her trove of facts and figures. New Jersey is the most informative broadcast with Dan of course doing the analysis, but Corey is still learning, and he would be well-advised to listen to some Ian Darke tapes. Orlando has a fun broadcast, and I especially enjoyed the dueling expert commentary of two analysts in the booth, adding their unique perspectives and contrasting views, and the more the merrier, as they say. What all these broadcasts have in common are good camera angles and picture quality.

        Honorable mention to Boston for at least keeping it entertaining, but the afternoon glare is unwatchable, and like some of the other webcasts I haven’t mentioned, the camera is too low, and the carpet playing surface too bouncy. The most unwatchable award though has to go to WNY for their distorted lens which makes it look as though the game is being broadcast from a distant planet.

        I thoroughly agree that the semifinal in Portland was the highlight of the year, if not all four years of the league’s existence, and the best showcase for the NWSL you could possibly hope for, the whining of entitled Portland fans notwithstanding.

  • GT

    I’m noting that the comments this year (compared to the same article last year) aren’t as plentiful and are not nearly as positive as last years’ (including me). I’m wondering why that is? Could it be the election year politics especially with the Rapinoe taking a knee during the anthem. Perhaps for the first the commenters have given some inkling as to where they stand on these issues and we are not all to happy with people who aren’t “with us”. Who knows? Best to keep politics out of sports if possible.

    • Steglitz49

      15 comments — 16 with this — is a bit weak to type the least. I have tried to jazz it up but there does not seem to be enough lipstick for this pig. RIP.

  • Steglitz49

    Hot off the presses: Maren Mjelde, captain of Avaldsnes, has signed to join Chelsea Ladies.

    Maren is best known for her freekick in WC-15. It was at Avaldsnes under Maren’s watchful eyes that Casey Short and AD Franch rebuilt their careers and Madalyn Schiffel started hers.

    Best wishes to maren Mjelde. Keep that foot sweet!

  • Steglitz49

    For those following the FA women’s Cup, the final of which will be in May at Wembley, this is the draw for the next round, to be played by Dec 6th:

    Radcliffe Olympic v Sheffield Wednesday
    Sheffield United v Leicester City Women Dev
    Bradford City v Blackburn Rovers
    Stoke City v Liverpool Marshall Feds
    Guiseley AFC Vixens v Nottingham Forest
    Wolverhampton Wanderers v Solihull Ladies
    Birmingham & West Midlands v Leicester City LFC
    Middlesbrough v Hartlepool United
    West Bromwich Albion v Fylde

    Huddersfield Town v Derby County
    RACA Tynedale v Newcastle United
    Norton & Stockton Ancients v Hull City
    Long Eaton United v Nuneaton Town
    Brighouse Town v Peterborough Northern Star
    Southampton Saints v Gillingham
    Acle United v C&K Basildon
    Cardiff City LFC v Larkhall Athletic
    Tottenham Hotspur v Leyton Orient
    Cambridge United v Queens Park Rangers

    MK Dons v Hemel Hempstead Town
    Plymouth Argyle v Forest Green Rovers
    Lewes v Brislington
    West Ham United v Coventry United
    Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
    Luton Town v Portsmouth
    Norwich City v AFC Wimbledon
    Southampton Women v Swindon Town
    Regents Park Rangers v Keynsham Town

    • guest

      OMG, ur obnoxious.

      • Steglitz49

        Children go free to the FA women’s Cup final at Wembley if accompanied by an adult and an adult pays about $25 possibly a bit less. Must be the bargain of the year — and you get to sit in one of the holy of holies of soccer.

        Oh, btw, the FA womens Cup is open to all English club teams.

        • guest

          Whatever, NonSeq49.

          • Steglitz49

            May 13th is your appointment with destiny. Hop on a plane to London and go to the FA womens Cup final.

  • Som Termanni

    I wonder if anyone will follow up with Ashlee Comber, the Spirit’s former COO who submitted her resignation in January 2016 for “personal beliefs” and announced it at the end of April. She was a rare minority C-level executive in the NWSL and had worked her way up within the organization since 2012, and through Spirit president Chris Hummer’s SoccerWire company HummerSport. (Naturally, the Equalizer never covered Comber’s promotion to COO in 2015 or her resignation.) She was not replaced.

    At the time, it looked like her exit was a successful administrator leveraging her NWSL experience to move on toward greater accomplishments. In retrospect, it looks more like she might have been a canary in the Spirit’s subsequent cultural collapse.

    Comber, not Hummer, was instrumental in much of the Spirit’s business success, which was mandatory for the club’s survival considering it’s an independent team with much less capital than the rest of the league. In her resignation announcement, she thanked players and Mark Parsons (who by that time had left months prior) and Nadine Traughber (who was not promoted to fill the VP of Operations role she vacated) by name, but not Bill Lynch, Chris Hummer, or . She also took full credit for establishing the team’s “operational and financial stability”, both of which have grown increasingly in doubt since her exit.

    The Spirit never announced her exit; indeed, they still host her bio on her site referring to her as COO:

    Even more interesting to me is Comber specifically calling out her “personal beliefs” in her statement as a reason for her resignation. That might have raised a flag or two in January, but in light of what’s happened at the Spirit since then it might be worth revisiting. I hope I’m reading too much into it, because if I’m not, the Spirit’s organizational problems could be worse than they already look if they shed a successful COO out of conflict, haven’t replaced her, and are continuing to dismantle the team.

    • Steglitz49

      I am not sure what the EQ covers anymore. They do not cover Americans and Canadians abroad these days, and they never bothered with Mexican players.

      Sometimes I wonder whether the EQ lives off its comments pages, which ae moderated by a computer program since about a year ago.

    • mockmook

      Or, she may be another bigot who can’t work with anyone who holds different beliefs than her.

      But, that theory (and your’s) suffer from the fact that Lynch has been there the whole time.