On Saturday, July 8 there will be a little history made at Yurcak Field. On that evening Sky Blue will become the first club to play 100 regular season NWSL matches. The original clubs have all played 86, and Sky Blue will be the only team to hit its 14th match of the season that weekend. Two weeks later, Lauren Barnes and Christine Nairn can become the first players to hit the century mark since the league launched in 2013. Both could change of course. None of the league seasons have been completed without at least one postponement, and Barnes and/or Nairn could certainly miss a match though it has only happened once before for each.
It is hardly a big deal for a club to play 100 matches, and barely a big deal for a player. But in the world of woso where the first two tries at a pro league flamed out after three seasons—topping out with 63 total matches for WUSA clubs—hitting triple digits represents a very big deal. It will be a further sign of stability, a line to which NWSL has been creeping closer to for the last several years.
The league also expanded the season to 24 games which will match 2014 for the longest in league history. The goal is only to grow the season even longer so we can say it is unlikely there will ever be another NWSL season shorter than 24. This is a good thing on numerous levels, but partly because it will remove certain qualifiers from league records.
We all marveled last season when 41-year old Christie Rampone was one of five players to play all 1,800 minutes of the season. But in 2014, when that total was 2,160, only Brittany Taylor played them all. Alyssa Naeher played every minute for the Breakers but that total was 2,115 because they had a game in Kansas City called after 45 minutes due to weather. (Becky Edwards played every minute for the Dash until joining Kristianstads DFF on loan and missing the rescheduled season finale.) With the season back to 24 games, no longer are any games played or minutes records out of reach only because the season is shorter.
NWSL is also closing in on the 10,000 minute mark, but that cannot happen this season. Not only is no player close enough but teams will get to 110 games after this season and it takes a minimum of 112 90-minute matches to crack 10,000 minutes. There will be a 50-goal scorer one day too, but the closest active player, Jessica McDonald, needs 19 to get there.
Here is a look at some of the milestones that can be reached in NWSL this season.
approaching the century mark
Barnes and Nairn have both played 85 of a possible 86 regular season matches. They were the only two Reign to appear in all 22 games during the club’s disaster of a debut season and are reunited this year after Nairn spent 2014-2016 in Washington. If they both stick to their ironwoman ways they can hit 100 on July 22 at home against Sky Blue. Here is the full list of players who are within 24 games of 100 for their NWSL careers:
85: Lauren Barnes (Seattle Reign FC*); Christine Nairn (Seattle Reign FC)
83: Brittany Taylor (FC Kansas City); Keelin Winters (retired)
82: McCall Zerboni (North Carolina Courage)
79: Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City*); Tori Huster (Washington Spirit*); Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC*); Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign FC); Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Courage); Katherine Reynolds (Portland Thorns FC); Jasmyne Spencer (Orlando Pride)
78: Jessica Fishlock (Seattle Reign FC*); Angela Salem (Boston Breakers); Erika Tymrak (FC Kansas City*)
76: Joanna Lohman (Washington Spirit)
*-indicates player has spent entire NWSL career with same club
chasing little, holiday
Kim Little and Lauren Holiday both spent three seasons in NWSL and neither are in the league for 2017. But Little, now with Arsenal, and Holiday, retired, are the respective league leaders in goals and assists. Neither figures to last the season on top, particularly Little who holds a 32-31 lead over Jessica McDonald.
Also hot on Little’s heels are Allie Long (28) and Samantha Kerr (26). Carli Lloyd is on 25 but is with Manchester City at least through June. Christen Press is eight behind Little with 24 goals and has played fewer games and minutes than any of the 10 players currently on 20 goals.
The other four players with 20 or more regular season goals are: Diana Matheson (23); Christine Sinclair (23); Holiday (22); and Nadia Nadim (22).
On the assist front, Tobin Heath set the league record last season when she became the first player to record 10 in a single season. But Heather only totaled 4 assists over the first three seasons and her 14 puts her four off the pace of Holiday’s total of 18. Among active players though the closest to Holiday is the duo of Vaessa DiBernardo and Kelley O’Hara with 15. (Heather O’Reilly, currently with Arsenal, has 16 and Little has 15.)
Barnie pacing the keepers
The goalkeeping scene is much different in that Nicole Barnhart has started 79 of a possible 86 FC Kansas City matches, giving her an 18-match cushion over Ashlyn Harris. Barnhart also has a comfortable lead in wins (36) and shutouts (32). In both categories the closest players to her are no longer in the league. Hope Solo (26) is next in line in wins but is both injured and in limbo after being suspended by U.S. Soccer. Karina LeBlanc (22) retired after 2015. The closest active keepers to Barnhart are Harris (20) and Alyssa Naeher (18).
Barnhart has led the league in shutouts all four seasons giving her 32 and a large lead over LeBlanc and Brittany Cameron (14 – Cameron now plays in Japan). Naeher is next with 11 (tied with Solo) followed by Harris and Adrianna Franch (10).
Playing for a winning team has been a boon for Barnhart though. She has lost only 25 of her 79 starts, third all-time behind Naeher (30) and Harris (27).
If draws interest you, Barnhart (18) leads the way followed by LeBlanc (15), Cameron, and Harris (14). Solo, Franch, and Erin McLeod (currently in Sweden) all have 11.
-Nairn has appeared in 59 consecutive regular season matches, the longest current streak in the league. She is a dozen behind Jen Buczkowski’s league record streak of 71. Buczkowski started every game in her career before retiring last May to start physical therapy school.
-The consecutive minute streak could go down by the end of the month. Brittany Taylor holds the record at 3,690 but Kassey Kallman is hot on her heels at 3,600 meaning she will tie the record if she plays a full 90 for the Spiriit on opening day and then break it if she starts Week in Orlando. Dahlkemper is next in line with 3,420 straight minutes.
-Dahlkemper and Danielle Colaprico have both started every possible game since being 1st round picks in 2015. They have each started 40 matches (plus two playoff games each.)
-For all of Barnhart’s records she has never been on the right side of a penalty kick. All 11 PKs taken against Barnhart—and against FCKC—have been converted. The only other team never to save or have a PK missed is the Pride who faced two, both successful, in their debut season.
-Jessica McDonald has 6 multiple goal games putting her out in front of Kim Little, Allie Long, Nahomi Kawasumi, and Christen Press who all have 5.
-Little has the most multiple assist games with 4 followed by Holiday and Abby Wambach at 3. The group at 2 includes Kelley O’Hara, Lynn Williams, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Katy Freels.
-Jessica Fishlock and Alyssa Mautz have the most yellow cards with 12 each. Ella Masar has 10. Twenty-three players have a red card. No one has two.
-The winningest coach is two-time Shield winner Laura Harvey in Seattle with 42. She is followed by FC Kansas City’s two-time NWSL Championship coach Vlatko Andonovski with 39. After that comes Jim Gabarra (36), Rory Dames (34), and Mark Parsons (32).
The Flash-Courage conundrum
According to a Courage spokesperson, the club will wipe the slate clean in terms of statistics and not build on anything from the last four seasons as the Western New York Flash. This is a debate that has roiled sports fans over the years and is one that has no perfect answer.
On one hand, the team moved 700 miles south, has a new name, new identity, new owners, new uniforms, and an almost entirely new fan base. In a sport carried by supporters’ culture around the world it would be disingenuous for Courage fans in North Carolina to lay claim to any of the Flash’s achievements. Using this angle it seems entirely correct to treat the clubs as completely separate entities.
On the flipside, the team was sold and transferred intact and the roster is the fruit of seeds planted mostly in Western New York. Should the Courage win the NWSL Championship, surely Paul Riley and any returning players will want to be considered back-to-back champions. Using this angle it seems entirely correct to consider the Courage a linear continuation of the Flash.
Sports history is no guide here. In Major League Soccer, the San Jose Earthquakes packed up and left for Houston in 2006 and were reborn as an expansion club two years later. Today all of the Earthquakes statistics and history is catalogued as one and the Houston Dynamo years stand alone. That seems to make sense until you realize the Dynamo won MLS Cup each of their first two seasons, and those were the third and fourth in seven years for the club that originated in San Jose. Do Dynamo fans want credit for 2001 and 2003? Surely not.
Does it seem off not to celebrate that the linear version of the Earthquakes-Dynamo won MLS Cup four times in seven years with a Supporters Shield in the mix? Surely it does. And what about Dwayne De Rosario being part of all four Cup winners and several others who were around for three of the four?
In the NBA, the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and the Thunder still honor the Seattle era. However, when the team moved the NBA decided the Supersonics history would be preserved for any future team that played in Seattle. In other words there could come a day when the Thunder have to relinquish any ties to Seattle including the 1979 NBA Championship. That seems odd.
The NBA’s scenario with teams currently based in Charlotte and New Orleans is too convoluted to explain here in full but it has resulted in a historical perspective that makes little sense. It also changed when the Bobcats changed their name to Hornets, the name the original Charlotte team had until becoming the Pelicans in New Orleans—more than a decade after landing in Crescent City.
It seems that nicknames have an important role here. The Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics, and Arizona Cardinals are among current pro sports teams who have carried nicknames around the country. All of them are inexorably and forever linked to their brothers from past cities. Would it be the same for the Courage had they just kept the name Flash?
My personal opinion here is that the linear history of the teams should be honored and that the Courage should build on the NWSL legacy they acquired from the Flash. I also understand why they are not going to. I don’t see harm tracking both either. So if Abby Dahlkemper is in the starting XI for the opener, I’ll be recognizing that she’ll be part of the first North Carolina Courage starting lineup but also take note that it will be her 41st straight start for the same club since the Flash drafted her 3rd overall in 2015.
writer’s note: all statistics contained in this article are personally compiled and should not be considered official