Week 1 Preview: The NWSL is Back

Chelsey Bush April 14, 2017 41
NWSL's deal with A+E is a landmark one for the league, but like all business deals comes with its concerns (graphic by NWSL)

For the first time, NWSL fans can watch a game on TV every week. (graphic by NWSL)

We’re ba-ack! After what felt like the longest offseason ever (but don’t they all?), which saw blockbuster trades, groundbreaking signings, and an old team become new again, the fifth season of the NWSL is finally here, and on TV too! Whether you plan to tune in on Lifetime, check the Go90 app, or log into the NWSL website from overseas, we’ve got you covered each week with what’s coming up and who to watch. Scroll down to see how each team is shaking off the rust in Week 1.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Seattle, Washington - Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: Seattle Reign FC forward Nahomi Kawasumi (36) during a regular season National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) match between the Seattle Reign FC and the Boston Breakers at Memorial Stadium. Seattle won 2-0. (ISI Photo)

Nahomi Kawasumi looks to figure largely in Seattle’s success. (ISI Photo)

Sky Blue FC (0-0-0) at Seattle Reign FC (0-0-0)

Saturday, 10 p.m. EDT, Memorial Stadium
All-time series: tied, 3-3-4
In Seattle: Sky Blue lead, 2-1-2
Last meeting: June 19, 2016; 0-0 draw

These teams started off the season with a surprising bang on opening weekend last year when Sky Blue handed Seattle its first ever loss at Memorial Stadium, and they maintained the excitement to the end of the season, when they raced for the last playoff spot only to fall just short of eventual champion Western New York. Seattle followed that with a rough offseason, losing two key midfielders in Kim Little and Keelin Winters, and one of their replacements when Diana Matheson injured her knee. The former Shield winners are still seeking their lost mojo, and Laura Harvey is doing what she does best in order to make that happen: signing internationals. New Zealander Rebekah Stott hopes to shore up last season’s shaky defense, while down the road a currently injured Larissa Crummer looks to bring scoring magic with her from Australia. Ultimately, look for Jess Fishlock to be the key cog in the Seattle machine, and she’ll start by trying to run circles around Sky Blue’s improved midfield.

Sky Blue has retained the core of last year’s young team, hoping to build on the experience gained. Of the players added, none are more important than Daphne Corboz. The attacking midfielder brings solid distribution to the field, allowing Raquel Rodriguez to play more of a box-to-box role. Along with Sarah Killion, the three may form one of the most dynamic midfields in the league. With “Ma” aka the ageless Christie Rampone still holding down the fort on the backline, and a healthy Sam Kerr up top, the Jersey ladies look primed for a playoff run. The speed of Kerr and Leah Galton should be useful against an uncertain Seattle defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Nahomi Kawasumi

The Japanese forward/midfielder brought a flicker to Seattle upon her return last year but it was a shadow of what she offered in 2014. Last year’s Reign looked listless at times, and it will take a spark to jump start what remains a talented side. At her best, Kawasumi creates chances and scores goals, and that’s exactly what the Reign need after the departure of Little.

Christie Rampone

Last year the oldest player in the league was one of its best. Rampone brings a steadiness to a young squad and remains a daunting barrier to even the best forwards. She knows every trick, every feint, and is still fast enough that it takes a lot more than quick feet to get past her. With rookie Kailen Sheridan likely to be in net behind her, look for Rampone to take charge with the leadership she honed captaining the USWNT to three gold medals and establish some needed consistency on the team.

Keep an eye on:

  • Megan Rapinoe as she continues to seek her prior form
  • The latest edition of Where on the Pitch is Kelley O’Hara

{Read more: 2017 NWSL previews}

***

Chicago Red Stars (0-0-0) at Houston Dash (0-0-0)

Saturday, 2 p.m. EDT, BBVA Compass Stadium
All-time series:  Red Stars lead, 3-1-4
In Houston:  Red Stars lead, 2-1-1
Last meeting: July 23, 2016; 1-1 draw

Kealia Ohai scored her 11th goal against Seattle, but it wasn't enough to win the Golden Boot. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Can Kealia Ohai pick up where she left off? (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Chicago has made it clear their eye is on the ultimate prize this season, and that road begins on game one. They got off to a rocky start in Houston last year (although fortunes were quickly reversed), and they want nothing more than to open the season with a definitive statement. Houston, well, Houston just wants to win. After another disappointing season with the playoffs out of reach for the third straight year, they’re on the hot seat to live up to their talent.

The new Dash pairing in central defense of Bruna Benites and Janine Van Wyk won’t face many challenges more difficult than shutting down Christen Press, who nearly scores at will in this league. With the attention on her, this would be a good time for Stephanie McCaffrey and Sofia Huerta (and Rory Dames) to prove that Chicago’s attack doesn’t center around Press, something that has held them back in past seasons. On the opposite end, the speed of Kealia Ohai on the flank should prove an exciting matchup against Arin Gilliland’s 1v1 skill, as well as giving Ohai her first opportunity to demonstrate the consistency she’s lacked.

Keep an eye on:

  • Who is in goal for Houston
  • If Katie Naughton can find her way into the starting lineup

***

Orlando Pride (0-0-0) at Portland Thorns FC (0-0-0)

Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT, Providence Park (Lifetime)
All-time series: Thorns lead, 2-0-0
In Portland:  Thorns lead, 1-0-0
Last meeting: June 26, 2016; 2-1, Portland

Jasmyne Spencer celebrates her dramatic, game-winning goal against the Houston Dash in the first home match for the Pride after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. (photo credit: Orlando Pride/Mark Thor)

The Orlando Pride seek consistent success after last season’s struggles. (photo credit: Orlando Pride/Mark Thor)

No Marta, no Tobin Heath. Each team without a star, although Orlando’s has yet to take the pitch in purple, and Portland’s was one of their 2016 MVPs. That aside, Portland returns much of the same from last year’s Shield winners, looking not only to repeat that feat but to claim a championship as well. Their star-studded starting lineup is as formidable on the field as on paper, and the always-devoted Thorns fans help make Providence Park a tough ninety minutes for any visiting team. Orlando has a slightly new look, but chemistry is yet unknown, and in the absence of both Marta and Alex Morgan, it’s still a question as to who leads the offense.

However, all eyes should be on the defenses. Portland boasted the least number of goals conceded last year, albeit with the now-departed Michelle Betos in goal, and was widely considered the best defense in the league. With international-caliber defenders across the board, not to mention reigning Goalkeeper of the Year Ashlyn Harris, Orlando is poised to take the title but needs to prove it on the pitch. Portland scored late in the game to win both matchups last year, so Orlando is likely looking for a little revenge.

Keep an eye on:

  • Mallory Weber, who could add needed pace to the Thorns’ attack
  • Orlando’s defensive formation

{Read more: NWSL will stream matches on Go90 app | Lifetime schedule announced}

***

North Carolina Courage (0-0-0) at Washington Spirit (0-0-0)

Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT, Maryand SoccerPlex
All-time series: Flash lead, 5-3-3 (0-0-1 in playoffs)
In Maryland: Flash lead, 2-1-3
Last meeting: October 9, 2016; 2-2 (3-2, penalties), Western New York

The Washington Spirit continue to pace the NWSL. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The new-look Washington Spirit want to make a statement. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

In a different world, this would be an eagerly anticipated rematch of the thrilling 2016 NWSL final. That’s not to say this game isn’t eagerly anticipated nor that it won’t be thrilling in its own right. However, both teams are exploring new identities, and that changes the tone of the game. The Western New York Flash are no more, having moved south and rebranded as the North Carolina Courage. The Washington Spirit has undergone significant roster overhaul due to trades, departures, and injuries.

That said, the game is still on. The Courage (without Paul Riley) should come out with more of the fast-paced, transitional attack that scored so many goals last season, putting Tori Huster to work at holding mid. Gabarra’s side rolled out in a three-back formation in the final to clog the attack and force it central, and until a stoppage-time set piece, it was largely successful. Unless he has something similar up his sleeve (while compensating for the loss of Ali Krieger, who was instrumental in that game), the speed of Lynn Williams and her chemistry with Jess McDonald may prove deadly once again.

Keep an eye on:

  • Washington’s forwards, because success is critical on someone stepping into the role of primary goal-scorer
  • Abby Dahlkemper, who without Alanna Kennedy as her partner (and the absence of injured Abby Erceg above her) will need to become the defense’s anchor

***

Boston Breakers (0-0-0) at FC Kansas City (0-0-0)

Sunday, 6 p.m. EDT, Swope Soccer Village
All-time series: Kansas City lead, 7-4-0
In Kansas City: Kansas City lead, 5-1-0
Last meeting: August 28, 2016; 2-0, Boston

Natasha Dowie celebrates her first NWSL goal. (photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Natasha Dowie returns to lead the Breakers attack. (photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

The old versus the new. The two-time champs looking to make a comeback versus the perennial down-on-their-luck side. Returning favorites versus new faces. Established veterans versus up and comers. The contrasts between FCKC and Boston come quick and easy. FCKC is essentially the same, steady team it’s always been, and with the return of Amy Rodriguez and the belated debut of Sydney Leroux, last year’s goal drought should finally be over. Boston, on the other hand, is rebuilding once again, and with a slew of new players, their identity remains to be determined.

FCKC faces its biggest challenge in midfield, where it has yet to replace the play making ability of Lauren Holiday and is also now without the tireless engine of Heather O’Reilly. Nicole Barnhart keeps the defense as solid as ever, and the attack is back, but question marks remain in the center of the pitch. For Boston, everything has an element of the unknown. If Abby Smith returns to her previous form, if the defense can tighten up, if a leader emerges … if many things fall into place, Boston could contend. One thing, however, is very clear: Rose Lavelle will be in the driver’s seat.

Keep an eye on:

  • Amy Rodriguez, because last time she returned from maternity leave she reached new levels
  • Rose Lavelle, Rose Lavelle, Rose Lavelle

{Read more: Lavelle shines in rout of Russia}

Save

Save

  • A_Dog_Without_A_Clutch

    Chicago 1 – Houston 2 (Beckie, Ohai, Press)

    Orlando 0 – Portland 2 (Horan, Long)

    North Carolina 3 – Washiington 0 (Williams, Doniak)

    Sky Blue 2 – Seattle 2 (Kawasumi, Kerr, Yanez)

    Boston 1 – Kansas City 4 (Groom, Leroux, Dowie)

    • mockmook

      Don’t you also want to predict how many minutes each player will play 😉

  • Houston 1 – 3 Chicago

    Orlando 0 – 2 Portland

    Washington 1 – 2 North Carolina

    Sky Blue 1 – 1 Seattle

    Boston 1 – 2 Kansas City

    • DNG

      You got the Portland game and were close on the NC game.

      • And Seattle-Sky Blue! Man was I wrong about Chicago though.

  • GUest

    Didn’t think the other article say that marta will be available????!!!!

    • For their home opener so, next week.

  • Guest

    FCKC just keeps getting hit. First their draft picks, now laddish and Desiree Scott both out

    • mockmook

      Yikes. And, Averbuch probable, but with an MCL

      • Steglitz49

        I thought that Yael had gone into journalism.

      • Guest

        Maybe:

        ………..Tymrak………
        Gibbons…….LaBonta

        ??? Definitely not starting off the season ideally by any means

  • Silver Frost

    With the new media blackout, I’ll have to be content with highlight reels, and be able to get more accomplished with my free time. I refuse to watch sports on a 2″ screen.

  • Gary Diver

    How do international fans watch NWSL matches today? I went to the NWSL site and couldn’t find anything about international viewers.

    How do American fans find the connections for the live matches? Is there a simple hot button? (The YouTube live streaming of the past seemed so much easier to use by anybody at anytime.)

    It appears that the play-by-play and analysts are not at the matches in person since they are doing multiple matches. Is that true?

    The NWSL website leaves a lot to be desired for its lack of clarity about the new broadcasting system for matches. Since it is a new system not familiar to everybody, NWSL needs to explain everything as clearly and thoroughly as possible. This should not require one to be a tech geeks to watch NWSL matches.

    I can’t wait until Monday to get fan reactions to the new broadcasting system.

    • mockmook

      Just as it was with YouTube:

      The game links don’t become live until near the start of the game.

      ————-

      The only thing that is clear is the path for international fans:

      Go to NWSLsoccer.com and click on a game link, and presto you get to see a live game.

      (Looks like archived games will eventually be on go90.com for everyone)

      ————

      After all your bitching about internationals getting shafted, why do you care how Americans will be watching the games?

      ————

      “Regular” streaming broadcasts will all be announced from a studio in Florida.

      The Lifetime “Weekly Game of the Century” will use announcers at the game.

      ————–

      Do you like asking questions?

      Have you always asked so many questions?

      Do you resent being asked questions about asking questions?

      How much money does Elon Musk make?

      Do you ever attempt to answer your own questions?

      Do you ever ask questions that you already have answered?

      What questions would you like me to ask you?

      Is S49 your best friend?

      Is S49 human?

      What color are your socks?

      Who should Anson’s GK at UNC be this year?

      Have I missed any important questions?

      Have I missed any unimportant questions?

      Will you list all those questions referenced in the last two questions?

      • Gary Diver

        Thanks for the information and I’m sorry you’ve having a bad day. I thought this was a general site for WoSo fans and one didn’t need to know all the answers to participate.

        Yes, I do like asking questions. (I’m a former university professor.) Better to ask questions than to pretend to know all the answers. I do like and follow WoSo, but I do not spend day and night at it and am amazed that some people don’t seem to do anything else in their lives except trolling the Internet about WoSo news.

        As far as the international fans are concerned, NWSL has not been clear about what they were going to do until this past week. And initially it wasn’t clear at all whether there was even going to be an international option.

        And yes, I do care about the US residents getting easy, quality feeds. Again, NWSL’s communicate about what is going on leaves a lot to be desired.

        Monday we see if people are happy or upset with the new broadcasting system. This is one big experiment in real time.

        I may be in the minority, but I usually find S49 comments edifying and entertaining. I don’t block anybody. I feel I can learn from any visitor from this site, including you. There are some posters who can be irritating, but so can family members. Complaining about bloggers is like complaining about TV programs you don’t want to watch. If if you don’t like the blogs, just ignore them.

        Maybe there should be a separate site for serious WoSo followers like you who know everything and don’t have to be irritated by the casual followers like me.

        Hopefully, you’ll will feel better tomorrow.

        • mockmook

          If you click on the Dash game icon at the top of the screen, you should now see a screen that says the “Game should start soon”

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/06331528222484643011b8c15ec1f22e767f0f01c049267b8622c05994f5c6a8.png

          • Gary Diver

            Thank you. As I said earlier, this is an experiment in real time.

          • mockmook

            Ack!!!

            Showing warm-ups of Spirit vs NCFC at the moment…

          • Steglitz49

            The Spirit of St Louis?

          • mockmook

            What video (if any) are you getting when you select the HOU vs CRS game?

          • Gary Diver

            I am not getting the live broadcast – just “The game will start soon”. Maybe my fault. I will play around to see if I can get a live stream.

        • mockmook

          “Do you resent being asked questions about asking questions?”

          So, I guess the answer to this one was “Yes” 😉

          • Gary Diver

            No, I don’t resent being asked questions about asking questions. Just thought this was a give-and-take site where anybody can ask anything that is not totally stupid or insulting. I don’t ask questions that I definitely know the answers to, though I may ask a question where I feel 75% sure because I’ve been wrong a number of time when I’ve felt 75% sure. And sometime my questions are to get a conversation going about a topic which people haven’t talked about or getting a discussion going on days were there are few posts. I am not a WoSo expert – I just want to learn and have fun while doing it.

      • Steglitz49

        T34 was a tank.

    • Steglitz49

      #1 = with difficulty though it is free, like Champagne ought tone
      #2 = with difficulty, allegedly
      #3 = as long as the analysis is good, does it matter?
      #4 = it is WoSo. They ain’t got any money.
      #5 = on Easter Monday Crystal and Carli will be in action in FA women Cup semi-finals. That is the only games that matter, the only games that count, the only games worth fighting for and dying for.
      Yeehaw! Seesaw! She sells seashells by the seashore. In days of yore.

  • GT

    My local newspaper today does not list the Portland-Orlando game under the sporting events televised today! Will someone at Lifetime or the NWSL please contact the newspapers around the country and make sure they include the NWSL games on the Saturday telecasts!? Just because it’s televised on the Lifetime channel, doesn’t mean it’s not a sporting event! Attica….Attica…Attica!! OK I calmed down.

    • mockmook

      As the wisest modern philosophers contemplate:

      If a sporting event is un-streamable, is it still a sporting event?

      • Steglitz49

        Live broadcast rule OK.

  • mockmook

    Woohoo — approximately 1 hr away from the first pre-game show — if we can see it…

  • DNG

    Lifetime livestream is choppy for me go90 was actually better.

    • mockmook

      My NWSL stream was low res to start, but soon became HD and ran fine.

      But, that also coincided with me switching to a Canadian server on the VPN (but that might have been a coincidence). I need to do some speed tests using different servers.

      • DNG

        Not sure if I was clear but I was talking about the lifetime livestream of the game of the week. I had issues with it buffering a lot. NWSL website with VPN worked fine for other matches as did the go90 app.

  • Gary Diver

    I have not been able to get any of the live feeds to work, but maybe the problem is at my end. I do like the play-by-play and boxscore features which give a lot of useful and interesting information.

    • A_Dog_Without_A_Clutch

      I’m assuming that the recap will be up in hour. Not a fan of the live feeds since they’re technically a downgrade from the old site. I’m assuming that this is a PC thing because I constantly had to refresh to get the play-by-play and box score updated.

      Also, is SOG totals a byproduct of lazy stat keeping? They sound too high.

    • Terry Lash

      I had no problem using go90 to watch livestreams of the games. I connected a Chromcast to my iPad, and downloaded the go90 app to my iPad. My iPad was connected to the internet using WiFi in my house.

      • mockmook

        He can’t use go90 in Canada

        But, in addition to the NWSLsoccer.com site, he could use the NWSL (iOS) App.

    • mockmook

      I assume you were only trying to watch via your PC on the NWSL site? And, you doing this from home?

      Make sure your browsers and Adobe Flash are up to date (at least, I think they use Flash).

      Might try shutting down any Ad Blocking (if you have any) for the NWSL site.

      I also noticed that there was a bit of a buffering period when I selected a game: When a game is presumably live, may try leaving it on the “The game will start soon” screen for about 5 minutes — if it hasn’t started by then, yeah, you’ve got a problem.

      I suppose you could also have some weird settings on your Firewall or other Security features that could be messing with you — but, that would be pretty odd on a home system.

      • Gary Diver

        Thanks for your suggestions. I will have to play with this when I have some extra time. Eventually I will work the kinks out. Probably tomorrow or Monday there will be an Equalizer article about how well the first week of broadcasting worked out. I hope it was a good experience for most people. I realize this is all new and any new system will have start-up problems.