It was a 24-word statement from Ashlyn Harris that got the attention of the women’s soccer world Saturday evening, and we might as well start with that before we proceed (she was talking to WRAL’s Neil Morris):
“Yeah, (Marta’s) a game changer,” Harris said. “But if she’s not putting the ball in the back of the net, she’s not doing much for me.”
At first reading, that’s pretty bad. And ill-timed. And dead wrong based on the match that had just proceeded directly in front of Harris.
Marta, in her first NWSL start, created at least three great chances for her teammates in the first half against the hottest team in the league, none of which were finished. Yes, she didn’t score herself, either, and missed a point-blank opportunity in the 39th minute, although Sabrina D’Angelo did deserve some credit for a fantastic save. Marta looked to tire a bit as the game wore on, but an opponent like Paul Riley and North Carolina is going to know where she is at all times.
Speaking of D’Angelo, she was forced by the Pride to make four saves after having a grand total of one in her team’s first two games. And she didn’t get Camila’s rocket, of course, the first and only goal the Courage have conceded this season.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Lynn Williams and North Carolina were running Orlando silly, as Williams herself tallied 11 shots. Harris had 10 saves, but probably should have done better with the Courage’s opening goal, even if it was a rebound. The final goal, while a fantastic Williams finish, came directly off a Harris giveaway. In summary, a defeat at the defending champs three weeks into the season does not seem to be the opportune time to step on the panic button, and certainly doesn’t seem to be the moment to rip into your teammates when two of the three goals allowed were at least partly preventable by you.
It is important, however, to take Harris’ full remarks in context. For the most part, she’s correct, a goal or two early in the game when Orlando was on the front foot would have changed things dramatically. And if you want to make the playoffs, you have to be able to deal with teams like the Courage. Yes, we would have liked a little more self-deprecation on Harris’ part in light of the final 3-1 scoreline, but such is life.
While it’s understandable that a world-class competitive athlete like Harris is angry after a defeat and now has to answer questions about it minutes later, that comes with the territory of being a professional and a leader (and there’s little question that Orlando is now her team).
A few hundred miles away, Washington goalkeeper Steph Labbe took a little different route after a tough 1-0 loss where she was busy again. Labbe looked like she was headed out of Washington with several others after last season, but ended up staying (whether of her own volition or because Kelsey Wys got hurt in Australia). She’s coming at it from a little different perspective than Harris in that Orlando probably has higher hopes for the campaign, having Alex Morgan and Marta on the roster (eventually) and a big, new stadium that they want people to frequent. Labbe is also not the captain and not expected to lead from the front, so to speak, in such situations.
But Labbe could easily repeat exactly what Harris did, or she could say this, as she did to Jordan Small of Backline Soccer:
“Unfortunately, I’m getting more shots than I hope and having to make move saves than I want,” Labbe said. “But that’s a part of the game and if that’s my role this year, I’ve said it before, I’m ready to take that on.”
By the last question of her interview, Harris had boxed herself into quite the corner. Only she knows if Marta was among those being called out in the previous inquiries, but now being asked directly about her, Harris had two choices: praise Marta and put her above the rest of her teammates or include her in the group that needs to improve significantly. You can’t blame her much for choosing the latter, although with a little more foresight she likely could have prevented herself from being in that predicament.
Orlando has a week to figure it out, and if Harris is a good captain, she’ll get the group together for a meeting before training resumes Monday or Tuesday, everyone will air their grievances and the Pride will move on. However, the bigger problem may be that there isn’t a whole lot so to suggest that Orlando is anywhere near a playoff squad at the moment, even if they did create plenty of chances at Portland and North Carolina.
Without Morgan, Orlando does not have another proven NWSL attacker. Danica Evans and Chioma Ubogagu might eventually be that person, but not yet. The midfield was a weak spot last season and Camila has added a little offensive punch, however, holding the ball (although it had more possession than the Courage Saturday) is not really going to be their thing. The back (which was 75 percent Australian this weekend) should be a strength, but has struggled, no match for North Carolina’s speed. But who in NWSL is?
The Pride are at Kansas City next week before hosting (guess who?) North Carolina in a fortnight. If they don’t win either of those games (and they probably won’t be favored to do so in either), then what? Morgan isn’t due back to Florida until perhaps late June and by then, Orlando’s playoff hopes may be all but doomed. Maybe that’s why Harris felt like she needed to try to speak out so early.
What else did we learn from an NWSL weekend where Boston (yes, Boston) moved all the way up to second in the table?
Portland 1:0 Chicago (recap)
What Went Down: No rants from the Red Stars, but they can’t be pleased to have two defeats (both shutouts) in their first three matches. In a way, you can say they’ve been unlucky, they probably had the better of the play in both losses, each on the road. But they have shown little in the final third, with Christen Press – who destroyed NWSL two years ago – completely out of form, even beyond the missed penalty last week. The Red Stars also seem to be one complementary piece short, which does not appear to be Stephanie McCaffrey, who was on the bench again Saturday.
Portland is extremely banged up, and although they did not look dominant for any portion of the contest, got three points without Meghan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and Mana Shim. Even with the resources of the Thorns, depth is a problem for any NWSL team with roster limits, etc. The question is, of course, when all their players will come back. And which ones will be sent to Washington for Mallory Pugh?
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 29, 2017
Player of the Game: Emily Sonnett – Sonnett has taken a bit of heat for being allocated and is first on the rumored list to be headed to Washington for Pugh. Like Becky Sauerbrunn, she does not play a loud game at center back, and she was excellent Saturday on national television, even mixing it up physically with Jen Hoy and Sofia Huerta a couple of times. It’s important to remember that, in a position where it may take a little longer to gain the necessary experience, she doesn’t turn 24 until after the NWSL season is over. The Thorns have allowed only one goal through three games.
Under the Radar: Adrianna Franch – Yes, she has had trouble with her feet this season, but other than that, she’s been pretty good it must be said. There was still an issue or two with the footwork, but you saw in the limited chances Chicago got why she is a potential national team goalkeeper.
Inside the Numbers: 90 – Minutes played by Hayley Raso, who is normally a spark off the bench for Mark Parsons, but was still running around with the same energy she always brings at the end of the match. In a league where depth is hard to find, she’s been huge for Portland.
Up next: Portland – vs. Seattle (Sat.); Chicago – vs. Houston (Sat.)
North Carolina 3:1 Orlando (recap)
What Went Down: The Courage showed defensive vulnerabilities they hadn’t in their first two matches, even in a dominant win. It makes sense, of course. If you’re going to press as much as they are, especially in a 3-5-2, you’re going to leave holes somewhere and Orlando was able to find them, even if they didn’t score off them. Of course, the Courage may just end up outscoring everyone anyway.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 29, 2017
Player of the Game: Makenzy Doniak – It looks more and more baffling why Doniak dropped all the way to No. 11 in last year’s draft and full credit to Doniak for making that so. She gets up and down the right wing against almost everyone, and was constantly creating scoring chances for her teammates with her hard work and precise service. She has become an invaluable member of Paul Riley’s system.
Under the Radar: Jessica McDonald – McDonald’s goal ties her with Kim Little for the most in NWSL history (32), which she obviously will pass with her next one. She often doesn’t get the same accolades Lynn Williams does, but she plays an integral role in both Williams’ and North Carolina’s success.
Inside the Numbers: 94 – Heat index for the afternoon kickoff in Cary, and yet there were no hydration breaks, which has not been adequately explained to me at this point.
Up next: North Carolina – at Boston (Sun.); Orlando – at Kansas City (Sun.)
Boston 3:0 Seattle (recap)
What Went Down: Sadly, Go90 problems made us miss some of the Breakers’ first half heroics, but this was generally an old-fashioned beatdown, with Boston doing the beating for once. Seattle did have a few really good chances here and there, but the Breakers were far better from start to finish. There were so many players standing out, it’s hard to name them all here, and we don’t want to hype Rose Lavelle too much, but she was excellent. Allysha Chapman got the Reign so frustrated they were pulling her hair, and Natasha Dowie seems to be someone who is a legitimate finisher, of which there are not too many, even at this level.
All of this means lots of questions for Seattle, of course. Ironically, Lavelle looked a lot like Kim Little in this match, just running at the Reign defense at will, something Seattle’s midfield and Keelin Winters probably would have been set up to stop in the past, but this year? Not so much. Megan Rapinoe was still dangerous, and Seattle still destroyed Houston last weekend, but it goes without saying that this was not a step forward in 2017.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 30, 2017
Player of the Game: Adriana Leon – Leon was out of NWSL and in Switzerland of all places last season, and hadn’t appeared with Canada since the 2015 World Cup when she was called in for recent friendlies. Leon was a free agent, and appears to be a shrewd pickup for Boston. Despite the fact she was an original NWSL member of the Breakers in 2013 (allocated), she’s only 24. Leon was dominant Saturday, finishing with a goal and two assists, and giving Seattle fits every chance she got and nearly scoring a few more times. Can she keep it up? We shall see.
Under the Radar: Abby Smith – We saw a glimpse of Smith’s ability last season in Boston, but it was just that, as her season was ended early with an injury. Now she appears to be the full-time goalkeeper in Boston and rightfully so, and she’s been solid in all three Breakers games thus far and has two clean sheets to show for it.
Inside the Numbers: 2,315 – Attendance at Harvard. The Breakers host first-place North Carolina Sunday night and hopefully there will be a sell-out crowd to see it.
Up next: Boston – vs. North Carolina (Sun.); Seattle – at Portland (Sat.)
What Went Down: The Spirit may be gutted, but people that thought they might just roll over this season might be mistaken. Houston dominated the first half and eventually got the only goal it would need on a Kealia Ohai long-range strike. But the young Spirit battled hard in the second half, led by players like rookie Arielle Ship. Alas, there was no equalizer.
While the Dash will take any three points on the road they can get, the problem for Washington is going to be later in the season if their record doesn’t improve. Like Boston last season, they are likely going to have trouble scoring goals (they have just 1 so far, and it was kind of a fluke) and that has a tendency to wear on a team mentally as time goes on. But they should get some players back by then as well, so maybe the two will even each other out.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 30, 2017
Player of the Game: Cari Roccaro – There wasn’t really anyone who jumped out at you in this one, so we’ll give the nod to Roccaro, who is basically playing out of position at outside back, but doing an admirable job as the Dash have two shutouts in three games (and would prefer you not to talk about the third game). Roccaro was able to hold off players like Francisca Ordega in the second half and looks to be gaining confidence.
Under the Radar: Kassey Kallman – She hasn’t won as many as she would have liked, but Kallman has now played 43 straight complete NWSL matches and 3,870 consecutive minutes, a league record, and she had another solid match Saturday.
Inside the Numbers: 7 – Number of shots on goal for the Spirit through three games which, unfortunately, is probably not going to get it done.
Up next: Washington – vs. Sky Blue (Sat.); Houston – at Chicago (Sat.)
What Went Down: Not a whole lot, as both teams are crippled with injuries and it showed in the quality of their respective attacks. But Sky Blue found a way to get a couple of chances late and made one count off a corner kick when Raquel Rodriguez was able to redirect a ball home. FCKC appeared to equalize at the other end when a Christina Gibbons cross went all the way in, but Brittany Ratcliffe was adjudged to be involved in the play from an offside position. Replays showed she was involved in the play, but probably wasn’t offside, which is a tough break that probably made FCKC feel like it was 2016 all over again.
The good news for Sky Blue is that Sam Kerr should be back next week, as could Christie Pearce, and Leah Galton was able to come on as a second-half sub. Unfortunately, Amy Rodriguez is still going to be out for the season and Sydney Leroux looked a bit lost without much help up top. It might be more disturbing for FCKC fans that in a game where they’re chasing a goal, Erika Tymrak couldn’t get on the field until the 89th minute. Like last season, I’m not sure where the answers are going to come from.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 30, 2017
— Ray Curren (@rjcurren) May 1, 2017
Player of the Game: Kelley O’Hara – There wasn’t too much quality in the contest, but for what there was, O’Hara played a big part, creating something resembling chances on goal. There were rumors a couple of years ago that O’Hara might be headed to Europe and Sky Blue is certainly glad she didn’t.
Under the Radar: Erin Simon – Simon, undrafted last season, did the job when called on last season, and did the same in her first start of 2017 with Pearce out of action Sunday. She’s likely not going to give you anything flashy, but she plays a solid outside back and kept most of the play in front of her.
Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of goals in two matches for Kansas City since Amy Rodriguez was lost for the season with an ACL tear. If these trends continue, FCKC will obviously not be returning to the playoffs.
Up next: Sky Blue – at Washington (Sat.); Kansas City – vs. Orlando (Sun.)