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The Lowdown: Trouble down the table

Randy Waldrum led the Dash for 71 games. He never got to 20 wins. (AP Photo).

Randy Waldrum led the Dash for 71 games. He never got to 20 wins. (AP Photo).

The Randy Waldrum era finally ended in Houston this week. It would not be accurate to say that it crashed and burned because that began taking shape at several points during an extremely disappointing 2016 season. But on Monday, while much of the country was celebrating Memorial Day, the Dash were making a coaching change.

The official announcement, as well as quotes from Waldrum and Dash president Chris Canetti, framed it as a mutual parting of ways. Make no mistake though, it was time for a change. The only coach the Dash have ever known had worn out his welcome in the locker room, and the record was too blatant to ignore.

“I’ve got to be honest, this was mainly based on results,” Canetti said in a Monday conference call. “We could look back at the last three years and look at certain factors that negatively impacted our ability to win…we could start talking about a variety of things. But at the end of the day, we have higher expectations for this club and for ourselves. And the results just weren’t coming.”

There is no arguing those points. Saturday at Washington will be the Dash’s 72nd all-time match. Their next win will be their 20th. But it was more than results that sank Waldrum, who constantly tinkered with his lineup and sometimes clashed with key players.

Following a rough expansion season caused partly by a small window to build a roster and the late arrival of the team’s key allocation, Whitney Engen, the Dash briefly contended for a playoff spot in 2015 and finished 5th. The following January, Waldrum had three 1st round picks. As he bounced out the draft room with Cari Roccaro, Rachel Daly, and Janine Beckie in his back pocket, the Dash were tabbed as contenders in 2016.

Very little has gone right since. There was the snub, the losing streak, the feud, the rookie goalkeeper, and the new losing streak.

Kealia Ohai was the first player ever drafted out of college by the Dash. She has yet to reach the playoffs or enjoy a winning season. (Photo by Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Kealia Ohai was the first player ever drafted out of college by the Dash. She has yet to reach the playoffs or enjoy a winning season. (Photo by Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

The snub was the first time any dissension came to light. Waldrum ominously pulled Kealia Ohai from a 0-0 match against Sky Blue, and when she reached the technical area, she ignored his handshake. “I never should have done that,” Ohai told The Equalizer a few weeks later. “But I think it was blown way out of proportion. I am an extremely competitive person and I want to play. We just disagreed. I thought that I was playing better and shouldn’t come off the field. We talked after and I just said, ‘I’m sorry I should have shook your hand. I’m just so competitive that it makes me a little crazy.’”

Ohai and Waldrum never exchanged tense words or moments in public again, although Waldrum did excoriate his team in his post-match press conference during a particularly brutal loss to the Pride. Ohai said it left the players pissed off but also added that, “He was right.” It was also Ohai who spoke out saying the players had to look at themselves after the Dash played Sky Blue again and lost 1-0. It was the team’s sixth straight 1-0 loss including the Orlando game. A team with Ohai, Daly, and Beckie (Carli Lloyd hurt her knee last April and did not play for the Dash again until after the Olympics) set a dubious league record by being held off the scoresheet for 567 minutes. By the time they got out of it and Ohai went on her historic scoring tear, the season was all but over.

Waldrum got himself in more hot water after the Olympics when he used another post-match press conference to publicly call out Carli Lloyd for what had been a prearranged absence.

When Lloyd returned to the team, it came to light that she had cleared the absence for a personal matter before the start of the season.

Lloyd may be a unique personality even within the thick, inner walls of U.S. Soccer, but it should be noted that in Kansas City, where the Blues operate on a shoestring budget and play at a field in the middle of a park, national team players regularly sing the praises of Vlatko Andonovski. In other words, Waldrum was usually justified in his criticism of the way U.S. players have been handled, but he made more problems for himself with the way he handled it than most of his colleagues.

“I think Randy knew and everybody knew that this was an important year for him,” Canetti said. “We can look back at the last three years and point to legitimate issues that perhaps prevented us from achieving our goals. We didn’t see any of that in front of us this year.”

If Waldrum really knew it was a make-or-break season—which it seems he did—it makes his selection of Jane Campbell in the 2nd round of the draft that much more puzzling. For starters, he drafted her as the keeper of the future, an interesting decision for a coach under the gun to win in the present. Furthermore, the selection of Campbell did not go down well with incumbents Lydia Williams and Bianca Henninger (Henninger was eventually released), and it put Waldrum back in the crosshairs of U.S. Soccer. Campbell was not allocated for 2017, but she did receive her first cap in April after which Jill Ellis said she needed NWSL games.

Campbell got her game action Week 2 in Seattle when Waldrum, in a move he later admitted may have been a mistake, shifted around his back line and inserted Campbell following a shutout of the Red Stars on opening day. The stars could not have been farther from aligned in a 5-1 loss in which Campbell played poorly and which was probably a generous score line.

Williams went back in the following week, and the Dash won again. But that was the last win. An odd, four-week tour on the Lifetime Game of the Week circuit saw the Dash lose all four games. Veteran players began to internally question the viability of Waldrum as head coach, though Canetti refused to confirm that.

“I had a pretty good sense of the overall situation around the club and what players were thinking,” he said. “Everybody likes Randy and respects Randy and wanted the best for him and for this club. There was no dissension or outcry of players coming to me saying we need to make a change.”

Canetti could not deny the record though. At 2-5-0 the Dash sit above only the Washington Spirit, and time is wasting in the single table format which makes it difficult to rally past too many teams late. Waldrum’s overall record was 19-39-14.

“We’re 2-5. We’re really disappointed in that record. We had higher hopes for us coming into the season,” Canetti said.

Assistant Omar Morales will lead the Dash this Saturday and then the league goes dark for a week to observe the FIFA window. Canetti did not rule out Morales as a candidate to be the full-time coach, but he sounded like a man looking elsewhere for Waldrum’s replacement. He said we would “be surprised” about how many candidates contacted him in the first day after the announcement.

“We want to get things organized and set before we come back after that break and make sure we have everything in place for the final 16 games of the season to compete for a playoff spot, which was our goal coming into the season.”

Note: Reached by text, Randy Waldrum declined to comment for this story.
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Marta demonstrating the mood around the Pride who have just a single win on the season. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Marta demonstrating the mood around the Pride who have just a single win on the season. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

When I covered Tom Sermanni with the 2003 New York Power in WUSA, I would often ask him if games were must-win. His answer was always the same or close to: “If I say yes, and we don’t win, then what do I say for the next game?” I suspect he would say the same if asked about the Orlando Pride defeating the Breakers on Saturday night. But let’s not mince words. It’s time for the Pride to get going.

“It was just unfortunate because I thought we were the better team,” a clearly exasperated Ali Krieger said following the Pride’s 2-1 loss away to Sky Blue FC on the weekend. “We came in with a great attitude, full belief, full confidence. Personnel, player for player, I feel like we’re good enough to beat this team and we’re good enough to be in a better place right now on the table.

“We were leading and we were very comfortable. And then a couple mistakes happened. But we win as a team and we lose as a team, so we gotta figure those little details out. We gotta stop giving the ball away in tough places on the field because teams will counter on that.”

Sermanni echoed his captain pro tem by saying the difference was the Pride undoing themselves by a series of errors.

“We had patches of very good play, but we do somethings that we really can’t do at this level,” Sermanni said. “Giving the ball away in the places we’re giving the ball away at times puts us in real peril. And we seem to be self-destructing, giving away goals that you shouldn’t be giving away at this level.”

{D’AVANZO:  Three things from Sky Blue 2-1 Pride}

Sky Blue’s game-winner was particularly galling to Sermanni. It began when Jasmyne Spencer—who scored the Pride goal during the 1st half—failed to get a shot on frame, giving Sky Blue a goal kick. Kailen Sheridan’s boot wound up on the head of Sam Kerr who was running there in the middle of a triangle of Pride players. Kerr’s well-taken, pressure-free flick beat the triangle and put Maya Hayes one-on-one with Alanna Kennedy. Hayes won that battled and then beat Aubrey Bledsoe in the defining moment of the match.

“That’s just abysmal defending,” Sermanni said. He added that the Pride should have been able to see out the 1st half with a 1-0 lead but gave away a bad turnover that led to a goal that sent the teams to the locker room on even terms.

The Pride have a single win through seven matches and are already a half dozen points out of a playoff position. Adding their crash and burn at the end of 2016, and the Pride are 1-10-4 over their last 15 games. Alex Morgan is due back soon, but the Pride may be too far gone by then to allow her to make a proper impact.

“We’re trying to play out of the back and we’re trying to play forward and connect passes and do good things and play the quality game, but we have to finish the chances and we have to connect and we can’t give the ball away,” Krieger said. “We’re continuing week to week to try and fix those things, and once we do we’re going to be unstoppable. Until then we’re going to struggle at the end of games, and we shouldn’t have to be.

“We’re so much better than that. We’re doing really well. We just got to get the results.”

Stray thoughts from Week 7

-My Player of the Week ballot: 1) Sydney Leroux – a week after her most energetic performance of the season she scored twice to help FC Kansas City win a game while conceding two goals; 2) Kailen Sheridan – ultra-composed rookie made several outstanding saves across two games and is likely outside the top spot only because she spilled the ball that led to Sam Mewis’s goal on Wednesday; 3) Danielle Colaprico – I still prefer her holding, but she has done quite well in a more advanced role, and Saturday she scored one and saved one off the line while being a constant thorn in the side of the Courage.

-Player of the month: 1) Becky Sauerbrunn; 2) Danielle Colaprico. We were not asked for 3rd place votes.

-NWSL says it will review all factors that led to Rachel Daly collapsing from heat exhaustion at the end of Saturday’s Dash-Reign match that was played in a virtual sauna at BBVA Compass Stadium. Will that include moving the times of the nationally televised games?

-Know what would have really been embarrassing? If Daly had gone down two minutes earlier with time left on the clock, and the broadcast had to be booted to a live stream while Daly was being treated and the game hung in the balance. If you didn’t know, the broadcast window ends at 6 p.m. sharp. No exceptions or extensions.

-Set piece defending has never been a particular strength in NWSL, but even by those soft standards, it was particularly poor in Week 7. At least one player who got beat, Katie Stengel, took to Twitter to make light of it.

-If Erica Skroski is out for a lengthy period of time, that’s bad news for Sky Blue. I still like her better in the center of the back line, but her presence is a calming one and more often than not she is where she’s supposed to be.

-Both red cards were easy calls. Alexa Newfield—who had a great match—took a second yellow for running into Stephanie Labbe. You can argue that had Labbe not stayed down there may not have been a call, but keepers must be protected. Easy call. Allysha Chapman’s exposed cleat on Hayley Raso is a red car every day of the week.

-The Breakers are on the ropes now. They turned what should have been a win over the Thorns two Fridays ago into getting a single point out of six in a home-and-home, and now they have to deal with Marta without Chapman at left back.

-The weekly attendance report will return next week.

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