The NWSL season will be half over at the conclusion of this weekend’s matches. Dan and Allison help you get ready for the action by discussing a few of the top storylines around the league.
What matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?
Dan: Is it too easy to say Reign-Thorns? Probably, but I’m going there anyway, and I actually think this one has more intrigue than usual. Both sides have continued to grind out results despite neither playing their best nor being fully healthy, and if either team gets the full three this time, it will leave them in excellent position heading to the second half. The Reign in particular should be buoyed by collecting four points in their last two matches when they easily could have wound up with none. As you watch this one, keep an eye on the Megan Rapinoe-Celeste Boureille matchup on the Reign’s left flank. It is an area they should be able to exploit.
Allison: I’m also most excited to watch the Reign and Thorns face off. It goes without saying that the rivalry between those two teams is the strongest in the league, and that can make even a scoreless draw between the two sides the most exciting game of the weekend. Both teams also undoubtedly have their last meeting, the 2-2 draw in Portland, fresh on their minds, and there was quite a lot of excitement and, as usual in a Cascadia Clash, physicality. I’m most looking forward to watching Jess Fishlock and Amandine Henry battle it out again in the midfield. That pairing was fun to watch last time around, but Henry’s play has gotten even better since then.
Is there a particular player or individual matchup to watch for this weekend?
Allison: Like Dan before, I’m going to go the obvious route and say Alex Morgan. Tom Sermanni said after Wednesday night’s game that she could make her 2017 NWSL debut this weekend, and the Pride have been hyping her return ever since. With her coming off a hamstring injury, the team may choose to go the conservative route and use her as a second-half sub, but I don’t doubt we’ll see her take the field for them before the day’s over. With only a short amount of time being fully healthy with the team, I don’t expect immediate greatness from her, but it will be interesting to see how she meshes with some of the new additions to the Pride, especially Marta. Morgan and Marta did win the 2011 WPS Championship together with the Western New York Flash, so they’re not completely unfamiliar with each other, but that was a long time ago and Morgan has had some injury woes in the years between.
Dan: Sam Kerr and Marta finished 1-2 in Player of the Month voting in the aftermath of their head-to-head dual at Yurcak Field on Wednesday. If you missed it–or even if you saw it–go back and watch the highlights and see just how many different things both players do not only for themselves, but to create space for teammates. Kerr, who joined Kim Little as the only repeat Player of the Month winners, was held out for much of Sky Blue’s last trip to North Carolina and the attack suffered mightily. Marta goes up against the Red Stars who owned the Pride in 2016 but will be weary from a brutal week courtesy of the schedule gods. If you’re looking for someone under the radar to keep an eye on, watch Havana Solaun for the Spirit against the Breakers. The third-year midfielder is finally getting playing time and she’s doing a lot with it, helping the Spirit slowly mold into one of the more exciting teams to watch around the league.
As we hit the midway mark, have favorites emerged for things like MVP and Rookie of the Year?
Dan: It looked like Rose Lavelle was a slam dunk for Rookie of the Year before an injury knocked her off track. That has opened the door for Kailen Sheridan whose gaudy goals against average belies her uncommon composure and incredible shot-stopping ability. I’d give her the current edge. Ashley Hatch has scored in 3 straight but hardly played before that. She’ll need more minutes. In Seattle it’s hard to endorse Katie Johnson for as few minutes as she has played, but she changes games when she hands in the sub card, and Kristen McNabb has been solid in defense and figures to be in the lineup at least until Rachel Corsie gets back from the Euros. On the MVP front, it is wide open, but my money is on Marta, especially if the Pride continue to climb up the table. She has been everything the club could have asked for and more.
Allison: Marta is definitely a contender for MVP at the moment, but Sam Kerr has really made an argument for herself as well. She was just named Player of the Month for the second consecutive month, and that’s not because of a lack of other options. She had a phenomenal June and has all but carried Sky Blue’s attack when Kelley O’Hara was either sidelined or stuck back on defense because of injuries. As for rookie of the year, I’ve got to give the edge to Kailen Sheridan right now. While her stats could be better, it has to be taken into consideration that for most of the season, she’s been part of a back five that has only one player with more than a full pro season under her belt, and, as much as I hate to say it, it looks like Christie Pearce may have lost a step this season. Even with that, Sheridan has made some crucial stops to prevent stronger teams from absolutely thrashing Sky Blue. Christy Holly really got a steal when he got her in the third round of this year’s draft.
What’s up with go90? Has the establishment just become numb to the entire thing?
Allison: I’m laughing right now because I’m fairly certain Dan is asking this because he knows it gets me riled up, but it also needs to be talked about. The fact that we’re STILL talking about it halfway through the season is beyond ridiculous though. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on and why there are still issues. I know the league was paid what I’m assuming is a sizable amount of money for go90 to get the streaming rights, but it seems to be costing the league more than its worth. I mentioned in a previous article that there seems to be a lot of apathy surrounding the league, and I think the inability and lack of access to game streams is a major reason. The Lifetime Game of the Week numbers have fluctuated a good bit so far, but the first Orlando-Houston game last week hit season-high viewership numbers (123,000). However, when you switch from Lifetime to a go90 stream and end up feeling like you’re playing a first-person shooter game because of the crosshairs in the middle of the screen, well…that’s just bad.
Dan: Allison got so riled up, she didn’t even answer the question. Yes, we’re getting numb to it. At this point no one expects it to work. But it’s not just go90. The crosshairs issue where it looked like a sniper was training a rifle on players in the Reign-FCKC match last weekend was visible on all feeds. I’m not sure what the problem is, and no one wants to talk about it. Lifetime has been amazing and let’s face it, one game a week and then reading The Equalizer is satisfactory for the average fan. But there can’t be any new people watching any of the streams unless they have family or friends on one of the teams (if I’m wrong, and you’re one of these new people, tweet us please. I’m @thedanlauletta, she’s @allibecc). And I’m with Allison on the apathy issue. No major global event plus a few players leaving the league plus distribution issues have stagnated interest for the time being. That’s all anecdotal of course and not based on any real research, but that’s my feeling. Oh, and the notion that these broadcasts are in HD? Maybe once go90 works we can move on to that.
The Dash and Breakers are already 7 and 8 points adrift of 4th place respectively and won a combined 1 game in May and June. Are they already out of it? Who else needs points fast to stay in touch for a playoff spot?
Dan: I’m a bit nervous that the four teams currently above the red line might hide out a bit and create something of an anti-climax for late summer. That said, the Thorns and Reign play tonight, so at least one of them will drop points. But are Sky Blue, the Pride, or FCKC consistent enough to make a sustained run? I haven’t seen it yet. As for the Dash and Breakers, yes they are out of it. Here is some playoff math. The Dash have 13 games to play. Let’s say they win 7 and draw 3. That is 24 points, which would give them 33. Prorate that backward to the 20 games played the last two seasons and that would be 27 or 28 points, which was less than all playoff teams those two seasons. And it’s a mighty grand assumption to think the Dash are suddenly going on a 7-3-3 tear. The Breakers are a point behind the Dash.
Allison: I’m going to let Dan handle the math and keep it simple: yes, the Breakers and the Dash are out of the running. Even in a league known for its parity, where anything can (and often times, does) happen, the odds are still not in their favor. Both rosters have suffered really serious injury blows, especially in the attack, but Lavelle will at least be returning to Boston before too much longer, whereas Ohai is out for the rest of the season. As for which teams need points fast, obviously those would be the middle-of-the-table teams, but I’m going to throw the Spirit in there as well. The Spirit currently sit in eighth place, two points behind FCKC. A Spirit win and KC loss this weekend would see the Spirit overtake KC in standings, but a Spirit loss, regardless of KC’s result, would see them drop into ninth. Washington and Kansas City play the bottom two teams this weekend, but neither have been the most consistent, and if they think Boston or Houston will just hand them the three points, they’ve got another thing coming.