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NWSL Week In Review: Any Way To Stop The ACL Injuries?

Jessica Fishlock, shown last year after being injured in Boston, looks like she avoided an ACL injury again on Saturday againsnt the Thorns

Jessica Fishlock, shown last year after being injured in Boston, looks like she avoided an ACL injury again on Saturday againsnt the Thorns

Seattle coach Laura Harvey said after Saturday’s game that Jess Fishlock’s injury was likely not as serious as it might have appeared. Which is wonderful news, because to anyone who has seen a decent amount of soccer in the last few years, you probably thought what the rest of us did when Fishlock went down with what looked like a non-contact knee injury.

ACL tear.

While epidemic may be a bit strong, unofficially we’ve had four just in NWSL matches this season (Joanna Lohman, Amy Rodriguez, Yuri Kawamura, and Kealia Ohai), with a few others (Kelsey Wys, Stephanie Ribiero, Diana Matheson, recently returned Caprice Dydasco) sitting out due to ACLs suffered elsewhere. The Spirit alone have had four in the last 12 months. Speaking of Washington, we will never know if their original plan (before getting Mallory Pugh) for grabbing the top allocation spot was to convince local star Andi Sullivan (now the favorite to be the top pick in the 2018 NWSL Draft) to forego her last year at Stanford because she tore her ACL in the College Cup last November.

It’s slightly discouraging that this is not a new phenomenon. Studies going back more than a decade have shown that women tear ACLs at a higher rate than men, a trend picked up and looked at by the military, of all people, who noticed that its female recruits were injuring their knees in physical training more than their male counterparts.

If you’ve coached (or had a kid in) youth soccer, you’ve probably seen ACL training done before practice or in the off-season (if you have one, which is a discussion for another day). The idea is that teaching children how to properly land at a young age will help them protect their knees when they are older, as almost all ACL tears are non-contact injuries on landing. A recent study of the Norwegian women’s handball team showed mild success with such training techniques, but it’s far from definitive and it likely isn’t going to dramatically help anyone currently playing professional soccer.

And so, the alarming rate of ACL tears (which is actually a bit of a misnomer, the anterior cruciate ligament actually explodes, hence the accompanying popping sound, rather than tears, which is why it is normally completely replaced with a ligament from another part of the body) will likely continue for the foreseeable future. The good news is most players recover fully in nine months or so, but that’s obviously a long time to be away from the game.

Just trying to list who has dealt with ACL tears can be disheartening, and that obviously stretches well beyond the professional ranks. Watching one of their 16 or 17-year-olds have to go through complete rehabs for an ACL is something almost every high school coach has had to deal with every few seasons if they’re lucky. Recently retired (and now NWSL announcer) Jordan Angeli started the ACL Club to help young athletes have some kind of support system for going through the difficult rehabilitation process.


Youngsters can be heartened, I guess, by the list of players that have come back to play at a high level, starting with none other than Alex Morgan, who tore an ACL in her senior year of high school. Casey Short remarkably came back from three ACL reconstructions to win a spot on the NWSL Second XI and now the national team. And perhaps the hottest player in the league at the moment, Megan Rapinoe, infamously tore her ACL while training for a match with the USWNT two years ago.

There are plenty of others, of course, and for yet another week we are left with more of a problem than an immediate solution. But we can come together and be glad that apparently one of the league’s most entertaining players avoided the fate of a torn ACL. And we can hope that we don’t have to mention those dreaded three letters again as it relates to the NWSL for the rest of 2017

What else did we learn as Sky Blue and Seattle took giant steps toward become playoff contenders?

SATURDAY

North Carolina 0:1 Sky Blue (recap  |  D’Avanzo)

What Went Down: On an oppressive day in Cary (Paul Riley was in short sleeves, for crying out loud), Sky Blue looked like the fresher team although it had played at mid-week while North Carolina hadn’t. As we’ve discussed before, everything the Courage do is predicated on its high pressure, and when it’s not there, they’re in trouble. That said, if Makenzy Doniak doesn’t hit Christie Rampone in the chest from short range in the third minute or Sam Mewis converts her penalty kick, they likely would have had three more points. North Carolina definitely misses Lynn Williams, who didn’t appear despite an injury to Kristen Hamilton as well.

It was only Sky Blue’s second clean sheet of the season and it was a pretty remarkable performance from a team that needed it badly. I guess part of the benefit of having young legs is being able to play three matches in a week and not miss a beat. Like Christie Rampone, for instance, who logged all 270 minutes in that time frame. If you want to know how much it meant, watch the iso on Sam Kerr on the winning goal (set up by a vintage 2016 Leah Galton run, by the way) as she sees the ball heading her way and an open goal in front of her. No better feeling than that as a player, especially one of Kerr’s caliber.

Player of the Game: Madison Tiernan – Ironically, Tiernan seems like she would fit in perfectly with Riley’s system, as she does her best to harass the opposition into mistakes and covers all kinds of ground. In the end here, she committed two fouls, but drew three, preventing North Carolina from getting any kind of rhythm.

Under the Radar: Mandy Freeman – There was some squad rotation involved, but Freeman found herself on the bench after a really poor performance Wednesday that saw her at fault on the first two Orlando goals. But when Erin Simon left injured just 25 minutes in, Freeman was back in, and was extremely solid and essential in Sky Blue’s victory here.

Inside the Numbers: 3 – Number of road victories for Sky Blue this season, tied for most in NWSL with … North Carolina.

Up next: North Carolina – vs. Seattle (Sat.); Sky Blue – vs. Kansas City (Sat.)

Boston 1:0 Washington (recap)

What Went Down: We still haven’t figured out why it is always windy at Jordan Field, but it was again Saturday afternoon and it played a big effect on the match, with Boston going against the wind in the first half. They controlled a good deal of the second, although Mallory Pugh was more than dangerous at the other end. Still, the match was virtually dead even statistically and only decided when Margaret Purce scored off a short corner on her home college field.

Both teams remain winless on the road, but the Breakers now have a winning record at home this season, and despite their offensive struggles without Rose Lavelle, have been more competitive this season. This will sting a little for the Spirit, but they also seem to be playing better than their place in the table.

Player of the Game: Mallory Pugh – She was fresh, obviously, but the gap between her and anyone else on the field in the second half was striking and she was somewhat unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions after coming in. A front three of Pugh, Francisca Ordega, and Estefania Banini looks like it should give opponents headaches for the rest of the season.

Under the Radar: Julie King – With Christen Westphal out, King moved back to the middle to pair with Megan Oyster and we forget that the middle is a more natural spot for her because she’s been on the outside for the better part of two seasons now. But you know King will give you her best every game no matter where she’s playing.

Inside the Numbers: 226 – Minutes Boston has now gone without conceding a goal, something you might not have expected when Abby Smith went down injured. But Sammy Jo Prudhomme has filled in nicely in her absence.

Up next: Boston – vs. Chicago (Fri.); Washington – vs. Orlando (Sat.)

Orlando 0:1 Chicago (recap)

What Went Down: Through lightning delays and muggy conditions, the Red Stars persevered after a disappointing loss in midweek and a cross-country flight. It was not the prettiest and they were a little (a lot) lucky that the Pride didn’t equalize at the end, but Chicago has been remarkably consistent over the last few seasons and this is an example why. Rory Dames decided to rest Casey Short and was rewarded handsomely when Short came right off the bench and drew what turned out to be the winning penalty kick midway through the second half.

I asked Tom Sermanni if close games tend to even out over the course of a season when the Pride beat Sky Blue on Wednesday and he mentioned the parity of the league was just how it is and he hoped his team could get on a a bit of a roll, but it’s another step backward, despite not playing poorly. Alex Morgan’s return should help the cause, but now there’s a little distance between them and the playoffs.

Player of the Game: Taylor Comeau – Chicago played without both its regular outside backs (Short and Arin Gilliand), who have been perhaps the most important players in its rise, but Comeau and Sarah Gorden filled in admirably, even with the likes of Marta coming at them.

Under the Radar: Ali Krieger – It remains to be seen whether Jill Ellis would look at her at center back, but she has transitioned into that role with Orlando fairly well, improving as the season has progressed.

Inside the Numbers: 9 – Number of shots recorded by Christen Press in this match, a Lynn Williams or Sam Kerr like number. She did convert on her penalty kick, which has been a problem around the league of late.

Up next: Orlando – at Washington (Sat.); Chicago – at Boston (Fri.)

Seattle 2:0 Portland (recap)

What Went Down: Without Kim Little, Keelin Winters, and some others, I for one did not see Seattle as a playoff team this season, but Megan Rapinoe seems to be taking it upon herself to prove me wrong. Her latest mission began when Lauren Barnes got sent off as she led the Reign to a point and now has scored four times in two games this week to get Seattle six huge points and move them above Portland in the standings. Can she and they keep it up? We shall see.

The Thorns again had more of the ball than an opponent, but didn’t create all that much. While Mark Parsons putting Dagny Brynjarsdottir at right back against Kansas City worked, here she was torched repeatedly by Rapinoe and the Thorns never seemed to have a Plan B. Portland still has only one road win this season, and unless that changes, they are certainly not a lock to be in the playoffs.

Player of the Game: Megan Rapinoe – If she doesn’t win Player of the Week this week, you might have a government investigation. Because there aren’t enough of those going around.

Under the Radar: Merritt Mathias – Mathias has gotten her share of negative press, some of it deserved obviously, but back at a more natural forward spot, she has been solid, if not spectacular, allowing Rapinoe to flourish and constantly putting pressure on opposition backs.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of substitutions Portland and Parsons used in this match, which also probably doesn’t bode well with the Euros about to begin. They’re going to have to survive the next month, which includes a road game at Houston next week.

Up next: Seattle – at North Carolina (Sat.); Portland – at Houston (Sat.)

SUNDAY

Kansas City 1:2 Houston (recap)

What Went Down: Again, the Dash looked down and pretty out at halftime, and again it was Carli Lloyd and friends leading a comeback win on the road. She got a little more help from her friends this time, namely Rachel Daly who had another fine finish to even the game, and then an implosion from FCKC, who saw Lo’eau LaBonta get a red card and then concede a soft goal by Nichelle Prince just a minute later. It was obviously an uphill climb from there and three more points for suddenly surging Houston, even without Morgan Brian.

Things are pretty much poor from top to bottom right now for Kansas City, who with the exception of a Shea Groom goal, did little offensively, and now are struggling defensively as well, which never really happened last season. The result is that they are two points from the bottom of the table with few answers and the worst home crowds in NWSL. Kind of a bad scene all around.

Player of the Game: Carli Lloyd – She’s not playing on Megan Rapinoe’s ridiculous level at the moment, but she has been very good, picking out Daly for the equalizer and giving the Dash something in their attack they were definitely lacking without her.

Under the Radar: Andressinha – She was fouled four more times as she seems to pair nicely with Lloyd and is an underrated player on the ball. Not having Kealia Ohai obviously hurts plenty, but if the Dash can keep its defense in order as it has, who knows going forward?

Inside the Numbers: 1,702 – Number of fans watching in Kansas City. It was a tough time on a holiday weekend, but still a dreadful number for a city that wants to be referred to as Soccer City, U.S.A.

Up next: Kansas City – at Sky Blue (Sat.); Houston – vs. Portland (Sat.)

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