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The Lowdown: Who’s up, who’s down

Lori Chalupny isn't worrying about the playoff picture right now. (Photo courtesy Chicago Red Stars/Smith)

The thing about brand new leagues is that every team comes out at the start of the season in the same shape.  None of them have ever lost.  And then as soon as the first whistle blows the clubs begin to show their deficiencies.  Through three weeks of NWSL play, half of the eight sides have yet to taste victory while only Sky Blue FC have yet to drop points.

“It’s great,” Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said of Sky Blue’s 2-0-0 (6 points) start.  “We’ve gotten some breaks and managed not to let points slip away with some mistakes that some of our younger players have made.  It’s always nice that they can learn something and not have the team get punished by it.”

Sky Blue were badly outplayed early in their opening match against the Flash but managed to get to halftime with a 1-0 lead thanks to a penalty save by Brittany Cameron and an own goal on what looked like an easy clearance for the Flash.

“I’m happy with the effort the team is putting in and it’s nice to get rewarded for it,” Gabarra said.

After sitting out Week 2 on a scheduled bye week Sky Blue FC now face a short turnaround into Wednesday’s rematch with the Flash in Rochester, N.Y.

“We’re going to take what we learned from the first match with them and try to make some adjustments and improve,” Gabarra said.  “I don’t think we were that effective in scoring the chances that we created.”

Talented as they may be the Flash find themselves 0-2-1 (1 point) and facing an uphill climb to the playoffs for the first time since they were founded as a W-League club (as the Buffalo Flash) in 2009.  Since launching the Flash have never played four straight matches without a victory.

“I’m zero percent worried,” McCall Zerboni said following Saturday night’s 2-1 home loss to the Breakers.  “I believe 100 percent in this team with what we’re going to do and our abilities.”

Aaran Lines trots out a talented striking duo of Abby Wambach and Adriana but their depth was tested last weekend when Wambach sat out for precautionary reasons even days after being knocked woozy by a clearance off the foot of Brittany Taylor.  Wambach is slated to return to the lineup Wednesday.

The Reign and Red Stars are also winless, their only points coming in a 1-1 draw in Chicago on opening weekend.  For the Reign, they were more offensively active last Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Kansas City than during their first two matches.  They’ll get another crack at the Blues this weekend in their home opener.

The Red Stars fell 2-0 at home to Portland to drop to 0-1-1 (1 point) and will be without Shannon Boxx for 4-6 weeks for minor knee surgery.  But there is little panic in the Windy City.

“We would have liked to have walked away with a couple more points out of the first two games,” captain Lori Chalupny said.  “But I think it’s a decent start for us.  Rory (Dames, head coach) [has] been talking through the whole preseason that we just build so that we’re really peaking at the end of the season when playoffs and stuff roll around.  We’re definitely not disappointed with the performances in the first two games but we have a lot to build on.”

(note:  Chalupny spoke to the Lowdown prior to any announcement about Boxx having knee surgery.)

Peaking for the playoffs, of course, is only effective if a team makes it that far.  Against the Thorns, the Red Stars looked like anything but a playoff side.

“We were pushed back into our own end a little bit,” Chalupny said, referencing the Thorns heavy ball pressure.  “They’re a great team.  They put us on our heels a little.  But I thought we fought back and didn’t give them too many dangerous opportunities.  Then on the flip side we need to create a little more with the attack.”

The other winless team, the Spirit, has been competitive in all three matches, only one of which was a loss.  Canadian allocation Diana Matheson has been a strong attacking presence and was rewarded with her second goal of the season at the end of a sweet buildup in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Sky Blue FC.

The Thorns, FC Kansas City, and Boston Breakers, like Sky Blue, are undefeated—the Thorns actually lead the table—but all have been held to draws.  So as we get ready to flip our calendars to May, no NWSL teams have both won and lost.  There are enough games left that Chalupny says, “We don’t really talk about it.  It’s not like you can start looking at the standings,” but it is never too early to get on the right foot.

Where on the pitch is Kelley O’Hara

Kelley O’Hara is a very good soccer player.  Jim Gabarra is very good at keeping everyone guessing as to where O’Hara will play each week.  After being used extensively as a forward during preseason, the one-time Stanford standout opened the season at left back, a spot she transitioned to at the international level.  Gabarra said at the time he opted against playing Christie Rampone and three rookies on the back line.  Then in the second game, Rampone did just that and O’Hara played up top in a 4-3-3.

“It’s dependent upon who is playing left back and in this case how well Kendall (Johnson) does and how she progresses,” Gabarra said.  “It’s also the opponent’s front line that you’re playing against, how well (O’Hara) does up front.”

The coach was quite pleased with O’Hara’s game in Washington but said the lineup will be a game-to-game decision at the moment.  O’Hara has said she does not mind playing different positions.

Breakers acquire help on defense

The Breakers and Flash pulled off a small trade Monday that landed defender Melinda Mercado in Boston to help bolster the Breakers banged up back line.  In exchange for Mercado the Breakers shipped their 2nd round pick in the 2014 college draft to Western New York.  The move reunited Mercado with the Breakers who drafted her in WPS weeks before that league folded.

“We need some depth to our back line with the injuries we have had,” Breakers coach Lisa Cole said via club press release.  “(Mercado) is a good young player who can play center back and wide if needed. I liked her coming out of college and am excited to have her join us.”

The Breakers’ back line has been in flux since Heather Mitts retired and Bianca D’Agostino partially tore her ACL.  The NWSL recently said the club could not add an extra player to account for their injuries.  As a result the team waived Libby Guess last week to make room for an extra defender, which turned out to be Mercado.

The Flash picked up an extra pick in next year’s draft at the cost of a player who had yet to leave the bench in three league matches.

Mercado will be eligible for selection when the Breakers host the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday night.

Where are the goals coming from

Throughout the season The Lowdown will track where the goals are coming from in terms of the different levels of roster building.  All eight teams were in action during Week 3 with four matches combining for 10 goals.  Here’s how the goals break down with Week 3 totals in parenthesis:

Allocated players – 11 (6)
College Draft – 2
Free Agent – 5 (2)
Supplemental Draft – 2 (1)
Discovery et al. 1 (1)
Own Goals – 1

Note:  Free Agent refers to any player signed during the free agent window immediately following the college draft; Discovery includes any player acquired through means not included in any other category

Free Kicks

-As mentioned above, the Red Stars announced late Monday that Shannon Boxx will undergo minor knee surgery and miss 4-6 weeks.  That likely rules Boxx out of the U.S. friendly against Canada on June 2.

-The Breakers’ trip to Kansas City that was squashed by the manhunt/lockdown that enveloped Boston two Fridays ago has been rescheduled.  The match will now take place Wednesday, July 24.  The Breakers also play in Kansas City on May 18.

-Amber Brooks has extended her contract at Bayern Munich and will return to the German club next season.  That all but rules out the possibility of Brooks appearing for the Thorns this season.  Portland holds Brooks’s rights after taking her with the 24th pick of the college draft

-Libby Guess appeared as a late sub on the weekend to earn the distinction of being the first and so far only player to appear for two different NWSL clubs.  She played for the Breakers and assisted on their stoppage time equalizer but was later waived in the name of roster flexibility.

-The second and third goals from the Sky Blue-Spirit match are worth a watch.  Check them out here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ck-rWWWzGI&feature=c4-feed-u

-It is a far cry from fielding a full-fledge professional team, but Real Salt Lake are the latest MLS club to lend its name to a women’s team.  The WPSL side known as Salt Lake United Soccer Club announced last week it was rebranding as Real Salt Lake Women SC.  They will play three home matches at Rio Tinto Stadium.

-The NWSL roster freeze date is July 31 at 5 p.m. EDT.  That moment will also serve as the trade deadline.

-Analisa Guajardo is due to join the Breakers later this week.  The 22-year old was allocated as part of the Mexican contingent and has been finishing up her commitments at Pepperdine.

-Via the magic of Twitter comes word that Amy LePeilbet played with a soccer ball Monday for the first time since knee surgery.  The Red Stars defender is sitting out the season to recover.

-Sky Blue reports that Jill Loyden is about a week away from being able to block shots.  Loyden broke her hand earlier this year.  Also from Sky Blue land, Brittany Bock is questionable for Wednesday night with an oblique issue.

Additional reporting by Megan Manzari

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