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The Lowdown: Early NWSL draftee grades

FC Kansas City's Kristie Mewis is one of the best rookies in NWSL thus far. (Photo Copyright Thad Bell for |

As Sky Blue FC continued their torrid start, 1st round draft pick Lindsi Lisonbee-Cutshall got some mop-up duty Saturday night, playing the final four minutes and stoppage time in a 5-1 rout of the Breakers.  That means every 1st round pick has seen league action save for Boston’s Casey Short, who had knee surgery and will miss the season.  Lisonbee-Cutshall has also battled injury after missing the start of the season to complete her studies at BYU.  In the same match, two other members of the 2013 draft class made their debuts.  Maddy Evans played most of the 2nd half for the Breakers and Ashley Baker was given the last minute in goal where she got a finger on Lianne Sanderson’s penalty.

Those with deeper knowledge of the college game than me did not peg 2013 as a particularly strong draft.  Eight weeks is far too little time to judge any group of young players but it was too much fun to pass up, especially on a week when only half of the NWSL teams played, and those two matches were overshadowed by the U.S.-Canada friendly.

There were no draft day trades so every team made four selections.  All eight teams have seen some level of contribution from their picks.  Here’s a look.  The teams are listed in order of how I feel the draft picks have contributed thus far.  I look forward to any and all disagreements with my order.

Chicago Red Stars:  Zakiya Bywaters, Rachel Quon, Taylor Vancil, Jen Hoy

Bywaters came under scrutiny when she was taken No. 1 because most people thought Mewis was the best player on the board, and then Bywaters struggled while the Red Stars went winless in their opening six.  To make matters worse Rory Dames was often sending Bywaters out to play the same position as Mewis, nullifying the argument that they drafted her because they needed forwards.  But Bywaters had her best game of the season in the Red Stars’ first win of the season Saturday in Portland.  She scored the first goal and was a strong presence out wide.

The back-end picks have also been solid for the Red Stars.  Quon played every minute at left back before missing the weekend to train with Canada.  The former U.S. youth player has not been cleared yet to play for Canada but almost certainly benefited from the training environment.  Vancil has played the last two matches in goal where she showed herself as a viable alternative to Erin McLeod.  In fact Dames may have a tough time sitting Vancil this weekend off the team’s first win and shutout.

Hoy is finishing her degree at Princeton and could join the team later this month.

FC Kansas City:  Kristie Mewis, Erika Tymrak, Whitney Berry, Nia Williams

Mewis is widely considered the best player in the draft and for the moment has become a staple in terms of national team call-ups.  She has patrolled the right flank for the Blues using her speed, work rate, and technical ability to be a force on both ends.  And her continued development could be a big determinant as to how far Kansas City goes as they need someone other than Renae Cuellar and Lauren Cheney to create havoc in front of goal.

Tymrak has seen limited action off the bench but also has good speed and technical skills.  Williams has seen just a minute of action and Berry did not make the club.

Western New York Flash:  Adrianna Franch, Amy Barczuk, Vicki DiMartino, Jackie Logue

A goalkeeper is very unlikely to ever be the best player available in a draft but just about everyone that follows U.S. soccer has Franch tabbed as a future national team fixture.  Her debut season has been solid if rarely spectacular.  The Oklahoma State alum has shown off excellent hands, cat-like reflexes, and an ability to change the course of play through her distribution.  On the other hand, six matches into the campaign Franch does not yet have a clean sheet and has conceded a few goals after being caught out of position.  Still Franch appears to have a bright future and was a solid selection for a team allocated the relatively inexperienced Mexican Pamela Tajonar.

Barczuk saw time earlier subbing in midfield when Angela Salem got hurt.  DiMartino has seen only a quarter hour of action.  Logue did not make the team.

Boston Breakers:  Casey Short, Mariah Nogueira, Jo Dragotta, Maddy Evans

Short tore her ACL in preseason and will be the only 1st round pick to miss the season.  Nogueira though, has been one of the league’s top rookies playing in defensive midfield.  Dragotta started off at right back but has struggled and watched all of Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Sky Blue from the bench.

The most interesting case here is Evans.  The 4th round pick from Penn State did not make the team out of training camp but when international call-ups rolled around last weekend Evans was called in as an amateur player.  She came off the bench and played 43 minutes, showing signs of being able to play at the professional level.  Afterwards Lisa Cole hinted that roster moves may be coming.  But as Evans has maintained her amateur status the Breakers are free to let her fade back into that world for the time being without exposing her to waivers.

Sky Blue FC:  Lindsi Lisonbee-Cutshall, Kendall Johnson, Ashley Baker, Becky Kaplan

Lisonbee-Cutchall just made her debut after college and injuries delayed her arrival.  Johnson has been the star of the bunch starting all nine matches, most of them at left back.  The Portland graduate has proven to be a solid part of Sky Blue’s mostly youthful back line and has started to make her forays into the attacking third more often and more effectively.

Baker was given the last minute of Saturday’s game because, coach Jim Gabarra said, she has worked hard in practice.  The other reason is that once Jill Loyden is finished with national team duty, Baker will be relegated to third string.  Earlier in the season Gabarra indicated he would consider carrying three keepers throughout the season rather than exposing Baker to waivers.

Kaplan did not make the team.

Portland Thorns FC:  Kathryn Williamson, Nicolette Radovcic, Amber Brooks, Roxanne Barker

The Thorns draft was a case of one gold strike and three misses.  Williamson has played every minute and is quietly one of the better central defenders in NWSL.  She is on the short list of players who could get a debut national team call-up later this year.  But what of the others?

Radovcic and Barker failed to make the team.  The Thorns took a flier on Brooks hoping she might join up after the Bayern Munich season ends but there are no signs of that happening.

Seattle Reign FC:  Christine Nairn, Mallory Schaffer, Kristen Meier, Haley Kopmeyer

Knowing what we know now about how the Reign’s allocation turned out it is almost impossible to fathom them having drafted 7th in a draft order based on perceived strength of club.  Still they landed Nairn who scored on opening day and has filled a variety of roles as one of only three Reign players to have started every match.  One of Nairn’s responsibilities is taking corner kicks, a rare job for a rookie.

Meier just took her first pro start patrolling right back during the club’s most impressive performance of the season.  One game earlier Kopmeyer got her debut in goal.  Schaffer is the highest pick (15th) not to make a roster save for injury.

Washington Spirit:  Tiffany McCarty, Caroline Miller, Holly King, Colleen Williams

The Spirit are the only club to have used all four of their draft picks but none of the four has made any significant contributions.  McCarty does have two goals but she has rarely seen the field at the same time as Miller.  King and Williams have seen bit action.

The Spirit get less flack than the Red Stars for passing on Mewis but like the Red Stars were looking for scoring punch.  If McCarty and Miller can develop into a strong team up top they will look back on the draft has having been successful.

Some personal thoughts on US-Canada

In the aftermath of Sunday’s U.S. victory over Canada in Toronto I found myself asking the question, “are we really spending this much time analyzing Sydney Leroux’s reaction to scoring a goal?” Was that really the most important thing that transpired over 90 minutes? So Leroux pointed to the U.S. crest on her jersey and gave the shush sign to a group of Canada supporters? Isn’t that all in a day’s fun? After all if the BMO Field fans could boo Leroux’s every move as a result of her deciding to play for the United States over Canada—she holds dual citizenship—then it stands to reason the 23-year old would respond in kind after scoring.  The gesture was not unique to the modern sports culture and was not offensive, derogatory, or otherwise inappropriate in any way.  But it dominated the post-match discussion.

The impetus for the conversation was the SportsNet broadcast when analyst Craig Forrest followed up the goal by saying, “You can have her.  You can have her.”  Play-by-play man Gerry Dobson joined in by calling the move “too American for me,” and praising the yellow card (which was a bit baffling to me, but not particularly relevant here.)

A broadcasting team literally has no time to react to what it sees and hears so holding every announcer to their instant analysis can he a bit harsh.  But Dobson continued to make an issue of it on Twitter, finishing up with an entirely inane tweet about what Sydney Leroux’s mother must think about what happened.  Canada captain Christine Sinclair said afterwards that, “It wasn’t the classiest of moves.”

Guess what? Most people on the Canada side of this argument is missing the broader point.  The anticipation of this match dominated Canadian soccer for months, and the home side did little more than squash the U.S. attack for the first half and part of the second before wilting under fire and ending the day on a lopsided loss.  Ten months earlier, Canada had three different leads against the United States and stood on the verge of the country’s greatest soccer win, male or female, until some dubious officiating and an unwavering U.S. attack served them a painful blow.  Sunday was supposed to be an affirmation of Canada as a world power.  Instead it was a return to the usual order of things in which the United States is the dominant team in the Western Hemisphere.  To make Sydney Leroux the story is to steer the conversation away from the disappointing nature of Canada’s performance.

It later came out that Leroux had been the target of racial abuse during Olympic qualifying in Vancouver in 2012.  Leroux and U.S. Soccer both put out statements clarifying that no such comments were heard Sunday in Toronto.  There is no point debating what was or wasn’t said at a soccer match played more than a year ago.  But there is no debate about some of the things posted on Twitter. One particularly disturbing post was brought to light by Megan Rapinoe (who was not in Canada on Sunday).  A few Twitter posts do not speak to an entire country, but that’s easy for me to say since I don’t have to read racist, inflammatory, and downright malicious material directed at me.  The bulk of these are too disturbing even to link to in this space.

You can call Sydney Leroux’s reaction “too American” if you want.  I’d call it human.

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.  There were only two games on the weekend but Sky Blue put up five goals to help bring the weekly total to eight.  Not surprisingly it was the first week in which no U.S. allocations scored.  Here’s how the goals break down with Week 8 totals in parenthesis:

Allocated players – 38 (1)

United States – 19; Canada – 14 (1); Mexico – 5

College Draft – 5 (1)

Free Agent – 19 (4)

Supplemental Draft – 8 (1)

Discovery et al. 4 (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

– One final note about Sydney Leroux.  Canadian fans should absolutely make her public enemy number one.  She could have played for Canada and been the heir apparent to Christine Sinclair in terms of goal scoring, but she chose to play for the United States.  Nothing wrong with that at all and Canada supporters should be encouraged to let her hear about it any time she plays for the U.S.  In turn, Leroux should be happy to shut them up from time to time.  But it’s just a game, and it should never get personal, vicious or racist.

-Rachel Quon has yet to be cleared by FIFA to play for Canada and as such was not available for selection in Sunday’s friendly.

-Speaking of Quon, she has drawn some ire in the U.S. for making the reverse decision Leroux made.  She has also drawn comparisons to Lauren Sesselmann who grew up in Wisconsin and now plays for Canada.  The major difference is that Sesselmann joined Canada in her late 20s after being completely bypassed by the U.S. youth system.  That doesn’t make Quon’s decision wrong, because it wasn’t, but there is really no comparison between the situations.

-Can’t stress enough what a neat move it was to give Ashley Baker a few minutes in goal at the end of a blowout match when Baker is clearly headed for third-wheel status behind Brittany Cameron and Jill Loyden.  Baker was nearly saddled with a 90.00 goals against average but she managed to thwart Lianne Sanderson’s stoppage time penalty.

-Exactly how many matches have the Thorns had a clear edge in midfield?

-I’m not down with fining the Seattle Reign or Laura Harvey for criticizing the refereeing two weekends ago, especially when the PRO reviewed the penalty call and said it was wrong.  So long as there is no accusation of anything untoward why can’t players and coaches express frustration after matches?

-Speaking of the Reign they pasted the Haitian national team 6-0 in a friendly at Starfire Stadium on the weekend.  Lindsay Taylor scored a hat trick and the Reign also got goals from Kennya Cordner, Liz Bogus, and Kristina Larsen.  Maybe the struggling side will take some confidence into their league match against FC Kansas City this weekend.

-You can make the case that Lisa De Vanna has been the best forward in NWSL this season.


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