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Bests and worsts of women’s soccer in 2013

The U.S. women went undefeated for a great 2013 campaign. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

There was not an Olympics or World Cup to look forward to in 2013 — and there isn’t in 2014, either — but it was a busy year for women’s soccer in the United States. From the start of a new professional league to a world record falling, there were plenty of great happenings in 2013.  There were also some low points, of course, for a young league looking to build and everything surrounding it.

Below is a take on some of the good, the bad and maybe some of the ugly for all things women’s soccer in 2013. The list is not meant to be comprehensive,  but merely a talking point as 2014 begins.

High Points

— Anything Lauren Holiday (nee Cheney) did in 2014. The NWSL MVP was the centerpiece of FC Kansas City’s fluent attack and the source of highlight reel goal after highlight reel goal. Now, can she continue that form into 2014 and on the U.S. women’s national team? Lauren Holiday was world-class at the 2011 World Cup and in 2013. The U.S. will need more of that in World Cup qualifying and in Canada in 2015.

— Abby Wambach’s world record. Anyone who spoke with Abby Wambach in the days leading up to that June 20 evening at Red Bull Arena knew Mia Hamm’s world goal scoring record didn’t stand a chance of making it past that night. Not with Wambach determined to end the hype — she hates individual attention. Not with a good but inferior South Korea opponent. Wambach went and scored four goals in the FIRST HALF that night, giving her 160 for her U.S. career and smashing Hamm’s old record of 158.

— April 13 and 14. Opening weekend in the inaugural season of the NWSL, some 15 months after WPS folded. Those 15 months felt far longer. We endured an ill-timed announcement of a new league on the eve of the London Olympics gold medal game (that incarnation never actually fully came to be since U.S. Soccer then got involved). Look, there are always frustrations with fledgling leagues. That’s why they are fledgling; they are growing and finding their feet. But all of that is way better than life without a proper professional league.

— Houston Dash become 9th NWSL team. There are some definite short-term wrenches thrown the NWSL’s way with figuring out everything, but a second MLS/NWSL partnership is a massive step forward for women’s pro soccer. I wrote more on this here.

— Tom Sermanni. The USWNT boss endeared fans throughout the year by giving chances to young players and delivering an unbeaten record in his first year at the helm of the world’s No. 1 team. Grade A year for Tom Sermanni.

— Christen Press. She took home the golden boot in the Swedish Damallsvenskan and was the most in-form U.S. striker of the year. From Stanford to magicJack and her time in Sweden, Press continues to trend upward. And that continues to make Sermanni’s job hard with four world-class strikers.

— Lisa De Vanna’s bicycle kick. Just watch it:

— And Tobin Heath’s free kick to win the NWSL Championship (BOOM!):

— Rise, youngsters, rise. From NWSL rookie of the year Erika Tymrak, to NCAA players Morgan Brian and Crystal Dunn standing out on the national team level, the potential for up-and-coming USWNT and NWSL players was clear in 2013. Brian and Dunn already carried the huge expectations heading into the year, but Tymrak’s emergence with FC Kansas City was a revelation. Others to watch: Adriana Franch, Kat Williamson, Caitlin Foord, Elli Reed, Kristie Mewis, Christine Nairn…

— Euro 2013. From being able to watch it all in the U.S. (which is actually a big deal), to record attendance and intrigue on the field — Sweden fails on home soil, Nadine Angerer stands on her head for Germany — it was a tournament to remember.

— Kate Markgraf. Get her on TV more.

— Desiree Scott. Breakout player much? She owned it for FC Kansas City at defensive mid. Partner in crime Jen Buczkowski can’t be forgotten, either.

— How about a Lauren Holiday highlight reel? Yes. Because, why not?

— Jeld-Wen Field. Averaging 13,320 fans over 11 games nearly tripled the next-closest team, and never has another women’s soccer atmosphere held a candle to what has unfolded in the Rose City.

— NWSL livestreams. Perhaps the most underrated NWSL decision off the field. In WPS it was watch the game of the week on Fox Soccer, maybe get to another one in person and be content with not seeing any other games that week. To be able to watch just about every minute on YouTube is incredible. Extra credit to great quality of streams in Seattle and Portland. This topic will also fall into the section below…

Low Points, Disappointments, Head-Scratchers and all of that

— NWSL referees. From the wrestling match of a final that saw one red card to a player who should have gotten ejected a few minutes prior and a couple other players who could have been tossed early, to a mystery call early in the season that lifted Portland past Seattle and got Reign coach Laura Harvey fined, the refs in Year 1 were generally awful. PRO will have to sort that out — and one hopes that process began Sept. 1.

— The Washington Spirit’s 13-game winless streak. That number alone is brutal enough, but only four goals in the stretch added to the misery. Two of those were penalty kicks, too. Five games into that skid, Mike Jorden was fired as coach and Mark Parsons took over.

— Portland’s (at times) intangible woes. For all the expectations the Thorns carried — especially at Jeld-Wen Field, they dropped more points at home than expected and generally struggled, going 5-4-2 at a home that should have been a fortress, especially with a team so stacked with talent. The struggles were tangible at times — a disconnect between the three lines — but new coach Paul Riley is expected to fix that.

— In-game music. IT’S AWFUL! How is this even a conversation?

— A lot Fox Sports’ USWNT/NWSL coverage. Disclaimer: I work for NBC Sports. I’m not taking shots, just calling it as I see it in this space on The Equalizer, where I am always keeping a close eye on women’s soccer media (unfortunately often lack thereof). From a preview that ran ahead of the NWSL Championship (ON Fox Sports 2) that had a headline pitting the wrong teams against each other (Portland vs. Kansas City?), to incorrectly spelled names for USWNT players on on-screen graphics, and that fall stretch where digital coverage revolved around Abby Wambach’s wedding and the Halloween costumes of Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux — there was a lot left to be desired by Fox’s coverage. WHY worry in such detail? Because Fox holds the U.S. rights to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and there is a lot to be sorted out. ESPN set the bar very high in 2011, and I bring it up because I want to see the best coverage for the biggest women’s soccer event in the world.

— That No. 1 pick… There’s a lot of time left for the jury to be out, and patience is always needed, but a lot of folks were surprised when Chicago took Zakiya Bywaters No. 1 overall in the 2013 NWSL College Draft. After the seasons had by a lot of rookies (listed above), that move is further called into question. Chicago drafts at No. 2 and No. 3 in January and it’s a deep draft. Expect Illinois star Vanessa DiBernardo to be one of those selections.

— Postgame media organization. A lot to be improved here overall. Women’s soccer has always struggled with the ‘autographs and blaring music before the three minute interview.’ It doesn’t affect non-journalists, but it’s an easy way to turn off would-be media. The gap between final whistle and media availability in the NWSL is longer than any pro league of any kind that I’ve ever seen. There’s also that one-hour wait that happened for the Canada vs. Mexico game in Vancouver in November.

— NWSL kits. There’s cookie-cutter and then there is everyone wearing red or blue with a vertical or horizontal stripe. Just about any for of customization or personalization will be an upgrade — you know, the basics, like Sky Blue FC actually wearing…sky blue. By 2015 there had better be some personal touches to jerseys that teams can establish as tradition and identity. Don’t hold your breath for 2014, though.

— Livestreams. Why is this in the good and bad sections? Because as a concept it is genius. As a final product in 2013, it gave literal headaches. At times blurry, at times unreliable and in some places some dicey announcing, the final product was great for hardcores who were going to watch anyway, but it was an easy way to turn off new fans, which is a big problem. U.S. Soccer’s in-stadium streams were actually even worse than a lot of the NWSL ones. MORE on livestreams – the good, the bad and the economics.

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