Two weeks to play in the NWSL season. Here’s how the teams stand.
Seattle Reign FC (15-1-5, 50 pts), clinched 2014 NWSL Shield
The Reign clubbed the Dash on Wednesday to take the regular season championship after Kansas City lost earlier in the night. Then they went to Kansas City for a hotly anticipated Saturday match that did not quite live up to expectation, and worked out a 1-1 draw despite being outplayed in the 1st half. The Reign season now takes a significant change. Having won the marathon that is the regular season they will be preparing for the sprint that is the playoffs. Laura Harvey already rested Elli Reed, Kendall Fletcher, and Nahomi Kawasumi (all but Reed came in later) in Kansas City as she starts the process of massaging her players’ minutes to be at optimum level for the semifinals and final. The team set off a small firestorm when they announced the final (if they host it) will be held at Starfire Stadium due to a conflict at Memorial. That is a shame but it’s no surprise. NWSL teams are not close to being significant enough to hold down prospective dates so this does not come as a huge surprise.
FC Kansas City (11-6-5, 38 pts), clinched playoff berth
Not the Blues’ best week. They led the Spirit and Reign 1-0 at halftime and wound up losing 2-1 in Washington and drawing 1-1 at home to the Reign. They emerged from the week with a playoff berth in hand but also having surrendered two leads which brings back bad memories of 2013. They won’t win the regular season, but one more win will earn them a home playoff match for the second year running. A Spirit loss combined with a Thorns draw will also do it. But the two most pressing issues in Kansas City are this. They played the Reign tough three times this season but did not beat them, and like last year they may have played their best soccer a few weeks too early.
Washington Spirit (10-8-4, 34 pts)
The Spirit had one of the most impressive weeks in the short history of NWSL, capped by Yael Averbuch’s dramatic, stoppage time winner to beat the Red Stars and move the Spirit to the brink of the playoffs. Three days earlier they erased a poor start and scored twice after halftime to beat FC Kansas City. And they did it all without leading scorer Jodie Taylor who was away playing for England. No-excuse coach Mark Parsons said they could handle things without Taylor and they did. And now despite having allowed the 2nd-most goals in the league, last year’s bottom dwellers are three points (either gained or dropped by the Red Stars) from the playoffs. Grabbing 2nd seems unlikely but they do have the tiebreaker over Kansas City should they end up level on points.
Portland Thorns FC (9-7-6, 33 pts)
Sunday was a massive win for the Thorns, who grinded it out for three points for the first time in about two months. The 1-0 result over the Dash kept them in control of their playoff lives with a five-point edge over the Red Stars that is actually two points with the Thorns having one fewer matches to play. The dream of hosting a playoff game is nearly dead for 2014 but there is another issue at hand for the Thorns. They may well get to their final game of the season needing to beat the Reign to get the 4th seed—which would send them to Seattle where they would have to beat them again. If the Red Stars and Spirit don’t cooperate they won’t have a choice, but it adds importance to this weekend’s match in Boston.
Chicago Red Stars (7-7-7, 28 pts)
The Red Stars’ inability to group goals together is likely to be their undoing. They could have led the Spirit by more but settled for 1-0 at halftime, and then conceded the equalizer in the opening minutes of the 2nd half. And then came the cruel ending when (???????_ was stoned by Ashlyn Harris followed by the long goal by Yael Averbuch to break Red Star hearts in stoppage time. If they miss the playoffs they can look back on their three games against the Spirit, all of which they lost, but all of which were there for them to win. There is a bright side though. They have three games left, all at home. If they win out, they get in with one Thorns loss or with one Thorns draw if the Red Stars wind up with a better goal differential (currently +5 for Thorns, +3 for Red Stars.)
Western New York Flash (8-11-3, 27 pts)
Sunday was a good microcosm of the 2014 Flash. They have all the tools necessary to put goals on the board but have been too loose in back and generally too mistake prone. Sonia Bermudez snatched them a 4-3 win by scoring in stoppage time, but a flat, 1-0 loss at Sky Blue midweek leaves them dangling from the ledge. They need to win out, have the Thorns lose out, and have the Red Stars lose or draw one of their other games, and have Sky Blue drop points somewhere. Easy, right? Abby Wambach said strange things have happened this season, but that seems a bit too strange for the Flash to avoid watching the playoffs for the first time in their history (2009.)
Sky Blue FC (5-8-7, 22 pts)
Let’s see…if Nadia Nadim had gotten there in May…if Christie Rampone had not battled a foot injury and then a concussion…if Taylor Lytle had not broken her leg while playing the best soccer of her career…if Maya Hayes had played like she has recently from the start of the season…if they had better success and better luck from the penalty spot…maybe this team would be in one of the contending spots. As it stands they need to win out and get an awful lot of help. They own the better or the Breakers’ two 1st Round picks in 2015 though so there will be plenty of opportunity to improve.
Houston Dash (5-12-3, 18 pts)
Before the season began, Dash coach Randy Waldrum said it would be a successful season if the Dash turned August with a chance. That did not really happen. The Dash never found the right chemistry to produce goals and injuries and absences in back combined to make it a long season. The 1-0 loss to the Thorns on Sunday was gritty, but it officially ended their playoff hopes. They have some solid pieces in place though and will draft high again.
Boston Breakers (4-14-2, 14 pts)
The fans clearly missed them after a seven-game road trip even if they returned a non-playoff team for the second year in a row. The good news is they were treated to an exciting match. The bad news is the comeback from 3-1 down went for naught when the Flash won it in stoppage time. The club has some talented players but needs a good but of work to get in contention next year. And they never recovered from losing Kia McNeill to the working world at the start of training camp.
Here are this week’s attendances:
Wednesday Spirit: 2,744
Wednesday Dash: 4,862 (4,605 season average)
Thursday Sky Blue: 3,471 (NWSL era cub record; 1,686 season average)
Saturday Spirit: 3,102 (3,249)
Saturday Kansas City: 3,029 (2,091)
Sunday Breakers: 3,754 (NWSL era club record; 2,205 season average)
Sunday Thorns: 19,123 (NWSL record; 13,021 season averrage)
Week 16 average: 5,726
Year to Date average: 4,143
Week 17 Takeaways
Here are a few soccer-related takeaways from Week 17:
-The Yael Averbuch goal will be remembered most, but Ashlyn Harris’s save is just as much part of the story from Saturday in Washington. Harris could have done better on the goal by Lori Chalupny, but she slid across the box and made an electrifying, point-blank save on Christen Press in the 89th minute that kept the score 1-1 and set the stage for Averbuch’s game-winner. In nearly two years of NWSL play I cannot recall a more exciting and meaningful sequence.
-Six days after the Aaran Lines concession, the Flash played like they believed it in a 1-0 loss to Sky Blue (they showed some life. It will be interesting to see how Lines goes about rebuilding this club for 2015. As good as he has been at building rosters through the years the draft has not been a strong suit for Lines in the two seasons of NWSL. They’ll have a reasonably high pick plus they own the Thorns’ 1st Round pick next year.
-Is it possible Alyssa Naeher should be Goalkeeper of the Year? I have two weeks to make my pick, but Naeher is clearly in the mix.
-The Reign need six points from their final three games to tie the 2011 Western New York Flash for highest points per game in the history of women’s professional soccer in the United States. The Flash earned 42 of a possible 56 points and won the WPS Championship.
-Amy Barczuk will join the University of Colorado as a volunteer coach beginning this fall. Barczuk played at Colorado and was a 2nd Round pick of the Flash in 2013. She is the only non-goalkeeper current on the Flash roster that came through an NWSL draft.
-Sky Blue FC Director of Sales, Jim Gooley mentions to Amiri Tulloch that the club has had talks with New York City Football Club although the extent is unknown. Last fall, Sky Blue rejected a proposal to merge with Red Bull.
-Kim Little is in the drivers’ seat for the Golden Boot with a 14-12 lead on Amy Rodriguez with three games to play against two for Rodriguez. Jodie Taylor and Jess McDonald remain on 11.
-Anyone who watched the Thorns beat the Dash on ESPN2 Sunday night was looking at what anyone involved in women’s soccer has been dreaming about for decades. It was a quality match, played in front of a large crowd, broadcast in high definition with two professional, well-prepared commentators—Adrian Healey and Julie Foudy—in the booth. Can the sport ever get to the point where it’s more the norm than the exception? Everyone hopes it can.
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