The World Cup is in full swing and NWSL is on an 11-day break. Next week, after the group stage, we will check in on how the NWSL players are faring in Canada. For this week let’s have a look at each team as they stand at the break which is just shy of midway through the season.
Chicago Red Stars (4-1-3, 15 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: It is no small feat to be at the top of the standings with all of the players moving in and out of teams seemingly every week. The Red Stars have always been resourceful and this season has been no exception. Rookie Sofia Huerta started the season looking a bit overwhelmed before suddenly finding her footing with six goals in the last five games.
Pause for Concern: Re-integrating the glut of players could be a delicate balancing act for coach Rory Dames, but it is always better to have too many good players than too few. And as the Flash showed last weekend the Red Stars are vulnerable to speed.
Washington Spirit (4-3-2, 14 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: Crystal Dunn. She has easily been the best player in NWSL this season and is the leader on the course in the MVP race. Once Francisca Ordega and her World Cup goals get back the Spirit will be nearly impossible to defend in their attacking third. Dunn and Ordega are also willing to defend to win back possession. That combination might make the Spirit the least desirable opponent.
Pause for Concern: Some of the goals that leaked in last season have leaked in again. Sometimes it has been turnovers in inopportune spots. Other times it has been the defense getting stretched. Right back has been an issue but one that should be rectified once Ali Krieger gets back. Krieger was concussed in the first half-hour of the season so the Spirit have basically been without her all along.
Seattle Reign FC (3-2-2, 11 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: Jessica Fishlock is probably Dunn’s top challenger for best player and early MVP leader. And Kim Little’s scoring production is off but she is still every bit as effective at making positive things happen through the midfield. They Reign are still unbeaten all-time at Memorial Stadium.
Pause for Concern: The intangible magic that seemed to will the Reign to earn results no matter what the circumstances has not emerged yet in 2015 and they miss Nahomi Kawasumi. The good news is Megan Rapinoe will be back soon.
Boston Breakers (3-3-2, 11 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: Following an atrocious opening few weeks the Breakers have settled down led by their defense. Newly acquired Kassey Kallman has teamed with Julie King for what was probably the best center back pairing in NWSL in May. And they finally held it together on a road getting a 1-1 draw against the Spirit at the SoccerPlex. No. 5 pick Stephanie McCaffrey has been wonderful.
Pause for Concern: Too much of the offense is running through Kristie Mewis who is a fine player but not a goal-scorer. They’ll need more contributions from McCaffrey and the other forwards. They figure to be in the market to add a striker this summer.
Houston Dash (2-2-4, 10 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: No team was hurt more by World Cup callups yet they have found a way to scratch by and enter the break on a club-record, four-match unbeaten run. They have gotten contributions from the returning Brittany Bock as well as amateur callups Allie Bailey and Jen LaPonte. When Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian et al get back they’ll be tough to beat.
Pause for Concern: If a Dash players gets free in the box, taking the penalty might be the way to go for the defender. They have missed from the spot in consecutive games—both draws—and are only three-for-eight since joining the league in 2014.
Western New York Flash (3-3-1, 10 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: The Flash had four of the first even picks in the draft and the early exit polls indicate all four have been hits. Samantha Mewis is quickly gaining traction as a midfield boss and enjoys playing forward to speedy Lynn Williams. Abby Dahlkemper and Jaelene Hinkle have been starting in back together. And the team is clearly operating at a different pace without Abby Wambach.
Pause for Concern: They still sometimes rely on the kick-and-run style instead of trying to work the ball through midfield. Their personnel is too good for that. Rookie keeper Sabrina D’Angelo hurt her shoulder in Kansas City
FC Kansas City (3-4-1, 10 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: They are as sound defensively as ever thanks to the re-emergence of Amy LePeilbet, the best center back in NWSL thus far, and the ever-steady midfield presence of Jen Buczkowski. Once Becky Sauerbrunn returns it will be a mighty tough task to beat the Blues down the middle.
Pause for Concern: The offense has yet to get going even during the four-match unbeaten streak (3-0-1 but only four total goals) and Erika Tymrak is not as effective centrally as she has been wide. They have many strong attackers at the World Cup. They might need them all to get back on track.
Portland Thorns FC (2-3-3, 9 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: Paul Riley’s 3-6-1 showed early signs of being effective until he lost all of his strikers to the World Cup. Allie Long and Mana Shim have—at times—looked like a dynamic duo capable of breaking down any defense.
Pause for Concern: More on point the team is a mess of late and will go from zero strikers to three once Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Jodie Taylor all return from the World Cup. They might have their work to do to get the Thorns out of the bottom third of the table.
Sky Blue FC (1-4-4, 7 pts)
Reasons for Optimism: Caitlin Foord, Samantha Kerr, and Monica Ocampo are all at the World Cup having yet to suit up for the team in 2015. As it stands all three have an excellent shot at being available after the group stage.
Pause for Concern: Without the three mentioned above the team has not been that good, starting with Nadia Nadim and her inability to get free.
Week 9 Takeaways
Fishlock matters: The Reign were not struggling just because Jessica Fishlock missed a match through red card suspension, but her return to the lineup helped return Laura Harvey’s side to a team more resembling the attacking juggernaut from 2014. Fishlock was everywhere against Sky Blue which was not dissimilar to her game before that, also against Sky Blue. Unfortunately that one was spoiled when she was whistled for handling a ball on the goal line which allowed Sky Blue to steal a draw from the spot.
Red Stars finally capitulate: The Red Stars looked tired against the Flash and turned the ball over too often to deal with the speed coming back at them. There is hardly cause for alarm after their first loss since last August when Yael Averbuch broke their hearts with a stoppage time dagger that torpedoed Red Stars’ playoff hopes. Other than getting to the break on a loss, the Red Stars have little to be disappointed about so far.
Breakers steal point: Mark Parsons suggested the Spirit solved the Breakers and needed only to finish their chances. From the Breakers’ standpoint it was important for them to earn a point on the road after being blown out in Portland, Houston, and Chicago. They also became the first team this season to see Crystal Dunn start against them and keep her off the scoresheet. The Breakers are a long way from being a finished project but they’re an awful lot closer than what they were at the dawn of May.
No matches scheduled
Here are the latest attendance figures following Week 9. Every team has hosted four home matches which means every team gets six more on the other side of the World Cup break:
Portland Thorns FC – 4 games: 13,795 avg. (2014 – 13,362)
Chicago Red Stars – 4 games: 5,481 (2014 – 2,949)
Houston Dash – 4 games: 4,647 (2014 – 4,539)
FC Kansas City – 4 games: 3,599 (2014 – 2,018)
Washington Spirit – 4 games: 3,465 (2014 – 3,335)
Seattle Reign FC – 4 games: 2,484 (2014 – 3,632)
Boston Breakers – 4 games: 2,521 (2014 – 2,437)
Western New York Flash – 4 games: 2,075 (2014 – 3,177)
Sky Blue FC – 4 games: 1,304 (2014 – 1,640)
NWSL Average – 4,374 (2014 – 4,121)
free kicks — world cup thoughts
-Jeff Kassouf has reported that the Atlanta group hoping to bring an NWSL team to the city has been told it will not happen until at least 2017. With time ticking away towards preparation for 2016 other expansion candidates cannot be far from that boat either.
The United States was … underwhelming but okay. It’s the World Cup. The name of the game is winning, and the United States was the only team in Group D to do so. That doesn’t mean they will win the World Cup if they play that way for seven matches, but when you consider how many teams were thrilled with and praised for their performances following draws or in some cases losses, it really is okay for the U.S. to play less than perfect and still win. The most concerning part is that much of what ailed them while Australia were running circles around them has been all too similar to what has been going on over the last year. And it’s not like their next two opponents, Sweden and Nigeria, did not show major warts in an exciting, 3-3 draw. So for now the United States will take the points and move on.
The field size is … probably okay even if a few teams are overmatched. Watching Germany pull apart Ivory Coast was not fun, and while I am thrilled for the Ivory Coast players and their opportunity, that does not equal the team belonging on the same field as Germany. Thailand “held” Norway to 4-0 but it felt like on the right day that one could have been as lopsided as Germany 10-0 Ivory Coast. The only other team to get run off the field was Ecuador, 6-0 by Cameroon. It looks like we’re headed for some final day drama to see who reaches the knockout stage and at what spot in the bracket. My feeling is that 24 teams is a few too many but that if the federations back it up with some investment to continue building the game it will be well worth the effort. I’m not entirely convinced of that though.
The most disappointing contenders were … Sweden and England. Sweden let a two-goal lead though and were entirely too vulnerable to Nigeria’s width. They’ll have to be far better against the United States and Australia. England may not have been a contender to win for most but at No. 6 in the world rankings they should have been better than they were when they sat back and absorbed French pressure for 90 minutes. Sweden needs to play better just to get out of their group while England has convinced me once and for all they are not good enough to go deep.
The most impressive non-contenders were … Nigeria and Cameroon. Yes, Africa may have arrived in the women’s game, as Ray Curren wrote earlier in the week. Nigeria eschewed their reckless, physical play for an exciting, attacking brand of soccer. Cameroon were only facing overmatched Ecuador but they played a controlled match and have to feel like they have an excellent chance of moving on.
The hubbub over Pia Sundhage’s comments were … misguided? Sunday afternoon the WoSo world watched Jill Ellis and Carli Lloyd stonewall the press and complained about the insular world of the United States’ team. Two days later the same group was raking the team’s former coach over the coals for—gasp—speaking her mind. And while her Amy Rodriguez comment was insensitive it said more about Sundhage than Rodriguez. Sundhage also said she told Abby Wambach her future under the now Sweden coach was as a sub. Is that not what the majority of U.S. fans have been clamoring for for a year now? It seems athletes cannot win these days whether they speak their mind or not. And isn’t Friday’s match that much more juicy with a few shots fired by the opposing coach?
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