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The Lowdown: XI NWSL things to be thankful for

Lauren Holiday and Becky Sauerbrunn could one day be viewed as pioneers of the NWSL. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Lauren Holiday and Becky Sauerbrunn could one day be viewed as pioneers of the NWSL. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

I’m not normally one to cover personal matters in my column, but it’s the middle of the offseason and the start of the holiday season is upon us.  So what the heck.  Here are XI things pertaining to my coverage of NWSL that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving week:

This wild offseason:  There has never been a WoProSo offseason packed with this much excitement.  From the entrance of the Pride to the many trades that followed immediately thereafter right up to this week’s flurry of signings, NWSL has never been more present during off hours than right now.  And there is more to come ahead of the draft early next year.  And for those who regularly attend the draft or are considering it this time around, I hear it will be bigger and better than ever.

[MORE: Track all the latest NWSL news and moves here]

Lauren Holiday:  I hesitate to say that Lauren Holiday was ever the face of NWSL even in the summer of 2013, when she was carving up opposing defenses on her way to being the league’s first MVP.  But in a decade’s time we may just remember Holiday as the most significant piece of the early days.  Holiday was among the first national team players that publicly backed her NWSL market—even when it, and those in charge, remained a mystery to most of us—and she helped establish a culture in Kansas City that made the Blues the most successful team over the first three seasons.  In a season where the collective NWSL ambition of the World Cup players was widely questioned, I will always remember Holiday coming into the press conference following this year’s NWSL Championship win over the Reign (Kansas City’s second straight).  Her eyes were red and filled with tears.  It was a subtle yet substantial message that yes, her three years in Kansas City meant something to Lauren Holiday.

[LAULETTA: Holiday makes tactical sacrifice to win NWSL sendoff]

Jeff Kassouf:  Jeff doesn’t really like to be mentioned like this so I appreciate him leaving this paragraph in the column.  But he literally built this site from nothing back when WPS was in its infancy and through his incredible—sometimes insane—dedication has kept the site running and thriving through thick and thin.  In many ways Jeff Kassouf is a trailblazer for women’s soccer coverage.  And he pretty much allows me to operate freely and with little editorial interference.  So thanks Jeff for the platform and for the freedom to connect with our readers each week.

Patrick Donnelly:  For those who don’t know Patrick, he is the Director of Communications at NWSL.  And while we have all had our complaints through the years with the timing of some league announcements, it should not be overlooked that Patrick essentially runs the communications department by himself and is always available to answer questions.  I once asked the communications intern how often Patrick got angry after seeing one of my emails.  Patrick quickly interjected with, “Be careful how you answer that now.”  But if he has ever been annoyed with me it has never showed, and NWSL communications continues to be in good hands.  (Attention club communications directors – appreciate you all as well!)

Becky Sauerbrunn:  As someone who covers the sport it is easy to like Becky Sauerbrunn.  She is friendly, well-spoken, and generous with both her time and insight.  But that is not what puts Sauerbrunn head and shoulders above other NWSL players.  There has been a lot of discussion about her place among defenders not only in the league but around the world since she failed to crack the shortlist for either the Golden Ball at the World Cup or the Ballon d’Or.  Both of these oversights were sheer madness.  Sauerbrunn plays defense as if she is participating in a ballet.  Each movement is subtle yet meaningful, always just at the right time.  Her defensive play turned offensive creator during FC Kansas City’s playoff win over the Red Stars was nothing short of magic.  I don’t claim to watch every defender in the world with a critical eye, but I am secure in my knowledge that Becky Sauerbrunn is the best I have watched in the last decade, if not ever.

[MORE: Sauerbrunn wins third straight NWSL Defender of Year Award]

NWSL coaches:  NWSL coaches come in all types and personalities.  But just about all of them over the years have been extremely cooperative in allowing me and many other writers to help tell the story of NWSL.  From the always affable Paul Riley to some of the more buttoned-up types (you know who you are) to Lisa Cole and Mike Jorden—both of whom had the decency to return my phone calls shortly after being fired—the league’s sideline bosses have been instrumental in helping build the league.  Now if only I could get on the famous coaches text string…

Free Youtube streams:  Yup, there are issues with many of the streams.  I’m on one of them.  We have issue too.  But how many other leagues offer completely free streaming to customers? I know the EPL does it (with authentication), but that is also part of a 10-figure television deal.  It wasn’t long ago that WPS was showing highlights that came from a single camera and included a spotter blandly calling out the number of every player that touched the ball.  No replays.  No analysis.  We’ve come a long way.

My family:  They put up with a lot in order for me to be able to cover NWSL and women’s soccer, and they probably don’t get nearly enough in return for their sacrifices.

The 2015 NWSL Championship:  I don’t mean the game.  I mean the experience.  For the first time since 2003 WUSA, a WoProSo final was decided at a pre-determined venue, and it as a smashing success.  Fans and media from around the country converged on Portland and while our group remains small, it is as dedicated as ever.  And for the first time I can remember—and I have been to every final—a decent amount of conversation was actually focused on match tactics.  I also met a bunch of very nice people and caught up with many old friends.  Can’t wait for the next one.

[MORE: Complete coverage of Kansas City’s win over Seattle in NWSL final]

The players:  So many players over the last three years have lent their stories to our pages.  Probably none was more notable than when Kia McNeill shared her terrifying tale of the days following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.  Other interesting stories include Michelle Betos, Michelle Lomnicki, Courtney Jones, Alyssa Naeher, and many others.  Going back a ways, few players were more interesting for chats than Gro Espeseth and Emily Stuffer from the old New York Power.  None of them ever have to talk, and certainly not about anything beyond the surface of what happens on the field, and I am always grateful when anyone takes the time to do so.

The readership:  Whether I know who you are or not, whether you offer praise or nitpick punctuation, I truly appreciate everyone who reads and has an opinion about the Lowdown.  There are big things planned for the column in 2016.  If you‘d like to offer some suggestions you can find me on Twitter @thedanlauletta.

And everyone have a very Happy Thanksgiving.


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