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NWSL Week in Review: Knee injuries sad reality of life

Jess Fishlock about to be inadvertenly rolled over by McCall Zerboni (photo copyright Linehan Photography for THhe Equalizer)

Jess Fishlock about to be inadvertenly rolled over by McCall Zerboni (photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

The jury is still out on why women tear ACLs (and injure knee ligaments) more than men, but most of the research has centered on body and muscular differences. There have been strides made in prevention, particularly if children start training at a young age in landing and stretching properly, and the future seems like it will bring less invasive surgery and a smaller recovery time.

For now, though, ACL tears and knee injuries still happen at alarming rates at all levels of soccer from high school age on up and show no sign of abating any time soon. Perhaps the biggest mystery is that they can seem to happen to anyone at any time. Megan Rapinoe recently joined the “ACL Club” in a December training session with the national team and is questionable for the Olympics.
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Although the severity was not known as of late Sunday night, even those players at the highest level are not immune to knee injuries. The NWSL saw three potentially serious ones this weekend, and true to the lack of form, they all happened in completely different ways.

First, reigning Ballon d’Or winner Carli Lloyd was merely going to put token pressure on Orlando’s Laura Alleway when Alleway’s clearance hit her mid-stride, making Lloyd take an awkward step and twisting her knee in an awkward way. After being evaluated on the bench for several minutes Lloyd was subbed out of the game. (on Monday the Dash reported that Lloyd had a Grade I MCL strain that will require rehab but not surgery. She will be out a minimum of three weeks.)

Portland’s Kat Williamson was merely trying to maneuver around and took a wrong step and went down without any contact at all. Williamson was in immediate and intense pain and was immediately carted off with her knee injury. Finally, Sunday, Jess Fishlock was battling Boston’s McCall Zerboni for a ball when Zerboni slipped and rolled over Fishlock’s leg as she was still trying to run. Fishlock was in plenty of pain, but tried to go back onto the field after limping off before calling it a day.

As always, we wish for the best for all three, but sadly they likely won’t be the last knee injuries NWSL will suffer this season. Much has been made of the low pay women’s professionals get, and part of the risk-reward that goes through athletes’ heads are injuries. ACL tears do not have the long-term debilitating mental effects that multiple concussions (also no stranger to women’s soccer, by the way) often do, but as generations of women’s athletes go into middle age, many that suffered knee injuries in their careers are dealing with being “a young patient with an old knee.

So for now, we just hope we can keep the cringing from players, coaches, and fans to a minimum, unlike this week.

What else did we learn in the NWSL’s second weekend?

SATURDAY

Chicago 1:0 Western New York

What Went Down: Like in other places in Week 2, it was back to business as usual with the Red Stars picking up three points. One thing that was immediately noticeable was the difference the change in venue will make to the play in Chicago this season. In addition to being grass, Toyota Park is a much wider field than they previously played on, and also much more aesthetically pleasing to watch (no football lines, yeah). It remains to be seen, however, whether it will actually help them in the results column. You may remember they did lose their NWSL semifinal at Toyota Park last summer.

For the first half hour or so, the Red Stars looked like last year’s dominant home team, winning every ball in the middle (led by Dani Colaprico), but Western New York had more than a few moments and if it weren’t for a terrible clearance that resulted in Casey Short’s goal, might have gotten something out of this game, too. We’ll see if they can take advantage at home this week.

Player of the Game: Julie Johnston – It appeared Johnston was clearly ticked off by last week’s loss (giving up three goals in the process), and was leading the way every chance she got. Her field vision and touch seems to be much improved as well, a little confidence and training with the national team a lot will do that for you as well.

Under the Radar: Meredith Speck – With Jaelene Hinkle out (Paul Riley said her toe injury was not due to Heather O’Reilly’s awful tackle last week but an injury at home. which seems a little fishy, whatever though), Speck was pressed into duty. She didn’t even have a number on the official stat sheet and while she wasn’t spectacular, certainly held her own against the Chicago attack. Bias alert: Yale plays down the street from where I live, and I saw Speck play plenty of times in college and it’s nice to see her doing well.

Inside the Numbers: 8 – Number of total fouls called in a very clean game, although six were after halftime. Alanna Kennedy, who also had a solid match, was the only player with more than one.

Up next: Chicago – vs. Orlando (Sun.) WNY – vs. Washington (Fri.)

Orlando 3:1 Houston (Lauletta’s take)

What Went Down: In front of a record crowd, the Pride were held in check for a half with Alex Morgan looking as isolated as ever up top. But Lianne Sanderson made a nice impact after halftime and Jasmyne Spencer was all over the field, leading Orlando to three goals, the third a classic Morgan finish that should give her and her team confidence going forward.

Other than that onslaught, the Dash actually looked pretty good, peppering the Orlando goal in the closing stages and having some very nice pieces of play throughout. That should give them confidence going forward, although Saturday’s game presented the obvious questions about their defense. The bigger problem, of course, may be replacing Carli Lloyd, although Randy Waldrum had actually started her in an advanced position (with the return of Morgan Brian), which allowed the “benched” Kealia Ohai to step right in.

Player of the Game: Jasmyne Spencer – Officially, Spencer did not even attempt a shot on goal, but – particularly in the second half – she was all over the field, directly contributing to two of the three goals and making life pretty miserable for Allysha Chapman and the Dash defense. Orlando will need her to help Morgan going forward (and fill in when she’s gone).

Under the Radar: Ashlyn Harris – In a week where there was some questionable goalkeeping, Harris was outstanding. Her biggest save was probably getting a hand to a Janine Beckie breakaway in the first half with the game scoreless, and she had a couple of other huge saves which kept this one from being at least a nail biter late. There was nothing she could do about Andressa’s outstanding goal, either.

Inside the Numbers: 23,403 – Take a bow, Orlando. If they can average half of that the rest of the way, they can take a bigger bow. That number was nearly two-thirds of the total NWSL attendance for the week.

Up next: Orlando – at Chicago (Sun.); Houston – vs. Sky Blue (Fri.)

Kansas City 1:1 Portland

What Went Down: FCKC looked like their defending champion selves, dominating the first half against what looked like a stunned Thorns squad. But it all changed in a moment when Shea Groom received her second yellow early in the second half, and eventually the waves of pressure paid off as Lindsey Horan got an equalizer off a corner kick.

It was a glass half-empty, glass half-full type of night. Kansas City was able to hold on for a point, but was in control before being reduced to 10 players. Portland has high standards this season, and although they nearly left with nothing, probably should have been able to break FCKC down more than they did with the talent it had on the field.

As for Groom, I thought the first yellow was more debatable than the second, and she had scored an amazing first-half goal to put her team ahead. But she developed a bit of a reputation for late challenges last season, and that might have stopped her from getting the benefit of the doubt here.

Player of the Game: Becky Sauerbrunn – You could see it was almost like a personal challenge for Sauerbrunn when her team went down to 10 players and had a one-goal lead. Her organization and positioning were on full display, as was even a little bit of temper after she was called for a rare foul she disagreed with. In the end, she didn’t quite pull off the clean sheet, but it was close.

Under the Radar: Lindsey Horan – Her equalizing goal looked pretty simple, but long-time NWSL fans will appreciate the degree of difficulty involved in moving Brittany Taylor, perhaps the strongest defender in the league, out of the way to do it. It was very Abby Wambach-esque, and while comparing anyone to Abby in aerial play is blasphemy (and rightfully so), Jill Ellis has surely taken note of what Horan can do on set pieces.

Inside the Numbers: 16 – Number of fouls called on FCKC (at home, too) in Saturday’s game. Interestingly, nine of them came in the first half when Kansas City was dominant (leading 8-3 in shots). Groom ended up with four fouls in her 47 minutes of work before being sent off.

Up next: Kansas City – at Seattle (Sun.); Portland – at Boston (Sun.)

SUNDAY

Sky Blue 1:2 Washington (Lauletta’s take)

What Went Down: The Spirit, who have had their struggles on the road, even last season, picked up three points by getting goals from Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson and then holding off a furious Sky Blue rally at the end. The comeback was actually a little surprising, as Sky Blue did not even record a shot of any kind in the first half. Still, they were unlucky to be behind as the Spirit didn’t create much and scored on an Ali Krieger shross (not schross, as I was corrected).

The second Washington goal came from a Sarah Killion giveaway, and Killion was not as strong as in the opener (when I made her Player of the Game in Seattle), but the midfield of her, Taylor Lytle, and Raquel Rodriguez had a very good second half, including a gorgeous pass from Lytle to (up top again) Maya Hayes for the Sky Blue goal. The Spirit won’t be thrilled at how shaky their defense looked at the close, while SBFC can leave with some confidence, but in the end all the points were headed back down the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95.

Player of the Game: Ali Krieger – The battle of Krieger against Kelley O’Hara (who had a nasty tackle on Crystal Dunn at one point) could also be the same for a starting position for the Olympics. While O’Hara didn’t have a bad game, Krieger showed her quality, even if the goal was intended to be a cross.

Under the Radar: Christine Nairn – Nairn, unfortunately, might be the all-time NWSL Under the Radar leader. She does more than score goals from distance, as she showed in this match, winning balls and distributing to keep her team on the front foot (at least for the first 60 minutes).

Inside the Numbers: 7 – Combined number of fouls from Dunn and O’Hara in this one in this edition of feisty national team players (Krieger had none).

Up next: Sky Blue – at Houston (Fri.); Washington – at Western New York (Fri.)

Boston 0:3 Seattle

What Went Down: At least up to the point where Jess Fishlock got hurt, it was an old-school beatdown from the Reign, as their midfield was back to making opponents’ chase them around all day (not they they were hard to see in their bright uniforms). Although it’s clearly a long-term project for Matt Beard, it had to be a little frustrating, because his setup is deisgned to prevent that, but – news flash – Seattle is pretty good.

To be fair, the Breakers had moments (actually outshooting the Reign 11-10 in the end) and exposed Seattle’s defense on a few occasions, most notably a clean breakaway from Kristie Mewis. Even Hope Solo had a couple of shaky moments again, but alas Boston couldn’t finish any of them. The schedule makers were not terribly kind to the Breakers, who have to deal with Portland next week.

Player of the Game: Kim Little – Little’s goal late in the game showed her brilliance for those who may not believe. She got the ball, gave it up, continued to move, and made her run at precisely the correct time to get behind the Boston defense (after a nice pass from Beverly Yanez). Then she found the couple of inches Libby Stout (who didn’t have a great game) left open to finish. She should be Player of the Week in the league as well.

Under the Radar: Keelin Winters – Like Nairn, she does this every game it seems, but Winters was everywhere in the middle, and if she lost possession, I didn’t see it. So par for the course for her, but it’s still fun to watch.

Inside the Numbers: 2 – Number of shots Seattle substitute Lindsay Elston was able to record in 14 minutes of action, the only Reign player to have more than one shot in the game.

Up next: Boston – vs. Portland (Sun.); Seattle – vs. Kansas City (Sun.)

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