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NWSL Week in Review: Hope Solo Has An Eventful Weekend

Abby Smith (gray jersey) positions herself during her professional debut, a 1-0 Breakers loss to the Thorns, (photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Abby Smith (gray jersey) positions herself during her professional debut, a 1-0 Breakers loss to the Thorns, (photo copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Hope Solo showed up at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night, which is not really all that surprising. Solo is a recognizable (even outside of soccer), somewhat controversial figure whose name would be sure to be mentioned for people like TMZ, for instance.

Solo had another reason to be a guest of The Atlantic (who has been a big fan of hers for a while) at the dinner, of course. The recent U.S. women’s national team lawsuit has drawn support from many in Washington, and Solo’s presence was a reminder to the national media just how strong and far reaching their case has the potential to be going forward.

Even for a borderline A-list celebrity like Solo, it was also a once in a lifetime opportunity, able to meet and greet with the most powerful people in the world, so why would she think twice about going? She also appeared on an Atlantic panel focused on women, fairness, and power, and certainly given her career and experience, it’s hard to argue with her inclusion.

The problem, though, was Solo had an NWSL game for the Seattle Reign – you know, her professional team – on Sunday at 4 p.m. PDT, just 20 hours after the conclusion of the festivities and complete with after parties and the like. There was no way Solo was making it back across the country in time for kickoff. With only 20 games in the NWSL regular season and Solo expected to miss about six because of national team Olympic commitments already, that’s a big deal, even for the defending NWSL Shield winners who have a capable backup in Haley Kopmeyer.

It’s also a big deal for the league’s image outside this current audience as an amateur one that can’t get national sponsors or a TV contract, and the perception that it’s really only there to keep national team players in shape between major events.

Solo – all the way back to her WPS days – can be a frustrating and divisive figure when it comes to professional leagues. And there are a growing amount of people that think Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher, both off to solid NWSL starts, are just as good in 2016 without the headaches.

But when the lineups were announced for the Kansas City-Seattle game Sunday afternoon, there was Hope Solo’s name right at the top where it always is. Was she 100 percent, though? Fatigue must show at some point? Two hours later, the Reign had a 1-0 win and Solo – although she wasn’t called on too many times – had another clean sheet and probably a day off on Monday to sleep in.

Once again, Hope Solo had gotten the last laugh and all we could do is shake our collective heads and bow to one of the greatest of all-time. Of course, Hope being Hope, when the Seattle media wanted to talk to her after the match about her amazing 24 hours, she politely declined the requests.

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

FRIDAY

Western New York 0:3 Washington

What Went Down: Shot totals can be extremely misleading, but on a rainy, cold night in Rochester, the Flash outshot the Spirit 16-7 and yet ended up on the wrong end of this lopsided result. There are pieces there that should make Western New York better than last year, particularly the midfield duo of Sam Mewis and Alanna Kennedy who were both active as usual. But Jaelene Hinkle was far from 100 percent and Elizabeth Eddy’s positioning – especially on the first Washington goal – left a little to be desired. Combine that with an offense still searching (WNY has yet to score a goal from open play), and Paul Riley has some problems, despite the final stats.

Washington’s inclusion of Cheyna Williams actually paid dividends on the defensive end as she was great clearing set pieces, and Crystal Dunn was her MVP self, running Flash defenders into the ground whenever she could and making one of the passes of the season to spring Diana Matheson for the opener.

Player of the Game: Crystal Dunn – The Flash were so cognizant of where Dunn was that when she vacated an area it often left huge holes for other players like Matheson and Joanna Lohman to fill. That’s how Dunn can not record a single shot and still get my Player of the Game.

Under the Radar: Alanna Kennedy – It was in a losing effort, but Kennedy has been fairly impressive in all three contests for the Flash and it should help them get some results if she can keep it up.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of saves for Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, who – although she posted a save percentage of just .250 for the evening – probably couldn’t do much about any of the goals.

Up next: WNY – at Sky Blue (Sat.); Washington – vs. Portland (Sat.)

Houston 0:0 Sky Blue

What Went Down: It wasn’t exactly a bunkering, but Sky Blue clearly came out in a defensive posture and it eventually paid off in the form of a valuable road point against a Dash team that did not have the services of the injured Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian. Houston launched 20 shots (12 in the second half) and looked dangerous at times through Rachel Daly (6 shots, 3 on goal) and Chioma Ubogagu, but could not beat goalkeeper Caroline Stanley.

While it’s two points dropped for Houston, it remains to be seen exactly how Sky Blue is going to score too many goals this season. Ashley Nick and Sarah Killion put together solid, physical performances and Raquel Rodriguez has been as good as advertised, but we shall see. Still, a good road point as I said.

Player of the Game: Erica Skroski – Although I’m not an avid college soccer watcher, I was surprised Skroski, who was a major piece in Rutgers going to the Final Four, fell as far as she did in the draft (23rd). She is not spectacular, but has plenty of experience at the center back position, and has obviously won a lot of soccer games.

Under the Radar: Erin Simon – Simon wasn’t drafted at all out of Syracuse, yet another converted forward in the back, but on Friday, she seemed to be in the right spot several times when Sky Blue might be in trouble to save the day.

Inside the Numbers: 6 – Number of fouls suffered by Andressa, four of which came in the first half. Eventually, the officials had enough and booked Raquel Rodriguez.

Up next: Houston – at Kansas City (Sat.); Sky Blue – vs. WNY (Sat.)

SUNDAY

Boston 0:1 Portland

What Went Down: The Thorns were again a bit disappointing, their ability to possess the ball and be dangerous not seeming to be up to the level of talent they had on the field. But again, Portland came away with three points, something they obviously weren’t able to do enough of last season. This time, it was Dagny Brynjarsdottir finished a perfect Tobin Heath free kick for the game’s only goal.

The Breakers played decent and were most dangerous on set pieces themselves, and if one of them had gone in, it might have been a different story. As it stands, though, Boston just isn’t generating much offense, and it will be interesting to see if Matt Beard looks to change things up. He tried Kristie Mewis up top for a while with Kyah Simon behind her, and the trio of Simon, Mewis, and Stephanie McCaffrey are the ones the Breakers will look to for production.

Player of the Game: Emily Sonnett – One of the upgrades the Thorns made that has gone a bit unnoticed was Sonnett, perhaps because she’s not a goal scorer. It’s going to take her a while to bring the leadership and skill that the center back position needs at this level, but you can see on nights like Sunday that she has the tools.

Under the Radar: Adrianna Franch – Franch has been under the radar in general since being called into national team camp in 2013 and then suffering an ACL injury that forced her to miss an entire season. But she was excellent in her first start of 2016, including a big save off McCall Zerboni midway through the second half.

Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of goals Boston has scored this season. Don’t really need to explain that one more, do I?

Up next: Boston – vs. Chicago (Sat.); Portland – at Washington (Sat.)

Chicago 1:0 Orlando

What Went Down: After an opener in which their defense looked dreadful, the Red Stars looked back in last year’s form, even without Julie Johnston (minor injury) in the lineup. Tom Sermanni switched things up to go to a 4-4-2, giving Sarah Hagen her first start of her Orlando career, and Hagen had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the second half, but it wasn’t to be. Christen Press made no mistake on her chance at the other end, however.

Christen Press has now scored 12 goals in her last 14 NWSL appearances. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Christen Press has now scored 12 goals in her last 14 NWSL appearances. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

With the parity in NWSL at the moment, the Pride are right in the mix, but they’ll have to pick up some points outside of Florida eventually. As in their opener, there were some good things, but no points.

Player of the Game: Christen Press – If it weren’t for Crystal Dunn and the World Cup, Press would have likely been the NWSL MVP last season, and with all due respect to some of her national team contemporaries, she might have the best league form of any of them in the last two years (not counting Dunn, who was not on the World Cup roster). She had three of Chicago’s six shots on goal.

Under the Radar: Katie Naughton – It was Naughton who filled in for Julie Johnston, and did so admirably, meaning Rory Dames has a pretty good replacement when the Olympics come around.

Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of shots on goal from Alex Morgan, a testament to the Chicago defensive effort.

Up next: Chicago – at Boston (Sat.); Orlando – vs. Seattle (Sun.)


Seattle 1:0 Kansas City

What Went Down: The defending champions actually put together a decent performance considering they were missing just about anything resembling a forward with Shea Groom suspended and Tiffany McCarty injured (and Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux out for the season). So FCKC was very organized, but had next to nothing going forward except for a couple of Heather O’Reilly forays. We’ll see how they figure it out going forward.

The Reign still weren’t good by their standards, and were bailed out by some fantastic individual work by Kim Little. With Jess Fishlock out long-term, Seattle would like to see someone (Beverly Yanez like last season?) step up and help her on the offensive end. But three points is three points, right?

Player of the Game: Kim Little – You feel bad naming the same people here every week, but Little not only scored the game-winner with a brilliant first touch and clinical second, but was key on the defensive end in the second half. So here we are.

Under the Radar: Keelin Winters – Winters did her usual, patrolling the middle and not letting anything get started for Kansas City, rendering talented players like Erika Tymrak virtually invisible.

Inside the Numbers: 2 – Number of goals for Little this season, making her one of only four NWSL players with multiple goals this season (Diana Matheson, Lindsey Horan, Christen Press).

Up next: Seattle – at Orlando (Sun.); Kansas City – vs. Houston (Sat.)

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