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NWSL Week In Review: Controlling what you can

Nicole Barnhart's second clean sheet of the season was good for FC Kansas City's first win

Nicole Barnhart’s second clean sheet of the season was good for FC Kansas City’s first win

There has been a little (probably not enough, but hey) written about the decision to pull the U.S. national team players from the NWSL last weekend. I don’t agree with it and I believe it was unnecessary (and taking 24 players and four goalkeepers was particularly so), but that’s not a battle I’m going to win at the moment and I’ve come to terms with that.

In the end, mandates like that are out of the league’s control, unfortunately. This hypothetically hurts both the marketability and quality of the on-field product, but instead of fretting about what isn’t going to happen, it’s a good chance for the NWSL to focus on what it can. Like the quality of its broadcasts, for instance. Western New York has had three home games and hasn’t gotten its feed watchable for the opening kickoff in any of them. Friday, we missed the first few minutes and then had to endure horrible background sounds (as we did the week before) to watch.

This is a small matter for some, but the old “doing the little things right” cliche has some merit here. In-game attendance is very important (and Western New York isn’t doing great there, either), but it’s worth remembering that there are only 10 teams in NWSL spread ariund the country and (for now), there are many die-hard women’s soccer supporters who can’t get to live games and still want to follow the league. It may still be years down the road, but these are fans that could multiply and watch the games when and if it gets a decent television contract.

There are many, many obstacles facing a professional women’s sports league of any type, even in 2016, and while converting the straight out haters will likely never happen, it is imperative that NWSL do what it possibly can to make its product look professional. Obviously, there is a tight budget and that plays a part, but as I watched the game Friday night before the audio was figured out (again), I thought how hard the players on the field had worked to get to where they were in their careers, and how many obstacles NWSL has to becoming successful. They don’t need to add self-imposed ones to that list.

What else did we learn as the NWSL trudged along without its USWNT players this weekend?

FRIDAY

Western New York 4:0 Boston (recap)

What Went Down: The Breakers actually allegedly (the video didn’t come in until later) had a couple of very good chances early, and really didn’t fall apart until Lynn Williams found herself wide open at the back post in the 63rd minute to make it 2-0. From there, it was a complete collapse that Boston fans have unfortunately seen a few times in the past couple of years. Most disturbing for the Breakers (other than the fact that the Flash did not field a full-strength lineup) is the lack of offense. Again. They recorded just two shots on goal, both in the first half, meaning Matt Beard’s Jose Mourinho-like triple sub at the half did nothing to motivate his team. Stephanie McCaffrey looks lost (she came off the bench again) and the experiment of Christen Westphal as a right back didn’t work at all. Kristie Mewis left at halftime and didn’t record a single shot. So if anyone can use the couple of weeks off, it’s the Breakers.

The Flash continue to be dominant at home, and have scored three more goals than any other team in the league. The game plan (even without Samantha Mewis and Sabrina D’Angelo – who might be out until after the Olympics now with an injury) seemed the same: use their athleticism all over the field, especially on set pieces. Taylor Smith and Abby Dahlkemper scored on corners, and Lynn Williams flew past the Boston defense on several occasions, even before her goals. Simple, but effective, especially without the national team players.

Player of the Game: Abby Dahlkemper – It’s easy to forget Dahlkemper was the third overall pick in the draft out of UCLA last year, and although she doesn’t have a full cap with the national team, has plenty of experience in the youth program. Dahlkemper has been excellent the last few weeks and got her first professional goal as well.

Under the Radar: Lynn Williams – Not really under anyone’s radar when you score two goals, but maybe a cumulative vote here as  – although Williams has struggled a little bit this season – she certainly has the potential to be a feared NWSL striker with her speed and scoring ability. The Flash had four first-round picks last season and got Dahlkemper, Williams, Mewis, and Jaelene Hinkle. If they happen to make the playoffs, that’s probably why.

Inside the Numbers: 59 – Number of seconds between Lynn Williams goals, which takes into account the time the game had to be restarted as well. It was hard to see exactly how much game time elapsed, but my best estimate was 16 seconds.

Up next: Western New York – vs. Orlando (June 11); Boston – vs. Washington (June 11)

Houston : Washington (Ppd.) (recap)

What Went Down: A torrential downpour made BBVA Compass Stadium unplayable, and if you saw any pictures, it was really unplayable, so it was the only decision to make.

A tougher call will be when to make this game up. Does the league find an off week during the Olympic break and have the teams play, or do they look to a mid-week date when the national team players may actually be available (but creates some fixture congestion)? It would have been easiest just to play the game on Saturday, but apparently international call-ups from other countries were already scheduled to leave Saturday morning.

Inside the Numbers: 8 – Place the Dash fell to in the standings, although they now have a game in hand on the rest of NWSL (sans Washington, of course).

Up next: Houston – at Seattle (June 12); Washington – at Boston (June 10)

SATURDAY

Kansas City 2:0 Orlando (recap)

What Went Down: FCKC got a much-need victory and were good value for it, even if it took a nasty deflection for Yael Averbuch to get what turned out to be the winning goal on a free kick in the 53rd minute. One positive (looking for silver linings here) about losing Lauren Holiday And Amy Rodriguez is that there is less of an adjustment when the national team players aren’t available, and FCKC took advantage of that with a fairly dominant performance at home. Shea Groom didn’t score, but looked dangerous and Erika Tymrak looked as close to her 20123 NWSL Rookie of the Year form as we’ve seen in a while.

Without Alex Morgan, it is tougher for Orlando to play direct, and losing Sarah Hagen in the 22nd minute to another injury didn’t help the cause, either. A lot like Portland, the Pride look like they’re going to have some trouble without their internationals, and unfortunately, that could be the difference in the end between being a playoff team or not.

Player of the Game: Erika Tymrak – As we saw last season, it’s tough for Tymrak to be a star player without help, much of her game is working off of her teammates. But I think people that have written her off completely this season are wrong as well. She is still working hard every week, and as she showed Saturday, is still capable of game-changing performances. She set up the first goal after being fouled and the second was vintage Tymrak.

Under the Radar: Desiree Scott – Like Tymrak, she hasn’t looked like the player that was a dominant NWSL player just a couple of years ago, but she had her best game of 2016 on Saturday, not allowing a relatively inexperienced Orlando midfield to get going and making Lianne Sanderson virtually invisible for much of the evening.

Inside the Numbers: 68 – Number of minutes Christina Burkenroad was forced to play after Hagan’s injury. Like Hagan, she is a pretty amazing and inspiring story.

Up next: Kansas City – at Sky Blue (June 11); Orlando – at Western New York (June 11)

SUNDAY

Portland 0:0 Seattle (recap)

What Went Down: The Thorns (before 18,000 in attendance without their national team players) did a remarkable job to get a point, which is great, but you wonder if it’s going to be that hard for them for every non-national team game the rest of the summer. Somehow Nadia Nadim and Dagny Brynjarsdottir ended up in defensive positions toward the end of the game (and did pretty well). Granted, Seattle still has a very strong team even without its USWNT talent, but we shall see.

It was another disappointing result for the Reign, who just don’t seem to have the offense they did a year ago, which is a little strange, because the players are largely the same. Jess Fishlock was back, although probably not 100 percent, and Portland did a good job limiting Kim Little’s touches in dangerous areas. But it’s going to get late in the season pretty early for Seattle and they aren’t near a playoff spot at the moment.

Player of the Game: Keelin Winters – Winters gave an inexperienced Portland midfield some lessons, dominating as she did many times last season, allowing the Reign to have the majority of the possession in the contest. Alas, it didn’t translate into any goals, but it was fun to watch.

Under the Radar: Dagny Brynjarsdottir – I’m not sure how often Brynjarsdottir was asked to defend at Florida State, but she looked like a natural in a defensive mid role in the second half, stopping Fishlock and Little on a couple of occasions. They would still rather have her closer to the opponents’ goal in the future, though.

Inside the Numbers: 10 – Number of players that went 90 minutes for Mark Parsons in the game. Christine Sinclair was subbed off at halftime (apparently scheduled) and McKenzie Berryhill and Shade Pratt split the time in her spot the rest of the way.

Up next: Portland – at Chicago (June 12); Seattle – vs. Houston (June 12)

Chicago 1:1 Sky Blue (recap)

What Went Down: The Red Stars can take solace in the fact that they looked very good for most of the contest and should be able to survive national team call-ups, but will be disappointed they didn’t take three points in this game despite numerous chances to put the game away. Rory Dames will also likely be showing their lack of urgency in defending the Sky Blue equalizer several times on film in the next couple of weeks. Sofia Huerta and Dani Colaprico combined on a brilliant goal, but Huerta missed several chance to add to it and Colaprico was nowhere to be found on the Sky Blue goal.

A road point after a beatdown the week before is a positive result for Sky Blue, who look to have a legitimate goal scorer in Leah Galton. Raquel Rodriguez did not look 100 percent and a shuffled up back line with Kristin Grubka in central defense had a tough weekend in the back trying to deal with Huerta and Jen Hoy, but Sky Blue showed plenty of heart in the second half. They’ll need more than that to make a playoff run, but it’s a start.

Player of the Game: Katie Naughton – This was a tough one for this contest, as I said the obvious choices would be Huerta, Colaprico, or someone like Arin Gilliland, but they all had poor moments as well in the match. Naughton is not the fastest player on the field, but it must be remembered that the player she replaced – Julie Johnston – really isn’t, either. I’ve been very impressed with Naughton’s positioning and ability to deal with threats in the final third.

Under the Radar: Kelly Conheeney – Conheeney seems prone to being overly physical at times, but she didn’t have a single foul in this game and battled for every ball, including in the buildup to the equalizer, when she outmuscled two Red Stars midfielders (including Colaprico) to win the ball and spray it wide to Taylor Lytle to start the attack.

Inside the Numbers: 4 – Number of total saves in this game (two for each team). So it wasn’t exactly a thrilling contest, especially in the first half.

Up next: Chicago – vs. Portland (June 12); Sky Blue – vs. Kansas City (June 11)

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