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The Lowdown: ‘It’s over!’ Huerta breaks the Press hex

Sophia Huerta scored her first goals ever with Christen Press on the same field. (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Sophia Huerta scored her first goals ever with Christen Press on the same field. (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)


Rory Dames was addressing his team ahead of Saturday’s match against the Breakers when he turned his attention toward Sofia Huerta. The Red Stars head coach looked at his second-year forward and told her it was time for her to score a goal. “I’m tired of answering questions about you not being able to score when Chris[ten Press] plays.”

“I really wasn’t aware of it until recently when I’ve been getting interviewed and that question has been brought up,” Huerta said about the fact that entering last weekend she had neither a goal nor an assist in a match Christen Press has played in. “And then I was like, ‘Wow that’s actually true I haven’t scored when Christen is in.’ It was the same answer every time. It had nothing to do with Chris.”

[CURREN: USWNT players leaving NWSL for Olympics prep earlier than expected]

It came to a point that even when Huerta helped her team, she hurt her cause. When Press went off with the national team for the May 29 game against Sky Blue, Huerta promptly scored her first goal of the season. It was the ninth game without Press dating to 2015 and it was Huerta’s seventh goal to go with three assists, but none of either during the other 18 regular season matches or playoff game.

“I do think I have to take on a different role when she’s gone and maybe that’s why I step up and I score because maybe I know that there is one less person to score. But when she’s there it’s not like I don’t get opportunities I just don’t finish. I don’t think it has anything to do with her style of play or my style of play.”

Three minutes into the match on Saturday, Huerta put that statistic in the trash bin ironically enough, after an initial entry pass by Arin Gilliland came up inches short of finding Press for what would have been a dangerous shot on goal.

“Arin played a diagonal ball for Christen. It was a little too far. And then Christen played Vanessa (DiBernardo). And I just made a run across my defender and Vanessa played a phenomenal ball. Really all I had to do was redirect it.”

As the team converged on Huerta to celebrate the goal she put her arms up, looked at Press and said, “It’s over!”

[MORE: Christen Press poses for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue]

Press has only one more game with the Red Stars—Wednesday night in Portland—before joining the United States for Olympic camp, but in order for the Red Stars to take the final two steps of reaching and winning the final, they will likely need to make a stronger finish to the season than a year ago. In 2015 the Red Stars won in the World Cup players’ first game back but finished 1-2-5 before getting demolished by FC Kansas City in the semifinals.

“Being in first place is always a good thing,” Huerta said. “Our team is a really gritty and quality team. We all just work so hard and work for each other. We respect Rory and the club so much that I think us being at the top has been backed up by how we’ve been playing recently.”

Huerta was quick to bring up opening night when a warm-up injury to Amanda DaCosta altered Dames’ tactics on the fly and a dull looking Red Stars side got beat soundly by the Houston Dash.

“You can only get better coming out of that game,” Huerta said. “That was the only positive.” It is also the last time the Red Stars lost a match. “I think so far we’ve come together collectively as a team and realized that this year we can win the final,” Huerta said candidly. “The only way we’re going to do that is to continue getting better, working together as a team and scoring team goals.”

Huerta put an exclamation point on her evening Saturday by opening the second half much the same way she opened the first. “One of the things I think our team is really good at is working hard defensively and Alyssa Mautz had worked super hard defensively and just passed the ball straight to me. All I had to do was turn and shoot it. I had been feeling good all game so I just took it.”

Huerta’s second goal of the night gave the Red Stars some breathing room and set the stage for the remainder of the match to play out without much resistance from the Breakers. And it took away any chance to label her first one as a fluke. Yes, the Red Stars can play and succeed with all of their best players on the field together.

“When (Press) is in I get just as many opportunities, I just actually finished them this time. Thank God.”

Attendance

Here are the attendance numbers for NWSL Week 9 plus season totals with comparisons to the same number of home dates in 2015.

FRIDAY
Western New York Flash – 2,235

SATURDAY
Washington Spirit – 5,750 (club record)
Chicago Red Stars – 2,553

SUNDAY
Sky Blue FC – 1,542
Houston Dash – 4,570

WEEK 9 TOTAL: 16,650
WEEK 9 AVERAGE: 3,330

TEAM AVERAGES AND COMPARISONS

1. Portland Thorns FC – 16,670 (3 games)
2015 average: 15,639
2015 thru 3 games: 13,590

2. Orlando Pride — 13,152 (3 games)

3. Houston Dash – 5,846 (4 games)
2015 average: 6,413
2015 thru 4 games: 4,647

4. Washington Spirit – 4,302 (4 games)
2015 average: 4,087
2015 thru 4 games – 3,465

5. Seattle Reign FC – 4,288 (5 games)
2015 average: 4,060
2015 thru 4 games: 2,654

6. FC Kansas City – 3,929 (5 games)
2015 average: 3,091
2015 thru 5 games: 3,295

7. Boston Breakers – 3,672 (5 games)
2015 average: 2,863
2015 thru 5 games: 2,445

8. Western New York Flash – 3,645 (5 games)
2015 average: 2,860
2015 thru 5 games: 2,135

9. Chicago Red Stars – 2,948 (5 games)
2015 average: 4,210
2015 thru 5 games: 5,097 (includes doubleheader with Fire with announced attendance of 16,017)

10. Sky Blue FC – 1,879 (5 games)
2015 average: 2,189
2015 thru 5 games: 1,298

Free Kicks

Direct

-Jill Ellis will call the United States into camp on July 1 and will have the players through the Olympic Games in Brazil. That means the biggest stars of NWSL will be away from their clubs after this weekend.

-There were two tough injuries this week. The Pride lost Aubrey Bledsoe to a broken bone in her leg. Bledsoe was to be the starting goalkeeper when Ashlyn Harris goes in with the U.S. At present that role falls to Megan Dorsey who was rostered as an amateur to back up Blesdoe last month.

Thorns defender Meg Morris suffered a broken hip on Friday in Western New York. Morris was a late edition to the starting lineup when Meghan Klingenberg’s back flared up during warmups.

Bledsoe and Morris are both out for the season. Klingenberg is expected to be available on Wednesday.

-Asked if Megan Rapinoe was close to returning, Laura Harvey said she expects Rapinoe to be on the Olympic roster but not to play for the Reign until after. “Rapinoe will go and play for the national team, I think, in the Olympics. I doubt she’ll play for me before that. But I honestly believe she’ll go and play in the Olympics.” Rapinoe tore her ACL training with the national team in December.

-Harvey also said Nahomi Kawasumi, aka Naho, is expected in Seattle this week and could be available the week after. Rumi Utsugi should be available one week after Kawasumi.

-I reported Monday that Lianne Sanderson is on her way to the Western New York Flash. The trade was made official Tuesday afternoon with the Pride acquiring an international spot through 2018. Pride coach Tom Sermanni also revealed that Sanderson approached the club asking for a change.

Indirect

–Here is my Player of the Week ballot:
1) Christie Rampone – In her last home match as a 40-year old Rampone proved that old axiom that age is indeed just a number with a sterling performance against the Reign that included a major role in the shutting down of former MVP Kim Little; 2) Becky Sauerbrunn – Did her part to keep a lively Dash side from getting on the scoreboard and snuck into the box to score the only goal of the night on a perfectly placed header after the Dash were unable to clear out a corner kick; 3) Danielle Colaprico – No goals or assists but Colaprico truly makes the Red Stars midfield work by winning balls and making quality distribution and she was on her game Saturday night against the Breakers

-Amandine Henry’s debut for the Thorns was mostly non-descript. But then again Henry’s game is often non-descript. And the Thorns added a goal during her time after Tobin Heath took a pass from Henry and won a penalty.

-That said, a penalty that was not. And there have been an awful lot of soft penalties in the three-and-a-half year history of NWSL.

-Finally, some brief thoughts on the national team being called in July 1 for a tournament that begins August 3 when two extra days with their club teams could have yielded another full weekend where NWSL sides had their biggest stars. Simply put, it has to stop. Naturally players are going to get called away for major tournaments and even sometimes for friendlies, but after beating its chest over going dark for FIFA dates, the league finds itself in a public relations pickle now that a second straight camp is pulling players away a week before a match. I’ve been talking to different folks about this issue and hope to put together something a bit more concrete, but I doubt anyone will be able to convince me that U.S. Soccer can’t do a better job of working with a league it does so much to support financically. As one NWSL coach has said on multiple occasions, “How can form in the league count for these players when we never have them?” And I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe two extra days in camp is going to make any difference as to who is on the podium come August 19.

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