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Point by Point: Week 2 storylines

Orlando City Stadium will host its first NWSL match on Saturday (Photo: Orlando City SC)

Orlando City Stadium will host its first NWSL match on Saturday (Photo: Orlando City SC)

The excitement that surrounded the opening of a new NWSL season was tempered a bit by streaming issues and two major injuries.  It’s time for Week 2. Dan Lauletta and Meg Linehan break down the storylines to follow:

What is the top storyline to follow this weekend?

Dan: It has to be Marta. Even if the soccer wonks have other ideas, did you see fans waiting for her at the airport on Thursday night? This is NWSL for crying out loud. It was really a poignant moment for the league. I know it’s not the first airport greeting (read Thorns return from winning 2013 NWSL Championship) but it still served as what could be a watershed moment. They’re playing on Lifetime in a brand new and by all account gorgeous stadium. With apologies to the folks hosting their first match in North Carolina later on, Orlando is where it’s at this weekend.

{WEEK 2 PREVIEW:  Bush — lace up your boots tightly for Week 2}

Meg:  I have to agree on this front. I’m not sure there’s going to be an immediate click between Marta and the Pride, but I think things will come together enough for the team for them to sneak into the playoffs by the end of the regular season. The Pride looked decent enough against Portland, though with some clear midfield and defensive gaps to figure out. Add the Spirit, who had pretty much nothing offensively last week, and I’d predict a happy crowd in that brand new stadium on Saturday afternoon. If Marta manages a goal, I hope I hear that crowd erupt all the way in NYC.

It’s early, but which team is most in need of a result?

Meg:  Of the teams that didn’t manage a point last weekend, it has to be Chicago. Tapped by the NWSL Media Association to top the regular season, they got an early surprise in Houston at the hands of Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly. Granted, they were away, and no matter how good the team is in this league, getting points on the road in the NWSL is still especially hard. It’s their season home opener at Toyota Park, but FC Kansas City isn’t going to be an easy win by any stretch. I do think this is the biggest “must win” of Week Two, simply because Chicago starting the season 0-2 is an unexpected hole to dig out from (unlike, for instance, Boston or Washington).

{MORE:  Allison’s Friday Favorites — Daly, Ohai hit ‘home run’}

Dan:  Overall, I think it’s too early for must-wins, but I find the Dash-Reign match an interesting one. The Dash have never taken a point off the Reign (including becoming the first team ever to lose from two goals up in regulation in the ’16 finale) and they have rarely if ever followed up on the type of win Meg references above. Combine that with the Reign having already dropped points on the home pitch they were once invincible on and this one has the feel of one that could go a ways in terms of the direction both of these teams’ seasons take.

Are there any specific individual matchups you are looking forward to this weekend?

Dan:  Marta against a slow Spirit defense is one but we’ve covered that a bit already. I thought Debinha was sensational in her Courage debut but now she has Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, and Amandine Henry to deal with in order to win the midfield. If the Thorns stick with the more effective roles of Long playing higher than Henry, it could mean many Debinha-Henry battles. That will be a fascinating contrast in styles. It is also one I’m not so sure Henry gets the better of.

{THURSDAY Q&A: Kronick goes 1-v.-1 with Courage MF McCall Zerboni}

Meg: With all apologies to the Courage-Spirit game during opening weekend, the rematch I’ve been waiting on for the defending champs is the one against Portland. I still think North Carolina has Portland’s number thanks to their speed (and especially Lynn Williams), and Tobin Heath out another week doesn’t help the Thorns much either. And I definitely agree with you Dan, based on last week, I’d also pick Debhinha over Henry in that matchup. I also think Williams and Jessica McDonald are going to give Adriana Franch plenty of work. She didn’t look great last week, and Orlando minus Alex Morgan and Marta is a very different beast than NC’s top line firing at all cylinders.

I’m glad that this game is on at 7:30 pm ET, so that way we don’t get the conflict with the game of the week on Lifetime. And speaking of…

Where do we stand with go90 issues and other general access to the matches?

Meg:  I was one of the suckers who went out and purchased a ChromeCast for week one, and beyond the lag from game action, thought it went about how I expected for Week 1. I’m still not entirely sure who’s operating what for go90 broadcasts at the stadiums, but the biggest issue was obviously the commercials in the FCKC-Breakers game, and I don’t expect that issue to repeat in week two after it blew up in the league’s face. Hopefully the access for archived games gets worked out much faster this time around—though I still think that’s a much larger issue for media and the die-hard fan that aren’t likely to ditch the league over issues there, compared to a casual fan.

{RELATED:  Marta get big welcome, glitzy press conference}

Moving beyond the backlash and the backlash-to-the-backlash, ultimately I get why the league went with go90. It’s functional and they got money. I remain hesitant simply because it is not conducive to converting casual fans, and it’s impossible to effectively share a game stream on social media. That might change when we eventually get web-friendly streams. Right now, the league has to balance the need for eyeballs against the need for income, and I’m worried the go90 deal will be a wash long-term when it comes to attracting, maintaining and growing the NWSL audience.

Dan:  What Meg said. I’m already pretty tired of this issue and my thoughts about how the league dropped the ball on the message are well known (though they’re at it again by going quiet on the four-day saga to find the Dash-Red Stars stream.) I would love to be  able to say all of the issues will be worked out but there is just no way to know.  I have heard through back channels that the right people are aware not only of the problems but of the importance in getting them rectified. That shouldn’t be a back channel message though.

Anyway, very much hoping for a Monday morning discussing Marta, Ohai, et al and not comparing notes about streaming issues.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Dan:  Week 2 is always an interesting time. After we all overreact to Week 1, things start to settle into place a bit. One team to watch is FC Kansas City. Vlatko Andonovski’s coaching acumen is in for a stern test since he likely spent the last six month trying to come up with a way to maximize the Amy Rodriguez-Sydney Leroux partnership. With that gone for the season—Rodriguez tore her ACL but if you’re reading this I’m sure you knew that—Andonovski will have to quickly roll out Plan B. Will it include a 4-4-2 with Erika Tymrak and Katie Bowen wide? Will someone push up into Rodriguez’s spot? Or maybe back to a 4-2-3-1 with Shea Groom underneath Leroux. Either way there won’t be time to feel sorry for themselves with a trip to Chicago up next.

{THE LOWDOWN:  No 3-5-2 in NWSL…yet}

Meg: But overreacting to Week 1 is so fun, Dan. We haven’t said much about the final game of the weekend yet, between the Boston Breakers and Sky Blue FC, but since I’m on the Equalizer desk for that one I’m pretty curious to see how it plays out. Boston looks like they’ll still be missing Amanda Frisbie, who’s listed as doubtful with her left quad strain. The temporary solution of moving Midge Purce to the backline didn’t work at all in Kansas City (which I don’t blame on Purce, especially when staring down an especially motivated Sydney Leroux). Sky Blue might be my leading candidate for most interesting team to watch in this young season, and I’m curious to see what adjustments they’ll make on the road at Harvard.

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