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NWSL Week In Review: Just enjoy form of Kerr and Rapinoe

Sam Kerr scored another dramatic equalizer, but Sky Blur lost 5-4 in the closing minutes. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Sam Kerr scored another dramatic equalizer, but Sky Blur lost 5-4 in the closing minutes. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

After Kelley O’Hara converted a penalty kick, Sam Kerr sprinted to get the ball out of the net and get it back to the center circle as quickly as possible. It’s a scene that is repeated in many soccer games around the world, but Kerr’s actions seemed overly ambitious, her team trailed 4-1 in the 61st minute and comebacks of that scale just don’t happen in professional soccer.

Not 15 minutes later, it was Kerr (of course) who headed home the tying goal. Perhaps the most memorable regular season game in NWSL history ended in heartbreak for Sky Blue, however, when Megan Rapinoe completed her hat trick to give Seattle a wild 5-4 victory.

In a way, it was a bit of a shame from a pure historian’s point of view. In trying to do research on 4-0 second-half comebacks, there were a few, most notably perhaps Newcastle doing it to earn a draw with Arsenal in 2011 (sadly, the guy who scored the amazing equalizer in that match – Cheick Tiote – died from a heart ailment last month). But I couldn’t find any to actually come all the way back and win, and before Rapinoe’s winner, Sky Blue had a few chances to grab the lead in the final minutes.

But for all the talk of television contracts and attendance numbers, sometimes it’s wise just to sit back and enjoy the show these world-class athletes are putting on. With sincere apologies to Christen Press and McCall Zerboni, this match almost definitely featured the 2017 NWSL MVP and both are in the best form of their lives. Megan Rapinoe and Sam Kerr do things in different ways, but they are so fun to watch when they have the ball at their feet. And sometimes when the ball is not at their feet.

I’m as guilty as anyone, but there are times where politics and all the off-field problems in running a professional women’s sports league can take a break, and we can let ourselves be entertained. In the end, that’s the ultimate goal we all have, isn’t it? When people list the greatest players in the world, they can throw out Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Kerr, and Rapinoe. When highlight shows (they still exist, right?) see a Game of the Year as we did Saturday night in Seattle, they will put it first, complete with on-site interviews and such.

It’s probably not a coincidence (I hope it’s not) that Sky Blue and Seattle have seen increased crowds the last few weeks at their games. It’s a long, long process, but it’s a start. Some of the hottest, most exciting players in the world are on display every week at an NWSL venue near you. “If you build it, they will come” sadly does not apply to professional women’s soccer, but if you promote it and let people see exactly how fun it is to watch a team like Sky Blue with Kerr on a weekly basis, the audience will increase, both in person and on television screens.

There is some irony, of course, in Sky Blue’s appeal. Like a team local to them that wears the same color kits (and a future partner?) NYCFC perhaps plays the most entertaining soccer in MLS, led by the league’s most fun player, David Villa (who is a little bit of a mix between Kerr and Rapinoe, by the way). But their lack of defense sometimes adds to entertainment value.

After conceding five times Saturday, Sky Blue has done so 28 times this season, far and away most in NWSL, even with Kailen Sheridan making enough saves to instill herself as a Rookie of the Year candidate (their 28 goals scored are second to only Seattle, and no other team is real close). The top three teams in the league, however, have allowed 14, 13, and 13 goals, respectively, and that’s a big reason why they are as successful as they are.

But we can focus on those types of things when the regular season resumes in a couple of weeks from the international break. For now, let’s just watch the highlights of Seattle and Sky Blue over and over a few times, shall we? And marvel at how lucky we are to be able to watch some of the best soccer players in the world in the prime of their careers on a weekly basis.

What else did we learn in a weekend that never truly finished, I guess, after Kansas City and North Carolina were postponed?


Chicago 2:1 Orlando (recap)

What Went Down: The Red Stars can sometimes be the anti-Sky Blue, their style and quality on the ball in the midfield sometimes prevent opponents from showing much to us, which of course is a good thing for them. With a makeshift defense, though (Sam Johnson and Julie Ertz didn’t start), Orlando had some chances to score, but didn’t take them and were eventually undone by Christen Press. I rarely side with ejected coaches, but it did seem that Rory Dames – sweatshirt and all – got a raw deal on a call that was clearly wrong at halftime.

In the end, the Pride only had four shots on goal despite winning the possession battle and taking 15 of them overall, so it probably has to go down as another lost opportunity in a season of them. There’s still hope to make the playoffs, but for every match they don’t get a result, the odds drop. Tom Sermanni hasn’t quite gotten a partner for Marta and Alex Morgan yet, and might have to give Rachel Hill a shot going forward and see what happens.

Player of the Game: Christen Press – Ali Krieger looked bad on Press’ first goal, but the more you watch it, the more impressed you are with Press’ first touch that might have beaten Krieger anyway. It’s the type of game we saw frequently from Press a couple of years ago, where she would get behind defenses and be clinical, and if Chicago is going to eventually win the NWSL Shield and title, she’ll need to be.

Under the Radar: Sofia Huerta – Huerta will train with the USWNT after playing with Mexico at the U-20 World Cup and in a couple of senior friendlies, including against the United States in 2013. It’s probably long overdue as you can see from a game like this. One thing Huerta isn’t given enough credit for is her physical play, she is a strong 5’7, and has the potential to be a USWNT regular if she can get some help from FIFA. An interesting note on how things change, among the starters for the USWNT in the game Huerta played in 2013 were Erika Tymrak and Kristie Mewis, Crystal Dunn was at right back, and Huerta’s teammate Vanessa DiBernardo was on the bench..

Inside the Numbers: 4,742 – A really good crowd at Toyota Park on a hot day, hopefully a sign of things to come.

Up next: Chicago – at Orlando (Aug. 5); Orlando – vs. Chicago (Aug. 5)

Houston 1:0 Boston (recap)

What Went Down: It’s hard to overstate how much more competitive Boston has been on the road this season compared to last, but unfortunately for them the results have largely been the same. Particularly in the first half, the Breakers had some glorious chances, Adriana Leon missing by about an inch. In the end, they’ve scored just 10 goals this season, although we’ll never know what life would have been like had Rose Lavelle played a whole season, I guess.

Meanwhile, the Dash are unbeaten in six, and while Carli Lloyd has helped, Omar Morales has somehow figured out his defense, which was no easy task the way they looked at the beginning of the season. A lot of that is Jane Campbell, who has been the equal of almost every other NWSL goalkeeper since her reinsertion into the lineup. They are four points out of the playoffs with nine matches left, certainly not insurmountable.

Player of the Game: Janine Van Wyk – To be blunt, Van Wyk did not look like she belonged at this level when the season started and somewhat quickly found her way to the bench under Randy Waldrum. But she has been extremely solid since returning the last month and being paired with Amber Brooks as the Dash chase the top four.

Under the Radar: Margaret Purce – She was probably the name on the most recent USWNT roster to raise the most eyebrows (and could become the second Ivy League player ever to get a full cap), but she showed in this match her quality and ability to run at people with the ball, a quality not in large supply for the USWNT as it is currently constructed.

Inside the Numbers: 10 – Number of saves by Abby Smith, which is among the most in the league this season.

Up next: Houston – at Portland (Aug. 5); Boston – vs. Kansas City (Aug. 4)

Seattle 5:4 Sky Blue (recap)

What Went Down: So many angles, so little time. Sky Blue leaves horribly disappointed, not only because they came from four goals down and eventually got nothing, but because they dominated a large portion of the game, finishing with 31 (?!?) shots (to Seattle’s 11). Both teams’ defense left plenty to be desired, and thankfully for the Reign, their collapse here will be little remembered, because it was quite the collapse, culminated by leaving Sam Kerr wide open for the equalizer.

Sky Blue tried to play a three-back, which it had in their previous two comebacks in their last two games (mere 2-0 deficits). Part of it is due to injuries, but it will be interesting to see what Christy Holly does going forward. Unfortunately for Sky Blue, this was a massive loss for playoff purposes, as Seattle is its nearest competitor right now. But none of that should take away from the show that was put on here.

Player of the Game: Megan Rapinoe – We’re just about out of accolades and there is still a few months left, so we’ll have to work on that. The winning goal in particular was not nearly as easy as it looks, she was 18 yards out and hit it with her left foot, but it’s certainly on par with the form Rapinoe is currently in.

Under the Radar: Daphne Corboz – It looked earlier in the season like Corboz’s relative lack of athleticism might be hurting her a bit, but no more. Her creativity and passing ability has made Sam Kerr look even better and it’s hard to see her coming out of the lineup for any length of time the rest of the way.

Inside the Numbers: 4:23 – Length of the highlights of this match put out by the NWSL. They try to keep them to three minutes in length, but we can surely excuse them for this, right?

Up next: Seattle – at North Carolina (Aug. 5); Sky Blue – vs. Washington (Aug. 4)

Portland 2:1 Washington (recap)

What Went Down: The Spirit took the lead midway early in the second half, and looked like it could finally get a huge road victory (which would have been extra sweet for Jim Gabarra), but it frustratingly slipped away from a goal off a set piece and leaving a Thorns player by herself five yards from goal for the winner. The Thorns had just three shots on goal, two of them going in, and it looked like the Spirit were going to have the lead with 10 minutes left before Kristie Mewis couldn’t get her body around a ball with an open net just five yards away.

You’re torn between lauding Portland for really buckling down despite all kinds of injuries and European call-ups and thinking that they should be playing a little better because there is still plenty of quality out on the field. Regardless, they are in decent playoff position and leave with another three points in this match.

Player of the Game: Mallory Pugh – Pugh has quietly been playing better, likely getting acclimated to the league a little more and by next season, should be among the best players in the NWSL one would think. Add Andi Sullivan and a couple others to Washington and can they return to the playoffs in 2018? Why not?

Under the Radar: Allie Long – Her form has not quite been as good as last season, but Long not only scored the tying goal but controlled the middle of the field enough for the Thorns to control the middle of the field for much of the night.

Inside the Numbers: 18,478 – Hopefully, you’re not tired of these attendance numbers from Portland every week, because I surely never will be.

Up next: Portland – vs. Houston (Aug. 5); Washington – at Sky Blue (Aug. 4)

Kansas City Ppd:Ppd North Carolina (recap)

What Went Down: As of the writing of this, it still remains to be seen what will happen to this game, which was called off late in the first half due to lightning that would not cease. Whatever happens, the 38 minutes that were played have been stricken from the record books.

On a ridiculously oppressive night, North Carolina dominated the first 20 minutes, but it looked like FCKC was getting its footing before the game was called. There aren’t many dates available to squeeze this one in, so it will probably have to be a mid-week affair late in August or in September.

Inside the Numbers: 91 – Announced temperature at kickoff, even at 8 p.m. So it was a little warm during the day there.

Up next: Kansas City – at Boston (Aug. 4); North Carolina – vs. Seattle (Aug. 5)


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