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NWSL Week in Review: To rest or not to rest? Depends on player

Sam Mewis played a full 90 for the Courage, just two days after playing a full 90 for the USWNT. (photo by Lewis Gettier)

Sam Mewis played a full 90 for the Courage, just two days after playing a full 90 for the USWNT. (photo by Lewis Gettier)

Excuses are not really the realm of a successful professional coach (or many facets of life, to be honest), but you wondered what was going through the brain of Boston coach Matt Beard after Friday night’s match, in which the Breakers conceded late for a 2-2 draw.

It looks like Boston is a year away from contending for the NWSL playoffs, so the two points dropped may not matter much in the grand scheme of things, but Beard did not have Margaret Purce or Abby Smith at his disposal for the contest, having finished their national team duty less than 24 hours before. Of course, his opponent, FC Kansas City, had the same problems, with their losses being arguably more extensive that Beard’s with Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney Leroux unavailable.

At least, however, Sauerbrunn and Leroux played for the USWNT in the Tournament of Nations (ToN). Smith and Purce never stepped on the field. Yes, training with the national team is invaluable experience for young players trying to make an impact, but is it worth missing a club match entirely for? Boston also lost Rose Lavelle to a now two-month injury while on national team duty, too, remember.

Tournament of Nations hangover wasn’t any easier elsewhere. While the NWSL did make a statement saying all its players were to immediately return to their clubs following the inaugural ToN, pure common sense meant that Sky Blue were not going to have MVP candidate Sam Kerr. While she wouldn’t have helped much with the defensive implosion that ensued, she has helped to overcome a couple of other similar performances in the back this season. And unlike Boston, Sky Blue is hoping for a playoff berth.

While holding players out of Friday’s game was a no-brainer, coaches were much more tempted Saturday to risk it, with it unfortunately being the near (and far?) futures of their players. And so, even after flying across the country, Paul Riley – with his high-pressing style – wrote Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith, and Sam Mewis into his team sheet less than 48 hours after playing against Japan for the USWNT. Fighting for every point in the playoff race, Laura Harvey and Seattle did not have Megan Rapinoe (not even on the bench), who would have seemed to be at her best countering against the Courage’s aggressive style.

Elsewhere, Carli Lloyd went directly into Houston’s lineup, as did Lindsey Horan for Portland, while Allie Long came on as a sub for Mark Parsons and the Thorns. Christen Press and Julie Ertz got rests for Chicago, but Alex Morgan started and Marta (thanks to an early injury to Rachel Hill) went almost the entire distance.

Is there a right or wrong answer to this dilemma? Probably not, except of course to find a way to communicate better between the interests of the USWNT and the NWSL. I am lukewarm at best to any in-season national team friendlies, even though I understand that they might be necessary in some capacity. But when the Tournament of Nations was announced, it took me all of 30 seconds to check the NWSL schedule and see that there were two matches slated for less than 24 hours after its conclusion and 48 hours for the rest. Playing two competitive matches in that amount of time is just not conducive to top performance for professional soccer players and almost certainly putting them at an increased risk for injury.

We have one more season of no major international tournaments before the World Cup in 2019 and Olympics in 2020. There should be a way (as with every major men’s league in the world) to come up with a schedule that will give three days off between international matches and club matches. All it will take is communication and planning between all parties. Hopefully with this season as a template, all involved can tweak it and make sure no one has to miss an NWSL match in 2018 because of international duty.

What else did we learn in a weekend that didn’t really do much to clear up the playoff race?


Sky Blue 1:4 Washington

What Went Down: Sky Blue’s defense has frankly been a mess for most of the campaign, but this may have been their biggest meltdown yet, as they were all over the place for almost the entire 90 minutes against a Mallory Pugh-less Spirit. Without Kelley O’Hara, Christy Holly left Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills on the bench, and it was a pretty spectacular failure. Dominique Richardson was put in a very tough spot, and I guess you can’t blame Holly for trying something, but one goal came straight from a Stephanie Labbe kick 80 yards from goal and another was straight off their own goal kick.

With that being said, Washington has done a great job of finding some under the radar players that have made it arguably better than their record indicates, and they were all on display Friday, starting with Arielle Ship, who scored a brilliant goal, but also Meggie Dougherty-Howard, Havana Solaun, Estelle Johnson, and I could keep going. Like Boston, they are set to be a playoff contender in 2018 with another piece or two and Pugh for an entire season.

Player of the Game: Arielle Ship – You may not remember that Ship was drafted by Seattle before being traded to the Spirit for Diana Matheson as part of the exodus out of Washington in the winter. Ship was only the No. 26 pick in the draft but has been a solid contributor all season and scored what will probably be the Goal of the Week to tie things after Sky Blue had the better of the first 20 minutes or so.

Under the Radar: Meggie Dougherty-Howard – Dougherty-Howard is starting to get some of the recognition she probably deserves as a steadily improving midfielder with Tori Huster in the middle for the Spirit. She was selected three spots after of Ship in the 2017 draft, so Washington apparently made a killing at the back end of the draft.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of road victories this season for Washington, leaving Boston as the last team in NWSL not to have won away from home.

Up next: Sky Blue – at Orlando (Sat.); Washington – at Orlando (Tues.)

Boston 2:2 Kansas City

What Went Down: You’d have to consider it two dropped points for the Breakers, even though the statistics ended up pretty close to even. Like Christy Holly, Vlatko Andonovski went with a brand new center back in Sydney Miramontez, who fared a little better, even if FCKC conceded twice. It’s hard to pinpoint why Boston has so much trouble closing out games, and it’s definitely something that will be discussed at length in the off-season I’m sure. If you’ve got any good ideas, be sure to contact Matt Beard.

Meanwhile, FCKC still looks to be the favorite for the top draft pick and Andi Sullivan (although with expansion, who knows?). Christina Gibbons looks to have found a home in the midfield and Maegan Kelly had a solid outing at striker, but it does seem as if there’s some fairly major work to be done to get them back near the top of the table.

Player of the Game: Rosie White – White was one of the players brought over by Beard from Liverpool, and it’s easy to forget with some of the international players how young they are. White just turned 24 in June, and Beard has to hope the form she showed Friday will continue into the future beyond this season.

Under the Radar: Desiree Scott – We haven’t heard much from Scott this year, one of many reasons why FCKC has struggled for most of the season. But she was better in this match, including a long run that set up FCKC’s first goal. Gibbons and Scott haven’t quite figured each other out yet, but they’re getting there..

Inside the Numbers: 336 – Number of minutes of the scoreless streak for Sammy Jo Prudhomme, which was finally ended by Kelly’s goal. If Abby Smith had returned, might it have lasted into next season?

Up next: Boston – at Washington (Sat.); Kansas City – vs. North Carolina (Thurs.)


Portland 2:1 Houston

What Went Down: The Thorns just keep grinding these types of matches out, and when something is done repeatedly, it becomes less and less luck. In this match, despite the scoreline, they were in pretty strong control in the second half, or as much as you can be with a one-goal lead. Surely, Portland fans would like to see them win via blow out every once in a while, but this was a solid performance and another three points despite not having a full cast of characters again. They still sit in third, but their playoff standing is much improved, although they do have some upcoming road games.

All things considered, it’s not a terrible performance from Houston, but considering how the campaign started, there is little – if any – room for error if they want to make the playoffs. Jane Campbell was goalkeeper on July’s Team of the Month, but had a tough time on Portland’s first goal, and the defense didn’t look quite as organized as it had in the previous couple of matches. While Carli Lloyd gutted it out, the Dash could have really used Andressinha, who had a good Tournament of Nations but could only come on as a late sub here.

Player of the Game: Emily Sonnett – We’ve kind of forgotten about Sonnett, who is now out of the USWNT picture it would appear. But her play has steadily improved over the course of the season, and she added a goal in this match as well. She may hold the key if the Thorns are indeed going to grab the NWSL title again.

Under the Radar: Caity Heap – Having a great performance on national television is a good way to earn more playing time, and Heap was probably the Dash’s best player until she was subbed out at the hour mark. Perhaps Heap’s play was one of the reasons why there wasn’t much time for Denise O’Sullivan. Tough going on that front at the highest levels.

Inside the Numbers: 18,243 – The match started at 11 a.m. local time due to the expected heat, but the fans came anyway. They always come anyway.

Up next: Portland – at Chicago (Sat.); Houston – vs. Kansas City (Sun.)

Orlando 1:1 Chicago

What Went Down: Perhaps no one is better in NWSL at making halftime adjustments than the Red Stars, and it paid off again here after the Pride dominated proceedings in the first half, but Chicago came out of the locker room flying, eventually getting an equalizer out of Sofia Huerta. It’s a pretty good point for Chicago considering that neither Christen Press or Julie Ertz featured in the contest.

Orlando hit two crossbars and a post, so they would be correct to consider themselves very unlucky to not get three points. The Pride and Dash are both in pretty good form at the moment, but do they have enough time to overtake Sky Blue and Seattle to get up to fourth and a playoff berth? It’s going to take finishing chances better than Saturday, and Tuesday night’s game against Washington is a must win.

Player of the Game: Sofia Huerta – It seems like only a matter of time (and a FIFA decision) before Huerta gets to wear a USWNT uniform in a competitive game. She was key to the Chicago comeback and can obviously finish when given opportunities.

Under the Radar: Jasmyne Spencer – Spencer was extremely lively before getting subbed off in the second half, and it’s the kind of performance complementing Marta and Alex Morgan that Orlando will need in almost every outing the rest of the way. Now they just need to finish as well.

Inside the Numbers: 8 – Number of matches remaining for Orlando this season, with four points currently separating them and fourth-place Seattle. So it can clearly be done for the Pride if they start picking up three points every time out.

Up next: Orlando – vs. Washington (Tues.); Chicago – vs. Portland (Sat.)

North Carolina 1:0 Seattle

What Went Down: The Courage were back to their high-pressuring selves this weekend and could have added to the lead Lynn Williams gave them in the first half a few times. However, they didn’t, and we’re left to wonder what kind of impact Megan Rapinoe would have had in the times she was able to run at the Courage defense. They may not have been many, but she might have converted at least one in her form, no?

Alas, what’s done is done, and there were some defensive positives for Laura Harvey to take going forward, even if there wasn’t a whole lot of offense generated by the Reign. Their goal difference of +7 is second in NWSL to only North Carolina, but much of that is at home, where they are undefeated. They’ll likely have to do something on the road if they want to stay in a playoff position.

Player of the Game: Sam Mewis – Mewis had her nose bloodied again in this match, which seems like a weekly occurrence. Like McCall Zerboni, it’s amazing how much ground she covers. It’s also somewhat remarkable that after having zero USWNT players on the final Olympic roster, Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith, and Lynn Williams are all integral parts of the squad now, and Zerboni’s (and possibly Ashley Hatch’s) form could get call-ups soon.

Under the Radar: Ashley Hatch – Hatch slid into midfield with Williams and Kristen Hamilton up top and Debinha coming off of three games for Brazil. She fit in very well, pressuring when she had to and handling her defensive responsibilities just fine.

Inside the Numbers: 0 – Number of draws this season for the Courage, which is keeping them on top of the NWSL table, at least for now.

Up next: North Carolina – at Kansas City (Thurs.); Seattle – vs. North Carolina (Sun.)


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