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NWSL Week in Review: Robinson’s hire sends wrong message

Aubrey Bledsoe in action during Week 7 (photo copyright Lewis Gettier)

Eddie Robinson was announced as an assistant coach for the Houston Dash this week, which on the surface is a pretty good hire. Robinson played a decade in MLS and was one of the most beloved members of the Dynamo from 2006-2011 through his hard work and loyalty (he came to Houston when the franchise did from San Jose).

When he retired in 2012, he stayed with the Dynamo in various capacities, which included television, community outreach, and – yes – coaching, mostly in the Dynamo Academy.

PODCAST: A new source of Pride

So while we would like to see more women coaching in the NWSL, there has to be more important things to talk about the week, right?

Well, you see….

Robinson’s appointment immediately drew condemnation from people inside women’s soccer, most notably former Houston Dash goalkeeper Haley Carter, who was among many that pointed out that when Rachel Daly had a horrifying collapse in Houston on national television due to heat exhaustion last year, Robinson was not only less than sympathetic, but seemed to insinuate that men were too tough to complain about such stuff. When pressed (even as an employee in the same club as Daly), he didn’t back down.

After the 2015 World Cup when unequal pay between the U.S. women and men became a big issue, Robinson (although it’s a little nuanced) appeared to defend the practice.

While one is free to believe what they wish in our country and political views have little to do with coaching (at least directly), Robinson’s recent Twitter feed features liking a whole slew of far-right tweets on anything from hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric to conspiracy theories about the validity of the some of the students in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Perhaps more importantly, there is little there about women’s soccer, except a few congratulating Haley Hanson on her recent success and USWNT call-up.

When pressed after Saturday’s game (in which Houston played well), Vera Pauw defended her selection of Robinson by saying she could not find any qualified female coaches after an exhaustive search because all of them were coaching in college where they is more money. Yes, really. And while Pauw is new to NWSL (and America), that’s just not good enough for her and for the organization.

For their part, someone with the Houston organization said they were aware of Robinson’s social media when they appointed him to work with the Dash.

None of this explains why Lisa Cole, a former NWSL head coach with Boston hired in January, left. Her exit was so mysterious that we are still not sure when she left. Cole confirmed she was no longer with the club in late April, but she may have been out well before that, and the Dash (who did announce her arrival), never sent a press release upon her departure.

It is the latest in a slew of curious moves from Houston, whose attendance has been poor and has become a cautionary tale in the NWSL that MLS support does not guarantee success or even survival, especially with a few other cities lining up to ask for franchises in the not-so-distant future.

I’m sure Pauw just wants to coach soccer, and she’s doing a very good job on the field piecing together the remnants of what she inherited. Maybe she thinks Robinson will help on that front. But that can’t be everything.

What else did we learn in Week 7 of the NWSL season, where the inordinate amount of draws continue?

WEDNESDAY (recaps)

Houston 1:1 Portland

What Went Down: The Thorns controlled much of the match, but still don’t look like a championship contender at the moment. Much of that is due to injuries on the defensive end, where they looked vulnerable. While Houston seems to be moving toward a set lineup, Portland is still trying (some beyond its control obviously) to work things out on what lineup works best for them.

The Dash played again this week so I’ll talk about it more there, but it’s interesting how Pauw is taking a page out of Paul Riley’s book: line up with good athletes and try to attack quickly when you do win the ball. This has to be predicated on actually defending first, though, and they’ve done well enough on that end (even though Portland’s goal here was horrific) to get by. You also need a buy-in from the players and she has that as well.

Player of the Game: Veronica Latsko – Only a third-round (28th overall) pick in the NWSL Draft, the Virginia product seems to have found a good fit. She was dangerous almost every time the Dash went forward, got an assist on the goal, and would have had a possible game-winner if it weren’t for an amazing save by Britt Eckerstom.

Under the Radar: Britt Eckerstrom – She has struggled in place of Adrianna Franch at times, but put in a solid performance here, including the aforementioned save on Latsko. She was probably more busy than anyone involved with the Thorns would have hoped.

Inside the Numbers: 2,668 – The people in Houston are just not that enthused with the Dash at the moment, and this attendance number (even at mid-week) is not good.

Up next: Houston – Played again; Portland – Played again.

Utah 0:0 Orlando

What Went Down: Yet another draw for the Royals, and not much offense on either side, which is good for their respective defenses, especially for the Pride. But probably bad for the attack, again especially for the Pride. The unfortunate part from Utah is that the draws just do not add up in the standings quickly, so it is going to have to score some goals at some point. Even having more of the ball, the Royals managed just one shot on goal. And I’m not sure where the answers lie, Katie Stengel did have two great chances in the final minutes, but didn’t convert either.

For the Pride, it is incredibly encouraging what they’ve done on defense, but they had all their attacking players in one way or another and managed just five shots total.

Player of the Game: Katrina Gorry – It was tough giving this to someone like Gorry because her actions didn’t result in any goals, but I thought she controlled the midfield and didn’t let Orlando get anything going.

Under the Radar: Shelina Zadorsky – Her form was not great last season, but that’s a couple of good matches in a row for Zadorsky, who reads the game very well (like her counterpart in this one, Becky Sauerbrunn) when she is at her best, and she was in this match.

Inside the Numbers: 7,137 – Now that’s a mid-week crowd in Utah which can hopefully keep that going.

Up next: Utah – vs. Houston (Sat.); Orlando – Played again.

SATURDAY (recaps)

Portland 1:2 Orlando (Lauletta)

What Went Down: Just a horrific start doomed the Thorns to another loss, and they’re quite lucky the league has as much parity. Poor Mallory Weber had a goal called back early and then minutes later found herself helping Alex Morgan score. While Weber was probably just on, the other Thorns goal that was called back looked like a foul on Lindsey Horan after she cleated Ashlyn Harris. So Mark Parsons can complain about officials all he wants, but that’s not going to get him any points. He needs to sure up his defense and get a striker scoring goals.

After not being opportunistic in mid-week, the Pride was here, with Christine Nairn probably winning Goal of the Week for her eventual game-winner. It also helps to have a deep squad, Nairn was well-rested and it showed, and Tom Sermanni was able to throw a few fresh bodies at Portland, even with the travel.

Player of the Game: Christine Nairn – It remains to be seen whether at this point in her career Nairn will be a consistent starter for the Pride, but they will need her at times, and she delivered Saturday, having a good game in midfield even beyond the goal.

Under the Radar: Carson Pickett – Pickett struggled in Seattle, but has settled in with the Pride this season, at least thus far at outside back. Sermanni just needs her to be mistake-free, and she had a good game in a hostile environment Saturday.

Inside the Numbers: 9 – Combined minutes for Marta, Sydney Leroux, and Chioma Ubogagu, and the Pride still walked away with the three points. Nice to have depth.

Up next: Portland – at Washington (Sat.); Orlando – vs. North Carolina (May 23)

North Carolina 1:0 Washington

What Went Down: Pretty much a typical Courage performance, although they didn’t have quite as many shots as usual. But they got their winner on a set piece midway through the second half and didn’t allow many scoring opportunities (although Washington had a couple of really good ones, one from Tori Huster just six yards out early in the second half). The march to the NWSL Shield continues, even without Lynn Williams, who missed the game.

The Spirit continue to be really close, but not getting many points to show for it. Again, they should be scoring more goals, and although their schedule has been difficult, probably should have more than one victory through seven matches. But there is still plenty of time to move up as crowded as things are.

Player of the Game: Sam Mewis – I had some questions on Mewis’ health last week, but she looked 100 percent in this match and the Washington midfield (including Andi Sullivan) just couldn’t keep up with her for the most part.

Under the Radar: Katelyn Rowland – You may remember Paul Riley gave her a start last month and it ended in a pair of questionable goals an a 2-2 draw with Utah. But Riley knew what many coaches do, you never know when you’re going to need someone. In this case, it was a Sabrina D’Angelo injury and Rowland answered the call with a clean sheet.

Inside the Numbers: 1 – Road points for Washington in four matches this season. It was an issue last season and is really holding them back already this season.

Up next: North Carolina – at Sky Blue (Sat.); Washington – vs. Portland (Sat.)

Chicago 2:2 Houston

What Went Down: The Dash were very unlucky to not get three points here as the first Chicago goal was a gift and their second (and equalizer) came from a questionable handball in the second half. Again, Houston was content to give Chicago a lot of the ball and then play fairly direct, which resulted in Rachel Daly’s opener. And then they executed one of the best set pieces you’ll ever see for a second. The Dash now have seven points and probably should have more based on how they’ve played.

Meanwhile, Sofia Huerta would have been my MVP a few weeks ago, but since Sam Kerr has returned, we’ve barely heard from her. Julie Ertz did not look healthy, and really neither did Sam Johnson, which means a lot of question marks for a Red Stars team that looks nothing like a playoff lock at the moment.

Player of the Game: Kristie Mewis – She maybe saw what her sister was doing in North Carolina and had to keep up. She scored on the set piece, but has shown a work ethic in the midfield that had been missing at a couple of previous stops. Mewis has always been an excellent distributor of the ball, so this system seems to work for her.

Under the Radar: Allysha Chapman – Houston traded for her this week and you can see why, she works hard and has played at the highest levels. Did they give too much up for her? Only time will tell.

Inside the Numbers: 2,372 – Attendance at Toyota Park, which is not good, but the Red Stars have had miserable weather this season. For two meetings with Houston, the combined temperature of the two matches is 79 degrees.

Up next: Chicago – at Seattle (Sat.); Houston – at Utah (Sat.)

Seattle 4:1 Sky Blue

What Went Down: Well, Megan Rapinoe is back and it is amazing how often she gets involved compared to other star players in the NWSL that have struggled with that this season. While the stats don’t necessarily show it, this game was very one-sided and Sky Blue has to be last in any NWSL power rankings at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Reign have two games in hand on teams like North Carolina, and while catching them will be tough, they certainly look like a playoff team when healthy. Their defense (along with the health) might be the only question mark at the moment.

Player of the Game: Megan Rapinoe – We’re kind of running out of things to say about Rapinoe, and we’re not through May yet. And she’s been hurt for some of that time. So all I can say is hopefully more Seattle people will go to see her.

Under the Radar: Savannah McCaskill – We’re left to wonder where Sky Blue would be without McCaskill, who was excellent in this match and could have had a hat trick on a different day. Can she win Rookie of the year on a last-place team? Probably.

Inside the Numbers: 29 – Number of clearances for Sky Blue, who seemed like they were doing so all night.

Up next: Seattle – vs. Chicago (Sat.); Sky Blue – vs. North Carolina (Sat.)

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