The Portland Thorns did not seem to miss Meghan Klingenberg on Friday night as they blitzed Utah Royals FC without her. If you’ve been in a cave to hide from fireworks, Klingenberg was serving a one-game suspension for a pretty malicious kick of former teammate (both in NWSL and on the U.S. women’s national team) Allie Long away from the ball on June 30, leaving a nice welt on Long’s leg in the process.
Once video hit social media, it seemed like a suspension was inevitable as Klingenberg had little defense. To her credit, she offered none and took responsibility, perhaps knowing that she probably got off lightly with only one game, especially because she should have been sent off and missed the final 77 minutes of the match in question last week as well.
So why wasn’t she shown the first straight red card of the 2018 NWSL season? Well, we don’t have a good answer to that as well. There were not one, but three officials (center ref, AR, fourth official) within mere yards of Klingenberg’s kick on Long. Perhaps more frustrating, it wasn’t completely missed, either, as it was deemed reckless enough to show Klingenberg a yellow card (although the yellow didn’t appear until after Long showed the evidence in the form of the gash on her leg).
— BATi (@BATii20) July 1, 2018
I regret what happened at our game last weekend against the Reign. That’s not the type of player or person I am. I’ve personally apologized to Allie Long. I am disappointed in myself because I have let my team down. I will be better. Thanks
— Meghan Klingenberg (@meghankling) July 5, 2018
In an somewhat ironic but unfortunate twist, Utah’s Diana Matheson had a less malicious, but probably more dangerous studs-up tackle on Portland’s Margaret Purce in the second half Friday that forced Purce to leave the game. Again, it was met with just a yellow card. And again, the video was not kind to the officials and will probably eventually result in Matheson being suspended for the Royals’ next game.
— Katelyn Best (@BestKabest) July 7, 2018
Or will it?
There are two questions which deserve answering for NWSL fans. First, why is the Disciplinary Committee rarely heard from and why is it not more consistent? This is not a new problem and one that should be able to be remedied relatively quickly, even if funds are tight and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – we don’t have a commissioner.
In the wake of the Klingenberg suspension, some Portland fans cried “Whatabout-ism,” which is kind of ridiculous because her incident was off the ball and very clear. Also, as an educator, “whatabout-ism” is a plague, but I digress.
With that being said, the fact that this is the first suspension handed out this season is a little silly. I get it, in a 24-game regular season and small rosters, missing a player is huge. But look at Desiree Scott’s two-footed challenge on Kristie Mewis way back in early April and tell me that’s not red-card worthy. It wasn’t deemed so, neither by the officials nor the Disciplinary Committee, who allegedly looked at it and decided as much, which is hard to believe.
— “sergio” 🤩 (@firehose_switch) April 7, 2018
The difference, maybe? Mewis was not injured. Neither was Jodie Taylor in a strange encounter with Ashlyn Harris later in April, one that was only seen in the closing montage of the Seattle-Orlando coverage. It sure looks like Harris grabs Taylor and throws her to the ground, but because no one made an issue of it during the game and the context is unclear, the Disciplinary Committee let it go.
— Flora McLeod (@Floralikesbrew) April 29, 2018
To me, though, the more important consistency from a competition and safety standpoint are the dangerous tackles. Just this week, there were two more that warrant a hard look from the Disciplinary Committee and probably should have been red cards. First, on Wednesday in the first half of the Chicago-North Carolina game, Julie Ertz came over the ball and caught McCall Zerboni with her studs, leaving a nice mark. Fortunately, Zerboni eventually popped up, but it didn’t make the tackle any less dangerous, and Ertz got a yellow card.
— Backline Soccer (@BacklineSoccer) July 5, 2018
Then, late in Saturday’s Orlando-Washington game, Marta was trying to dribble out the clock when the ball got away from her and she was later than Caprice Dydasco to it, stomping on her right foot with her stud. Neither Ertz nor Marta’s action was premeditated and it didn’t cause any injuries, but they certainly could have.
Which leads us to the second issue: Why are referees so reluctant to show red cards? Well, it’s hard. Referees have a second or two to decide if they are going to remove a player for the rest of the game (and force their teammates to play down), and things happen really fast on the field. The natural reaction is to just show a yellow, even if you’re 95 percent sure it’s a red, because if you’re wrong, the price is just too steep.
However, something has to change. Hopefully on both ends. Otherwise players and fans alike will be left to wonder why some things are punished and some aren’t, which is no way to run a professional league.
What did we learn in Week 15 of the NWSL season, where most of the playoff contenders (except Utah) held serve?
North Carolina 4:1 Chicago
What Went Down: The Red Stars caused the Courage all kinds of problems in the first 25 minutes, ended the contest with 15 shots, and somehow still found themselves down 4-0 late in the game. Such is North Carolina’s world these days, where they are just a dominant, unstoppable force when they’re finishing. Might it have been different if Chicago grabs the lead early? Maybe? Maybe not?
Obviously anyone in soccer can get beat on a given day, but Chicago played relatively well (short of Sam Kerr missing a few big chances) and still ended up here, so it’s going to be very tough in a semifinal environment for the Courage to be stopped. At a neutral site (or if it’s Portland again, a road game) in the final may prove a bigger obstacle.
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 5, 2018
Player of the Game: Crystal Dunn – She seems to be the biggest key to North Carolina’s success, largely because she’s one of the world’s best players, but also because combined with all the other weapons the Courage have, she becomes unstoppable as you saw on their first goal.
Under the Radar: Debinha – Like Dunn, she brings (as I’ve said before) the quality to the industry the operation has in North Carolina. She scored a wonderful goal and will create chances for the numerous attacking players that surround her.
Inside the Numbers: 95 – Minute delay when storms hit the area just before kickoff, as poor weather continues to follow the Chicago Red Stars wherever they go this season.
Also, 1 which is the number of headers Sam Mewis missed to finish this sequence during the rain delay. And even if she leads the USWNT to the World Cup next summer, she may never live it down.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) July 5, 2018
I will use this shame and sadness as fuel and I will be better for it #imsorry
— Samantha Mewis (@sammymewy) July 5, 2018
Up next: North Carolina – vs. Washington (Wed.); Chicago – Played again
Portland 4:0 Utah
What Went Down: After spending last week discussing how the Thorns just might not be that good (and backing it up with stats, to be fair), Portland came out and destroyed the Royals from the opening kickoff in a late-night start. Tobin Heath’s return was obviously huge, but the Thorns made Utah look very poor, even on the defensive end, where they had been so good this season.
It was a curious decision for Laura Harvey to play newly acquired Sam Johnson at right back. Tobin Heath pretty much did what she wanted over there until Johnson was subbed out, and it was a horrific game for Utah’s normally steady midfield. But give Portland some credit for that, they made it a point of emphasis to disrupt and it paid off with three first-half goals. Even Becky Sauerbrunn seemed lost trying to mark Lindsey Horan on set pieces.
Relive all four goals before you go to bed.
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 7, 2018
Player of the Game: Lindsey Horan – She has somewhat quietly (although scoring a set piece goal every week is not really so) made her way into the MVP conversation. Unlike her past professional seasons, she has been remarkably consistent of late and the Utah midfield was no match for her.
Under the Radar: Tobin Heath – She obviously wasn’t very far under the radar by scoring just two minutes in, but felt she was worth mentioning here anyway given how important she is for Portland’s overall success in the next couple months. For the record, she made it 62 minutes before being subbed off, but the game was out of hand by then anyway.
Inside the Numbers: 9 – Number of shots from Portland in the contest, six of which were on frame. So it wasn’t a matter of a North Carolina-like peppering of the goal for the Thorns, they were just clinical.
Up next: Portland – vs. Houston (Sun.); Utah – at Seattle (Wed.)
Sky Blue 1:3 Chicago
What Went Down: Sam Kerr got a hat trick at Yurcak Field just like old times and took the opportunity after the game to say she feels for the situation her former teammates are in and that she “wishes I could take them all with me”. It’s slightly harsh, but Kerr is never one to hold back, and I’ve been talking for a couple of years that the NWSL probably has to leave franchises like Sky Blue behind, regardless of on-field performance.
It does appear, at least defensively, that the season is weighing on Sky Blue a bit. Kerr actually could have had more than three goals as she was behind the defense on several occasions. With 10 games still left, it will be interesting to see what kind of motivation SBFC has, especially in light of Kerr’s comments. But I still think they’ll beat someone before the end of the road.
Let’s get some #NWSL highlights into our halftime break.
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 8, 2018
Player of the Game: Sam Kerr – Again, I think Kerr could have actually done better than her three goal outburst, but when you get a hat trick in a 3-1 win, you pretty much have to be here, no? It will be interesting to see if she wins Player of the Week combined with Wednesday’s performance.
Kerr: “…It just sucks that that’s the way it had to be. I’m just going to say the girls deserve better and I’m just going to leave it at that. These girls are great girls. They give everything of themselves for this club and this league and they just deserve better” #NWSL (2/)
— Dan Lauletta (@TheDanLauletta) July 8, 2018
Under the Radar: Savannah McCaskill – She seems to be Sky Blue’s best hope, as she set up Imani Dorsey’s goal and almost slipped Dorsey in a few other times (Alyssa Naeher had to make a couple of good saves). There is still a lot of attacking talent there, even though it won’t matter much in the standings this season.
Inside the Numbers: 1 – Number of points earned by Sky Blue at home this season (seven matches), which isn’t exactly going to inspire too much confidence.
Up next: Sky Blue – vs. North Carolina (Sat.); Chicago – vs. Seattle (Sat.)
Orlando 2:1 Washington
What Went Down: After a weather delay, the Spirit – who hadn’t scored in six weeks – grabbed a shock lead through Ashley Hatch (on a corner) and actually had a chance to get a result before Marta turned back the clock and scored a wonderful game-winner that was a good highlight for the league. It is interesting, however, to see how Marta got there. Taylor Smith got caught upfield all night (I guess in Washington’s position, it’s hard to blame them for going for the win), and was again when the Spirit gave the ball away, giving Marta the opportunity for heroics.
Despite taking 31 shots, it wasn’t an inspiring performance for Orlando, who watched Estefania banini hit a post and the formerly punchless Spirit have more than a couple of chances other than their goal. But three points are three points, and Tom Sermanni will have a couple of days to figure it out before a mid-week trip to Houston.
#ORLvWAS was a 𝒈𝒂𝒎𝒆.
We’ve got the highlights right here. pic.twitter.com/vekF7R3Bh0
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 8, 2018
Player of the Game: Marta – The last foul notwithstanding, Marta was excellent for a team that needed her to be with Alex Morgan out. It’s been tough for Marta to be at her best every week, but she’s still capable of this in a playoff-like environment, which would be worth tuning in for. Marta had 11 shots (with Sydney Leroux adding nine more).
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 8, 2018
Under the Radar: Ashley Hatch – Like McCaskill, Hatch gave everything she had on a team struggling mightily, finally getting a goal off a corner that she earned and trying her best to be a factor. With Banini and Rose Lavelle, there is some hope offensively for Washington if they can keep them all on the field.
Inside the Numbers: 3 – Number of minutes Francisca Ordega lasted before she had to leave after a collision with Ashlyn Harris, adding to Washington’s injury woes.
Up next: Orlando – at Houston (Wed.); Washington – at North Carolina (Wed.)
Seattle 3:1 Houston
What Went Down: The Reign were forced to fight from behind and did a solid job of it, eventually grabbing the lead through a second-half penalty kick and perhaps more importantly doing a good job at the other end, where we occasionally saw Kealia Ohai, but very little out of Rachel Daly or Sofia Huerta.
The Dash will be disappointed at the nature of the goals they conceded. The first was off a quick throw-in (and they nearly gave up a goal on another later), with the second coming from a silly attempted tackle in their own penalty box. As well as they’ve done, their playoff hopes are just about finished as well, although they are just eight points out of fourth with still nine matches to play.
— NWSL (@NWSL) July 8, 2018
Player of the Game: Megan Rapinoe – She obviously knew Houston was slow getting back on throw-ins and immediately tried to take advantage of it, leading to an assist on the Jodie Taylor goal. She finished with a goal and two assists as she continues to make her case for MVP.
Under the Radar: Steph Catley – Perhaps because she doesn’t get forward quite as much as some other outside backs, she sometimes doesn’t get the publicity that goes along with it, either. But she had another solid game against a team that had been dangerous offensively coming in.
Inside the Numbers: 3,172 – Attendance in Seattle. You can do better, Seattle, I trust you.
Up next: Seattle – vs. Utah (Wed.); Houston – vs. Orlando (Wed.)