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NWSL Week In Review: It’s Okay to boo sometimes

Christen Press was booed mercilessly on Sunday but had the last laugh scoring the equalizer in a come-from-behind win (Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier)

When Christen Press missed a penalty kick that was the final nail in the United States women’s national team coffin at the 2016 Olympics against Sweden, the U.S. fanbase felt so bad for her that they started a worldwide trending hashtag #DogsForChristen, encouraging people to send Press pictures of dogs (she is a self-admitted dog lover) instead of misplaced hate that usually accompanies such misfortune in high-level sports.

It was the right thing to do, of course. And although it really shouldn’t matter, as one of the most well-liked players on perhaps the most well-liked women’s soccer teams in the world, Press had earned the love and support.

PODCAST: Ray Curren joins Dan Lauletta to talk Sunday NWSL action plus the Tournament of Nations and your questions

Three years later, as Press and Utah Royals FC visited the Houston Dash on Sunday night in the first NWSL contest after an international break, Press was booed by most of the 3,907 in attendance every time she touched the ball.

They were also well within their rights to do so, and the only disappointment is that there weren’t more there to boo louder.

Double-standard? I don’t think so.

Depending on who you talk to, Press made it clear in the offseason that she wanted no part of playing in Houston, then a franchise and team in turmoil, perhaps the worst in the league with a new coach and little chance of competing for anything this season. As a veteran (she will turn 30 by the end of the year), Press felt she had leverage to make such a demand and when Houston called her bluff by trading for her, she refused to report, eventually ending up in Utah (one of her original desired locations) with a detour in Sweden for a few months.

Although rare in women’s soccer (or women’s sports in general), Press’ stand is not unusual for a professional athlete who has accomplished as much as she had. As it does for her male counterparts, that didn’t stop the “be grateful for what you have” crowd from coming out of the proverbial woodwork.

At the same time, though, Houston fans should feel jilted. Press basically told them that their team wasn’t good enough for her and – despite the team’s struggles since entering NWSL – that should make you a bit upset. And when they finally got the chance on Sunday, they booed. There’s nothing wrong with voicing that displeasure toward the player in question. There is a limit, of course. Personal insults are never welcome and there is language that has no place in public discourse, let alone at a soccer game.

But Press is a professional (as opposed to a youth or high school player), and should be able to handle some negative reactions. In fact, the league would do well to have more such incidents in the future, which spark rivalries and genuine interest in club teams, something sorely lacking outside of Portland (and perhaps Utah) currently in the NWSL.

Ironically, Houston was having what seemed like the last laugh on Press this season, as Vera Pauw has turned the Dash into an extremely difficult team to beat, and Houston was actually higher in the table entering Sunday’s game. The Dash were the better team through the first 75 minutes as well with Press having a mediocre night before she struck off a Houston mistake and Utah eventually captured all three points with a 2-1 win to stay in the playoff race.

Where does the negativity stop? When the final whistle blows. Press being Press, she took the time to sign autographs after the final whistle in Houston, and even gave her cleats to a U.S. fan wearing her jersey in the crowd. And then life goes on.

Until the next time Press visits Houston in a visiting uniform.

What did we learn in Week 18 of the NWSL season, where North Carolina captured its second straight NWSL Shield in a rather anticlimactic, but impressive fashion?

SUNDAY (recaps)

North Carolina Courage 2:1 Portland Thorns

What Went Down: Other than perhaps the moment where Tobin Heath found Lindsey Horan on a set piece for the Thorns’ lone goal, there was nothing in this match that indicates the Portland can beat North Carolina in the playoffs. The Courage dominated as they seem to always do (to the tune of 31 shots) and could have easily had double the total they did to make this a rout.

Emily Sonnett, Heath, and Horan played a lot of minutes with the U.S., and none had a tremendous game, but the Courage won the International Champions Cup and had players such as McCall Zerboni and Debinha, who played major minutes in the Tournament of Nations as well. Clinching the NWSL Shield will allow Paul Riley to rotate players the rest of the way (Crystal Dunn just made a cameo in this match), which will only make them more dangerous in the playoffs.

Player of the Game: Lynn Williams – Yes, she misses a lot of chances, but she also scores plenty of goals. Her speed is really unrivaled in women’s soccer. There were a couple of occasions in this match where she left Margaret Purce or whomever she was upset against behind her by 10 yards. And she had the ball while doing it.

Under the Radar: McCall Zerboni – I’m not necessarily on the Zerboni MVP train others are on, but – even with the international break – she just seems to be an unstoppable force in the midfield sometimes, even against all the talent Portland has.

Inside the Numbers: 12 – Number of minutes Crystal Dunn played in this game. So the Courage still have more to offer.

Up next: North Carolina – at Chicago (Fri.); Portland – at Orlando (Sat.)

Orlando Pride 2:2 Sky Blue

What Went Down: Although some have pointed out that the first half was rather ordinary, I would still make a case for this one as Match of the Year. Sky Blue actually led for the first time all season (!) when Shea Groom scored midway through the second half only to have Dani Weatherholt tie it and then Kailen Sheridan (who probably should have stopped the second goal) denying Marta on a penalty kick deep in stoppage time to preserve the point. Oh and Carli Lloyd got sent off for a deliberate handball that resulted in the penalty. So, yeah, quite nuts.

In the end, Orlando – even against Sky Blue – looked vulnerable in the back. Tom Sermanni did not play Monica, who had a rough Tournament of Nations, but the back three of Toni Pressley, Alanna Kennedy, and Ali Krieger gave up a first-half breakaway that Ashlyn Harris saved and Lloyd had a couple of other great chances. So it was probably a deserved point for Sky Blue, which does not inspire confidence in the Pride down the stretch.

Player of the Game: Shea Groom – One of the many players languishing in New Jersey (it appears Janine Beckie has left the team, by the way), Groom had a goal and an assist, but unfortunately had to leave after her goal which what looked an awful lot like a concussion. Groom, Imani Dorsey, and Savannah McCaskill (along with Katie Johnson and Lloyd) form a fairly dangerous attack for a winless team in August.

Under the Radar: Carli Lloyd – Lloyd came off the bench in the second half and changed the game, nearly scoring a couple of times and dominating Orlando’s defense. Alas, she’ll be suspended for Sky Blue’s next match, but might that be a role she plays next summer in France?

Inside the Numbers: 29 – Number of minutes that Alex Morgan played after being slightly injured at the very end of the third match of the Tournament of Nations. Orlando could have used her for more than that.

Up next: Orlando – vs. Portland (Sat.); Sky Blue – vs. Houston (Sat.)

Houston Dash 1:2 Utah Royals FC

What Went Down: The Dash have stolen games like this the other way around, so I guess turnabout is fair play, but still a shame because Houston played extremely well before Amber Brooks slipped in the 77th minute and Christen Press was there to pounce and equalize. After that it was all Utah, and the winning goal being a combination of Erika Tymrak and Katie Stengel might be something that Laura Harvey looks at the rest of the way. The Royals are still a longshot to make the playoffs.

I hate to be a broken record, but it is clear the Dash have developed a distinct countering style and they did it well in this match, outshooting the Royals 16-9 despite having just 35 percent possession, a margin that was worse before the final few minutes. No matter what happens the rest of the way, there is plenty to build on for the future in Houston.

Player of the Game: Gunnhildur Jonsdottir – While not quite as effective as McCall Zerboni, it is somewhat remarkable how much ground Jonsdottir covers in a match. And she usually finds herself in a collision or three by the end.

Under the Radar: Taylor Comeau – She was an afterthought in the Sofia Huerta deal, but has done a solid job at right back for Houston and played extremely well in this match, despite the implosion at the end.

Inside the Numbers: 4 – Points out of fourth place (and a playoff spot) Utah is currently. It can be done, but they are in sixth, meaning the Royals do have to pass two teams.

Up next: Houston – at Sky Blue (Sat.); Utah – vs. Washington (Wed.)

Seattle Reign 2:0 Washington Spirit

What Went Down: The Spirit’s three subs were Mallory Pugh, Andi Sullivan and Rose Lavelle, which tells you a lot about how their season has gone, and although it was finally great to see them on the same field, Washington is now winless in 10 matches with only one goal in its last nine, and have the same amount of losses (13) as Sky Blue. They played hard in this, but the result looked inevitable.

The Reign now are three points clear in second and have been more consistent than the other contenders despite Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long being the only two U.S. players on the roster. Rapinoe looked a bit tired, but was still dangerous, while Long had another solid match.

Player of the Game: Allie Long – She not only had the assist on Jasmyne Spencer’s nice winning goal in the first half, but helped the Reign control the midfield as she’s done for most of the season.

Under the Radar: Alyssa Kleiner – With Steph Catley still out, Kleiner filled in at outside back and did a solid job. Like North Carolina, Seattle seems to have solid depth at most positions.

Inside the Numbers: 15 – Number of goals conceded by the Reign this season, tying them with North Carolina for least in NWSL. And that is why they reside in second currently.

Up next: Seattle – at Utah (Sat.); Washington – at Utah (Wed.)


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