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Lauletta: Was there validity in Casey Stoney’s schedule rant?

San Diego Wave coach Casey Stoney watches a match from the sidelines with her arms folded.
Photo Copyright Orlando Ramirez for USA TODAY Sports

Casey Stoney has never been one to mince words. Saturday night was no exception. Following the San Diego Wave’s scoreless draw in Houston, the only coach the Wave has ever known sounded off on the recent scheduling that saw her team play matches in Washington D.C., New Jersey, and Houston during an eight-day span.

“I’d love to know if any other teams had this away stink, playing Saturday, playing Wednesday, playing Saturday, traveling in between, all on the road” Stoney said to open her postmatch press conference. “I think it’s extremely unfair on the player. I think for player welfare, to ask us to go to Washington away, New York away, and then come to Houston in June, two days after we’ve played the previous game, it’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t happen.”

The 2022 National Women’s Soccer League Coach of the Year went on to praise her team’s effort in the 0-0 match that extended the team’s record winless streak to 7. But she did not stop there on the scheduling complaints when asked as a follow-up what the league’s explanation was for the rough schedule.

“In this league, we don’t work with foresight, if I’m honest,” she said. “We played a Challenge Cup game. So we win the league, we then get punished by having to travel away to Gotham to play the Challenge Cup game on the first day of the league season. In every other league in the world, that sort of game is played a week before the league season starts. So we miss out on our first game. We then get given the midweek game as the makeup game to Gotham away. So we have to go twice. Work that out. We talk about parity in this league—work that out. But what we have to consider is the players. Their health. Their bodies. Their minds. And what we put them through. Travel is brutal in this league. The conditions are brutal in this league. This could have been better. There was no need for this. Just better foresight and planning. I don’t think it’s rocket science to be honest.”

That is more than a few mouthfuls. Let’s discuss, though. Is Stoney right? Or is it sour grapes amid the worst stretch the Wave have ever known? As usual, the answer is not binary.

On the surface though, Stoney has quickly moved to the forefront as the most outspoken coach in the NWSL. Her rants and complaints are usually directed at officiating so this particular evening was just a pivot to the scheduling. I do find it amusing that we rarely hear about these stretches when the schedule is made, only when the sequence of results is poor. And coaches generally like to complain. The Red Stars once lost three home matches over eight days and Rory Dames told me it would have been nice to have played one of them on the road so they could have broken up the routine a little.

The general complaint about playing three away matches in a row, to me, is a poor one. I do not envy schedule makers especially in a league where the 2024 Current are the first team to control their venue in any season since the league has existed. And playing multiple games on the East Coast in the same trip is daunting but so is making additional trips if you space out the games. Stoney is about as good as there is in rotating her squad but generally speaking, I get tired of listening to coaches harangue about expanded rosters when they barely utilize the depth on the ones they have now.

There is part of Stoney’s complaint that is spot on though. And that is the scheduling of the Challenge Cup on the Friday of Week 1 instead of the week before. All that does is punish both teams by packing an extra game onto their calendar. This goes double with the introduction of the Concacaf W Champions Cup which both trophy winners will compete in later this year. The part about having the second trip to Gotham on the midweek has some validity as well, but there was always going to be a second trip at one point or another.

One area where Stoney has it dead wrong is the notion that Wave won the league in 2023. She has said it before, notably in an awkward exchange with a reporter before the Challenge Cup. She is wrong. We can debate the merits of a playoff system in soccer and can probably even agree that the Wave winning the Shield was more of an accomplishment than Gotham sneaking into the playoffs and winning three in a row. No matter. The NWSL recognizes the NWSL Champion as the winner of the league and on that basis, Gotham were the rightful host of the Challenge Cup match. This is not news, even to someone who grew up around the game in Britain where there are no playoffs. I could also point out that there are leagues with far fewer travel burdens than the NWSL.

And one more thing. When was the last time a coach won a game and spoke up on behalf of their opponents’ week of travel?

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Around the league

Pride 6, Royals 0

The Pride equaled the largest margin of victory in league history, rolling the Royals behind another Barbra Banda masterclass. The Zambian wonder had two goals and two assists to reach 10 and five on the season over just 10 appearances. Marta added a brace while Summer Yates and Ally Watt contributed goals in stoppage time of either half. Yates made it 2-0 heading into the break at which point the result was fait accompli. The Royals, who snapped a 10-match winless streak a week earlier at Bay FC, appeared to take their foot off the effort pedal late as the Pride had their way over the final minutes and second-half stoppage.

Dash 0, Wave 0

A slog of a match saw the teams go the whole way without a goal which was followed up by Stoney’s rants. The Dash, ever the snakebit side at home, failed to take advantage of their tired, travel-weary opponent who had played during the week. That midweek match saw the Wave lose 2-1 at Gotham in stoppage time and the draw here extended their club-record winless streak to seven.

Bay 1, Angel City 0

The expansion side completed a sweep of Angel City in their first season as intra-state rivals and the clean sheet was their first since the season-opening win, also 1-0 over Angel City. Tess Boade scored the goal, her team-leading third of the season, but the key pass came from Dorian who beat three defenders with a clever through-ball to find Emily Menges on the end of a give-and-go. Menges then found Boade for the goal. Both teams thought they had penalties at different points, but both were ruled play-on without an official VAR review.

Thorns 1, Current 4

The Current matched the 2014 Reign with their 16th straight match without defeat, and Stine Ballisager’s goal made it 17 different Current players to find the back of the net through 14 games this season. Seven of the league’s 14 teams have yet to score 17 total goals. Ballisager scored in between a Lo’eau LaBonta brace to make it 3-0 at halftime and Temwa Chawinga made it 4-0 early in the second. Sophia Smith pulled one back to go to 10 goals, even with Banda for the league lead.

Gotham 0, Spirit 2

Gotham conceded multiple goals for the first time since Ann-Katrin Berger took over as goalkeeper and fell to the Spirit for the second time. In the process, their club-record equaling nine-match unbeaten streak was snapped. Meanwhile, the Spirit continued to stamp themselves as contenders as the first team to 10 wins. Rookie sensation Croix Bethune was at it again, this time finagling a pass through three players to find fellow rookie Courtney Brown for the opener, against the run of play during a Gotham-centric opening half. Gotham went down to 10 near the end of that half though when Yazmeen Ryan took consecutive yellows, the second being for dissent.

Trinity Rodman doubled the lead inside two minutes of the second half and the Spirit mostly cruised from there. Gotham did win a late penalty but Aubrey Kingsbury read her former Wake Forest teammate Katie Stengel like a book and saved it on her way to career shutout number 32.

Reign 1, Louisville 1

The Reign went head early and appeared to be taking Laura Harvey to her 100th regular season coaching win until an outrageous Reilyn Turner goal deep in stoppage time kept the celebration on ice for a seventh consecutive match day. The lead materialized in the 10th minute after Arin Wright yanked down Jordyn Huitema in the box. Wright was sent off and the Reign got a penalty, converted by Bethany Balcer. It stayed 1-0 until the late stages. Racing keeper Katie Lund came forward to take a long free kick. Jaelin Howell flicked it and the ball took one bounce and appeared to be playable for Claudia Dickey. But Turner swooped in and swung her foot in the air as she slid down and hit the roof of the goal with the equalizer.

Courage 3, Red Stars 1

The Courage overcame an early Mallory Swanson goal to remain undefeated at home. Tyler Lussi equalized four minutes after Swanson beat three defenders to give Chicago the lead. Ashley Sanchez hit the game-winner from distance when Alyssa Naeher was screened and failed to react. Meredith Speck iced it with a far-post rum that got her on the end of a Bianca St-Georges cross.

California, here you come ☀️

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Complete with sweet swag from our friends at Birdies, take in some WNBA action in premium seats when the LA Sparks host the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces on July 5. 

  • Then catch Angel City vs. the reigning NWSL champs, Gotham FC, on July 6 in style before the Olympic break. In addition to two premium tickets that include warm up field passes, the winners will also walk away with jerseys.

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Free kicks

  • The Reign are finally under new ownership. The Carlyle, a private equity firm, and the Seattle Sounders have partnered to become the club’s majority owner. The club has been in a bit of flux since the OL Groupe was sold.
  • The new owners will eventually get to see Laura Harvey win her 100th match but for now, she remains stuck on 99. The Reign are 0-4-3 since beating the Wave on May 3 including Sunday’s heartbreaker in which they led for 80 minutes plus most of stoppage time before settling for a 1-1 draw to Louisville.
  • Kaleigh Kurtz and Samantha Staab extended their league records in Sunday’s Courage-Red Stars match. Kurtz has now played 6,802 consecutive minutes while Staab has started 104 games in a row.
  • Sophia Smith played over the weekend but only after being forced to appeal a second suspension following her red card two weeks ago against the Courage. The added game was due to appealing the first which the NWSL’s clandestine Disciplinary Committee not only rejected but deemed frivolous. That means the Thorns had to forfeit their $10,000 appeal bond and are prohibited from challenging any discipline through the 2025 NWSL Championship. Those sanctions stand but Smith was able to successfully appeal the extra game. Confused yet?
  • I don’t often call out specific players but Agnes Nyberg just did not have a great match for the Royals in Orlando. Not that anyone on her team did. The team completely packed it in over the last few minutes.
  • Alex Morgan has been basically invisible for the Wave since returning from injury. The feeling is that she has a seat on the plane to Paris to represent the United States in the Olympics, but her form is horribly off. She missed Saturday’s match in Houston on an excused absence.
  • Bethany Balcer is the only player to score at least five goals in every regular season since 2019.
  • Wednesday night, I was in the stands for the Gotham-Wave match and got to see Naomi Girma up close and personal. What a wonderful experience it was especially in the first half when she was defending right in front of me. Hat-tip to her midfield for being totally outplayed and giving her more opportunities to defend than she was probably hoping for.
  • Speaking of Wednesday night at Red Bull, I don’t think Maycee Bell’s finish is being talked about enough. Check it out here starting at 1:02.

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