Week 11 brought us a double scoop of NWSL action with most teams playing a midweek match on top of all the action from the weekend. There were highlight reel goals, penalty kicks awarded, and referee controversy. That was just the beginning, so let’s buckle in as we offer up our top takeaways of the week.
Alex Morgan Returns But Too Late? – Luis Hernandez
It was the moment most Orlando Pride fans had been waiting for, the return of Alex Morgan from her stint in France. Entering the match against Chicago in the 65th minute, the home crowd roared to life hoping to see the returning hero score in her debut. However, two minutes after she entered the match Christen Press put away what would be the game winner from the spot.
The disjointed Orlando side couldn’t come away with anything on Saturday, once again dropping three points at home. In the presser after the match, Morgan stated, “But, maybe when Chi came in, I didn’t know what we were playing, who was playing what position. Because Camila was the 10 and then I wasn’t sure where she was and I wasn’t sure where Chi was so there was a little bit of confusion. I wish the communication was better. I think we can work on that a lot more.” You can’t fault Tom Sermanni for playing Morgan as soon as she was able, without better incorporating her into the rhythm her teammates have started to create, especially in a week with multiple matches. Needed fresh legs and wanting to see what her fitness level, Sermanni put her in, hoping she could boost the offense.
Certainly, the Pride will be able to work it out and improve. However, it’s the defensive errors which have caused them to drop 13 points so far this year, and each of the top four teams have more than a one-match cushion on Orlando. A trip to the playoffs may soon be out of reach.
Mid-Season Discipline (Is that Another Yellow Card?) – Luis Hernandez
As we reach the halfway point of the season, we tend to start taking a count of how it’s going, who’s leading the pack, how many cards have been issued, that sort of thing. This week actually brought out a high number of yellow cards; there were two matches that saw four yellows thrown on the weekend and one astonishing six yellow card match in the midweek between Portland and Kansas City. Looking at the numbers, the NWSL stats site tells us that 132 yellow cards have been shown so far this season, and on top of that, five red cards. This is out of the 60 matches so far this year. That’s an average of 2.2 yellow cards per match. To put it in perspective, the 2016 season had 174 yellow cards (1.74 yellows/match) with five red cards in the 100 matches. Heck, this was the first season, I even heard of the NWSL disciplinary committee.
It’s hard to find a reason for the steep increase. Has there been a shift in the style of play? Has the league or PRO changed the points of emphasis without putting out a public statement? Has the Lifetime partnership caused this somehow? I don’t believe we’ll figure out the why, but it’s worth keeping in mind as the second half of the season, and the league has no “good behavior” incentive like Major League Soccer.
MVPinoe – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Halfway through the season, it’s time to start talking seriously about this year’s MVP.
With nine goals (four scored in the past week alone), including three successful PKs, and one assist, I don’t think anyone has to look further than the Seattle Reign’s five-season veteran Megan Rapinoe. She’s on-track to take home the Golden Boot this year, and with it, MVP, because the two always seem to go hand-in-hand. (That, I think, is a discussion for another day, however.) But whether Rapinoe ultimately wins the Golden Boot or not (at three goals ahead of the pack, surpassing her would be a challenge but not impossible) if anyone else takes home MVP this year it would be an injustice.
The reason? You really don’t need to look further than her numbers so far this season. Numbers which include far more than just her nine goals.
Rapinoe has been carrying Seattle on her back this year, determined to get back into the playoffs after missing them by a hair last season. Leading the league in goals, but with just one assist, when Seattle hasn’t been able to find the net on their own, Rapinoe has been chasing down every possible chance, creating opportunities when seemingly none exist, and basically, to mix my sports metaphors for a moment, crashing into the boards time and time again. Of her 40 shots so far this year (2nd in the standings), 22 (3rd) have been on goal, giving her a SOG percentage of 55%. If this were baseball, her batting average wouldn’t just be considered good, it’d be considered one of the best in the sport. Christen Press currently has the same SOG percentage, but four fewer goals to her name this season.
With 58 corner kicks, she’s second in the league so far this season, with only Abby Dahlkemper ahead of her, which means that those nine goals don’t come from set-piece opportunities, but the run-of-play. From Rapinoe moving the ball down-field or maneuvering into the right place at the right time to receive a cross and send it home. But maybe the most important stat to consider in her case for 2017 MVP are her PKs. Three of her nine goals this year have come from PKs. Why are PKs to important? Because they’re the “extra-point” or “free throw” of soccer. They’re guaranteed scoring opportunities, and missing them is unacceptable. It happens, yes. And, yes, there’s the added element of the GK, who might jump in the right direction and make a save, but for an experienced, professional soccer player to miss a PK–send it far left or right of the goal, over the crossbar, etc.–is unacceptable. A PK is a just about the easiest chance to score a player can get, and a team needs to be able to rely on their player’s ability to earn that point. Because at the end of the 90’, the game might literally come down to whether they were able to capitalize in that moment or not.
Megan Rapinoe this year has had three opportunities to score a PK for her team.
She has completed each and every one.
When you’re that clutch, you deserve to take home that “Most Valuable Player” trophy at the end of the year.
Houston Dash Undefeated in Kansas City – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
No, really. I’m not joking.
The team that has been on or near the bottom for its three seasons in the NWSL has never lost to the two-time (back to back) NWSL Championship winners, FCKC on the road in Kansas City.
Of the four times the Houston Dash have taken on FCKC at Swope Soccer Stadium (or the Durwood Stadium FCKC played at in 2014), they have never failed to come away with at least a draw, and as of last night, have won (2-1) twice. Surreal, no?
In 2014, Houston left Kansas City with a 2-2 draw–only their seventh game ever. Lauren Holiday (we miss you) opened the scoring in the 2’ but the young Dash team responded with a goal from Jordan Jackson in the 20’. The first-half ended 2-1 after Erika Tymrak scored in the 36’, but after a halftime break, Tiffany McCarty evened the score in the 78’. And the Houston team took home their first draw in team history. They would end the season in 9th (last) place, but at that moment, 1-5-1 into the season and coming off a four-game losing streak, a draw against the eventual NWSL champions had to feel like the promise of good things to come.
2015 saw another draw between the two teams, 1-1, but the scoreline hides the fact that FCKC didn’t manage to score at all that game. In fact, if not for an own goal from Toni Pressley in the 55’, Carli Lloyd’s goal in the 45’ would have given the Houston Dash the win. The Dash finished 5th that season, and by the time of the away game in Kansas City, they had been doing fairly well, with a 3-4-4 record in the season when they took the field that night. But that night they could have had a win against the 2014 Champions, the same team that would go on to beat Seattle for the second year in a row in the final.
The Dash took home their first road win against FCKC in 2016, just their fourth game of the season. Playing without Amy Rodriguez (pregnancy), Lauren Holiday (retirement), and newcomer Sydney Leroux (pregnancy), FCKC’s season got off to a rough start, and they came into the match against the Dash with two losses and a draw under their belt already. When Houston opened the scoring in the 56’ with a goal from Irish international Denise O’Sullivan, and Chioma Ubogagu gave them a second just 15 minutes later, Kansas City had already lost the game. Despite their valiant efforts, and a late goal from Yael Averbuch in the 87’, they couldn’t pull out a draw against the Dash, who would end up finishing just one position ahead of them at 7th in the final 2016 standings.
And then last night, the Dash pulled out what, at least according to history, isn’t such an improbable win after all, despite the belief of many (including myself). Granted, they were assisted by a second-half yellow card accumulation that sent one of FCKC’s most creative players, Lo’eau LaBonta to the locker room, but the Houston Dash came out determined to turn their season around. Though Kansas City seemed to have the advantage at first, especially after a stoppage time goal from Shea Groom in the first half, a 55’ goal from Rachel Daly and then a 64’ goal from Nichelle Prince as FCKC were struggling to recover themselves after LaBonta’s ejection gave the Dash the win and kept this odd streak alive.
Go Dash, I guess?
Mid-Week Off Comes Back to Hurt Spirit and Courage – Jordan Small
While eight teams spent their Wednesday night playing their second game in four days or less, the North Carolina Courage and Washington Spirit were sitting at home. Both teams had the night off and were able to prepare for the weekend matchups that awaited them. However, come Saturday, those two teams found them on the wrong side of the scoresheet.
North Carolina hosted Sky Blue on Saturday afternoon and were featured as July’s first Lifetime Game of the Week. By the 80th minute, neither team had scored, but one team looked to be gassed and ready for the match to be over. The other was racing down the field looking for a goal and the three points. Believe it or not, Sky Blue was the one with more life towards the end of the game. The team that had played three games in six days, two of which were on the road, won on a goal from Sam Kerr in the 84th minute.
Then you have the Washington Spirit. After beating the Portland Thorns at home last Saturday, the Spirit made the short trip up to Boston to take on the Breakers. The Spirit dominated the first half but were unable to finish their chances. Boston pounced on the opportunity in the 72nd minute when Midge Purce put away a goal off of lazy defending from Washington.
Both teams that had off during the week lost on the weekend. Is this just a coincidence? It might be, but to think that having too much time to think about your next opponent isn’t all that crazy to believe. It also could just be that those two teams were outplayed.
The Power of the Backup Goalkeeper – Jordan Small
Three goalkeepers who didn’t come into the season expecting to see much game time have ended up with significant minutes in recent weeks due to injuries to their teams’ starters. For Katelyn Rowland of the North Carolina Courage and Aubrey Bledsoe of the Orlando Pride, these have become long term assignments over the past several weeks. In Boston, Sammy Jo Prudhomme is just three games into her starting career.
Rowland and Bledsoe have won over half of their games since taking over. All three have picked up at least one shutout in their time as the number one. This is the first time for all three as the starter for a significant period of time and they have not disappointed. Each is making the case to be the starter for the foreseeable future which will make it fun down the stretch. Who doesn’t love a little competition?
Those are the takeaways that stood out to us. Did you take something else away from this extra long week of matches? Let us know your thoughts, and come back next week for more takeaways.