Welcome to Week 16, where the table is starting to clarify, with three teams looking solid at the top and the middle of the pack in a desperate fight for that final spot. Where Portland continues to dominate Chicago on the road and the Orlando Pride have made a real case for their inclusion in this year’s postseason. Where injuries continue to plague the players, new and old.
Read all about it in our takeaways this week!
Sonnett Leaves Past Behind, Makes an Impact for Portland – Alyssa Zajac
I’ll be the first to admit, Emily Sonnett has had some up-and-down moments this year for the Portland Thorns after a stellar first season as the No. 1 draft pick. I personally still cringe thinking about that one Rapinoe goal. Yikes.
However, Sonnett seems to have left the rough start to the season behind, as she has helped lift the Thorns into second place in the NWSL standings with two goals in two games–including the game-winner against a formidable Red Stars defense. As a center back, goal-scoring opportunities are extremely slim, so that goal-scoring record is not something to be taken lightly. Her ability to find the net is particularly important with a team like the Thorns, who can run hot and cold on set pieces. Only time will tell, but as we head into the final weeks of the season, Sonnett is looking like a key piece for the Thorns as both a defensive and offensive threat.
Spoiler Alert: The Final Stretch Is Key for Kansas City – Alyssa Zajac
FC Kansas City has had a rough season. Losing Amy Rodriguez to a season-ending injury in the first game of the season seems to have been a blow that couldn’t be overcome. Without her the offense has struggled, and despite a generally solid defense, they’ve suffered too many breakdowns (that 12-minute Sam Kerr hat-trick for a Sky Blue comeback win, anyone?) to sustain a realistic shot at the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean the end of the season won’t matter. They still have the chance to play a big role in the final playoff push, as a spoiler. Their next seven are all against teams in the playoff hunt (Portland, Chicago, Orlando, Sky Blue, Seattle, and Houston are currently in second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, with just six points separating fourth through seventh). As teams make the final playoff push, every point counts. We saw evidence this weekend, when they stole three points from Houston in a road win that left the Dash further away from that final spot. With a win, Houston could have pulled to just three points away (with a game in hand). But thanks to a tough performance from FCKC, they’re now stuck six points off the playoff pace. The role of spoiler may not be what FCKC hoped for at this point, but they’ll certainly want to close the season strong. If they can do so, they can wreak havoc on the NWSL playoff standings. So hold on to your jerseys, kids – it’s going to be a wild race to the finish!
So, Orlando, What’s New – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
18 games into the season and the Orlando Pride are sitting in fourth place on the table, just above that playoff cutoff, and man, it’s gotta feel good. In just their second year in the league, and after last year’s dismal finish, Orlando has always been the kind of team that could have, should have, you know? Flush with talent–Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris to start, and then adding Ali Krieger and Marta this season, not to mention all the other playmakers on their roster–the Pride have never wavered from the belief that they should be one of the top teams in the league. And finally, finally, they’re starting to make good on that belief. Whether it was Marta who brought the spark to Orlando’s attack, or Krieger who firmed up the defense, or Morgan who fit the final puzzle piece into its spot, Orlando has been on run. And it’s come without their talismanic goalkeeper, Ashlyn Harris, who missed two months after an injury suffered earlier this season. Now, with six games left, they need to play better than they’ve ever played before to hold onto that playoff spot. And their journey to the postseason won’t be easy–they only have three home games left, and their road record is unimpressive. Their schedule is also tough, with games against the current top two (North Carolina and Portland) as well as one against the Seattle team who will be hoping to steal that final playoff spot from them. They do have a bit of luck, though, in their other games: two against Boston and one against Kansas City. On form, and barring any colossal mistakes, they should be able to count on at least 6 points from those games, if not all 9. They’ll certainly want to get as much as possible from their more difficult games, but those easier ones might end up being the difference between a chance at the playoffs and an early end to the season.
Ain’t No Call for That – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Last week I praised Tyler Lussi’s performance for the Portland Thorns. And, yes, I stand by that. But if you think that praise last week means overlooking this week’s card-worthy incident against Danielle Colaprico and the Chicago Red Stars, please step back and maybe put on your reading glasses.
Lussi was subbed in for Dagny Brynjarsdóttir in the 61’ (she took the field at 60:17, in fact). Less than 20 seconds later (60:32), she’d taken down Colaprico with a vicious hair-tug and stepped on her wrist. We saw a similar incident earlier in the season with Seattle Reign’s Merritt Mathias, who received a three-game suspension after a violent hair-pulling against Emily Sonnett of the Portland Thorns. She’d been caught on camera doing the same just the week before to Allysha Chapman of the Boston Breakers and received a yellow for it.
I’ve watched the scene from this weekend’s game time and time again, and I can think of no reason the referee didn’t call her for that misconduct. It wasn’t off on the sidelines away from the ball and it wasn’t covert; this was a flat-out yank of Colaprico’s hair that pulled her whole head and body back before she fell down. The stepping on her wrist after she’d fallen? Maybe you could write that off as unintentional, as the consequence of physics–a body in motion and all–but the two incidents together demanded an intervention from the referee. He briefly talked to Lussi, yes, but all that shows is that he saw what happened and still didn’t think it was worthy of a booking. And that’s unthinkable. I don’t care if she’d just come into the game–this isn’t the kind of contact that earns you a quick warning about keeping your play clean. This was the kind of contact that deserved a yellow, at minimum. And honestly, I’ve seen players commit less egregious fouls and be handed a straight red.
If it were up to me? Lussi’s earned herself a game or two suspension and a fine to go along with it.
It’s Time for PRO to Take a Look at NWSL Referees – Jordan Small
In Week 16 of Year 5 of the NWSL, we are somehow still having a conversation better suited for Year 1 or 2. The referees in the NWSL continue to put players at risk by not properly doing their job. Early in the season, it seemed as if penalty kicks were being handed out like candy. Now, we are seeing fouls being called all over the field, but no cards accompanying these foul calls.
While not every play calls for a card, repeated fouls by a single player or an excessive use of force absolutely should result in a card. There were two prominent examples this weekend of the referees seemed to have lost control of the game. First, Angela Salem of the Boston Breakers, who was shown a yellow card in the 94th minute for a foul on Tori Huster. But according to Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra this was too little, too late. Handing out the first booking of the game that far into the match effectively eliminates any possible deterrent effect. Then you have Tyler Lussi of the Portland Thorns, as discussed in the previous takeaway.
I understand that referees will not see everything all the time. And some calls will always be tough ones, with fans on both sides having a reasonable case. But this isn’t about individual tough decisions. It’s about a general lack of control over games. The spectacles we’ve seen in recent weeks are an embarrassment to the league and its players. The NWSL and PRO Referees need to take a serious look at how they are officiating these games before it becomes irreversibly dangerous.
Carli Lloyd Injury Could Break the Dash’s Playoff Hopes – Jordan Small
Carli Lloyd has had a huge impact on the Houston Dash since returning from Manchester City. After making her 2017 debut on June 18, Lloyd has played 89 or more minutes in 6 of her 8 appearances. And during that time, the Dash went on a tear, picking up the majority of their points on the season. In one particularly impressive run from the end of June and into July, they earned 11 points over a five game span.
After Lloyd was removed against Kansas City this week, the Dash looked lost. Not only is she a huge part of the midfield for Houston, she is their captain and has led this team since Kealia Ohai’s season-ending ACL injury. If Lloyd is unable to play for the next couple of weeks, Houston will have to try and replace a large piece of their midfield. With Morgan Brian out for an indefinite amount of time, Lloyd’s injury could really break the Houston Dash’s season.