6 Takeaways from NWSL: Week 19

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Week 19 saw two playoff spots clinched, a team ending an at-home losing streak, and 19 goals scored throughout the weekend games. As the number of teams who can make the playoffs continues to drop, the fight to the finish continues for the teams within reach of the final two playoff positions.

We’re here with our takeaways as the season grinds down to the nitty gritty. 


A Numbers Game – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak

Some people might know that I’m a bit of a data nerd. I like seeing numbers, exploring them, and trying to derive meaning from them. I’ve been keeping an eye on the NWSL on Lifetime audience numbers as best as I can this season, and there’ve been some interesting things I want to talk about.

First, I think the deal was definitely a boon for the league. Granted, they have never released data on Youtube audiences in seasons 1-4, but a quick skim of the NWSL Youtube channel suggests that the audience numbers (even two or three years later with the ability to go back and stream for free) for the first four seasons on Lifetime far exceed them. So far, the biggest audience for Lifetime has been the Portland Thorns v NC Courage game on July 13th, while the smallest audience was 49,000 just two weeks earlier when the Courage played Sky Blue FC on July 1st. But all in all, with 19 weeks gone of the season, the NWSL is averaging almost a hundred thousand viewers per week. Which is impressive for the league. Everyone should be pretty excited about the growth of the fan base.

What would be interesting to see, of course, are the numbers for the go90 games. Because I’d imagine that those are out-performing Youtube as well. Or the international numbers from the NSWL site itself. But all in all, it’s pretty clear that the Lifetime deal was a good move for the league.

The Fall – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak

I remember a few weeks after the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, watching some of the players on the field, off of it. And they didn’t look happy. The World Champions looked a little … lost. The thing nobody tells you about achieving your dream or reaching the peak of one of your highest goals is the fall after. All that adrenaline, all that focus, all that drive. And then the celebrations–the constant moving from one event to the next, the parties, the accolades. It all sounds like a dream, right? Except–the drop-off after, it can be devastating. The low after such a high, it can take a long time and a lot of help to climb back up from.

This weekend Lifetime did a special segment on Stephanie Labbe, the Canadian goalkeeper and two-season veteran of the Washington Spirit squad. And Labbe, very clearly, talks about the same issue. The low after the high, the depression she fell into in the wake of her team’s fabulous Bronze Medal Olympic performance, the struggle of coming back to her NWSL squad and sitting on the bench. And how she couldn’t find “Steph Labbe” for a time amid all the “Canadian Bronze Medalist Stephanie Labbe” talk and celebrations.

First, props to Labbe for being open about her mental health struggles. She joins the small but important (and growing) group of athletes who are helping to destigmatize mental illness. And second, maybe let’s try to remember that athletes, first and foremost, are people. What they do and what they achieved is not their identity, it doesn’t define them.


Alex Morgan, Full-Time Pride Player – Luis Hernandez

One of the growing concerns for Orlando Pride fans for the 2018 season was whether the team would start next season without Alex Morgan. With the recent success and current unbeaten run the team finds themselves on the verge of a playoff spot in its second year of existence, the U.S. women’s national team striker first announced during the Orlando City on WRDQ TV27 that she would return to Orlando at the start of next season because she and Olympique Lyonnais had mutually agreed to terminate her contract.

The Pride star striker calls Orlando her home, and as much as Tom Sermanni and his squad would like nothing more than to lift the championship trophy this year, the outlook for Orlando looks even brighter next season. The Pride struggled to find any offense for the first quarter of the schedule; had Orlando had Marta and Morgan starting like the team will next year instead of fighting for the last playoff spot, the club could be looking to claim the NWSL shield in 2018.

 

A Rose By Any Other Name … – Luis Hernandez

In a young league like the NWSL, there are very few constants. However, one almost sure thing happened this past weekend when the Portland Thorns once again punched their ticket to the playoffs. In fact, the only time Portland failed to make the postseason was in the 2015 season which saw Paul Riley exit from the team; and that’s worked out for him as well. The first league champions have the support of city they play in, as well as the full backing of the Major League Soccer organization which owns the team. That level of support has been key because most teams couldn’t claim to have the level of success Portland has while having three changes to the head coach. In a league where organizational backing is the vital mark of on-field success, Portland hasn’t had an equal. In the odd 2015 season, the Thorns bounced back and reloaded for 2016. Something the organization isn’t shy on is bringing big name talent nationally and from across the world. As this year winds down, and supporters of the league start to countdown to next year’s draft and start of preseason, don’t be surprised when all the NWSL pundits come out and have Portland as a favorite to make playoffs once again which should please its supporter group, the Rose City Riveters, and the rest of Portland’s fans. #BAONPDX


Franch Makes Her Case for Return to the USWNT – Alyssa Zajac

There’s no denying that AD Franch had a shaky start to the 2017 season. Poor decision making and overall shakiness led to close calls in games and frustration from fans (myself included). There were several instances where everyone knew that Franch had barely escaped disaster after a bad giveaway or poor clearance.

However, as the season has progressed, Franch has grown into a capable and skilled starter for the Thorns. With nine shutouts on the season, Franch has shown herself to one of the most in-form goalkeepers in the league.

That being said, I think AD Franch should get another call up to the USWNT.

Right now, if I had to choose a depth chart for 2019 and beyond, this would be my top five for goalkeepers. This is based on two factors: current form and future potential/use of a player.

  1. Alyssa Naeher
  2. AD Franch
  3. Katelyn Rowland
  4. Jane Campbell
  5. Abby Smith

Franch has the potential to be a great asset to the USWNT. If she were to get called in, I would not be opposed to her alternating some starts with Alyssa Naeher–especially in friendlies (mostly because we don’t need a situation where Naeher is injured and we’re throwing a new INT GK to the wolves, please and thank you).

Anything could happen and change my opinion in the coming weeks, but right now Franch is one to watch. Based on her performance, she has earned another shot at the USWNT.

Chicago Gonna Chicago – Alyssa Zajac

Remember what I said last week about Chicago needing to stop letting in late goals? I should have added the statement “they also need to avoid conceding early goals”. Sunday’s game started with the Red Stars’ patented “what is soccer?” method for the first 20 to 25 minutes of the match.  Once again, the slow start cost them, with Lynn Williams scoring for the Courage in the 15th minute.

I figured that, in fairness, I do the same assessment as last week, except noted goals will be goals the Red Stars have conceded in the first 25 minutes of a game (to coincide with their slow starts for the first 20 to 25 minutes on average), and the impacts they had:

  • Houston (Ohai 15’) – goal differential. Result: 2-0 Loss
  • Sky Blue FC (Tiernan 3’) – goal differential. Result: 2-1 Win
  • Orlando (Morgan 24’) – goal differential. Result: 1-1 Draw
  • Portland (Raso 3’, Sinclair 9’) – goal differential. Result: 2-3 Loss
  • FC Kansas City (Leroux 23’) – goal differential. Result: 1-3 Loss
  • North Carolina (Williams 15’) – goal differential. Result: 2-1 Win

This is where I find the silver lining – the Red Stars have been able to come back and at least get a point out of  50% of the games in which they conceded early goals. While they did eventually equalize against Portland, they were unable to secure the draw. The two games they didn’t equalize coincidentally were games that saw Chicago conceding goals in the final ten minutes. I found that interesting.

So, what does all of this tell us? Honestly, not a whole lot. Chicago continues to be a team that generally struggles initially, then usually pulls themselves together, then either holds out for points or collapses in the final minutes. I know, I don’t understand it either.

The Red Stars’ final three games are going to be interesting to watch. While the win against North Carolina gave Chicago a tiny bit of breathing room, how the next three games start and finish could be what makes or breaks Chicago’s playoff dreams.