Welcome to the second month of the NWSL season, where April golazos bring May own-goals. At least so far. Yes, indeed, this weekend was notable for the three OGs scored on Saturday; one per game, in fact.
But while the action this week was both entertaining and at times frustrating, the level of competition has never been higher, with all but one match decided by a single goal.
Still, there’s no need to be coy, you’re here for takeaways, so let’s see what we took away from this week.
Now That’s How You Play Three in the Back – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Seattle came out strong Saturday night, but what impressed me most was their initial formation. Many teams have tried a variation of the three-back form this season, as Jill Ellis has made it clear with her National Team formations that it’s something she wants players to have in their toolbox. But of all the teams to try it so far, Seattle–by leaps and bounds–has looked the best. A three-back isn’t just about crowding the attack, it’s about flexibility, and the only way it works out for a team is if there’s a midfield that can support it. And Seattle’s midfield, with talent and experience packed into every corner, was able to do just that. A bridging midfielder (making the backline feel a little like a 3-1/2 back formation at times) delicately balanced defensive duties and forward movement, and Seattle capitalized upon their powerful attacking talent in less than a minute of game-play. The Reign demonstrated just what a three-back can do, but also just what’s needed in order to make it work on the field. Hopefully Ellis caught the game.
That’s a Lot of White Space, Chicago – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
The Windy City hosted their first Lifetime Game of the Week matchup this weekend against the Houston Dash, and to be honest, for all their efforts and success on the field, after the final whistle I was more focused on the image of the empty seats in the stands than anything any one player or team did. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago played a great game and came away with a solid three points that should keep them in the upper-half of the table this week. But their attendance was only 2,114 for the match, just slightly lower than their 2,153 home opener in Week 2 of the season. And this is a team with four popular National Team players on it! This is the team of Christen Press! Alyssa Naeher! Julie Ertz and Casey Short!
We’re all aware of just how much effort and time Chicago has poured into their rebranding and marketing campaigns this season–those player pics in the downtown are on fire!–but I don’t know that they’ve seen much gains in ticket sales yet. (I do know they’re calling previous attendees, because a lovely woman representing the team woke me up with a phone call one morning last week to ask if I’d bought tickets for the season yet–I have.) Either way, something needs to change because Chicago is one of the teams lucky enough to play in a professional-level stadium every week, but they’re pulling in fewer numbers than teams like Boston and Sky Blue, who call local college-level fields home. Chicago needs to figure out what they’re doing wrong–ticket prices, marketing campaigns, etc–and somehow put more fans into the stands.
At This Point, It’s Anyone’s League – Jordan Small
If we’ve learned anything from season five of the NWSL, it’s that the league is more competitive than ever before. Each week, it is very difficult to pick a winner for any game because anyone can beat anyone. Aside from North Carolina, every team has lost at least once, with all ten teams picking up at least a point through the first four weeks.
Last week, we saw the Breakers beat Seattle 3-0 in Boston. The week before that, Seattle beat Houston 5-1 in Seattle. That week, Boston beat Sky Blue 1-0, and Sky Blue and Seattle tied 1-1 on opening weekend. So like I said, anyone can beat anyone. At the end of Week 4, just five points separate the #2 and #10 in the league table. While it’s only Week 4, the parity of the league has made it fun and exciting for fans of the NWSL to tune in each week.
Christie Pearce is Even More Important to Sky Blue Than You Think – Jordan Small
Even at 41-years-old, Christie Pearce is still one of the top center backs in the NWSL. After being out with a concussion for two weeks, it’s become apparent just how important Pearce is to the Sky Blue backline. Without her in the lineup, all four players for Sky Blue were in just their first or second year in the NWSL, not to mention that the goalkeeper is a rookie drafted just this year.
Without Pearce, and with O’Hara playing an attacking role for the most part, the backline for Sky Blue has struggled to maintain a consistent shape. Washington Spirit forward Francisca Ordega really exposed the young backline in Week 4, penetrating the line twice to notch a brace for the home team. On top of her skills as a centerback, Sky Blue also misses her leadership on the field. Both fans and the team alike are hoping for a quick return to the lineup for our Captain America.
The Dash Can’t Figure Out Who They Are – Luis Hernandez
Of all the teams with two wins, the Houston Dash are the most enigmatic in the bunch. Houston has the talent to beat the likes of Chicago in Week 1 and then hold off the Washington Spirit in Week 3, but when they lose they lose badly. The offense can’t seem to put on a consistent performance, and defensively the goals conceded are kind of weak. The up-and-down nature of this team doesn’t seem to make sense. Since they host Sky Blue for only their second home game this season, is it a safe bet to predict a Dash win? Who knows! That’s just how up and down they are.
With players like Rachel Daly, Kealia Ohai, Denise O’Sullivan, and a returning Morgan Brian on the roster, perhaps the Dash are soon to be rounding a corner. The Dash have good players, obviously, but still, they felt the need to add players like Sarah Hagen and Cami Levin, frequent bench-warmers on Tom Sermanni’s Orlando Pride. If the Dash can figure it out, the team might be able to hang on as a playoff team in time for Carli Lloyd’s return.
Orlando Finds Ways to Drop Points Again – Luis Hernandez
And speaking of teams who can’t figure things out, Orlando seemed poised to earn the team’s first win of the season only to have a late and questionable free kick awarded to FC Kansas City. Ultimately, it was their inability to clear the ball out of danger that left the Pride with a 1-1 draw after Marta had scored her first NWSL goal to take the lead. But the team should focus on continuing to build chemistry with Marta and across the pitch, because for the most part, they played a good game.
However, good teams find ways to win. The North Carolina Courage make good things happen because they are a good team. Across the league, the talent level in the NWSL is pretty even. Our own Jordan Small talked about league parity, yet having just two points out of four matches for Orlando is mediocre. The Courage are coming to Orlando Sunday. The good teams find a way; what’s Orlando going to do?
Well, folks, there you have it, our most important takeaways from the Week Four matches. Did we miss anything? Do you want to argue or challenge one of our points? Or do you just have an opinion about Week 4 games or play? Go ahead and share it in the comments below or join the conversation in the Backline Soccer forums. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!