Just when you think nothing else can surprise the NWSL faithful, Week 14 happens right before the break for Tournament of Nations, and folks it was nuts. I mean from an instant classic to a suspended match, the league is Must Watch TV. So let’s get right to it, and give you our Week 14 takeaways.
Allie Long Is Coming Alive at the Right Time – Jordan Small
Last week on The Scouting Report, I mentioned that Allie Long was having a quiet season. After moving into a more defensive role, we hadn’t seen as much of Long as we had in previous seasons. It was unfortunate because Long had become one of the best club players in the NWSL. It felt as if a great offensive talent was being wasted.
So of course, what happened this weekend? She went out and scored a goal to tie the game up for Portland. She was all over the field and had a number of chances for the Thorns. I’m not saying that she needs to be more offensive, but I think she is playing her best when she’s in an attacking role. Her ability to distribute and be in the right place at the right time for Portland is something that is hard to come by. Maybe it’s the absence of players like Amandine Henry and Nadia Nadim that has allowed Long to be more of an attacking presence this week.
Don’t Blame the Goalkeepers – Jordan Small
When looking at a high scoring game, it can appear as if the goalkeepers did not have decent games. That wasn’t the case in the Seattle vs. Sky Blue game where 9 goals were given up. Both Kailen Sheridan of Sky Blue and Haley Kopmeyer of Seattle were hung out to dry by their defenders.
For the second time in two meetings this season, each goalkeeper gave up a penalty kick goal. It’s hard to really blame goalkeepers for giving up a goal in that situation, especially when they get a piece of the shot. Then you look at the free kick goal that was scored by Megan Rapinoe. Sheridan was within a foot or two of getting a piece of that shot. Not many goalkeepers are going to be stopping shots in the upper 90. At the end of the day, there isn’t a lot to get out of that game from a goalkeeper’s perspective because the defense in front was poor at best.
Red Stars: A Model of Consistency – Luis Hernandez
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chicago enters the ToN break at the top of the table. The linchpin behind the success of the Red Stars has to be Head Coach Rory Dames. Dames has been the gaffer for the Red Stars since 2011, attached to the club from its rise out of the WPSL to the NWSL. Under his management, the Red Stars have been able to establish a culture of success: everyone on the Red Stars understands what it means to be a part of the team, and know their roles.
A younger or less experienced team may have been challenged to overcome their coach getting sent off for the second half, but Coach Dames’ ejection at halftime didn’t seem to phase the players or coaching staff, and the Red Stars were able to come away with three points at home against Orlando. A key aspect of the Red Star’s performance is the basic idea that the team has an identity. Teams that face Chicago know what the club is going to do beforehand, but teams like Orlando are helpless to overcome that. Chicago will sit back happy to yield the possession, and strike on a counterattack or play a ball over the top, so Christen Press can use her speed to score a goal. Having that consistency which Dames worked to have in the club, is paying off dividends. Can they cash that in with an NWSL shield or NWSL championship? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Weather Screws With the Schedule Again – Luis Hernandez
The league has really had a difficult time planning for and dealing with the weather. First, the Lifetime TV deal has forced teams into playing at a set time according to a broadcast schedule, which, especially in the summer heat, has consequences for attendance. That heat issue has also affected the players, as when Rachel Daly collapsed of heat exhaustion at the end of a match played in the hottest part of the Texas afternoon. The league reacted to this by shifting game start times again, and trying to make changes to address the concerns of the players and fans.
Wisely, this week the league shifted the start time of the FC Kansas City match against the North Carolina Courage due to forecasted heat conditions. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the match had to be suspended because of the “weather problems.” Fans will remember the league had to abandon a scheduled match last season as well when pouring rain in Houston washed out the match against the Spirit in Week 7 that the teams had to make up in between week 15 and 16. The postponement did little to impact the final results in the standings back in 2016, and the replay when it does get played isn’t going to help the Blues either.
Is there a better way to handle weather delays? Could they be rescheduled sooner? Maybe it’s worth talking about a little more.
THAT Game – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
My dad thinks he’s funny, because every time I tell him I’m watching a soccer game, he asks me “What’s the score?” See, he’s a football fan–an American football fan, and so the idea of a game ending 0-0, or even 2-1, is kind of blasphemous to him. There’s not enough action (obviously he’s never really tried to watch a game), the players flop around too much (you’re thinking of men’s soccer, dad), what’s with the extra time after the whistle (IT’S CALLED STOPPAGE TIME JUST GO WITH IT), and god forbid I ever try to explain the offside rule to him.
So when I got home on Saturday night and turned on the Seattle v Sky Blue game, and saw the Reign’s 4-0 lead slowly slip away as Kelley O’Hara, Leah Galton, Daphne Corboz, and the Australian wizard Sam Kerr each scored, I couldn’t help but text him.
Let’s just say, he still wasn’t impressed.
But I was.
You know, I hate the phrase “deserved a win,” because no one really ever deserves to win something. A win is something you earn.
But man, Sky Blue deserved to win on Saturday night. And whether you blame Erica Skroski’s own goal or the backline’s breakdown in the wake of Kerr evening up the score, that loss just left me hollow after. Because they put up such a fight.
One time–maybe just once–they could come out looking like that from the start.
Take a Shot – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Do you know which team has the most Shots on Goal (SOG) this season? It’s not who you’d think.
It’s Sky Blue. Sky Blue FC has 99 SOG so far as we hit the second break of the season. 99 SOG out of 170 total shots. Over 50% of their shots are right on target. And yet, they only have 28 goals. Only 28% of their SOG (or 16% of their total shots) have found the net.
The Houston Dash, sitting right now at 6th on the table after a rocky start to the season, have the second most SOG. 99 of 183 total shots Their accuracy might be lower than Sky Blue, both in terms of shots and goals, but not by a lot. 50% of their shots are on goal and and 17% of those find the net.
Why do I care? Because I think Sky Blue still has a chance at making the post-season. But to do this, I think they might need to stop shooting in the blind hope that they’ll get one past the keeper and start putting together a more organized and efficient offense. Their attack needs to be more surgical–and not the exploratory kind. Less frenzied, less “Kelley O’Hara plays ALL the positions” and more committed to structure over desperation.
Because Sam Kerr won’t always be able to pull their asses out of the fire. And O’Hara won’t always be able to get them into the attacking third by sheer force of will.
And eventually, the whistle will blow.