Week 18 has come and gone. As we head into the final stretch of games, the mad dash for the NWSL playoffs continues in what aims to be a season for the record books. This week involved four games, three identical score lines, a team trying to stop a freefall, and a natural disaster that could have long-lasting, devastating implications moving forward.
Chicago Slows Down the Bleeding But Still Needs Stitches – Alyssa Zajac
If you are a Red Stars fan, you probably went into Saturday’s game hoping and wishing for a vital three points and a snapped losing streak. Wish granted! Chicago escaped the Spirit’s home turf with the win and their first three points since Aug. 5. And yes, I did use the word “escaped”- if Christen Press hadn’t done Christen Press things in the 87th minute after Cheyna Williams scored the equalizer in the 81st minute, the game would have ended in a draw and two points lost for Chicago. Which leads me to my take.
Chicago’s weakness is their inability to close out games.
Looking back at Chicago’s season, they have given up nine goals in the 80th minute or later of games. Out of the 24 goals Chicago has allowed, 37.5% of them came in the waning minutes of matches. Which … is not a great thing. I dove into the impact of these goals, and this is how it broke down:
- Houston (Daly 80’) – goal differential. Result: 2-0 Loss
- North Carolina (Debinha 82’) – goal differential. Result: 3-2 Win
- Seattle (Rapinoe 84’ [P]) – goal differential, one point. Result: 2-1 Loss
- Sky Blue FC (Kerr 90’) – goal differential, two points. Result: 2-2 Draw
- Orlando (Kennedy 93’) – goal differential, loss of clean sheet. Result: 2-1 Win
- Seattle (Kawasumi 90’, Johnson 92’) – goal differential, three points, loss of clean sheet. Result: 1-2 Loss
- FC Kansas City (Kelly 80’) – goal differential. Result: 1-3 Loss
- Washington (Williams 81’) – goal differential, loss of clean sheet. Result: 1-2 Win
Basing ‘what could have been’ results on what the scores were before the late goals were conceded, Chicago has directly given up at least six points in the last minutes of games. If the Red Stars had managed to close out these games, they would currently be at 38 points, just one point shy of first place. What also needs to be taken into consideration is goal differential. Should the final standings come to the goal differential tiebreaker, the Red Stars have made things very difficult on themselves.
There may be nothing that Chicago can do about the past, but the final four games of the season are going to be key. Losing games and conceding goals in the final minutes is no longer an option for the Red Stars, and they need to figure out how to close out games. In my eyes, it’s do or die time. I really hope they come out on the side of “do.”
An End of an Era Approaches FC Kansas City, and They May Not Be Prepared – Alyssa Zajac
Nicole Barnhart isn’t going to play forever.
Our hearts may not want it to be true, but our heads acknowledge reality. There will come a day when FC Kansas City exists without Barnhart in goal. But the team may not fully be prepared for that eventuality.
Let me explain. Throughout FCKC’s existence, Barnhart has been the go-to starting goalkeeper. However, the position of backup keeper has had a seemingly endless turnover. From Bianca Henninger in 2013, Sara Keane and Cecilia Santiago in 2014, Katelyn Rowland in 2015, and Cat Parkhill in 2016 and 2017, there really hasn’t been a chance for a goalkeeper to extensively learn from and train with one of the best goalkeepers in the game.
In comparison, the Seattle Reign initially drafted Haley Kopmeyer in 2013, re-signed her in 2014, and had her train with and learn from Hope Solo – arguably the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game – consistently over the next two years. When Solo took an indefinite leave of absence in 2016, Kopmeyer was well equipped and prepared to take over the starting role.
Kansas City doesn’t really have that luxury. That’s not to say Cat Parkhill isn’t capable of being the starting goalkeeper. I’m sure she could be, I’m just not sold on how well the team and defense are prepared to play without Barnhart in goal.
As the off season approaches, FCKC should be looking to potential goalkeepers to invest in – whether they be potential draftees or goalkeepers who are already in the playing pool. Just in case, because the future comes whether we’re ready for it or not.
Let’s Talk Six, Baby – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
With a scant few weeks left in the “historic fifth season,” it’s time to start thinking about the even more historic sixth season.
I’ve been thinking all week about this, and there are a few areas I think the NWSL needs to address as it moves into the second half of their first decade.
First, stop using the word “historic.”
Okay, that one’s a joke.
First, stop hiding behind artificially inflated “maximum NWSL salary” lies. RJ Allen wrote a great piece earlier this season about how despite the fact that the minimum and maximum were raised for the 2017 season, in actuality, if one player makes the maximum, the rest can earn only slightly more than the minimum. And this is because of the NWSL team salary cap. In reality, the league needs to expand salary caps as well as their minimums because almost all non-Federation players are hovering around the poverty line unless they have some other source of income.
Second, the bar for refs needs to be raised. This season has seen everything from referees choosing not to intervene after flagrant, card-worthy offenses to illogical cards for imaginary fouls. The refs need to be held to a higher standard, and their interventions need to be consistent. I’m a sports-fan, so of course, I’m going to scream at my television now and then, disagreeing with a call. But this season’s PRO performance has been appalling, and the complaints and concerns being raised are far more credible than the usual armchair quarterbacking that goes on in sports. Coaches, players, and fans are all concerned not only with the quality of the game but the safety of the players on the field.
Third, the NWSL needs to make improvements to its streaming. 2017 has been an inconsistent (and sometimes downright ridiculous) mess. The deal with Go90 was thrown together and implemented with no coherent structure or support. Go90 is clunky–both in terms of watching and navigating. I don’t know anyone who really watches via that platform, most choose to use a VPN and watch on the NWSL site itself with the international viewers. It’s only sheer laziness that’s kept me from doing the same. When watching, and especially as someone who sometimes needs to watch a particular play over and over again in order to write about it, the ability to pause, rewind, fast-forward, etc., is frequently absent. Or maybe others have figured it out and I’m just dumb–that is always a possibility.
And last, advertising. Every Go90 game has that “in commercial” screen, except the event is not taking a commercial break. But what a great opportunity to sell some ads during the non-Lifetime games. You’ve got a few designated times of known length. You’re a young league that should always be looking for steady income streams. Get out there and find some sponsors to fill that blank space. Please. Because I’m tired of hearing the chatter as the announcers forget to turn their mics off during those designated break segments.
#1, #1, #1 – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Watching the games this past weekend, all I can think about is the 2018 NWSL College Draft. Who will go #1?
Last year was a no-brainer. Rose Lavelle was going first. This year, I’m a little less confident, but I know most people think it’ll be Andi Sullivan, and I can definitely see that. Right now Boston and Washington are both falling over themselves to see who can play worse, and I’m honestly pretty sure it’ll end up being Washington in the end. They might have Mallory Pugh, but their bench is just too thin these days, with Arielle Ship’s recent ACL injury the latest in a long line of Washington’s SEIs this year. Can you imagine an Andi Sullivan-Mallory Pugh connection?
But then, if it’s Boston, they’d be crazy not to take Sullivan. Putting her in the midfield with Lavelle–listen, I’m drooling just as much at that possibility as any other. Either way, if Sullivan is the #1, and if either Boston or Washington draft her, they’ll have made the move that could see them finding the success next year that has eluded them this season.
Tom Sermanni Makes a Case for Coach of the Year – Luis Hernandez
The start of the season was rough for the Pride, who were at the bottom of the league standings for the first month. In fact, even though Orlando had added Marta, the team was one of the bottom three teams until Week Nine. Coach Sermanni was adjusting and reevaluating every aspect of his roster. Making position changes with Ali Krieger and Alanna Kennedy while changing up the shape of the squad, he was able to orchestrate a five-match unbeaten streak for his squad, which actually included a four-game winning streak in the month of August.
This past weekend, Sermanni shifted his tactics on the road to give his side the full three points. He subbed in Rachel Hill for Kristen Edmonds in minute 69 and then just ten minutes later inserted Toni Pressley for Chioma Ubogagu. Of course, the players on the pitch have to execute, and Alex Morgan put away Marta’s service from a free kick which went through Nicole Barnhart’s hands. There is a lot to expect from Orlando with the talent on the roster, but Sermanni has kept the team loose and had had his adjustments work out. He could certainly see himself picking up coach of the year as well.
Houston (and All Areas Affected by Harvey) You’re in Our Thoughts – Luis Hernandez
Sometimes, there are things bigger than soccer. Friday the league announced the postponement of the Houston Dash match against the North Carolina Courage, just before Hurricane Harvey began its reign over Texas which caused catastrophic and life-threatening flooding. Our thoughts are with those people affected by Hurricane Harvey. The impact of this storm will be felt for a long time to come.
Thank you to all the first responders and people helping each other out. That's what we do as Americans. Here's one way you can help now. https://t.co/iGfE8rAoAu
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 27, 2017