With 2016 being an Olympic year, the teams of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) knew their Olympian players were going to be gone some or most of the season. They were already accustomed to the drill seeing as they dealt with this the year before during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Last year some teams thrived while the internationals were gone while others bunkered without their full rosters. Every team had a different experience. This time around the game schedule took the Olympics into account and made room for an Olympic break throughout the month of August while the games were going on. With the games now over, the Olympians are headed back to their teams for the remaining five games. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Some teams have adapted well without their Olympians while others are in need of them. Either way, with the internationals back teams are going to have to take a new look into how to incorporate them into a roster that has seen them missing in action for a while. Below, we are going to take a look into each team and their rosters post-Olympics.
The season has not been a kind one for the Boston Breakers.They have only three wins on the board with the last two being consecutive. Unlike other teams in the league that have multiple Olympians on their roster, the Breakers only have two. They are U.S. defender Whitney Engen and Australian forward Kyah Simon. In theory, only having two players away means their line-ups will relatively stay the same when the two are away on national duty. It also means the teams’ chemistry will also stay the same since they don’t have to worry about the roster changing every game. However, that is not the case on the pitch. Even though they are only missing two players, the Boston Breakers can’t seem to catch a break. When Engen and Simon were on the field the defense struggled to keep the opposing team contained and the offense couldn’t find the back of the net. The same thing occurred when the two were away. However, the team went into the Olympic break on a high note when they won their second game on a goal by Natasha Dowie, the recent Boston signing. Over the weekend they faced FC Kansas City, the team they defeated for their first win of the season. On game days when Engen is not available rookie defender Christen Westphal would have a starting role in the back line. With Engen back, it was no surprise when she was on the starting roster and Westphal was on the bench. Kyah Simon started on the bench, but was subbed in during the second half. With the addition of Dowie, her and Simon can be paired together up top. Simon didn’t have any chemistry with ex-teammate Stephanie McCaffrey. McCaffrey had a starting role in the beginning of the season, but as weeks went by, she was only being used as a sub. Her game was declining and she was struggling to have the season she had back in her rookie year. McCaffrey was then traded to Chicago which left open a forward position Dowie now occupies. Dowie and Simon can possibly be the striker duo Boston is in need of. The past two games Boston has played better. Their newfound play won’t get them into the playoffs, but it can disrupt the paths of other teams looking for a playoff spot.
Chicago Red Stars:
Chicago is a team most thought would thrive when the Olympians were away. That is exactly what happened last season when their players were away at the World Cup. However, that did not happen this time around. Their play had been consistent, but considering the depth on their roster they should’ve played better. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defender Julie Johnston, and striker Christen Press of the U.S. make up the Olympians in Chicago. After Naeher was traded from Boston to Chicago she won the starting position ahead of Michelle Dalton. With the Olympians away head coach Rory Dames had to find another player that wasn’t Press to score goals, a defender that can read the game as well as Johnston, and a great goalkeeper like Naeher. Backup goalkeeper Dalton has taken Naeher’s place and has only had one clean sheet. However, the goals she has given up have not been bad goals rather just unlucky as Dames has stated many times before. Rookie defender Katie Naughton has taken Johnston’s place in the lineup and has slowly built a relationship with fellow center back Samantha Johnson. She got her first start early in the season when Johnston was injured. Since then, Naughton has taken Johnston’s position when unavailable. It is highly unlikely Naughton will take Johnston’s place upon her return, but Dames has a great option in his back pocket. Press is arguably the best striker on the team, but has yet to pair up with another fellow forward. Most notably is the chemistry issues with Sofia Huerta. Up until week nine Huerta had not picked up an assist or goal when Press was on the field. That changed when playing the Breakers and Huerta put one away when Press was playing as well. Stephanie McCaffrey was recently traded from Boston and many hoped she would be able to match-up with Press. This has been the first season Press has been played out of position. Dames has her in the midfield. Regardless of her position on paper, Press continues to have the mindset of a forward. She is still dangerous considering opponents don’t expect her to move forward, but she does anyway. There was a hint there could be a possible chemistry between the two when facing Sky Blue this past week. Dames’ back five is already for the most part lined up, but it’s his midfield and forwards he’s going to have trouble with. Apart from Press, midfielder Amanda DaCosta is also back from a head injury. Jen Hoy and Taylor Comeau are currently out with injuries, but could possibly be back in time for their next match. With all of his players healthy Dames has a difficult decision to make when choosing his roster, but that is a situation any coach would love to be in.
“Houston we have a problem!” Yes, yes they do. No one could have imagined the season for the Houston Dash would be hanging by a needle, but at this point it is. Their chances of a playoff spot are very slim, possibly non-existent. They are a completely different team than the one from week one who defeated the Chicago Red Stars 3-1. Now, the team could look different once again with their Olympians back. They are Poliana, Andressa, Janine Beckie, Allysha Chapman, Lydia Williams, Morgan Brian, and Carli Lloyd. The Canadians and Carli Lloyd took some extra time off. The Canadians after defending their Bronze medal and Lloyd for a personal matter. All stated they would return for their next game against the Boston Breakers. After time away, it will be interesting to see how their roster shapes up with the returning players. Over the last couple of games Houston has gradually looked better. It seemed as if the team without the Olympians were starting to build some chemistry. Cami Privett has found a starting position in the defense while Brazilian national team member Poliana has been away. Amber Brooks and Ellie Brush are just some of the players that have found some extra time on the pitch when the others were away. Brooks and Brush have struggled, along with their teammates. With the players back, Brooks and Brush have been sidelined. The defense has Poliana and the midfield has Lloyd. Forward and midfielder Kealia Ohai has reminded everyone why she is one of the best players in the league. After a rough patch, a fire has ignited in her. She has seven goals in her last six games. This is a kind of push you want in a player, but it may be too late. Houston only has four games left and unless teams higher than them implode, it is highly unlikely they have a playoff spot.
FC Kansas City:
Two-time champions FC Kansas City are not having a great season. Actually, that would be an understatement. They suffered huge losses during the off season with retirements and pregnancies. However, many didn’t think it would have a big effect as it has had. They went weeks without a win and now they are in trouble of not making playoffs. They were one of few teams in the league who has struggled with and without their Olympians. Becky Sauerbrunn, Heather O’Reilly, Desiree Scott, and Katie Bowen return to Kansas City after time away with hopes to lead the team to a playoff spot. Before the Olympic break resumed, Kansas City still had a chance at a playoff spot when there was 15 points up for grabs. There are now 12 points up for grabs and each game that isn’t won, the chances shrink and shrink. With a break and the Olympians back was just what Kansas City was in need of. At least that is what most people believed. After their loss to Boston, it doesn’t look like even the missing Olympians can help.Chance after chance were blown by the players. They just couldn’t find a way to score. Forward Shea Groom has been struggling to score, but has a couple goals on the board. With O’Reilly back, it was believed Groom would have great service from the winger that has been missing. O’Reilly is known for having excellent service in moments when the game matters the most. However, she struggled to service balls and convert her own chances. Becky Sauerbrunn is, well Becky Sauerbrunn. She reads the game well and is where she needs to be even before the opposing team knows where they themselves are headed. Desiree Scott will make her return the following week on a high note with a bronze medal in hand, or technically around her neck. While she was away with the Canada, who had an amazing run in Brazil, her confidence boosted knowing she helped her team to defend their Bronze medal from London 2012. Katie Bowen is in her first year, but has proved to be the rookie signing Kansas was hoping for seeing as she has nabbed a starting role in the defense alongside her international competitors. Without a doubt these four players will have their roster spots back. McCarty is one of the few players that was benched. She was played in O’Reilly’s position and now she is back. However, she has done well to fight to still have a chance at the playoffs while the others were away. McCarty along with the others, have helped the team gradually succeed and that is something that cannot go unnoticed my head coach Vlatko Andonovski. Even so, Andonovski was not there on game day seeing as his father passed away the week before. He traveled back to Macedonia to be with his family during this difficult time.* Other than Bowen, the others have proven in the past they can help win games and ultimately championships.
*The staff at Backline Soccer send our condolences to the Andonovski family.
Expansion teams don’t usually do well their first season. A bunch of players are thrown together expecting to excel in their first season. However, Orlando Pride have proven to be the expansion team most did not expect. They have a few Olympians with them such as Steph Catley, Monica, Laura Alleway, Josée Belanger, Ashlyn Harris, and Alex Morgan. The later of which was traded to the team from the Portland Thorns in a blockbuster trade infamously named “The Alex Morgan Trade.” U.S. international Alex Morgan is arguably one of the best strikers in the current world. However, she plays best with country than she does with club. Team U.S.A has learned how to pass through balls to Morgan. Orlando has not. The timing is off. That is mostly due in part to their midfield. They did not have a midfield when the Olympians were with them or when they were gone. Head coach Tom Sermanni hoped having so many players away wouldn’t hurt the team much, but it did. As of right now they are in a dire need of a win if they want to make it to the playoffs. Sermanni has tried many combinations of both the midfield and the defense. It had to be shaken up seeing as his whole backline including the goalkeeper, are made of Olympians; Catley, Monica, Alleway, Belanger, and Harris. When they headed away to the Olympics, Orlando would essentially have no backline. When they were away he was going to have to throw in five new players who would only have one week to get together and have chemistry. That was asking a lot. Then he still had the problem of the midfield. Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle was not only inserted into the midfield, but also the defense. She has been played a center back position. She has been average at best, but it’s not completely her fault seeing as she had to form a quick bond with three other teammates. With return of the Olympians, it looked like the experiment of the defense can be put to rest. However, that was not the case. Catley has been ruled out for the season with a left foot and right hamstring injury. Belanger had not returned, taking extra time off after winning Bronze with Canada. She is now back with her team ahead of Saturday’s game against Houston. Alleway is week-to-week, maybe even day-to-day, with a quad injury. Monica was benched all game and it was decided by Sermanni since he wanted Monica to have more rest. These circumstances give Sam Witteman and Camille Levin another chance to prove they should remain on the starting XI. Harris and Morgan without a doubt, barring injury or illness, had their starting jobs back. The combination of Kristen Edmonds, Becky Edwards, and Maddy Evans seemed to work the best. However, that was not the case against Washington. Instead Sermanni opted for a five women midfield. It did not work and they were defeated. With all their healthy Olympians back in, Orlando has to kick it into gear if they want a chance at playoffs.
Emily Sonnett, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair, and Amandine Henry. Those are the seven Olympians the Portland Thorns have on their roster. On paper Portland had a stacked roster, but some were wary if it would translate onto the pitch. Just because some of the best names were on a roster it did not mean they would play well together. Take for example the LA Lakers during the 2012 – 2013 basketball season who had arguably one of the best rosters of all time. They had the likes of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few, on their team. In the end it did not work out and the Lakers could not for the life of them form any kind of chemistry. Some feared this would happen to Portland, I will say I was one of those. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong. They have only suffered three losses all season and their team looks to have found the chemistry most doubted would work. However, they had a tough weekend. They had trouble reintegrating their Olympians. They were defeated 1-3. Some of this doubt also crept in because most people did not know how Portland would look when all of their internationals were away. The team was going to have to step it up if they wanted to make it to playoffs. The team has in fact done well only suffering two losses with their Olympians away. Emily Menges and Katherine Reynolds are two of the defenders that have helped the Thorns maintain good shape. They have had the rest of the backline changed on them many times. The goalkeeper position has been between either Adrianna Franch or Michelle Betos. Betos suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined her and Franch was put into goal. Franch was in the USWNT pool having been called up multiple times this past year. However, she was not called up for Rio. While she was away on national duty Betos came back into goal, but she had not yet fully healed when playing during Franchs’ callups in May. The rest of the defense was switched between Mallory Weber, McKenzie Berryhill, and Jennifer Skogerboe. Berryhill was recently waived by Portland to make room for Kendall Johnson who is back from the disabled list. Head coach Mark Parsons switched between these three until he could find the right combination that would work with Reynolds and Menges. Skogerboe and Weber have been the match Parsons was searching for. However, those two will be rode the bench since the backline of Sonnett, Menges, Klingenberg, and Reynolds has worked out all season. The same happened with the midfield and forwards. Long, Horan, Henry, and Heath took back their positions. Sinclair is now back with the team after taking extra time off. Nadim, Brynjarsdottir, and Raso have been superb for Portland while the others were away. Regardless of who is benched and not, Parsons know whichever player is on the field will do their job. He has depth at every position and unless there is a complete downfall, he will not have to worry about not making it to the playoffs. With their Olympians back, the Portland Thorns are looking to be the 2016 NWSL Champions.
The Seattle Reign have seen two trips to the championship game during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Both games ended in a loss to FC Kansas City. Right now, they are fifth place in the league standings with chances of clinching the last spot in the playoffs becoming a reality. The Reign is one of the few in the league that does not have many Olympians. They have two in U.S. internationals Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe. However, Solo’s season with the Reign has ended. Last Wednesday it was announced Hope Solo was suspended for 6 months by U.S. Soccer and her contract was then terminated. However, it was confirmed after it would not affect her play in the NWSL. It was uncertain if she would play in the game against Portland and it was confirmed she would not play citing a “personal leave.” Soon after Solo released a statement she would miss the rest of the season. Now, Haley Kopmeyer is the number one goalkeeper and she has big shoes to fill. However, when Solo was away, Kopmeyer did just fine.Kopmeyer will be fine. Rapinoe left Brazil just a few days before the game and was unknown whether or not head coach Laura Harvey would play her. She was subbed in at the 79th minute and for not having played all season, she played a good game. She even scored a goal in stoppage time to secure a win. She did for Seattle what she was not able to do for the U.S. Harvey and co. had problems starting an offensive attack. They have the likes of Jess Fishlock, Kim Little, Nahomi Kawasumi and many more. Those three can look to find ways to compliment each other and start making goals. In fact, their game against Portland a light switch was turned on for Seattle. They put pressure on the Thorns all game. They took shot after shot and they did not relent. Their 3-1 win against Portland proved they are back and more hungrier than ever. With a playoff spot in reach Seattle will not take anything less than a win. They have four games left and they need to win every single one. They cannot rely on the fourth place team falling off.
Sky Blue FC:
After a bumpy middle of the season, Sky Blue is sure looking like a real contender for the playoffs. They may be sitting in sixth place only one point behind Seattle, but they are ready to pounce. After struggling to find a new coach before the season started and finding some chemistry with said coach, Sky Blue is starting to enjoy a smooth ride. Sky blue had their two Olympians U.S. international kelley O’Hara and Australian international Sam Kerr back for Saturday’s game against Chicago. Kerr returned a few days before the game while O’Hara returned the day before their game. Kerr was also injured in the beginning of the season, but has made a full recovery. On her first game back she scored a goal in her first minute, not exaggerating, back in play. Teammate Catherine Zimmerman has taken the forward position held by Kerr and has made it her own. However, Zimmerman tore her meniscus and is out for the season. Apart from a player’s season ending injury, there is another problem. A lot of the shots taken by Sky Blue are off target. Their offense can get into the opposing team’s box, but they are unable to convert because their shots are off frame. This problem is something that can be easily fixed and hopefully is. O’Hara can virtually be played in any position, other than goalkeeper, and play well. Head coach Christie Holly is most known for playing her in defense. However, she can be put in the midfield to help the ball easily transition to the forwards. She can also be a forward herself and score goals since she was a forwards in college. O’Hara is truly a versatile player. However, in stoppage time during the Chicago game she was on the receiving end of a reckless tackle to her right ankle. This is the same ankle she had surgery on in the past. There has yet to be official word from the league or the team on the extent of her injury. However, some social media posts suggest the injury wasn’t serious and she might be able to play soon. Sky Blue is in a fight for the last playoff spot and every player needs to be healthy if they want to clinch that last spot.
Washington Spirit had a taste of how their roster would change after the Olympics during their postponed game against Houston. U.S. international and Washington captain Ali Krieger returned to her team days after being knocked out in the quarter-finals in the Olympics. There was a lot of conversation regarding her decision to head home early, but to each their own. With Krieger on the right side it is difficult for the opposing team to get past her. Only a rare few ties did Houston player Kealia Ohai beat Krieger. Having Krieger back early was a big push in the right direction for Washington. U.S. international Crystal Dunn returned the following game. After winning the MVP award in 2015 Dunn has yet to replicate that year. She has yet to score this season. Stephanie Labbe, Diana Matheson, and Shelina Zadorsky are set to be available their upcoming game against the Western New York Flash. Dunn returned to her forward position with Francisca Ordega benched. The rest of the Canadian internationals will also have their positions back, barring injury or illness. Even without their Olympians, Washington had been able to maintain a spot in the top four. They now even have sole possession of first place with a clear six point lead. With how their season has been going maybe they don’t need their Olympians back, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Western New York Flash:
With or without their Olympians, Western New York have been doing just fine. Most people would not have predicted they would be playoff contenders. It was as if something inside of them got kicked into gear and they wanted to prove everyone wrong. Sabrina D’Angelo, Abby Erceg, Alana Kennedy, and Samantha Mewis look to have a battle upon their return. While they were away the Flash played great soccer. Their midfield was vamped when Lianne Sanderson was traded from Orlando. She was a great addition to a Mewis-less midfield. The U.S. international has brought what she has learned with the U.S. and into the Flash. When Mewis returns her and Sanderson can be paired up in the midfield. It is an unlikely partnership, yet one that can work. Sanderson’s first game with the Flash ended with a goal for the night. Kennedy and Erceg will go back to their defensive positions with D’Angelo behind them. However, Katelyn Rowland has had a great time during the Olympians time away, just as much as the rest of the team. The Western New York Flash have four games left to hold onto a playoff position and it does not look like they are going to be giving that up anytime soon.