Around the World Of WoSo: NWSL Semis Go Bananas

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Washington Advance to NWSL Championship:

The first ladies of professional soccer have finally advanced to the National Women’s Soccer League Championship after beating the Chicago Red Stars over the weekend.

In a cold and rainy game, this was such a great matchup to have on TV for all kinds of fans to see. Casual, extra passionate, and new fans to the league all had the opportunity to tune into FS1 to watch the 2016 NWSL Playoffs get underway.

The crowd on hand was very impressive as wellofficially 4,249 fans filled the Plex to see this one. Washington drew first blood late in the first half, courtesy of veteran defender and captain Ali Krieger. The right back used her head to find the back of the net in the play following a Spirit corner kick. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that the service was absolutely PERFECT from fellow defender Shelina Zadorsky. The Spirit controlled the tempo in the first half, having several scoring chances, but the post was busy all night-stopping both teams on more than one occasion. The biggest chance perhaps came from Crystal Dunn minutes into the second half, but her shot was of course denied by the post. Chicago finally found their breakthrough in the 81st minute when Christen Press grabbed the equalizer on a beautiful volley from Casey Short. It seemed to energize them for a short amount of time, actually pressing Washington quite a bit until the end of the game.

Heading into overtime, the Spirit had the momentum despite giving up a late goal in regular time. In the 111th minute, that momentum and hard work paid off as Christine Nairn worked her magic in the midfield to find Francisca Ordega for the game winner. I must say, Nairn played a very solid game, as did Krieger.

They finally advance to the championship game, and it is well deserved after that performance.

WNY Stun Portland in a Seven-Goal Thriller at Providence:

In arguably the toughest place to play in the NWSL, Providence Park is home to the Portland Thorns and 20,000+ fans as backup on any given night. But Western New York didn’t care about the atmosphere, the opponent, or expectations.

They not only went to Portland and won, but they did it in incredible fashion, scoring four goals on a defense that allowed only seven goals at home all year. And The Flash only won on the road three times this season—not exactly a great road team…until now.

The scoring stared early and came often. WNY was led by the 2016 Golden Boot winner, Lynn Williams, who scored twice in the first overtime period (including the game winner) and seemed to be everywhere on the field at once. Samantha Mewis gave WNY the early lead in the 16th minute, and just before half, in the 38th minute, Makenzy Doniak doubled the lead. Although this was certainly unfamiliar territory for Portland this season, those who have followed the team will note that this was the third time in three NWSL semifinal appearances that the Thorns found themselves facing a 0-2 scoreline. But Portland refused to see their season end quietly, and one minute later Christine Sinclair pulled one back off a furious volley to breathe life into the Rose City. In the 78th minute, after a scramble in the box, the Thorns found the equalizer by way of rookie center back Emily Sonnett,  forcing the match into overtime.

Heading into overtime, it was anyone’s game. Ultimately, the speed and physicality of the Flash had took a toll on the Thorns. Overtime was William’s time to shine—she scored twice in the span of six minutes to bury Portland and all their hopes of a championship this season. Portland managed to score one more two minutes later, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.

In front of a record playoff crowd of 20,086, WNY stunned plenty of people, myself included. This was sweet redemption for WNY coach Paul Riley, who was in charge of Portland the previous two years, now heading to the final in his first year with WNY—though he won’t be allowed on field, due to the red card he picked up.

The Championship is set for Sunday October 9th, at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Curse of the NWSL Shield:

Four years. Three different Shield winners. Zero championships. That’s enough to constitute a curse, right?

A small sample size, but the numbers and outcomes speak for themselves.

In 2013, the WNY won the first NWSL Shield, then the next two years the Seattle Reign were declared Shield winners, and now in 2016 the Portland Thorns were crowned. All, of course, having high expectations and sights set on a championship for their respective clubs.

But here we are. Another year, another shield winner bowing out in a semifinal or final and coming away with nothing. So it rightly begs the question: Is winning the Shield a curse?

I honestly think it might be a thing. It might be a coincidence or just how it turned out. But let this be a warning to other teams who chase it next year. In this league, a regular season title is a nice accomplishment, but ultimately you want a championship trophy and a star, not some silver platter and a footnote in history. Speaking as a Reign fan, it’s not good enough. It’s not ever satisfying enough. 

So, yes winning the shield is indeed a curse. Now we have to wait another year to see if it can be broken. Thanks, Portland.

NWSL ROTY announced:

The NWSL Rookie of the Year is Raquel Rodriguez.

The Sky Blue midfielder played in 18 games (starting 17), scoring one goal and making one assist. To be honest, I was surprised at this pick. I had a few other candidates in mind that I thought contributed more to their respective teams.

I can’t deny Rodriguez has had a great last calendar year, from winning the College Cup with Penn State, to being a consistent starter in this league, to now winning ROTY. She helped her team compete all year, and although they finished seventh in the table, that doesn’t quite represent how well this team performed.

I look forward to seeing how she further develops in this league and with Sky Blue.

Parsons Grabs Coach of the Year:

While Portland won’t be competing for the championship, they do have a lot to be proud of, including winning the shield, And now their new coach has earned some hardware of his own.

Mark Parsons has rapidly evolved into a winning coach and one that is very well respected across the league. He led the Thorns to a 12-3-5 record and gave them a home-field playoff berth for the first time in club history. Parsons put together a very impressive and diverse squad in just a short amount of time after taking the job. Boasting the likes of Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath, Amandine Henry, Nadia Nadim and Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, Parsons managed to apply a system that worked for all of these high-profile players.

I think this was well deserved for Parsons, a coach who will only continue to do great things for this league.

BYU Senior Can’t Stop Scoring:

Ashley Hatch has played in 12 games this season and already scored 15 goals with four assists to help her team to a 10-1-1 record.

The senior led her team to a pair of huge wins against Ohio State and defending champion Penn State. Hatch scored a hat trick in the 3-2 win earlier in the season at #5 PSU and grabbed a goal in the win at #19 OSU as well. She netted her THIRD hat trick on the year on Monday as they defeated USF handily 4-0. I approve of her new nickname of Hatchtrick.

It’s fitting and well deserved. BYU faces Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine this week. Can Hatch continue her scoring ways?