When I sat down to watch the NWSL Final this year I was not particularly excited. I thought it was going to be a rather boring match, considering the teams and their style of play. I have never been so wrong in my entire life. As a fan of the sport, but not of either club in particular, I have to say that this was one of the most entertaining matches I have ever seen. And I loved every minute of watching it. But that does not mean that this was a good match by any means. No. In fact, this match was ridiculous. Here are the five reasons why:
The Super Smash Sisters
This NWSL Final was, by far, one of the most physical matches to ever come out of the league. But surprisingly, the players that were expected to be physical weren’t, and the ones that are generally cool, calm, and collected came barreling through other players like a freight train. And surely, between Horan, Raso, and Heath, Portland will come out of that match looking like a bunch of brutes, or thugs, as many people on social media have called them. But North Carolina didn’t play the neatest game either. Lynn Williams’ tackle on Heath was anything but clean. They also had 13 fouls called against them, while Portland only had 9. But the difference was that Portland didn’t finish the match with doctor’s surrounding their team bench.
North Carolina Injuries
When Taylor Smith went down from a poorly timed tackle from Tobin Heath, everyone knew she was in extreme pain. Her legs kicked out in agony and she clutched her shoulder, and all of a sudden the Courage, for the first time all season (despite what Paul Riley would tell you), became the underdogs. To make matters worse, Kristen Hamilton then went down with an MCL injury at the end of the first half, once again on a poorly executed tackle. And finally, although Jess McDonald (Kristen Hamilton’s substitute) would stay in the game, her hamstring that has been giving her trouble all season began to strain her in the late minutes of the match. Anything that could go wrong with regards to player health for North Carolina did. And if anything, these injuries just added more fuel to the fire of this already out of hand match.
The Refs Never Had Control
The worst and most ridiculous part of this match for me was the officiating. It became apparent early on in the match that they would allow physicality. But because of the officials’ lack of control, that physicality led to injuries and continued unsafe play. Sadly, it took the referees much too long to decide to try and calm things down before halftime and it cost the Courage dearly. To the officials’ credit, they did attempt to get more of a handle on the match in the second half, but they simply kept missing the mark. For example, Dagny Brynjarsdóttir got booked within her first twenty minutes upon entering the match after a completely accidental clipping of Denise O’Sullivan. It was her first foul of the match, and not at all malicious, but she still received a card. At that point, it became clear to me, and I am sure most fans out there, that there needs to be some changes in training and process among the officials for next season. Because we cannot have another match like this one. Especially not in a league final.
The Amandine Henry Substitution
Twitter erupted when Amandine Henry went down at the end of the match. She got help from a teammate stretching out her leg. She then got some medical assistance and was pulled over to the sideline. She then proceeded to go back onto the pitch while Allie Long prepared to be subbed in. And like the intelligent player she is, Henry made it to the middle of the pitch before she got subbed out for Long. She then took a very long, and a very slow walk to the sidelines. And all of this ate up a lot of time. A lot of time that North Carolina could have used to mount a comeback. And Courage fans were mad. And they had a right to be. But nothing that Henry did was wrong. In fact, it was the smartest play for her team. It was probably the most perfectly executed play of the whole game…and she didn’t even touch the ball. People will say that it was Busch League, or immature, or amateur. But at the end of the day, it was just plain smart. A bit ridiculous, like the rest of the match, but also insanely intelligent of the French veteran.
The Shield Curse Continued
Maybe this isn’t so ridiculous. Lord knows I believe in sports curses. But I really wasn’t buying into the whole ‘if you win the shield you won’t win the championship’ hoopla. That’s probably because the league is so young, and I believe this statistic to be more of a fluke than a truth. But absolutely nothing went North Carolina’s way on Saturday. So maybe the shield winners are cursed. Because even though they had four times as many shots, a higher passing accuracy, and twice as many crosses as the Portland Thorns, they could not even the playing field from kickoff. Between the injuries and the refs and Sam Mewis’ half-field shot smacking the crossbar, the Courage just couldn’t catch a break. So here we are, another year with this ridiculous curse that seems to prevent the team with the best regular season record from actually winning the championship. Which begs the question, ‘Is it a curse, a mind game, or a fluke?’ I think this curse thing is ridiculous, but if I am North Carolina, I am maybe starting to believe the rumors after that match.
So that’s it, my friends. Another NWSL season in the books. We saw some amazing things this year – amazing comebacks, phenomenal teamwork, and overall great football. None of which came from the NWSL Final. No, that match was saved for ridiculousness. But hey, if you’re Portland, why does it matter how you won? It’s really just the fact that you did. So congratulations to the Thorns. Better luck next year to the Courage. And apologies to anyone who thought they were going to see a great match last Saturday. It was entertaining, but it definitely wasn’t what one would consider world-class. Regardless, it’s a clean slate starting now, so let’s get ready for some more NWSL action next year…and hopefully a little less ridiculousness.