Looking back at this NWSL season, a lot has happened. We saw a good amount of uncertainty and instability among the league as a whole. Between not having a commissioner, mid-season player retirements, and a whole lot of financial inadequacies for some clubs, it would be easy to say that this year has been more than rocky. And one could make an argument for that. But one could also make the argument that a lot of really great things happened this year as well. And since we are going into the Finals this weekend, and since that is probably all that WoSo news is revolving around currently, I thought we might take a look back at five great things that happened this season in the NWSL.
So here they are – five reasons this season has been phenomenal …
Kerr Broke Some Records
The brightest spot for the NWSL this season was Sam Kerr. Hands down. Not only did she set the single-season and single-game scoring record for the NWSL this season on top of becoming the all-time leading scorer in the league, but she also made soccer fun for everyone. Whether it was her crazy post-goal acrobatics or her extra-time header to lift Sky Blue to victory, there came a point in this season when each and every fan – no matter their usual club – stood up and applauded for Sam Kerr. Kerr made the impossible seem like a walk in the park. She made the difficult look easy. And she made the game entertaining. Plain and simple. And she now has the Golden Boot to prove it.
She also has her name in the record books: 17 goals for the season. 4 goals in a single match.
Sam Kerr really was magic this year. One might even say the best (not FIFA though).
Sky Blue Had The Fans On Their Backs
I think one of the greatest victories of the year, and the one that no one is really talking about, is the fact the Sky Blue FC brought up attendance 21% from the 2016 season. It was the highest increase in the league. And sure, this may not sound like the most exciting statistic in the league, but go with me on this for a minute. Sky Blue FC plays in Piscataway, New Jersey. They don’t have a major city or a major stadium. They also only have one U.S. Women’s National Player on their roster, while other teams have as many as six. But still, their fans came. And they supported. And they loved every minute of it. It just goes to prove that a club doesn’t necessarily need all the flash and pomp and circumstance to get the fans to follow them. Sometimes just realizing your identity as a club, owning it, and flaunting it is enough. If you build it and rep it, the fans will come. Sky Blue understands this, and they capitalized on it this year.
Franch Saved Some Balls
Adrianna Franch was a pretty amazing goalkeeper this year. Sure, she does have a rather talented Portland side to help her with regards to defense, but Franch led the league with 11 clean sheets, allowed the fewest goals in the league at 20, and had a league-high save percentage of 80%. So yeah, one could say that the Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper had a pretty extraordinary year. And all that hard work helped get her team into the postseason as well. Because as good as Portland’s offense was this season, none of that matters without an ace standing between the posts. She was that ace, and her statistics prove it. So overall, it’s a great year to be Adrianna Franch.
Labbé Got Real About Mental Health
Some people may not think Stephanie Labbé opening up about her battle with depression is something that made this NWSL season phenomenal, but I would disagree. In fact, the candid comments she made in her Lifetime interview should be applauded. She took a very real issue that a vast number of people deal with and brought it to the forefront. She owned how hard it can be when the world sees you as one thing, but you feel like something else. She took this taboo subject that no one wants to talk about and owned it. And that did more good than anything else that happened this year in the league. Because as fans we often see professional athletes as these giants who are untouchable – they are strong and together and can take on anything. But Stephanie Labbé reminded us that athletes are people too. And they can struggle with confidence and depression too. And what she did was brave and inspiring to anyone who has ever gone through some sort of mental health issue. So yes, Labbé’s vulnerability and willing openness is a win in my eyes. One that I will continue to applaud.
Alex Morgan Apologized
Last week it was reported that Alex Morgan got removed from Disney World’s Epcot for trespassing. She and some Major League Soccer players were intoxicated, became belligerent at the park, and were removed. If the story ended right there then this incident wouldn’t have made my list. Even after Orange County Deputies removed Morgan from the happiest place on earth, no one for a minute believed that she would be seriously reprimanded. Everyone knew she would play in Saturday’s match against Portland and that the Orlando Pride would brush this incident under the rug. Their statement of them handling the incident internally almost all but confirmed that.
But then: Alex Morgan apologized.
It was not only a smart PR move for her but also kind of important. Because Morgan is the pinnacle of what women’s soccer is – she makes more money than anyone else in the league, she is one of the faces of the USWNT, and she is arguably the most recognizable female player in the world. No one would have called her on it if she completely ignored what happened and kept going on with business as usual. But that would have set a precedent for the future of the sport and what is acceptable behavior. It would have told young players everywhere that acting like this during the season – or at all – is okay. It also would have sent a negative message to the city she represents through her talents. So she apologized. And by doing so she acknowledged that she was wrong. She set the bar. And though not very high, it still showed that her actions off the field matter just as much as those on it.
The 2017 NWSL season treated fans and WoSo enthusiasts pretty well. It was entertaining. It was engaging. At times it was heartbreaking. But that is what we want out of a league and out of a season. We want a reason to run around our living rooms screaming at the television after Sam Kerr does the impossible. We want to exhale a breath when Franch saves another shot. We want to go to the matches, and follow the players, and care about how they represent themselves and the game. We will always want this. And we will always want more.
So here’s to 2018 – may you be just as phenomenal as your predecessor.