Charles Olney (@olneyce): Welcome to our Backline Soccer slack chat for Valentine’s Day week. We’re going to cover the US National Team, some NWSL news, and a bit of global soccer as well.
To kick things off, we just got the USWNT roster for the SheBelieves Cup. Anyone have thoughts? Mostly as expected or were you at all surprised?
Allison Cary (@findingallison): Glad to see Zerboni in the mix. Otherwise, I’m not really surprised.
RJ Allen (@TheSoccerCritic): I do not hate the defenders. They are all, you know, defenders.
Charles Olney: Well, except Crystal Dunn. But it’s a good point.
RJ Allen: Dunn is as much of a defender in an Ellis system as anything else.
Charles Olney: The big potential piece of ‘news’ is the absence of Morgan Brian (probably competing with Zerboni and Colaprico and maybe Sullivan for the final midfield spot).
RJ Allen: No, I don’t think Ellis is really in the mood for much shaking the tree right now. I think she likes who she likes. I know she is a big favorite of yours Charles but I am ok with her not taking with who we have.
Allison Cary: Yeah, I don’t feel like Brian is critical. I’d rather see Zerboni get time.
Charles Olney: I actually still think Brian still might be the most likely to go to France, and that this is more about giving the others a chance to prove themselves. But I very much agree that it’s a close thing, and I wouldn’t be torn up about one of the others getting the call.
You’d have to be a pretty cruel person to be angry about Colaprico or Zerboni getting a World Cup roster spot.
Allison Cary: Very true.
RJ Allen: We haven’t seen Ellis do that a lot though, have we? She isn’t one to normally not roster a player unless they are hurt or she wants to semi move on from them.
Anthony J Merced: She’s a straight shooter.
Charles Olney: Given Brian’s nagging injury issues, I could definitely see it as a ‘take it easy and we’ll see what else we’ve got’ choice. It would be odd to give her the start against France (while giving Colaprico no minutes in either game in January) and then completely remove her from the depth chart.
But y’all are right that Ellis doesn’t normally hide much in her roster choices. What you see is mostly what you’re going to get.
Luis Hernandez: (@radioactivclown): Plus once players fall from grace, it’s a quick drop.
Allison Cary: Agreed.
Luis Hernandez: I’m surprised that Morgan Brian isn’t going to go to France. I do think that decision has merit. She hasn’t been world class for a while.
Anthony J Merced: Not sure what happened with Brian in France but that 5 month stay didn’t produce all that much.
Charles Olney: I would actually posit that Brian was quite good toward the end of the season for Chicago. Not quite back to where she was in early 2016, but it’s the best I’ve seen from her in a while. So I’m not quite ready to set her aside completely.
Luis Hernandez: Also surprised by Casey Short but I guess Jill needed to put down someone else to play LB
RJ Allen: Short is a solid player. She might not be incredible but I think having her be so stable is a huge plus for her right now.
Anthony J Merced: But does she really have enough time to prove anything?
RJ Allen: When most of the other options have petered out? Yes. Who else are you going to take? Fox? Heurta?
Charles Olney: They’ve still got four months and a half dozen games before the tournament. I think that’s a decent amount of time to continue making assessments.
Luis Hernandez: I’m thinking for players like Short and Brian that Jill will look at club form to throw them a life line.
Charles Olney: Alright, so setting aside the marginal personnel issues, do people have predictions for how things will go at SheBelieves? Do you expect to see the US play better than their European tune ups last month? Does it matter if they don’t?
Luis Hernandez: For the rest, I don’t think club form will weigh as much
Allison Cary: I don’t think it matters that much if they don’t, but I’m inclined to think they will.
RJ Allen: I think the US will win all three. Maybe England gets a draw but I’m not sure of their form lately.
Anthony J Merced: Definitely expect them to play better. Aside from the Philly game they’ll be in better weather as well.
Luis Hernandez: I feel like England will give the US the most trouble.
Allison Cary: I agree. England is dangerous.
Anthony J Merced: English women’s team is a lot like the men’s team. There is talent to get excited about but for some reason they always seem to under perform in big games.
Luis Hernandez: England needs to stop scoring on themselves.
Charles Olney: I’ve been trying to watch more of the WSL now that I’m in a more convenient time zone, and I have to say: England has a lot more depth in their talent pool than they once did. I still don’t think they’re quite at the US level, but they’ve got a really solid group.
Luis Hernandez: I also think there are some injury questions with England.
RJ Allen: I don’t think England/France/Australia fears the US anymore in a way they had before. And that shows more and more as they play.
Allison Cary: I think England has a lot of talent but they have so many off the field problems they need to make sure they don’t isolate people.
Anthony J Merced: The US game is vulnerable due to bad leadership over the last four years. I think other teams know that and have taken the chance to get themselves together.
Charles Olney: I’ll also throw out there that, for all that we collectively sneered a bit at the Neville appointment, I think he’s done a pretty good job. Given the significant tactical inflexibility of the US, that could be an issue.
RJ Allen: I still disagree with his hiring on principal. But yes, he has done well.
Allison Cary: I’m with RJ on that.
Charles Olney: Yeah, co-sign.
Luis Hernandez: We’ve been talking a lot about England. Does this mean we are dismissing any chance Japan or Brazil have in SheBelieves?
Charles Olney: Yes.
Allison Cary: Yeah.
RJ Allen: Yes. Brazil and Japan have smallest chance of wins except against each other.
Charles Olney: Japan and Brazil are good enough to have a fighting chance, but I would be very surprised if they get more than a point from anyone but each other.
Luis Hernandez: I will admit that I wish I was better with knowing Japan.
RJ Allen: I think the International word of soccer is more stratified than 4 years ago. There is less division in tiers but more between them than before.
Luis Hernandez: As to Brazil, this seems like a turning point as I think the team will start to look away from Marta once this cycle is complete
Anthony J Merced: Dangerous on set-pieces is the best way to describe them.
Charles Olney: Let’s turn to the club side. RJ and I just recorded a 123rd Minute episode where we talked about the Sky Blue news, but do y’all have any thoughts on their announcement about improvements?
Anthony J Merced: This screams of politics and I can’t stand it. Murphy puts his wife there for a PR plug when in fact he should give up the team entirely.
Luis Hernandez: I wish there were more specifics. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for or expected.
Charles Olney: My feeling: better than nothing, still too vague, way too late. They could have released this six months ago, and should be much further along in terms of concrete promises.
Allison Cary: It’s better than nothing but that’s about it.
Anthony J Merced: It’s too far along for something like this now.
Luis Hernandez: I agree with you guys. “Better than nothing” seems like the apt phrase.
Kat Farris (@farrisphotos): Can he though? I thought I read Murphy put his “piece” of Sky Blue in a blind trust when he became governor. Doesn’t that mean he has to stay hands off?
RJ Allen: He broke that when he called a player directly.
Kat Farris: But yes, that memo is all politics
Luis Hernandez: Could have used the memo to announce a change in the front office. Just saying.
Anthony J Merced: I can tell you from the Red Bull side that no one has reached out to them about use of their training facility. So it’s ridiculous that they aren’t exploring every option to make the improvements even temporarily.
Luis Hernandez: That would get the fan base hyped.
Kat Farris: 40% staff increase. 40% of what? If they were as bare bones as SM suggests 40% could be quite minimal
Luis Hernandez: And it could also be free labor and interns
Charles Olney: That is my concern. For another team, I might be willing to trust a vague promise. With Sky Blue, I want to put on my lawyer hat and scrutinize every possible loophole.
Anthony J Merced: The apathy from the fanbase outside of Sky Blue is also alarming. There has been coverage from major publications but it seems like people were more interested in the Crew SC moving to Austin than this issue.
RJ Allen: That is a good point.
Luis Hernandez: I also think that people expect the league to keep letting Sky Blue slide along. Since that’s what it seems has been happening
Kat Farris: And moving their admin offices closer to player housing screamed red flags to. It gave me flashbacks of overbearing nuns
Luis Hernandez: It may be that nobody in the Sky Blue organization is willing to think outside the box for solutions. Like the Reign moving to Tacoma.
Anthony J Merced: It’s one of the most frustrating situations I’ve ever seen in sports.
Charles Olney: Onto happier topics: we’ve had a bit of player movement news around the league, though not a huge amount. Do you have any teams that you think look particularly improved, or particularly in trouble at this point in the offseason?
RJ Allen: North Carolina is gonna run the table again.
Allison Cary: Yep.
Charles Olney: Even with all the players they’ll be losing for the World Cup? I’m not saying I disagree, but that’s a lot of players!
Kat Farris: Other than hiring a coach (finally), has Orlando even made any roster moves?
Luis Hernandez: I hate that Orlando seems like they are always close to last in making team announcements
Anthony J Merced: Orlando will prove to be the Dallas Cowboys of NWSL. Lots of hype but little results. lol
RJ Allen: That might be the best Orlando comparison I’ve heard Anthony.
Allison Cary: Sadly, I agree.
Charles Olney: Is 2019 the year that Chicago finally wins a playoff game?
RJ Allen: If Sam Kerr stays “4 goals in a match because I’m Sam Kerr that’s why” Sam Kerr, yes. (edited)
Luis Hernandez: Cart before the horse, the Red Stars need to make the playoffs. Other teams were close to getting in last year.
Anthony J Merced: I don’t think Chicago is going to make the playoffs. I think Utah will be up there.
Charles Olney: My #hottake is that the four teams that made the playoffs last year are overwhelming favorites to do so again this year.
Allison Cary: I agree with Charles.
Luis Hernandez: Utah and Houston have a chance to make playoffs
Allison Cary: I think Utah more than anyone has a chance to break into the top four.
RJ Allen: I would love Houston to grow, but I don’t see it realistically.
Charles Olney: In a season when so many players will miss half the year, there’s certainly more volatility. And Houston might be the best-placed to take advantage of that–since they’ll probably lose many fewer key players. But I still can’t see it.
Luis Hernandez: It’s too easy to think the same four make it back. The team rosters aren’t complete.
Anthony J Merced: I say NC, Seattle, Portland Utah in the playoffs.
Kat Farris: Orlando will make good showings in games where their national players are absent, and if Skinner can tame their egos when they are in town the team has a shot at that 4th place berth
Luis Hernandez: Kat’s take is hotter Charles.
Charles Olney: Alright, let’s talk a bit about international leagues. Anyone have thoughts on Australia? England? France? The Champions League?
RJ Allen: Sam Kerr is magic.
Charles Olney: I will admit that I have watched a grand total of one half of the W-League this year, so I can’t really comment there. But for those who have seen more, is there anyone who has really impressed? I mean, apart from Kerr, of course.
Kat Farris: And it’s a good thing Aussie has KerrBoom cuz their coaching ditch is a mind F
RJ Allen: I really think the FFA needs to do a better job at making their case of why they needed to change things. To me, the FFA’s vagueness screams of politics. It’s like Sky Blue, but bigger.
Charles Olney: Anyone have a prediction for Sydney v. Perth in the final?
Anthony J Merced: I think Perth steals it.
RJ Allen: Perth 3-1.
Luis Hernandez: I’m going to say Sydney just to take the other side of things.
Charles Olney: Like I said, I’ve been watching a bit of the FAWSL in England, and it’s great. They have a fantastic title race between Arsenal and Man City, who are both fascinating teams to watch. It makes me long for a global Champions League, where we could actually watch truly different styles of play clash against each other.
Luis Hernandez: Chelsea faded a bit recently. I’m glad Birmingham City was able to hold in the standing after the manager change
Charles Olney: Any Champions League predictions?
Luis Hernandez: Wolfsburg will beat Lyon at home.
Charles Olney: Bold. I caught Lyon-PSG this weekend. And even without them playing especially well on the day, it’s just ridiculous how good Lyon is. But Wolfsburg might give them a real game at least.
Alright, with that we’ll wrap up the chat this week. Thanks everyone, and see y’all soon!