We have finally made it to the very last day of the 2018 NWSL season. We have weathered the summer thunderstorms, the midday heat, the head scratching trades, the coaching kerfuffles and all the other furtastic things that come with your typical season.
And we’re right back to the same place we were on the very last day of the 2017 NWSL season. The Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage are playing a game for all the marbles.
There are a lot of questions we just don’t know yet surrounding this match. Will the Thorns become the first team to three stars? Will North Carolina win a title after two years of regular season league dominance? Will the ref remember to take the cards out of their pocket this year if needed?
Before we all sit down to watch the NWSL championship match, I have a few other questions rattling around in my brain.
1) How will playing in Portland affect the game?
The North Carolina Courage won the league around the 4th of July. At that point it was pretty clear no one was going to catch up and they weren’t slowing down to make it easy on them anyway. But the Courage have to go for their title playing no home games in the playoffs due to a hurricane ravaging the Carolina coastline.
If the final were taking place in any other venue then we might not be talking so much about it. But Providence Park is a huge home field advantage for the Portland Thorns. Watching how the Courage react to being in a hostile environment is going to be interesting. Not having McCall Zerboni adds to the question of how the team will respond.
Will they feed off of the energy of the fans even if most won’t be supporting them? Will playing the semi there aid in their preparation? Will it turn into another 4-1 Courage victory like the team had there on May 30th?
The Thorns are going to have a more comfortable time at home. But will it give them the edge to beat the Courage?
2) Who will be the hero of the game?
Will Tobin Heath show off just why she is so electric on the ball and win the game for the Thorns? Will it be 2018 NWSL MVP Lindsey Horan who is somehow open on yet another set piece to use her head to put the ball in the back of the net? Will it be Lynn Williams showing off why she was 2016 MVP? Or 2015 MVP Crystal Dunn making some magic?
There are players on both sides of this match with the skill and the talent to take their teams on their backs and score. There are players on both rosters with the talent to have a major defensive block to save a game winning goal too. Every centerback in this match made the Best XI or Second XI this year.
If the ref controls the game and keeps both teams from becoming overly physical, as the final from 2017 was, this could be one of the best showcases for women’s soccer we have in 2018.
3) Will Jaelene Hinkle be booed all game and how will she handle it when she is?
Jaelene Hinkle has been the best outside back in the NWSL for two seasons while at the same time being out spoken in her active non support for LGBT persons.
During the North Carolina semi against the Chicago Red Stars, every time Hinkle had the ball, she was met with boos for the 4,000 or so fans in attendance. And it visibly rattled her. The final is a predicted sell out. Meaning about 4 times that amount of people will be in attendance for the final and presumably a fair number will boo.
From a soccer perspective how Hinkle handles this will likely make or break the game for North Carolina. She is a force on both sides of the ball for the team and they need her to be on her A game today.
For a non soccer perspective it seems that Hinkle is doing very little to think about her perspective and the harm is costs others if her comments to Stephanie Yang in her latest piece for Dirty South Soccer- Jaelene Hinkle is aware of your boos, but doesn’t want to think about them – are any indication.
I don’t know what the “solution” to the Jaelene Hinkle saga in the NWSL is, or if there even is one. Personally I have undergone a change from “well she has a right to her wrong opinion” over the last year or so to a much less tolerant position on her unrepentant bigotry. Ideas like the ones she gave to the 700 Club hurt people. They feed into the notion that pushes LGBT persons to the brink, and often over it, every day. I hope one day Hinkle understands that. I am just sorry it took me so long to.