Impetus’ North American correspondent, Catherine Paquette details the quite staggering arrangements for this year’s NWSL Championship Final which has been saddled with arguably the least player and fan friendly kick-off time of any major women’s football match ever.
All leagues conclude their season with a team as their champion. For the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), this champion is selected in a slightly different manner to European football.
While a trophy is awarded to the team who accumulates the most points in the NWSL’s 24 game season, a championship game and trophy at the conclusion of a short post-regular season playoff also exists. One could easily argue that that the regular season trophy, known as the NWSL Shield, is more difficult to achieve than the championship trophy as it requires greater consistency and success over several months and not just a few post-season games.
However, for the NWSL’s clubs, players and fans it is the Championship that is the real prize. Four teams have previously won it: the now defunct Western New York Flash and FC Kansas City, and the still existing North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns. This season’s championship was meant to be its most exciting one to date, with a longer post-season play-off structure expanded to include six teams and three rounds, thus making the route to the championship game also more difficult than ever.
Last week, less than two months away from the end of the regular season, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird appeared during the half-time show of the CBS’s live coverage of the Orlando Pride-Houston Dash game to announce the hosts, date and time of this year’s championship game.
The first part of her announcement, the championship game’s hosts, should have been the main cause of annoyance or controversy with NWSL players and fans. Again the game will take place in Portland, who have already hosted the championship game twice in the previous eight years it has been held.
While it has now been reported that the Portland Thorns were the only club to submit a final bid to be hosts, due to venue restrictions of other clubs, fans of opposition teams are rightfully annoyed at the idea of the Thorns once again possibly having a home advantage.
Moreover, NWSL players who have long been advocating for better playing conditions including the elimination of any matches on turf playing surfaces, are dissatisfied with this selection. Portland’s Providence Park stadium is one of two artificial surfaces that remains in the NWSL, the other being the Washington Spirit’s part-time home at Segra Field.
However, it was the latter part of commissioner Baird’s statement that created the real controversy. The championship game for the winner of this year’s 2021 season will take place at 9am local time. Yes, you read that right, at 9am.
Once again, for those unfamiliar with the NWSL post-season structure and the championship game’s importance to North American sports, this championship game is meant to be the epitome of the season. It is meant to be the year’s top occasion, its crowning moment, its Super Bowl.
The NWSL currently has a broadcasting deal with CBS and it has been reported that the 12pm eastern time slot, 9am local on the west coast where the final will be held, was previously agreed upon. CBS also covers college American football in the autumn, with those games monopolizing the afternoon Saturday schedules starting at noon on the east coast, the same start time as this match. The college games have long been scheduled across most of the broadcaster’s multiple platforms & channels.
Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, stated when discussing the 9am kick-off: “Yeah, I think the location should be taken up with the NWSL. We didn’t choose the location, and we’re trying to make sure that we can give the most exposure that we can to the championship game, and that happens to necessitate a noon start. So, you know, I understand the dissatisfaction out there.
“That is the hand that we have been dealt and we’re going to make the most of it. But we have a program schedule that is pretty full. It’s not that we don’t value women’s soccer, I think our commitment to women’s soccer, especially with the broadcast window that we’ve given the league, I think, is pretty illustrative of the fact that we do value it. But as far as the location, again we didn’t we didn’t chose the location, the NWSL did.”
With this broadcast scheduling limitation, one has to ask why the initial television deal did not include an assurance of an appropriate time for the final depending on host selection. It is difficult to imagine any men’s professional league being given a 9am start, especially for their championship game. Television is important, but again, one has to question why they could not do better.
NWSL players have not played at 9am since they were children, for the obvious reason that no elite or professional athlete should be asked to compete at their optimal performance so early in the morning.
This start time will result in a pre-game wakeup at 5am, a pre-game meal at 6:30 am, a stadium arrival at 7:45 am and a pre-game warm up at 8:15 am On a day where the sun is expected to start rising at 7:17am, just imagine the crews preparing the stadium, under the floodlights, because it is just too early to see anything.
Baird’s announcement has prompted players and managers from all around the world to question the decision and to call for a change. World Cup winner and North Carolina Courage striker Jessica McDonald stated:
Olympic gold medal winner and Manchester City attacker Janine Beckie also tweeted of her astonishment at the arrangements for the final:
Paul Riley the manager of the North Carolina Courage, who are the current NWSL Shield and Championship holders, simply stated:
“There’s not one league in the world that will play a championship game at 9am but unfortunately we are. Two teams are going to be in it playing at 9am which is sad when you consider what a big league it is in the world and how it is revered and stuff like that. But anyway, that’s probably for another day.”
To be ‘fair’ to the NWSL’s current scheduled time, this is not the first top women’s football competition scheduling blunder this year. The women’s Gold Medal match of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was originally supposed to take place at 11am local time.
The same concerns over player performance, combined with concerns over player welfare as the temperatures were meant to be in the high 30os (100oF), were raised. The inequity with the men’s time, who were scheduled to play at a more suitable 8:30pm, was also questioned. The game was eventually moved to 9pm that night.
A number of UEFA Women’s Champions League first round group stage qualification games were also given early starts this year, as early as 11am local time – during the working week. Again this was not ideal, but it was also not 9am.
It is also not be the first time a major women’s final will take place around this time. The 2003 Women’s World Cup final, held in the United States, was scheduled at 10am. It was a fantastic match between Sweden and eventual winners Germany. But this isn’t 2003. The world has moved on and seemingly progressed.
This current 9am start shows that it hasn’t progressed enough. If the women’s game is to grow it must be given the circumstances to do so. One cannot expect the best product to arise, or for it to be profitable, if it is not scheduled at times that are optimal for both players and fans.
Clearly discussions still need to be had about the respect that women and those who support them should be given. These are professional athletes and their gender should not result in them playing at the same time as young Sunday league players. A 9am start is insulting to players who have spent ten months building to a championship game as well as to the fans that have supported them along the way.
Women’s football and women’s sport deserves better. If that cannot be given by the broadcaster in question, and supported by the league, then changes need to be made in leadership so that basic respect for proper competition can be a primary driver of those in NWSL decision making positions.
Until that happens it is difficult for proponents of the National Women’s Soccer League to state it is one of the best league in the world. The 9am start proves they are far from this.
Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL (25/8/21).
The past week in the National Women’s Soccer League was an odd one. Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars participated in the inaugural staging of The Women’s Cup. While their first game also doubled as a NWSL match, their weekend matches against Bayern and PSG were exhibition cup games. Racing went on to win the cup by beating German champions Bayern Munich, a massive win for a club with less than six months of play under their belt.
The Portland Thorns and the Houston Dash for their part competed in the Women’s International Champions Cup, with FC Barcelona and l’Olympique Lyonnais also participating. The Thorns went on to beat OL for the title of World’s Best Club. The Dash finished fourth after having being beaten by Barça in the third place game.
The NWSL though did go ahead with four games. The first, already mentioned, occurred on Wednesday between Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars. The double meaning of the match, being both an NWSL league game and a decider for the first place game of The Women’s Cup, resulted in even more high tempo play than one normally sees in the league.
The record attendance in Louisville also spurred the home side on. Ebony Salmon, who has been electric this year for Racing, stole the ball off a Red Stars defender in the 10th minute of the match and then proceeded to nutmeg Chicago’s goalkeeper to score.
Like they have in many games this year, Louisville had a greater percentage of possession. However, their transition and specifically their penetration into the final third was often lacking. Despite having more of the ball, they were outshot by the Red Stars. Chicago finally capitalized in the 57th minute thanks to a strike from Kealia Watt. Similar to Louisville’s goal, it was a defensive error that opened the door to Chicago’s equalizer.
The game ended 1-1 with each team taking home one point in the NWSL. Louisville would go on to progress to the final of The Women’s Cup through penalties. However, that result did not affect their standing in the league. They remain in ninth place, while Chicago remain in seventh. Both are currently out of play-off contention.
Two NWSL games occurred on the Saturday. The second placed North Carolina Courage faced the league’s current bottom placed side Kansas City. KC were hoping that their first franchise win the week before would continue their momentum in Carolina. It was not to be.
North Carolina decisively beat the visiting team. This is not to say that KC did not produce. Not only did they have more possession than their advisory, but also more shots and shots on goal as well. The difference was that like most of this year, KC could not convert attempts into goals.
North Carolina for their part had no problems with that this game. Lynn Williams opened the scoring in the 12th minute. This was followed by a wonderful Jess McDonald header in the 21st minute.
Former KC attacker Amy Rodriguez, who was traded to the Courage earlier this month, then made it three in the 64th minute. While North Carolina went down to ten players in the 75th minute, KC were not able to capitalize. It was the Courage’s Meredick Speck who did in the 91th minute of play, putting the hosts ahead 4-0, the final score of the match. While the Courage crept closer to first placed Portland in the league table, both teams’ positions remained unchanged after last weekend’s play.
The second Saturday match was between the OL Reign and Gotham FC. Ifeoma Onunomu, who has been electric this year, opened the scoring in the 10th minute of play. Well placed to receive the ball in the box she made a small deflection put it in. Her second goal, which came minutes later, was the fantastic one. Again receiving the ball in the box she managed to place her body in the proper position to one touch it past Sarah Bouhaddi.
The Reign did not give up though despite the two goal deficit in the first fifteen minutes. They found their first goal in the second half, through a Kristen McNabb header. However, it was two successfully converted penalty kicks taken by Megan Rapinoe in the 78th and 91st minute of play that put OL ahead. The Reign won the match 3-2. The win put them in fourth position in the league, with Gotham FC falling to fifth.
The last NWSL weekend match was between the Washington Spirit and the Orlando Pride. Washington came out taking control of the game. However, despite dictating the pace and having good chances, they were not able to convert. The same occurred for the Pride. A number of missed chances and a double save by the Spirit’s Aubrey Bledsoe resulted in neither team finding the back of he net the first half.
It was the Pride’s Marta who scored a fantastic long range to the scoring in the 68th minute. However, just two minutes later the Spirit equalized. A cross into the box was badly deflected by Orlando’s defence straight to Ashley Sanchez who scored.
The goal of the game though occurred in the 89th minute. After Trinity Rodman received the ball in Orlando’s half off a great long pass from Tori Huster, the youngster did well to be patient with it. She then passed it to Ashley Sanchez who beat a defender and then from outside the box scored a rocket shot. The Spirit won the game 2-1.
TAKE A BOW ASHLEY SANCHEZ 💥
The win put Washington in third place and dropped Orlando to sixth place. The league table has therefore separated at the top, with the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage seven and five points ahead of the third and fourth placed teams. However, from third to ninth place only six points separate the teams with some clubs having one or two games at hand. Only KC are arguably out of playoff contention.
The latter part of the National Women’s Soccer League season should be an exciting one.
Racing Louisville started playing in the NWSL this year. The club was built on ambition: the ambition to win, the ambition to raise standards and ultimately the ambition to be the best in the world. This week they welcomed three of the world’s top teams for The Women’s Cup, proving that their ambition can be matched by action. Impetus‘ North American correspondent Catherine Paquette reports (21/8/21).
When the Louisville NWSL expansion side was announced in October 2019, the new club’s ownership group outlined an ambitious project. The new women’s club would start playing in 2021 at the new Lynn Family Stadium, a soccer specific venue in Louisville Kentucky for the new NWSL team and their ownership’s parent men’s club Louisville City FC.
The expansion club would also move into a new $15 million USD training facility during their first season. On top of a spectacular women’s locker room, the shared facility with the men’s side would be equipped with weight room, dining hall, media/film room and several fields. The club would also build a girl’s academy, to operate alongside its boys academy, from scratch.
New sporting projects are often filled with proposals, promises and ambitions, although follow through is never assured. What is most inspiring about Louisville is that not only have they fulfilled their promises, but to most observers they have surpassed expectations and raised NWSL standards.
Racing’s goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who has played professionally on three continents including two other NWSL clubs, stated that it wasn’t until she came to Louisville that she felt like a true professional.
However, just when one thought that Louisville could not surpass franchise expectations, their hosting of The Women’s Cup in their first season of operation has made the ambitious club even more impressive. With less than six months of play, they have welcomed German Frauen-Bundesliga winners FC Bayern Munich, French Division 1 winners Paris Saint Germain and fellow NWSL club the Chicago Red Stars for the four-match tournament.
Upon their arrival in Louisville both European clubs’ airplanes were greeted by a water salute followed by a reception party in the terminal for the two teams and their representatives. While this type of welcome is commonplace for big European men’s clubs touring the US in pre-season, it is a rarity to see such a display on the women’s side of the game.
The good impressions continued when seeing the club’s stadium. German international and PSG midfielder Sara Däbritz expressed her amazement: “We walked in, we said wow, it’s an amazing stadium for women’s football. We can’t wait to play here. When you see a stadium like this, it’s like wow, I want to play now!” Play they did.
Despite both clubs being in their respective pre-seasons, the game was a very close and competitive affair. This is hardly surprising. After all, these are two very well organized teams, with incredible talent both on the field and the bench. While Bayern originally dictated the game, it was PSG who opened the scoring account.
Sandy Baltimore, who caused all sorts of problems for Bayern during the match, made an excellent cross into the box to Marie-Antoinette Katoto who headed it in. Bayern were able to not only equalize before the half, with Linda Dallman scoring a goal in the 43rd minute, but then double their score in the first half extra time with a Lea Schüller goal.
⚽️Goal for FC Bayern Munich! A fantastic free kick by Carolin Simon hits the crossbar. Lea Schüller is there to head it in.
45’+2|@FCBfrauen 2-1 @PSG_Feminines#TheWomensCup #Anzeige #MiaSanMia #FCBPSG pic.twitter.com/t5r547t70F— Her Beautiful Game (@HerBeautifulGam) August 18, 2021
PSG got the equalizer in the 57th minute, after Kheira Hamraoui headed home a goal off a corner. The match ended 2-2 after 90 minutes and headed to penalty kicks. After six rounds of shots Bayern sealed their place in the final with a 5-4 penalty win.
The second match of the semi-final was between the Chicago Red Stars and the home team Racing Louisville. The match also doubled as an NWSL regular season game. Chicago entered the game in sixth place in the NWSL, with Louisville in ninth. Despite the difference in positioning, Louisville were only five points behind their opponents with two fewer games played in the league.
Louisville has had its struggles at times this season, as one would expect of any expansion team. The newly composed team has been going up against clubs that have been in existence and played together for several seasons. Some adjustment as they find their playing style and synergy was expected. However, its most recent form has been promising and improving.
English import Ebony Salmon opened the scoring for the hosts in the second semi-final match. Stealing the ball from Red Stars defender Danielle Colaprico, she then nutmegged their goalkeeper to score.
The high tempo game continued, with Louisville holding most of the possession. However, it was Chicago who had more shots and shots on goal in the match. They finally capitalized in the 57th minute of play with a Kealia Watt goal.
After 90 minutes of play, drawn at 1-1, both teams proceeded to penalties like the first semi-final of the tournament. The hosts came out on top, also winning the shoot-out in the sixth round of kicks by a margin of 5-4. This was done in front of a record crowd of 7,310 individuals.
Today will be the continuation of the exciting first year of existence for Racing Louisville. Another double header event, the Chicago Red Stars will face PSG in the first match for the third place crown. This will be followed by the first place Munich-Louisville game. The hosts will surely hope to not only beat their attendance record, but also Bayern Munich in front of their new fans.
Speaking of the prospect of facing such a high calibre team in their first year of existence, Racing Coach Christy Holly stated: “It is one of the clubs that I have admired and have a great level of appreciation for what they’ve done for the women’s game but also the game worldwide. To see the headlines that Racing Louisville is playing Bayern Munich in Louisville on Saturday night, I’m not sure there were too many people who would’ve believed that if you told them 18 months ago.
“That’s a testament to the fans that have been supporting us and the ownership that has invested in us not only money but time, energy and motivation to move this thing forward to give this incredible platform for women’s athletes. It’s a magnificent privilege but one that we definitely want to take advantage of and try and make a statement for this club and this city.”
The third placed game will kick off at 3PM ET/ 8PM BST on Saturday, August 21. This will be followed by the final will take place at 6PM ET/ 11PM BST. Games will be available on Paramount+ in the USA, PSG and BM networks in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria and ATA Football elsewhere.
Should the final result go in Louisville’s favour, it will be a remarkable win for a nascent club. It would be a great reward for all the efforts put forward off the field. It would prove to be a victory that has met the original ambition set by the club when it was created 18 months ago. Ultimately though, what we have already seen coming out of Louisville off the field, including this Women’s Cup tournament, those are the real winners.
Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL (17/8/21).
Five National Women’s Soccer League matches were disputed last weekend. As has been the situation for a few weeks now, Portland Thorns entered the weekend top of the table with seven points separating them from the rest of the league. The second to eighth placed teams were separated by only four points. Racing Louisville was in ninth place with 14 points and Kansas City were bottom of the league with 4 points, still chasing their first franchise win.
All of teams had played 12-14 of their 24 regular season matches, with the league entering the final third of its 2021 season. The battle is therefore intensifying. Under the new 2021 league changes, the top six teams make the play-off rounds. All are therefore within a reasonable range of reaching of that goal with the exception of Kansas City. They would arguably have to win nearly all games remaining, a difficult ask considering their record.
The first match occurred on Friday between the Houston Dash and the Washington Spirit. At seventh and eight in the league, both teams were just below the play-off positions. The game marked the 150th regular season appearance of Tori Huster, the only member of Washington’s squad to have been with the franchise since it started in the NWSL in 2013. It was her team that were first to find a goal. In the eight minute of play Paige Nielsen received a deflected ball off a corner and then struck a fantastic curving shot into the net.
Nielsen then went from goal scorer to goal saver several minutes later when she headed wide a ball being crossed into the box. While both teams had chances in the rest of the first half, fans had to wait until the 54th minute for a second goal. Huster celebrated her appearance milestone by taking the ball, making an impressive run and then sending a rocket shot into the net to put the Spirit up 2-0.
As is often said in football, the worst lead is being up 2-0. This was the case for Washington on Friday. Six minutes after the second goal, the Dash got their first of the evening when Veronica Latsko put in a ball off a corner. The highlight of the night though came courtesy of Michaela Abam. A product of the Dynamo & Dash Youth soccer club, Abam is the first homegrown player to have been signed by Houston.
Eleven minutes after her debut for her hometown club, Abam stole the ball off a Spirit defender and proceeded to take a successful shot on goal. Her equalizer was the last goal of the game and helped save a needed point for the Dash. It ended 2-2.
The second match of the weekend occurred on Saturday between the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns. It was the third meeting this year between both clubs, with each having won a previous game 2-1. The Pride had announced that Alex Morgan would be unavailable for the foreseeable future, after having picked up an injury during the bronze medal match of the Olympics. The mid-season signing of striker Jodie Taylor last month was therefore not just a good move on the part of Orlando, but also an essential one at this point in their season.
It paid off 13 minutes into the game. Courtney Petersen, who has been one of the principal sources of creation for the Pride this year, made a fantastic cross into the box which Taylor expertly headed in. The Thorns did not let this deter them though. A team known for not enjoying being on the back foot, they started a series of attacks on Orlando’s goal. Ashlyn Harris, who has been in spectacular form this year, made a number of key saves to keep her team in the lead.
The Pride for their part also went on the offence again with Petersen being the primary creator of chances. However, it was her Thorns counterpart Megan Klingenberg who stood out. Klingenberg has had a fantastic 2021 season, placing herself amongst the top players in the league for progressive passes, passes into the box, expected assists, progressive runs and crosses.
In this game latest game, she was the best player on the field. It was her fantastic set piece into the box that set up Simone Charley’s equalizing header. The match finished 1-1, ending Portland’s four match winning streak.
The second Saturday match was between Kansas City and the OL Reign. The meeting was between a winless franchise in KC, who had recently acquired new talent, and a talent packed team in the Reign, who had been successful of late but inconsistent during the year. It was their first match under new manager Laura Harvey who had previously been with the club for the first four years of its existence.
The game was an intense one, not reflective of what can be a dominant team meeting a winless one. The change in KC formation, their new players and their loud home fans, bolstered their attack. While they were more direct in their forward progression than l’OL, KC had a very offensive night. Lo’eau Lobonta had one of her best games of the season, looking seemingly free on the right hand side of the pitch. Despite having less possession than the visitors, KC registered more shots.
The home team contained the Reign by stopping their transition, playing a very physical game, where the OL midfield were given little space and time, thus restraining the Reign from playing in their usual fluid passing style. It paid off. In the 72nd minute a deflected KC free kick found Victoria Pickett who scored the only game of the match. Kansas City finally got their first franchise win.
The first match on Sunday was between NJNYGotham FC and Racing Louisville FC. Racing were the ones to open the attempts on goal. Ebony Salmon had a tremendous shot that hit the crossbar in the seventh minute. Not long afterwards, she received a pass into the box from Cece Kizer and instead of being selfish and taking a shot on goal she passed it to Nadia Nadim who scored against her former club.
Salmon nearly made it two in the 26th minute but was stopped by returning Canadian gold medalist goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. Gotham for their part were also offensive. Ifeoma Onunomu, who has been a real attacking threat for NJNY all season, made a great pass in the box in the 36th minute that met Elizabeth Eddy’s head. It was deflected away though.
Onumonu would have to wait until the 83rd minute of the game to find an equalizer with a rocket shot in to the top goal. The game would end 1-1. The player of the match though for Gotham was Allie Long. The midfielder had a 98.3% pass accuracy off 60 passes.
The last match of the weekend was between the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars. The game was originally delayed nearly an hour due to weather and took place in very wet conditions. The only goal of the match came in the 40th minute. North Carolina were awarded a penalty off a Chicago Red Stars handball. New player Amy Rodriguez confidently put it in.
While the Courage had a greater percentage of possession and greater pass accuracy throughout the match, the Red Stars were fully capable of attacking. The best performer for North Carolina was arguably their goalkeeper Casey Murphy. Despite the wet conditions she made a number of key saves to keep her team in the lead. She deserves to share the player of the match award with the fans, who stayed out in the rain for more than 90 minutes.
So after this weekend some things have changed in the NWSL. Several teams moved up in the table, the Thorns’ lead has been minimized and KC are not winless. The upcoming week will see four games disputed. Three will occur next weekend between the North Carolina Courage v Kansas City, the OL Reign v Gotham FC and the Washington Spirit v the Orlando Pride. One midweek game will occur this Wednesday between Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars. The game will also double as a match in The Women’s Cup exhibition tournament. Prior to it, Paris Saint Germain will face FC Bayern Munich. The losers of both matches will face each other in a third place game on Saturday, followed by the winners of both matches in the Cup’s first placed game. The Portland Thorns and the Houston Dash will face l’Olympique Lyonnais and FC Barcelona in the Women’s International Champions Cup in the coming week. Like the Women’s Cup it will start this Wednesday with both teams European teams facing each other followed by both American teams. Again like the Women’s Cup the losers of both matches will face each other in a third place game on Saturday followed by the winners of both matches in the WICC’s first placed game.
Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL both on and off the pitch (13/8/21).
It has been a busy week and a half in the National Women’s Soccer League. After the dismissal of Gotham FC general manager Alysa LaHue last month, the NJ/NY based club announced former player Yael Averbuch West was named as interim GM and head of soccer operations last week.
This week saw the suspension of Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke. The club had originally announced this Tuesday that Burke had stepped down from his position due to health reasons and had been moved to the front office. However, a further announcement from the Spirit organization occurred on Wednesday stating that Burke had been suspended.
The second announcement came after the Washington Post reported alleged long standing abusive behaviour by Burke against present and former players. The Post’s article stated that Burke had a pattern of behaviour which included insults, tirades, abusive treatment and racist and homophobic language. An inappropriate contact incident in last weekend’s game against one of his players, Ashley Hatch, has also come to light.
One former Spirit player, Kaiya McCullough, has since come out publicly to discuss the verbal and emotional abuse which she suffered at the hands of her former coach. The abuse was so great that McCullough said she lost all her love of soccer and it ultimately led her to retire from the sport last fall.
SB Nation’s Black and Red United reported that this abusive nature may have predated Burke’s hire at the Spirit. When first appointed head coach in 2019, the publication wrote of several incidents of inappropriate behaviour. The first occurred while Burke was a youth coach with FC Virginia. Another player also came forward from their time with the DC United U-23 PDL 2015 squad. They both stated alleged abusive incidents by Burke which included insulting, homophobic, sexist and violent outbursts.
The U-23 PDL player in question stated that Burke’s then assistant-coach Tom Torres witnessed this abuse and did not act upon it. Torres went on to coach with Burke at the Spirit until last year, when he left to pursue other interests. The Athletic though have reported that this departure had been preceded by intoxicated inappropriate comments directed at players at a post-NWSL Challenge Cup party.
Both the Washington Spirit and the NWSL have since stated they have opened a pending investigation into the allegations against Burke during his time with the capital region club. The Spirit have since put Kris Ward and Paul Crichton, both current assistant coaches, as interim head coaches while they start a search for a replacement.
While the recent incidents may seem bleak, NWSL player’s association director Meghann Burke stated their importance. Speaking of the incident she told The Athletic “What we are seeing this season is the beginning of a reckoning. The Players Association will continue to work towards creating an environment in the NWSL that is worthy of the people who play in and support it.”
The following is a resumé of last weekend’s matches.
The first match of last weekend’s NWSL was between NJNY Gotham FC and the North Carolina Courage. In the tight league table, both teams were looking for a win to try to catch up to the first placed Portland Thorns.
The first part of the match was a good two way game between both sides. While the Courage had slightly more possession, neither team threatened in the final third. This changed in the 38th minute. Carson Pickett provided a great cross into the box. After a block from the goalkeeper, Meredith Speck put it in for her first NWSL goal. A few more chances occurred on both sides, however neither team was able to convert. The Courage won the match 1-0.
North Carolina’s Carson Pickett deserves a mention not just for her contribution in the last match but also for her form this year. Joining the Courage from the Orlando Pride prior to this season, she has gone on to flourish with her new side. In a team packed with talent, she has become not just the Courage’s but one of the league’s most effective attackers. So far this season she leads the NWSL in progressive passes, with 70 more than any other NWSL player, and passes into the final third. This past weekend she also played the full 90 minute despite picking a serious injury to her thumb that will require surgery. Pickett is proving that development, progression, and grit are alive and well in the league.
The second match of last Saturday was between the Washington Spirit and the Portland Thorns. 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie, the youngest player to ever play in the league, started her first NWSL match for the Thorns. It proved to be an inspired decision. Despite her young age and professional inexperience, she showed her attacking abilities. Her first shot on goal came just six minutes into the match and narrowly wide of Washington’s net. She then supplied a fantastic ball into the box in the 29 minute which was headed in by Simone Charley.
The Thorns’ defensive capabilities were also on full display in the last match. While their offensive prowess and creativity are often mentioned, Portland’s defence has been an equal strength this season. This defensive force starts with their press and goes all the way to their backline. Just this past game they won 62% of all duels, 11 shots, and 64% of all tackles. Spirit attackers Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch, who have both had a fantastic month while international players have been away at the Olympics, were relatively restrained this past weekend.
It is this defensive capability that has ensured Portland’s stay at the top of the league. This past match also saw perhaps the nicest demonstration of defensive heroics this season. When it looked like Trinity Rodman would put it in for the Spirit, The Thorns’ Christine Westphal came flying in to block her shot. The match ended 1-0 for Portland.
The final Saturday match was between the OL Reign and the Houston Dash. The Reign started their 2021 season slowly. After registering just three wins in their first ten games, in which they found the back of the net only six times, they have changed their fortunes in the last three weeks. Their talent-packed squad started to find their attacking power and have scored nine goals in three consecutive victories.
The latest game can only be described as a Reign first half goal-fest. Bethany Balcer opened the scoring account in the 6th minute of play. Sofia Huerta doubled the score several minutes later. The Dash were able to get one in though. Shea Groom showed some fancy footwork, beating off her defender, before taking her shot on goal. It was deflected off Alana Cook before going in to make the score 2-1.
Eugénie Le Sommer then made it 3-1 for the Reign when she was able to put her own blocked rebound in. The goal of the game then came courtesy of Jess Fishlock. She picked up the ball just inside the Dash’s half before striking an amazing long-range effort into the net. Balcer made it 5-1 several minutes before the first half ended. This was the final result.
Sunday saw two games being played. Racing Louisville met KC in the first match. Louisville were looking to turn around their form after a month of July with three losses and one draw. KC for their part were still looking for their first franchise win.
Louisville dominated the first 15 minutes with the majority of the possession. However, it was KC who registered the first shot on goal. Despite this fact, Racing were the more attacking force of the game. They were able to get ahead in the 43rd minute.
The wonderful team goal started in the Racing half. Savannah McCaskill made a run with the ball out of her box. She then passed it into Emily Fox, who passed it back to McCaskill who was making an overlapping run. McCaskill made a one-touch pass to Nadia Nadim who passed it back to McCaskill who was continuing her run. The play ended with McCaskill sending in a cross which was then deflected in by Ebony Salmon.
KC were able to get a goal just before the half ended. Kiki Pickett, who has been one of the bright spots for KC, put in a cross. After a rebound, Darian Jenkins equalized. Upon her return from the half, McCaskill produced another bit of brilliant work when she was able to fight off her defender and send in a cross that found Nadim. She headed it home to put Louisville in the lead. The final goal of the match was another Racing spectacle. Cheyna Matthews stole the ball off a KC defender, beat goalkeeper Rowlands and then walked the ball into the net. Racing won the game 3-1.
Racing’s person of the match was Savannah McCaskill. A terrific creative force, McCaskill has often been inconsistent during her time in the NWSL. However, she seems to be settling in well with Louisville. This game was her best one for her new side. Not only did she dictate the play for her team and wreak havoc for KC but she also took chances on goal as well. Racing will be hoping that this becomes her permanent form.
The last match of the weekend was between the Chicago Red Stars and the Orlando Pride. The Red Stars started the game by attacking. The Pride were able to gain some control after the 15th minute. For the second week in a row defender Ali Krieger provided a fantastic ball in for her attacker, this time Jodie Taylor, to finish and score.
However, the Red Stars did not give up. Morgan Gautrat’s wonderful 2021 form continued. The vision, creativity, and passing capabilities that lead her to the USWNT when she was still in college have been on full display. She was able to give one of those great passes to Mal Pugh in the first half who then turned and shot on goal. Ashlyn Harris, who has also had terrific 2021 form, showed her goalkeeping skills by stopping it. Sydney Leroux was able to double the Pride’s lead late in the second half. Erika Tymrak provided a great pass in for Leroux to finish. Putting in her seventh of the year, she became the leading NWSL goalscorer. The Pride won it 2-0.
The game though was overshadowed by poor refereeing. Two players from Chicago, Danielle Colaprico and Morgan Gautrat, were forced to leave the field after bad tackles. Like too many NWSL games, the referee never had a grasp on the game nor the proper judgement to reprimand dangerous tackles.
With these results, Portland has increased their lead at the top of the table with 28 points. Only four points separate the second-placed North Carolina Courage from the eighth-placed Houston Dash. KC are still winless at the bottom. Five matches occur over this coming weekend.
Notes From North America
Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL (4/8/21).
While the previous weekend has been overshadowed by Olympic football, the National Women’s Soccer League continued play in the United States. After a bye-weekend, Racing Louisville and KC NWSL returned to the field and five matches were played on Saturday and Sunday.
They were important to nearly all teams. Entering the weekend, just six points separated the top and seventh positioned teams. It also represented the halfway point of the 24-match regular season for most involved.
The first match of the weekend was between the fifth ranked North Carolina Courage and the seventh ranked Orlando Pride. Both teams were looking for a win after not having had one in the previous three for the Courage and previous five for the Pride. The Pride were also in their first game under new interim manager Becky Burleigh.
The first half was largely a story of two teams trying to build up attacks but unsuccessful in converting in the final third. The deadlock was broken in the second half by Orlando. Fullback Ali Krieger stole the ball off a Carolina attacker and then made an incredible half field run before supplying a perfectly weighted ball to Sydney Leroux who scored.
It did not take long for Carolina to respond though. New acquisition Amy Rodriguez crossed the ball into the 18 yard box. It found Meredith Speck who then smartly passed to an open Brittany Ratcliffe who beat her defender and put it home. The game finished a 1-1 draw.
The second match of the day was between the OL Reign and Racing Louisville FC. After a difficult period midway through the beginning of the season, the Reign had started to find its winning ways again. Racing was hoping the boost from newly arrived striker Nadia Nadim would bring life to their scoring, having found the back of the net once in the previous three winless matches.
However, this game became all about Reign’s foreign striking import. Eugénie Le Sommer, the prolific Lyon attacker on loan to the Reign for the season, had yet to score in her first six NWSL appearances. This game was the one she would change that, with incredible form. Her first goal came in the 28th minute when she beat her defender, literally making her slip, before shooting the ball into the top of net. She then doubled the score in the 43rd minute after burying a ball received off a wonderful Jess Fishlock delivery. The game would conclude 2-0 for the Reign.
The first match of the Sunday was between the Portland Thorns and KC NWSL. KC remained bottom of the table while they were still trying to find their first franchise win. Conversely, Portland who were top of the table wanted to remain number one.
KC were lifted by their three newly acquired former North Carolina players, Kristen Hamilton, Hailey Mace and goalkeeper Katelyn Rowlands. All were in the starting lineup. While their introduction has helped KC up front and in goal, the new franchise still struggles and can be very disjointed between the lines. They are able to create chances, but more often than not those are missed.
The Portland test, in their stadium, was never going to be easy for KC. The Thorns opened the scoring in the 10th minute when Meghan Klingenberg’s shot on goal deflected off Kristen Edmonds and went in for an own goal. They then doubled their account when Sophia Smith put in a cross that was deflected in by teammate Marissa Everett. The score finished 2-0 with Portland retaining their dominance halfway through the season and KC remaining winless.
The second match on Sunday was between the Chicago Red Stars and the Washington Spirit. The Spirit overall controlled the match, having more of the ball, a greater pass accuracy and more shots than the Red Stars. Their coach’s insistence on possession once again appeared. However, it was the Red Stars who came out on top with a greater conversion of chances created.
The home team went ahead in the 19th minute with a goal from Mallory Pugh. The striker picked up the ball just after the halfway line and ran the remainder of the pitch, shaking off four attackers, before putting a perfectly placed ball in the bottom corner of the net. After being left out of the USA’s Olympic squad Pugh is once again showing why she first appeared for the USWNT aged 17.
Her teammate Rachel Hill doubled the Red Stars’ lead just before half time when she was able to deflect a loose ball that had come off a corner into the net. The Spirit would not give up though. New prolific Spirit rookie Trinity Rodman decided to show that Pugh was not the only striker on the field who could make half field runs and finishes, scoring an equally impressive goal in the 72nd minute.
The Spirit tried to equalize in the minutes after Rodman’s goal, with a great strike by Ashley Sanchez which needed an intervention by Red Stars keeper Cassie Miller. However, in the 80th minute, Washington were penalized for a handball in their box. Chicago’s Morgan Gautrat was able to put it in for what became a final score of 3-1 for the Red Stars.
The last match of the weekend was between the Houston Dash versus NJNY Gotham FC. Despite taking place at 6pm local time, the temperature on the field were close to 100F/38C. The scorcher did not stop either team from playing an intense game with both creating a number of chances on goal. The first half saw a particularly productive Veronica Latsko and Ifeoma Onumonu, who made several dangerous runs and strikes on goal for both the Dash and Gotham respectively.
The opening of the scoring though had to wait until the second half. Gabby Seiler found the back of the net in the 52nd minute after a ball which came from a corner was deflected off a header towards her. The introduction of teammate Bri Visalli five minutes later greatly increased Houston’s offensive drives, particularly on the right hand side where Visalli was operating.
However, it was Gotham’s offence who would convert next, with Onumonu finally finding the back of the net after a game of close but missed chances. The goal was a great team goal, built up through a series of passes which culminated in a Delani Sheehan pass to Onumonu just outside the box, who then right footed it home from a difficult angle.
After this previous weekend’s play, a number of teams rose and a number fell. New franchises KC and Racing are now bottom of the table. Only nine points separate first and eight placed though with Portland remaining top of the table. This upcoming weekend will see another five game match schedule spread over the Saturday-Sunday.
Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the latest two rounds of the NWSL (27/7/21).
It has been a busy two weeks in the National Women’s Soccer League, especially with regards to management.
Gotham FC manager Alyse LaHue was let go on July 9th by the organization. LaHue’s management was widely considered as a major reason for the team’s increase in standards and performance since her arrival in 2018. The team stated she was no longer employed after an investigation “into a complaint of violation of league policy.” LaHue’s attorney released a statement that she denied the allegations and had no further comment.
After the resignation of OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti in early July, the OL Reign have appointed Laura Harvey as their new head coach. Harvey has extensive coaching experience in both England and the US, at both the domestic and national team level. This will be her second stint in charge of the Washington based club, having previously been head coach from 2013-2017. At present she is with the USWNT, as an assistant to Vlatko Antonovski, and will remain with the side until the end of their Olympic campaign. Sam Laity, who has been with the franchise since its inception, will continue to serve as interim manager until she returns.
The Orlando Pride have also lost their head coach, after the abrupt resignation of Marc Skinner last week. Skinner is currently rumoured to be a contender for Manchester United’s vacant head coaching position. His assistant Carl Green managed the July 24 match against the Reign, with the Pride appointing Becky Burleigh as interim head coach on Sunday. Burleigh will remain in place until the search for a new head coach is completed.
Manchester United’s former head coach Casey Stoney has been named the head coach of new NWSL franchise San Diego. She, alongside newly appointed general manager Molly Downtain, will take the next few months to prepare San Diego’s team for their inaugural 2022 season.
Several players were traded and sent on loan. The OL Reign have announced the loans of Nicole Momiki to Linköpings FC until the end of the calendar year and Cosette Morché to GPSO 92 Issy FC until July 2022.
KC and the North Carolina Courage announced a huge trade involving four players last week. KC captain Amy Rodrigues was traded alongside $60,000 of allocation money to the Courage in exchange for Kristen Hamilton, Katelyn Rowland and Hailie Mace.
Four matches occurred over two weekends ago. Racing Louisville and KC were both given a bye week.
The first match of the weekend was between the North Carolina Courage and the Houston Dash. It ended 2-1 in the Dash’s favour, a huge win for them as they had never won at Carolina and had only one other recorded win against the Courage in their franchise history.
The opening goal was scored by Shea Groom, off a pass from a Veronica Latsko interception. It was also Groom’s hundredth NWSL regular season appearance. Carolina’s Kriston Hamilton equalized. However, the winning goal came from a Gabbie Seiler free kick, and it was one for the highlight reel.
The first game on July 18th was between the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC. A controversial red card, which was later overturned on appeal, was given to Washington’s Sam Staab in the seventh minute. However, the 10-woman Spirit did not give up. Their rookie Trinity Rodman opened the scoring after receiving a great deep ball wide from captain Andi Sullivan. Gotham’s Naho Kawasumi and McCall Zerboni both then scored in the first half for Gotham to give NJNY the lead.
For the second week in a row Ashley Sanchez kept showing her skill, this time producing her own amazing free kick goal to give the Spirit the equalizer. However, Midge Purce would then score the winner for Gotham in the 76th minute. They won the match 3-2.
The Chicago Red Stars then faced the OL Reign. The match became one for the record books due to the most bizarre of situations. While Cecila Delgado Jimene opened the scoring for the OL Reign and Mal Pugh won the match for the Red Stars by supplying their third goal, the other two goals were own goals by the Reign for the Red Stars.
These two OG were the fourth and fifth consecutive OGs that the Red Stars have had this season, a record for any NWSL team ever. In fact, prior to Pugh’s winning goal the Red Stars had 10 goals for scored in the 2021 regular season, half of which were supplied by the opposition. The final score was 3-1 for the Red Stars.
The final match of the weekend was between the Portland Thorns and the Orlando Pride. This match was all Portland. While both teams are missing players to the Olympics, the gaps were much more heavily felt by the Pride. The Thorns outshot their opposition 20 to six. Were it not for the heroics of Pride keeper Ashlyn Harris, including another penalty save this match, the final score could have been worse.
The opening goal came courtesy of Sophia Smith, who is really getting a chance to shine during this Olympic period. After a fantastic run where she fended off four defenders, she took a cracker of a shot on goal from just outside the box to score.
The second Portland goal was just as brilliant. Thorns taliswoman Meghan Klingenberg served the ball into the Orlando box in the 58th minute where it found the head of Marissa Everett. The Pride did get a conciliation goal in the fifth minute of added time, when a cross found Marisa Viggiano who smashed it in. The final score was 2-1 for the Thorns.
The first match of the weekend was between KC NWSL and the North Carolina Courage. It was an emotional match marred by a number of injuries as well as players missing due to the Olympics or COVID-19 protocols. Additionally, several recently traded players were making their debuts.
For KC it was a positive game, after having struggled this maiden year. They dominated possession and shots, this despite converting players in some positions and the addition of three players who had joined the squad the day prior. The Courage did not make the game easy for them, supplying a few shots on goal that nearly won the match. The game finished 0-0.
The first match on July 24th was between the Orlando Pride and the OL Reign. After a fantastic start to the season, the Pride lost their fourth match in their last five games. Both teams were being managed by interim coaches. While possession was nearly equal the more threatening team was the Reign with the Pride failing to produce a single shot on goal all night.
The Reign struck early in both halves. A steal in the final third by Tziarra King in the 10th minute of the match was cleanly passed to Jess Fishlock. She then turned and smoothly shot it home. King proved deadly again in the second half, being the one to cleanly finish a pass from Eugenie Le Sommer. The Reign won the match 2-0.
The second match of the 24th was between the Houston Dash and the Portland Thorns. Smith proved deadly for the second week in a row, providing a goal in the first minute of the match to put the Thorns up 1-0. It turned out to be the only goal of the game and continued the Thorns’ unbeaten franchise run against the Houston Dash.
The first match of July 25th was between Gotham FC and the Chicago Red Stars. Gotham were the more dominant team, controlling possession. The first half saw opportunities on both sides. However, Gotham was able to capitalize on a short handed Red Stars, one player being off due to injury, with Allie Long getting their first goal in the added time of the opening half.
The second half saw an increase in pace and chances. A tackle by Bianca St George on Purce resulted in a penalty kick. Purce would convert it to put the NJNY team up by two. The Red Stars would score in the 95th minute, but it was too little too late. Sadly for the Red Stars it appears that Own Goal has departed them and joined the USWNT in Japan, having supplied two of the American’s goals in their match against the Football Ferns.
The last match of the weekend was between Racing Louisville FC and the Washington Spirit. Both teams had a relatively solid game, each producing a large number of shots on goal. However, costly mistakes lead to Louisville’s downfall.
A passing error by Racing led to Ashley Hatch, who scored a brace two weekends ago, opening the account with a goal in the fifth minute of play. Her teammate Sam Staab doubled Washington’s score in the 58th minute again off a Louisville mistake. The hosts had a number of chances themselves but were not able to convert. Washington won the match 2-0.
After two weeks, the table has changed significantly, however two things remain the same. KC NWSL remains at the bottom of the table and is still searching for their first franchise win. Meanwhile at the top of the table, with the Portland Thorns at the lead, only six points separate the first and the seventh position.
The National Women’s Soccer League is still wide open.
Notes From North America
Catherine Paquette casts her expert eye over Round Eight of the NWSL and highlights all the moments that mattered (15/7/21).
All ten National Women’s Soccer League clubs were in action last weekend. At this point in the summer, all Olympic bound internationals, except two Kiwis who were controversially held back by their clubs, were missing from the starting line-ups.
While many do ask why the NWSL does not take an Olympic break like the Swedish or Norwegian leagues do, something that could be expected given the more than 30 NWSL players departed for what could be more than a month and a half of international duty, a closer examination of the NWSL schedule easily explains why.
At present the NWSL’s regular season is expected to go until the end of October. The play-offs, which this year has three rounds including the final, will extend the post-season into late November.
Several northern NWSL clubs can expect to have temperatures at that time nearing freezing. The Chicago Red Stars and New Jersey/New York Gotham FC are located in areas that have even had snow on the ground in mid-November. From a climate perspective, it is just impossible to extend the season.
Moreover, for avid long time viewers of the NWSL the lack of World Cup and Olympic breaks have always been a positive thing. The NWSL is a notoriously difficult league to break into for novice players. The parity of the league and intense competition leaves very little leeway for player development.
The World Cup and Olympic summers offer a unique opportunity for players on the periphery, or players who may not stand out when international teammates are around, to break into the first team or even get a chance to shine.
Many NWSL mainstay players got their break during these summer openings. Previous years have seen present day superstars such as Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams and even Jess Fishlock given the space to individually shine.
For a league often overshadowed by big international names, the World Cup and Olympic game NWSL periods give fans a chance to really see talent that may otherwise go overlooked. This past weekend lived up to this expectation.
The first match occurred on Friday between the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville. Both teams were coming off a loss, and a tumble in the league table. Expansion side Louisville came out strong to start, dominating the early possession.
Their 20-year-old signing from Bristol City, Ebony Salmon, continued her wonderful NWSL form. Salmon broke the nil-nil deadlock in the twenty-first minute and put Racing up 1-0. It was her third goal of the season.
The real drama in the game came in the fourth minute of second half added time. Looking as if they were headed for another loss, Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris ventured into Louisville’s half to recuperate the ball. Harris then struck a deep cross into Racing’s box. After making contact with Taylor Kornieck’s head, it found the boot of Sydney Leroux who struck it home. The Pride saved the point with seconds to go with the match ended at 1-1.
The Saturday match was between the Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage. The relatively young Spirit side proved they could compete with a Courage side packed with seasoned players. The final score for the match was 2-0 to Washington due to a brace by Ashley Hatch.
A Washington player who stuck out though during this match was attacker Ashley Sanchez. Sanchez decided to make the daring decision in 2020 of leaving UCLA and declaring for the NWSL draft a year early. While she was surprisingly picked fourth overall, lower than expected, her form in this match showed why she could have easily gone first.
Sanchez created several chances for her teammates during the game, wreaking havoc on the seasoned North Carolina midfield and defence. In total she took seven shots, including three shots on goal. Sanchez was unlucky due to a brilliant stop by Courage keeper Casey Murphy and two post hits. However, should she continue her form during the rest of the Olympic game period, she could easily turn out to be one of the new NWSL breakout stars.
Another player who played very well during this game was her teammate Andi Sullivan. Sullivan has been on the brink of a consistent place in the USWNT for several years now. However, while she has 18 caps for the team, she has yet to make a major tournament squad.
The maturity and vision Sullivan is displaying this season though as Spirit captain may change this in the future. Playing in a more traditional defensive midfield role, Sullivan is becoming the team metronome, essential to both their defensive and offensive capabilities.
Perhaps her best display of this defensive vision and the ability to be an offensive threat came with Washington’s second goal. Spotting a bad pass midway in her own half she stole the ball and then made a half a pitch long run before her assist pass to Ashley Hatch. Like Sanchez, this Olympic period could be her big break.
The first of the Sunday matches was between the Portland Thorns and the New Jersey/New York Gotham FC. Overall it was a very defensive affair which ended in a 0-0 draw.
While the Thorn’s defence were better at limiting Gotham’s shots, to eleven total and two on goal, the Gotham defence and keeper for their part showed fantastic displays of defensive heroics.
Despite twice as many shots and three times as many shots on goal by the Thorns, none were able to breach Didi Haraicic’s goal.
Both Portland keeper Casey Murphy and Gotham keeper Didi Haracic have long been backup keepers in the NWSL. With their respective first team goalkeepers away with the US and Canada for the Tokyo Olympics, it could give both the opportunity to show their abilities over the next month.
The second match of the day was between the Chicago Red Stars and the Houston Dash. It finished with the most bizarre set of circumstances.
Both teams have shown inconsistent form this season. While the Red Stars did show a more promising start in this game, they still continued to struggle offensively. The Dash for their part struggled with a number of their biggest offensive players away on international Olympic duty.
They did however find a way to break through the Red Stars defence early in the second half. A great long run by forward Jasmyne Spencer past a number of Chicago defenders was then passed to Veronica Latsko who found the back of the net.
However, what then ensued is the bizarre part. A Chicago free kick in the seventy-third minute was accidentally deflected by Houston defender Shea Groom into her own net. Her teammate Katie Naughton then also found the back of her own net three minutes later.
The Red Stars won the match 2-1 despite not having a single shot on goal.
The final match of the weekend was between the OL Reign and Kansas City. The Reign won the affair 2-0.
Both teams have struggled to find form this season. The Reign’s troubles seemed to be due to their inability to find form in the final third while KC has struggled to find form at all.
The Reign looked a lot better this game compared to previous matches. The connection and passing displays that have been on show for a while continued this game but were finally matched with offensive completion.
They opened their scoring account in the third minute of the match. A mistake by an otherwise outstanding KC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart was intercepted and put in by Reign striker Bethany Balcer.
Balcer found the back of Barnhart’s net a second time in the first half. A great team play by OL led to a cross into the box and a perfectly timed Balcer run. Her header put the Reign up 2-0.
Drama occurred in the sixty-ninth minute of the second half. Reign goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi ran out of her net and intercepted a run by KC forward Jéssica Silva. The referee deemed it a denial of a goalscoring opportunity and handed a red card to Bouhaddi.
Despite being up against a 10-person Reign though, KC were not able to capitalize in the final twenty minutes of the game. They barely created any opportunities despite the one woman advantage.
This leads us to this upcoming weekend. Eight teams will meet in four matches. So far each NWSL team has played 9-10 matches. What is striking in the league standings is the parity within the NWSL.
From the first to the seventh position there are only three points separating the teams. There are six points separating first and ninth position. With the notable exception of KC, this league is still wide open.
Catherine Paquette casts her expert eye over Round Seven of the NWSL and highlights all the moments that mattered (6/7/21).
This past NWSL weekend was a foresight, arguably of things to come. It was the first weekend where some of the internationally selected Olympic players were absent on national team preparation duty.
The remaining Olympians departed this week and will be gone for at least the next month. In total more than three starting line-ups worth of NWSL players will be heading to Tokyo. The only team unaffected is Racing Louisville.
Teams are allowed to temporarily bolster their squads during this loss. Some, the OL Reign for example, have planned ahead and arranged loans which will last through the expected Olympic period. Others have signed replacement players on short term contracts.
The weekend gave us a first glimpse though of teams without some of their most skilled talent.
Friday had six teams meet in three fixtures. The first of the long weekend saw the Chicago Red Stars get their third win of the year, on the road, against the Washington Spirit. The winning goal was poked in by Kayla Sharples in the 33rd minute of the match off a corner.
Chicago’s striker Kealia Watt, who looked significantly more offensive this match than any other all season, should have been given the second of the match. It was erroneously not called as a goal after the ball bounced back into play from inside the net and was missed by the touchline referee.
Overall though, it was not a great match for either team. The Red Stars have had an erratic start to the beginning of the season, playing a dull brand of football often littered with mistakes and a lack of creativity. While there were moments of respite from that during the last match, suffice to say that overall the Red Stars’ Friday performance was not much of an improvement. Luckily for them most of their Olympic players had already departed. The same occurred with the Washington Spirit.
Washington for their part do pass the ball well. Sadly, that seems to be all they are currently capable of doing. Their coach Richie Burke has been quoted as saying he wants his team to make 600 passes minimum each game. While the idea of having a successfully passing team is a good one, if they are hardly hitting the back of the net and are consistently conceding then passing ideals are worthless.
The Spirit have conceded in every match of the year bar one and have yet to play a regular season game this year where their winning margin was greater than one. They are not the worst performing team in the league by far but they still have a ways to go to improve in order to become a dominant, consistent team.
The second match of the weekend was between the Houston Dash and the OL Reign. Houston still had some Olympic talent who had yet to depart. The Reign entered the match without their head coach Farid Benstiti, who had resigned the day prior after an abysmal year and a half in charge of the team. Sam Laity, who has been with the Reign since their inception, took over as interim coach.
The resignation did not change the 2021 form of the Reign. They succumbed to a 2-0 loss to the Dash at home. The OL Reign were able to show creativity in their build up, as they have done this year, but as always were not able to find space and convert in the final third. A lot of credit has to go to the Dash’s Jane Campbell, who made a number of great saves.
The Dash for their part slowly built from the back but often looked predictable in their attack. The Reign, to their credit, were able to keep the Dash contained in their own half for the earlier part of the match.
However, a great pass from Shea Groom to Jas Spencer led to the Dash’s first goal of the night. The goal was especially emotional for Spencer who had just made a two year comeback from injury. She had had an ACL tear at Houston while playing for the Reign in 2019. Seeing her joy after scoring in the stadium where her career nearly ended was lovely.
The Dash were also able to capitalize later on in the game off a set play. A great ball in from Sophie Schmidt was headed twice before finding the back of the net. This is the second assist in two matches for Schmidt who will now depart for Olympic duty with Canada.
The final match of the first day of play actually stretched over two days. Gotham FC’s game against Kansas City was delayed for more than three hours due to weather conditions and started at 10:20 PM on Friday night.
A goal from NJ/NY in the middle of the first half by Ifeoma Onumonu resulted in a Gotham lead for most of the game. Onumonu received the ball in front of goal off a great Midge Purce pass and sent a low curler into the corner of the net.
KC continued to show the struggles they are encountering as an expansion side. Some sloppy passing and mistakes under pressure plagued many of their attacking chances. However, one cannot fault them for continuing to persevere and not giving up, especially against a Gotham squad that gave a lot of forward pressure and did not leave KC much room to operate.
This perseverance led to what is so far the goal of the season. KC’s Mariana Larroquette received the ball just inside Gotham’s half. She then proceeded to pass to herself and then charge towards the goal. She finished it off with an incredible curling strike after 38 minutes into the top of the net. There was nothing Gotham’s goalkeeper Didi Haracic could do about it.
The match ended tied in the early hours of Saturday with a score of 1-1.
The next match occurred later on Saturday. Portland Thorns were at Racing Louisville without all their American and Canadian internationals. It was the two sides’ second encounter of the year. The Thorns had bested Racing 3-0 in the earlier match in June.
The scoreline for this game would be quite similar. An unlikely foul by Racing’s Yuki Nagasato in the first half led to a converted Raquel Rodriguez penalty for the Thorns. A second goal, off a clearly well rehearsed set play, was headed home by Simone Charley.
Louisville are still learning a lot as an expansion franchise. While mistakes are still being made by the side and there are a lot of passes to nowhere, they showed they have a lot of good ideas to develop play and are able to follow through with tactical plans. In this match Louisville were able to keep the Thorns compact with a high defensive line for many parts of the match. As they are not losing any internationals to the Olympics this should keep Louisville more stable over the next month of play.
The big story of this game though was the debut of 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie. Moultrie, with the support of the Thorns whom she has been training with for the last few years, sued the NWSL for discrimination due to the league’s age restriction. A judge sided with Moultrie and ordered the league to allow her to sign.
After a bit of drama with regards to discovery rights, which were allocated to the OL Reign after the court injunction and required the Thorns to trade a draft pick to get Moultrie’s rights back, Moultrie signed a professional contract earlier this week.
A lot had been written about this young player, often described as a prodigy. She was offered a college scholarship at 11 and decided to turn professional at age 13. Her debut was therefore hotly anticipated. While she was on the field for only the last 10 minutes of the game, her few touches and runs showed signs of why Portland have been in agreement to allow one so young to turn professional.
The final match of the weekend was between the Orlando Pride and the North Carolina Courage. While the Pride have been performing very well for most of the season, this match was not their best. They are both currently missing significant parts of their squads to international Olympic duty. The beginning of their match started with severe pressure from the Courage and saw the Pride make many mistakes.
A big one, a bad pass back by Dougherty-Howard in the third minute of play, was well-read by the Courage’s Debinha who picked up the ball and slotted it home. Things did not improve performance-wise for the Pride who looked very one-dimensional during most of the match.
Their goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was the one reason that the scoreline did not finish off worse than it was. Harris made a number of world class saves throughout the match including a penalty save in the 35th minute.
However, Harris’ heroics could only go so far. A wonderful Courage team goal occurred in the 66th minute. Angharad James crossed to Lynn Williams who in turn passed it in front of the net for Jessica MacDonald to make a short pass to Havana Solaun who kicked it into the net.
The Pride did try to fight back, with a number of attempts on goal but were unsuccessful in their comeback. The Courage won the match 2-0 and were propelled to the top of the table. Whether they will be able to keep this position after the remainder of their Olympians leave will be seen.
There are five more matches this upcoming weekend spread over Friday to Sunday.
Don’t miss Catherine‘s round up each Tuesday from the NWSL and keep an eye out for her special articles for Impetus.
Impetus is delighted to welcome Catherine Paquette, of Her Beautiful Game as our newest writer. Catherine will be producing weekly round ups of the NWSL as well as playing a leading role in our coverage of next season’s FAWSL, international football and many other aspects of women’s football. Here, Catherine gives us all the background to the NWSL (27/6/21).
Nine years. It is a big number for professional women’s soccer in the United States. It is big because it represents the National Women’s Soccer League’s current duration. This number is three times as long as the two other previous professional leagues have lasted.
This did not happen by chance. The NWSL was designed to be cost effective, very conservative and originally was supported by the national footballing associations of Mexico, Canada and the United States of America. These national associations supported it through direct funding and the subsidization of national player salaries allocated to the league.
A lot has changed since the 2013 debut season though. Mexico pulled out of the agreement and established its own league in 2017. Of the eight original franchises, five remain. Three teams folded, one was sold to another market and six new franchises were created.
The league currently has ten franchises playing: the Chicago Red Stars, the Houston Dash, Kansas City, NJ/NY Gotham FC, the North Carolina Courage, the OL Reign, the Portland Thorns, Racing Louisville FC and the Washington Spirit. Two other new franchises, Angel City FC in Los Angeles and San Diego’s NWSL team are set to join the league in 2022.
The NWSL has not just grown in franchises but also in visibility. In its inaugural year teams averaged 4,270 spectators a match. In 2019, when stadiums were last allowed at full capacity, this number had nearly doubled. The Portland Thorns had an average attendance of 20,098 people, with a season high of 25,218 their stadium’s capacity.
While the first year of the NWSL had nearly every game broadcast for free on YouTube with sometimes very low resolution, one can now watch nearly every game on CBS or Paramount+ in the US and on Twitch internationally with relatively good resolution.
Much still needs to happen though. The salary cap has more than tripled, from $200,000 to the 2021 cap of $685,500 per team, as has the minimum salary from $6,000 to $22,000 a year. While salaries have increased, the NWSL like many other women’s leagues around the world thrives on the backs of its lowest salaried players.
The same can be said of the NWSL’s current infrastructure. Playing and practicing conditions have greatly changed for the better. However, again, like many women’s leagues around the world the NWSL suffers from an infrastructure gap with the men, unable to always find adequate and affordable soccer specific stadiums.
At present two teams, the OL Reign and KC, play their games on temporarily converted baseball fields. One team, the Washington Spirit, has an agreement to split its home matches between three different stadiums located in two different states as well as Audi Field in DC.
The NWSL has come a long way, but is still striving to improve. This improvement is supported by players, the league and also by fans, many of whom were drawn to the league due to the success of the United States Women’s National Team and the 2015 Women’s World Cup held in Canada.
It is this fan support, and the NWSL’s desire to ensure that it grows into the best women’s league in the world, that lead it last year to perhaps it’s greatest coup so far.
While most women’s football leagues around the world were severely hit by COVID, with many originally not returning to play, the NWSL was able to organize a new competition and become the first league in North America to return to play.
The NWSL Challenge Cup, held in June and July of last year, led to record viewing numbers and a fantastic display of the quality of play within America’s only pro women’s soccer league. The NWSL followed this up with a fall series where its then nine teams were separated into three groups and played a four match series each.
Due to the original uncertainty with regards to stadium attendance and the continued COVID-19 pandemic, the NWSL decided to start its 2021 season with its second iteration of the Challenge Cup. The Portland Thorns, one of the league’s consistent high performers since the inception of the league, won the cup in a final played against NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Which leads us to the current 2021 NWSL season. Like previous season, each team will play a 24-match regular season, with at least one home-and-away against each team. The season started on May 15th and is set to conclude October 30th.
Eight teams will make the play-offs, with the top two seeded teams skipping the quarter-finals and progressing directly to the playoff semi-finals. The NWSL Championship is set for November 20th and the competition will not take an Olympic break.
A number of big signings entered the league, many from the English FAWSL. Several Americans internationals who had gone to play overseas during the 2020-21 season, chose to return and sign for NWSL clubs. There are also a number of short term loans, ranging from leagues such as the French Division 1 to the Mexican Liga MX Femenil.
The beginning of the season has seen some expected results and a few surprise ones. This past Saturday was the league’s first Super Saturday, where all ten teams met in five matchups. So far teams have played between six and eight matches.
Like in most seasons, the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage have had relatively strong starts to the season. They met each other on Super Saturday with the Courage winning 2-0. The win propelled the Courage to second in the league with the Thorns falling to third.
New expansion teams Kansas City and Racing Louisville have experienced some growing pains. KC received the bulk of its players from the now defunct Utah Royals while Louisville built from its team scratch.
Both clubs are less than seven months old and are still trying to find their feet. Racing has fared much better than KC, who has yet to record a single win.
A 3-0 win this weekend by Louisville over the Chicago Red Stars showed that they have the playing ability to develop attacks and score goals. While questions still remain about their defence, the win placed them sixth in the league.
KC on the other hand suffered yet another defeat. While they scored early, through a wonderful goal by Amy Rodriguez, and looked like they may register their first franchise win despite a more dominant Washington performance, the team once again broke down in the final third of the match. They let in one goal in the 78th minute and a second deep into injury time. They remain last in the league.
The Washington Spirit and Gotham FC have continued their increase in form, after several difficult seasons. Both teams are composed of relatively young squads supported by a number of seasoned veterans.
Gotham’s pre-season went exceptionally well with an appearance in the Challenge Cup final. Through good strategic counter attacking play they were able to beat the OL Reign on the road 3-0 on Super Saturday.
The Washington Spirit have also had a good early season. Bolstered by new recruits and the maturation of young talent drafted over the years they have shown a more disciplined and attacking minded team than in previous years. They also recorded a win on Super Saturday, described above. The Spirit and Gotham currently sit fourth and fifth in the league respectively.
The Houston Dash, which has never qualified for the NWSL Playoffs, have had an inconsistent start. This is surprising considering the 2020 form the team had which lead to their win of the Challenge Cup. They have since had little change in the team’s squad.
This inconsistency saw them loose to NWSL newbies Louisville last week, yet beat the Orlando Pride 2-1 on Super Saturday. The win took them from ninth to seventh in the league.
The Chicago Red Stars have also had an inconsistent start despite also having little change in their squad. While they are missing a few top players due to injury, and have never been able to replace Sam Kerr scoring-wise, the team started this season with lacklustre performances.
This lacklustre run kept up on Super Saturday when they were beaten by Louisville at home 3-0. After the loss the Red Stars have fallen to eight place.
The OL Reign, who were bought at the end of 2019 by French perennial winners Olympique Lyonnais, are one of the surprising teams so far. Despite having an impressive squad bolstered by French Lyonnais loans, Manchester City’s Karen Bardsley and a number of world class international players, the team has suffered four defeats.
The Reign have shown strong performances but they are not living up to its quality. While they often seem to pass the ball with creativity and ease, they are not able to finish, registering no goals in the majority of their regular season games.
Moreover, mistakes made by several players in vulnerable positions have led to easy goals against as have a number of counter attacking plays. This arguably happened in their 3-0 loss to Gotham on Super Saturday. The Reign currently sit in ninth placed.
Perhaps the biggest shock though in 2021 is the Orlando Pride. The Pride have long been a team packed with talent, including two of the top women’s scorers ever: Alex Morgan and Marta. Despite this talent the Pride have been perennial under performers, both from individual players and from the capability expected of such a team.
This has changed in 2021. The Pride were the only undefeated team in the league prior to Super Saturday, and had won four matches and drawn three. Individually its players, including Morgan and Marta, are finally finding club form.
The early lead this success gave them helped with their standing. Despite a 2-1 loss on Super Saturday to the Houston Dash, the Pride currently still lead the NWSL.
The league, which does not have a consistent schedule and often has matches on weekend and mid-week days, next plays Friday, July 2nd. Matches will also be held on July 3 & 4. Internationally games are free to watch on Twitch. The full schedule and match links can be found at nwslsoccer.com.
Catherine’s weekly articles on the NWSL will appear every Tuesday on Impetus starting on 6th July. For more information on Catherine and all of our contributors, visit About our Contributors (wordpress.com)