2016 NWSL Final: Washington Spirit – Western New York Flash 4:5(2:2) a.pen.

The final. The expectations were high for a final that had seen preceding semifinals of probably the highest standards ever. And two dynamic winners who boasted energy all over the football field in their deserved extra time wins last week.

Headline: Not as expected
But what a disappointing game it has been compared to the semis last week. It makes you even struggle to analyse the football performance level because it was kind of a pity. It more makes you think about how low the human knowledge is about the human body. Why was it that so many players who played top level last week did look so lost this week very often. Why only some? Why them and not others? Why at times? It got a litle bit more normal level towards the end. Certainly a problem of the control system in the heads. But why and – more important – what would it need to overcome these sort of problems. It wasnt nerves or the thought of the high prize at stake. Because being able to call yourself NWSL champion for the rest of your life sounds good. It was the picture of a miraculous lack of energy and focus that was so astonishing.
It only was another good example for the short list we made last week to describe the quality level of a game. Indepth there is more but contrariwise the lacks here gave this the typical different look of a second tier match. Where you also see glimpses of top performances of course. The occasional viewer would describe it as being played like on 90Volts only and mixed up with lots of technical mistakes.
But lets have a look of how it unfolded first.

The first about 15 minutes of the game looked quite ok. The Spirit indeed changed their formation what we also saw as the best way to react in our preview. Kudos for their brave and bold decision to do that. But we are no wiser at the end because you couldnt really tell whether it paid off or not. The Flash offense simply was at least a gear down to their usual level not by being forced down by the Spirit. Yes. At the end you can say the Spirit were guilty of having not reacted and changed to a more offensive layout once they realised they were not playing against a strong offense on this day. But you always thought the game went the way of the Spirit sooner or later and they didnt need to take many risks to win.
After the first quarter of an hour that means. After Sam Mewis had what seemed to be her last great moment for a long time when she perfectly sliced a shot from slightly outside the box into the corner after a fine dummy left too many Spirit defenders only watching the scene ways too passive. A first view of what should follow many times.
Before that it was also a picture perfect carbon copy of what we mentioned in the preview already. Launching Crystal Dunn with an early pass directly towards goal. And goalie Sabrina D’Angelo was again unlucky in mastering the box when she realised the border line of her box would need her to avoid her hands. 1:0 and it started all with a perfectly executed plan.

But as great football from Mewis the first goal was as rarely have we seen such a good player together with her teammates play so many mishit passes from then on at least until half time. And you restrict to describe the rest to some examples. Some long passes that seemed to be more in direction of the corner flags than the team mate. Both goalies sending their kick offs to the left and the right out of bounds like we have it never seen before. Sending passes directly into the opponents or trying to stop passes and let them pass through your own legs. Unfortunately not the exception but more kind of the rule from players you know are wonderful football players. Just unexplainable. Certainly the Spirit did the better job of the two but they also – in the offense apart from Crystal Dunn – looked never as composed and determined and focused as we know them. Let alone compared to the wonderful team effort goals last week. A lot of clumsy challenges – some also as a consequence of being simply not alert enough – and the ball taking uncalculated paths caused a lot of whistles and even more interrupts of a game that was already massively missing fluidity. Interestingly we were a little bit reminded of the match Bayern Munich against VfL Wolfsburg a fortnight or so ago where also players wound up their short sleeves and seemed also to feel somehow uncomfortable and similarily fatigued.

You tend to say “of course” there were no more goals until the final whistle and it is needless to tell the story of the game. The level of play did only rarely allow for some chances. And when there was one? The Flash – best offense of the regular season – saw a shot fired from about 15 meters out hardly rolling up until the goal line. Or another attack – what you could call their best chance – not used to get a shot off from less than 10 mtr but instead trying to play a pass to the team mate – missing her badly.

But strangely and good to see (because they showed you it was not impossible) we had exceptions. Some players could at least maintain a decent level. Some were as good as last week. Like Crystal Dunn. She was nearly the only constant quality source of danger on the field and you never lost the impression it was only a matter of time when she would be able to score. However we needed until the extra time started to see that happen. Had she only a few minutes earlier …
But the beauty of the game includes these moments you feel are so rare but happen so often: The game took one of these miraculous U-turns and turned everything upside down in the blink of an eye. When nobody expected anything anymore the Flash got their equaliser in the 123th minute. You hadnt seen Lynn Williams since her fine support for the first goal. But you had Kelsey Wys – apart from her kick offs – as one of those very few with an impeccable game so far. And you got your story only football can write: Cross McDonald. Wys with a fault out of nowhere. Williams came out of nowhere. 2:2 and penalties.

And the struggle continued. However. Penalties are about gambling for a corner. But you can shoot them the goalie has no chance even if she gets the corner right. Only Stengel did it that well. Most others poor. Williams who we saw all day long more stretching all sorts of leg and back muscles than playing the ball summed it up. You can take a short step up. But you could still put the energy in it. And you could still put the focus on it. Not so much here. But the goalie gave way and the football goddess just insisted to kiss the Western New York Flash on the day of the final 2016. And whatever religion you might fancy. You cant beat that.

Tactical View

starting line-up

Western New York Flash started like last week: With a back line of Eddy – Dahlkemper – Kennedy – Hinkle. Mewis and more defensively Erceg as central midfielders assisted by Doniak on the right and Zerboni on the left side. And McDonald and Williams up front. Mewis initially a little bit more up front than in Portland.

The Spirit preferred to switch to a more defensive layout to be a better match for the Flashs offense. Instead of midfielder Lohmann they added Oyster to a back line with 3 center backs. Krieger – Church – Oyster – Zadorsky – Dydasco. Nairn and Huster center midfielders. Banini, Dunn and Ordega with a good mix up between offensive midfield and attack.

The mighty back gave them some solid control of their own half. But they had not much power up front where only the individual actions from Dunn caused problems.

Resume and Prospect

Always the strange problem for the league is this long gap between the years. The USWNT players are at least busy at times with some competitive games. But that is a small minority. Do the others welcome it to be able to earn some money or look to develop their life off the football pitch during this time? Or use the time to play overseas? Seems strange that nobody knows a lot now how things are proceeding further and thus a prospect isnt possible at this time of the year. At least it seems at the moment there is a stable league established. And at least it should be mentioned we wish all the injured players a speedy recovery and Dydasco all the best it isnt that serious. And we wish that with this title also the chances might improve that the Flash can avoid playing on basketball fields in future.

One thing however would be ok as prospect. If Crystal Dunn would learn to fall. Oh. Thin ice. Please beware one of the aspects where womens football has not yet copied the men too much. Dont dive. However. When a player is fouled and clearly impeded by that foul she doesnt need to stay at her feet at any price and take the disadvantage. There was a clear cut penalty not given for the Spirit around minute 60 where Kennedy fouled Dunn in the box. Dunn was simply too good an athlete to hit the deck and played on missing the opportunity. Would be nice to see her improving on that in the future.

Player of the match: Zerboni/Dunn – NOT D’Angelo please!

Sorry to say that and we usually criticise players because it is the way to improve. But dont want to take anything away from their performances. And she made some fine saves. And all players on the pitch are top footballers.
But we want to to keep the focus analytically correct. Penalties sometimes can be denied by great skills of the keeper. Mostly they are because the takers are sending the ball where the keeper is going. That is nothing else than an achievement based on good luck. Or even based on bad luck of your opponent. We would like to see player of the match based on performance level regarding the skills at display rather than being lucky in a 50:50 gamble without any footballing skills.

Crystal Dunn was the one woman show of the Spirit offense who was strong enough to produce two goals and player of the match had Washington won. Their back line played well. Megan Oyster not being used for so many games looked a little bit strange because she was the most influential to deny the Flash offense. Especially winning a lot of header duels.

The big exception for the Flash was McCall Zerboni who was the only player at the same level like last week. Pity her team mates were not strong enough to make her performance count. Her energy level was winning the ball for the first goal. And she kept that level. Look at the start of the second half. Her substitution – hm? We would have suggested to put her more in the center.


Western New York Flash:

D’Angelo: 6
Best moment of her career probably. Congrats. Well done.

Eddy: 5.5
range between 3-7. Better towards the end.

Dahlkemper: 6.5
Great solidity and awareness in the back line

Kennedy: 7
Quite solid with a hiccup against Dunn

Hinkle: 6.5
Quite ok in defense. But also no energy up front.

Erceg: 6.5
Also lost her batteries

Mewis: 7.5
World class goal. Some horrible passing. Still hard working

Doniak: 5
Same player like last week?

Zerboni: 8
The only one to repeat her strong performance. But who realises that in a weak team?

Williams: 6
+0.5 for her goal. Few good scenes. But too often invisible.

McDonald: 6.5
Better work rate of the two.

Portland Thorns:

Washington Spirit:

Wys: 7
Too much energy in minute 123 (and on kick offs). Very good apart from that.

Krieger: 7
Good as always but bad luck to have Zerboni against her.

Church: 6
Not too much thrown at her. Solid part of her line

Zadorsky: 6.5
Solid performance

Oyster: 7.5
Most solid part of a solid defense. Good game. Assist goal 1.

Dydasco: –
Speedy recovery. Replacement Kleiner played well 6.5

Huster: 7
Solid defensive role. Depends on how much you weigh that

Nairn: 6.5
Solid. Engaged. But not the usual midfield engine

Banini: 6
Lost in offense but supported the defense well

Dunn: 8.5
Go to player as always. And goal scorer also this time. Just shouldnt be enough.

Ordega: 6
Hard work but too isolated to be a threat

Every comment is very much appreciated !


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