Preview NWSL 2017 part2

image nwsl-preview 2017

Our preview is consisting of 2 parts:
Part1: Overall, introduction, pre-season proceedings
Part2: after day1: season preview based on day1.

We like to use more time than 140 and thinking it over several times for a season preview. For that reason we have gone to wait until day1 was played. To reduce the level of unpredictable changes and get a better impression. Especially when you dont know too much on the drafted players. Still a lot of things arent predictable either after day1.
You couldnt for example see last year after day1 already that Kim Little (and with her the Reign) would have started such a mediocre season. As much as you dont assume Kristen Press will continue to miss scoring after day 1 this year. But we thought about Press-dependency being a main Achilles heel for the Red Stars already last week. First three points gone already. Interesting to see how that is developing from here on and what the Red Stars might do about it.
Unfortunately however generally we saw a great probability that development is considerably slower than hoped for.

There was the look for some fresh faces.
Last year – based on the N11 development – the NWSL player being the biggest positive surprise pack was Casey Short? Known only to a few specialists and coming in from Norway going into the new NWSL season – she is now a starter in the N11. Rachel Daly, Janine Beckie, and Sky Blue’s Raquel Rodriguez also started last year to add to their teams and the league.
Should have a closer look, and one back at 2015 (The Spirit) and 2014. 2012 team USA won the world championships at U20 level. The following years a lot of these players added massively to the league. Of the U20 of team USA from 2014 and 2016 though there is a lot of additional work necessary to see big additions to the league apart from youngsters Pugh and Sanchez?

There was the look for some improved individual skills.
Yep. There is a lot to improve. Sometimes technical, sometimes regarding athletics (what is much easier to achieve if you arent already top), sometimes in individual tactical skills (what would be the easiest). Not bad overall was the progress regarding speed of proceedings on the pitch. Not running with the ball. But letting the ball circulate. But apart from that it was a rather disappointing opening day 1. Progress in anything towards tactical or positional behaviour or anticipation of the game have been far from good. Some big gaps opened in defense.

There was the look for some improved team tactics.
Though we asked already last week where it should have come from. Question confirmed.

The development has to be the focus. And it was as if they strongly wanted to second that. Unfortunately it was very much like what we feared. Progression in development is very slow. Lets hope we see more development of all kinds and that day 1 was only to shake away the rust from the too long off-season.

In the absence of new at least we had some “old faces” coming back. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez have been still at least as outstanding or even more like when they left 1-2 years ago? Meghan Rapinoe with a very fine performance. Also good to see Kristie Mewis back. Kudos to them. Of course we had Rose Lavelle with a good debut. However a new face only to the league and also a showcase of what a gap there has been to others. Still wondering why she wasnt introduced earlier.

Viewing and Streaming Issues:

There are already too many people around who try to write on what they havent got enough insight. And we havent fot the US market for TV, broadcasting and streaming.
However business isnt too much different wherever you are. Hiding information and making decisions not transparent often serves a main reason. There are concerns that people wouldnt be happy with it because it seems the benefits are not very evenly shared and someone might be prospering while others are worse off. Basically it is often as easy as that.
The information on broadcasting and streaming the NWSL games have been full of delays and unrevealed secrets. Moreover leaks instead led to speculations on whats going on behind closed doors. Such behaviour and claims things would be in the sense of the league though there was no evidence bear a high risk of putting some damage to the NWSL – in one way or the other. You can only hope the damage is limited regarding extent and time. Any leakings and insufficient advertising policies are certainly not good news for potential candidates who consider investments in new expansion teams.

From our point of view from abroad the streaming on the website of NWSLsoccer.com was very poor on day 1. It started with a complete miss because Houston got a problem. Instead the warm up in Washington was shown on the Houston stream. Then they apologized over Twitter saying they were working on it.
You didnt know whether that was meant as a threat at that moment but a good stream would get unlikely. Reactions asking why they had missed to ask smart enough people up front to check functionality have been only a logical consequence. You got something at least finally though the stream quality was very low level throughout on all streams. And we thought of our mention of the advantages of learning from each other in part 1 already.

However. As soon as people earn their money with it sport is business and these sort of things happen. It will be also interesting to see the future development here. And you clearly have to live with the danger that wrong business decisions rather than wrong decisions on the pitch will damage a womens football league in the USA. And if so there might be a better league emerging after a few years. Let us see whether it is possible to earn money with the league while a lot of players are barely paid enough to make a living out of it and they need other sources of income. Who knows?

Houston Dash – Chicago Red Stars 2:0

As we mentioned. Houston got a (streaming) problem and we couldnt follow it live apart from some minutes zapping in. And it is still not available (ed. note: was later in the week) – in contrary to most of the other matches – on NWSLsoccer.com. (Checking links and basic functionality for such a small site is an apprentice level job in programming. Let it be 100-200 USD to set it up and 50 to monitor it monthly if outsourced).
So we got only a weak confirmation so far. But there seems also not much progress. Both continued simply where they left off 6 months ago. Houston won thanks to their good luck. But also because Kealia Ohai could also continue where she left off. And Chicago have the problem like described. It is all arranged around Press and when she isnt scoring Chicago – not Houston – got a problem. Might be the heat slowed the teams down.

Portland Thorns – Orlando Pride 2:0

A game that was also just ok. given kick off time and temperature. Portland without Tobin Heath lacks a little bit of her extra sparkle. Understandably. But there should be more sparkle coming from the others in the future without her either way. First goal very lucky incident. Second goal well done. But also not off a well constructed attacking team effort which we saw not often enough. More a steal from Allie Long as the decisive creator. The defense also with work to do. Not always stable despite the Prides attack havent been very demanding in the opposite box.
But the Pride’s build up play and organisation looked as good as the Thorns at least. With added Marta and later on Alex Morgan there is still not much advantage of the Thorns over the Pride to expect for this season. How these two will be integrated is key for Orlando though. Without them they seem to be a rather toothless tiger. Question is whether one Marta will be enough already.

Washington Spirit – North Carolina Courage 0:1

Also not a disaster. Progress clearly isnt on the agenda for Washington this season. Though they are still amongst the better organised teams. Only without Dunn up front and Krieger in the back line they missed too much individual quality as expected. Overall this club at the moment kind of looks like an owner who is no longer very happy to have a NWSL team and waits for a good opportunity to sell the whole thing.
The Courage can claim they missed some chances and should have deserved a 0:2 in the second half. Only some good saves from Stephanie Labbe and the crossbar prevented them. But they also might want to be able to play a little bit more versatile in the future to control a game against weaker opponents. Couldnt have complained if Kathi Stengel scored the equaliser. But it was strange to see how they stayed with 3 players up front (or out of defensive work) leading only 1:0. They played like they had a 3:0 in the bag. And even then it would have been naive. To avoid embarrassment even as champions it is also a good idea to develop further.

Seattle Reign – Sky Blue 1:1

Also not too much to cheer about here so far. The most positive surprise was the performance of Meghan Rapinoe. Nice to see her having one of her best performances we saw since years. Even before her ACL injury she rarely was the absolute dominant figure for the Reign. But that is again only the “old faces” shine even stronger compared to the new ones. Couldnt see anyone so far closing the gap the departure of Kim Little left in the squad. Kawasumi rather quiet. Utsugi even didnt start. Who else? Reign still couldnt show how they want to get close to their level of 2 years ago.
So it was 2 lost points for Sky Blue. They have confirmed they are contenders for a final 4 spot. Still big disadvantage: Chance conversion rate: Kerr and Galton both still need too many to score. And they have a strange mix of players. But still looked relatively well managed and most of the pieces not too much out of place. That might be enough.

FC Kansas City – Boston Breakers 2:0

And finally also not the positive surprise we had hoped for. Kansas City even more dependent than expected on the “old faces” Leroux and Rodriguez. And still all about Sauerbrunn and Averbuch in the defense. Hopefully Kansas didnt do more only due to the fact they took the lead early on. They also need some improvement to chase for a final 4 spot. And that looks even more difficult after the ACL injury of A-Rod Rodriguez.
Breakers were kind of fun to compare. They played better organised and more compact in regards to the tactical cookbook. And kind of hadnt the outstanding player they had. That means the tactical cookbook for male pro football teams doesnt mention how to deal with an player as outstanding as Rose Lavelle for the Breakers. She was “only” part of a well organised team.
And the cookbook seems not to have mentioned how not to start a new season. After more than 6 months time to prepare you dont need to be overly afraid. But you shouldnt go out there and play as naive as a youth team in your defense. After 15 minutes it could have been easily 3:0. Not because Kansas played outstanding but because the Breakers defense seemed to be not yet ready after that long time. Easy long passes cost them all sorts of trouble. In the first 15 minutes of a season. Rarely seen something like it. Too basic for the cookbook to mention?
Both teams didnt yet look like top4 material. Boston expected to be further away could even be closer should they figure out how to play a Lavelle + 10 supporters game rather than hide her in their lines.

Summary

All in all. A rather disappointing day 1 couldnt show the development we hoped for. New faces to fill the gaps of leaving players like Little and Dunn didnt show up so far. Quite the contrary. The “oldies” had to produce the most eye-catching performances.

So after day1 we can only say the expectations before day 1 have been widely confirmed and are still valid – only with a greater probability now. Our brand new Ef4P rating scenario stays rather unchanged. We see Boston and Washington closing in a little bit to the teams above them as they havent been that far away. Kansas City instead moving down.
And another thing to confirm: Before day 1 we thought Bundesliga Top10 would now have a chance against NWSL teams for the first time. (After Bundesliga lower ranked teams have improved massively over the last 2-3 years) After day 1 it looks like the other way round. Bundesliga would even be more or less favourites now to win the majority of matches against the same ranked NWSL teams.
Hopefully that was only due to the rust that had to come off after the long break and things look better after day2.

Our estimated final 4 probability (Ef.4P) after day 1:

1. 60% Portland Thorns
2. 60% North Carolina Courage
3. 50% Orlando Pride
4. 45% Chicago Red Stars
5. 45% Sky Blue FC
6. 35% Houston Dash
7. 35% FC Kansas City
8. 30% Seattle Reign
9. 20% Boston Breakers
10. 20% Washington Spirit

See part1 on why 400% all together.

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