Headline: More to come
Still hoping for more to come. Because day 2 did also not yet show the big step forward. Maybe for some. But some two steps forward and others two back again doesnt make for big progress of the NWSL generally.
The North Carolina Courage confirmed their leading position with yet another win over the Portland Thorns. And the forward stepping Seattle Reign could give their fans something to cheer on. And what we already saw after day1: The expected “underdogs” Washington Spirit and Boston Breakers aren’t thus far away. The league still rather well balanced and all teams are well able to turn every match into a hard fought contest. While we also could again confirm the Houston Dash are still some distance away from finding the right shape. And Orlando Pride also heavily on the search. But Sky Blue have been the biggest disappointment of day2.
New faces here and there with some potential but still the need to improve. Lets see what Washingtons Havana Solaun can come up with in the future. A lot is going on though and its difficult to keep a close eye on everything. So sometimes we are still in the phase of checking eventualities. And we are still hoping for the new faces. Still missing some of these stepping forward adds to the misery of how much the league is missing some of the “old” leading faces. A fact that is as much disappointing. The Orlando Pride without Alex Morgan seem to be another team. As Washington Spirit without Crystal Dunn. Not to forget the other team the Seattle Reign have become missing the Kim Little of 2015. Morgan Brian is also missed though she hasnt been playing a lot in the NWSL in 2015 and 2016 either. Carli Lloyd is also missed though she always was missed in the NWSL less than in the NT. And Tobin Heath is also massively missed by the Portland Thorns. These are concerning signs that might be misunderstood from inside the womens football bubble.
Orlando Pride – Washington Spirit 1:1
You dont need to be a womens football genius to see that the Pride have lots of strong individual talent in the back but are lacking up front at the moment. So basically it is the right idea to play some of them further up the field. The problem is how to keep the back line strong and whom, where and how to use up front.
This game probably didnt look like a promising answer. Problems areas up front at least didnt get much better. It still looked like there is not enough useful play into the attacking areas. It still looked like the midfielders couldnt find the right pass to threaten the opponents defense. A problem of the midfield players? Or a problem of the forwards?
Somehow it looks like they still are searching for the right connection between all the parts of the offensive game. Interestingly their only (late) equalizing goal was also a move where neither Ubogagu nor Spencer played a role. Maybe the heavy focus on Alex Morgan last season leaves them now somehow without orientation where to go.
Washington Spirit on the other side looked again better than expected. Kept the attack of Orlando Pride as well under the cosh as Portland Thorns had been able to last week. They have also learned the actual lessons like the Breakers have. They lack some top individuals but make up for it by rather good team organisation in preventing the game of the opponents and stopping any fluent game. The problem for both will be to score. Especially from open play. But still this way – like as with all the “smaller” teams – they have a chance they wouldnt have if individual class would count the most. Or if the “bigger” teams would find a better way to make their individuals count. Washington Spirit still have got some more than decent players too of course. Overall though it still looks like missing the outstanding class of Crystal Dunn for example might give them a big disadvantage you can overcome for some time, but hardly over a whole season.
Orlando will get exactly those exceptional players. Question is how fast Marta can be integrated (and Alex Morgan later in the season) And how many points will already be lost in the meantime. And it would have been nice to see there would have been a useful plan B without them because only relying on the two up front is also a risky strategy. Also some questions marks might be revealed that some players looked stronger than they are when playing alongside Morgan?
Boston Breakers – Sky Blue 1:0
The biggest question mark on day2 was delivered by Sky Blue. Frankly spoken: They didnt look very interested – partially. We dont like such mindless talks about professional players. Of course they did their best. Of course they were very interested in the three points. But why couldnt they manage to look more determined?
Maybe first some credit should go to the Breakers. They did fairly well to destroy the game and make it awkward for Sky Blue. They played the new European coach cookbook style quite well. Expect more to come as they did it already in Kansas last week. Only they didnt open up their center back line like in Kansas last week at the beginning. They were quite a compact and a (positively) aggressive unit ready to prevent Sky Blue especially in midfield.
Sky Blue though are a team who usually shouldnt be very prone to getting midfield play destroyed because with their running forwards they can go the direct way up the field. However wingbacks Julie King and Alysha Chapman managed to keep the danger limited from the wings and Sky Blues Sam Kerr is rarely enjoying a game where spaces around her are tight. With the forwards unable to get through a switch to add players to the midfield to get more dangerous from there would have been the move.
But it was disappointing to see the resilience against defeat from Sky Blue was far too less. It would be nice to see Sarah Killian take a step forward. Being invited to the NT once it might be a decisive time for her career now. Thats a chance to step forward and add more energy and will to succeed. Maybe a defining moment whether she will remain a decent midfielder for an avergae NWSL team or something more. The talent for the latter would be there.
But the main point for the breakers remains to use Rose Lavelle in the best possible way unfortunately this was still not the case and she is very much our main focus is on helping her team defend
Seattle Reign – Houston Dash 5:1
Another example how much a result might be distracting spectators views from what is going on on the pitch? Couldnt Houston have conceded more than 3 easily in the first game? From that point of view (!) it would have been very very reasonable to look for some changes in the defense. But because they got very lucky last week and the Red Starts missed a lot of chances they kept a clean sheet as result. Now they got very unlucky in the first half with the opponents scoring from even half chances.
So we might be tempted to blame changes in the defense for conceding 5 after the clean sheet on day1. But changes were necessary. It only might have been not the right ones. We will see how often that will be the question during this season.
The Reign at least made changes to the better. Though again we are tempted to let us be influenced by the result too much. First a lot of things just felt luckily the Reigns way. And the Dash are the most inviting side in the league so far. We wondered why Rumi Utsugi was left out on day1. Her presence usually gives a much better balance to your positional play though it clearly depends on the alternatives you have. But here it helped also give Jess Fishlock more freedom to be proactively managing the game instead of reacting on what the opponent forces her to do in working for the defense.
Unfortunately Naho Kawasumi still didnt look the same player like 2 years ago. And there seems also to be no other player up front to replace the 2015 Kim Little despite Meghan Rapinoe still in good form. At the moment it is not yet easy to see that the Reign will manage to get enough fire power from their offensive midfield to get back to the old days. Even more so because Rapinoe to play the whole season like this seems slightly unlikely.
We are very interested to see how the season continues for both of them after rather different results after 2 matches already.
Chicago Red Stars – Kansas City FC 1:0
That was very good to see that the Red Stars dont waste time to look for getting more alternatives to Kristen Press in their attacking play. Putting your other outstanding individual right in the center of the problem is certainly a brave move. And it paid off. With the others and Press still on a spell with difficulties to convert their chances it was of course the picture postcard reward for a brave decision that Julie Ertz scored the only goal immediately.
However. Having her up front means having her not in the defense. That might be ok against a Kansas City side that didnt threaten very much and didnt ask difficult questions from the Red Stars. But it might get more difficult against stronger opponents. We will see what happens from here on. But we appreciate good ideas whatsoever.
Kansas City on the other side had a quite disappointing day. We already havent been sure after day 1 saw them play a very open Boston side. More would and will be necessary up front to have a chance of a final 4 finish. Amy Rodriguez out for the season with her ACL might have already been a very decisive blow in their bid. Same story like everywhere. Will new faces emerge and be able to close the gap? Still early doors but Kansas is another wonderful place for somebody to lift the team now to their previous performance levels of the days of Holiday/Rodriguez. Without Mandy Laddish and Shae Groom and for what reason ever Erika Tymrak their midfield also seems in need to find the strength to provide more useful balls for Sydney Leroux. Another team that so far looks again to miss out on reaching the class of two years ago. Disappointing.