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How To Pick which NWSL Game To Watch on Saturday

NWSL fans are in a pickle this Saturday: all 4 matches happen at basically the same time. So, you’re a diehard and you want to watch all the fixtures – how do you prioritize?

 

1. Invest in mulScreenshot 2015-04-15 21.48.45tiple screens

Not for the faint of heart, the multiple screen option allows for the comfortable viewing of two simultaneous broadcasts. If you push that to three, you should probably invest in anti-vertigo medication. You will need: two computers (open windows won’t cut it, my friend), a keen eye for the game, and a willingness to miss out on the details of the play.

2. Let your homer show

You only *need* to watch your team, right? Who cares about scouting out the next opponent. Who cares about the overall quality of the league. Who cares whether your secret favorite player who plays for your rival has a good game. It’s the home team or no team, and you want to luxuriate in all the beauty of tactics and psychology that your team has to offer. You will need: one computer and a notepad to write your love/hate note to your team’s coach.

3. Pick your favorite player and follow them to the end

Let’s face it: your favorite player and your favorite team are not always going to match up. Poor Sydney Leroux fans now have to choose between their loyalty to the kid and their loyalty to the queen. Maybe you’re captivated by the smoking good looks of Ashlyn Harris. Maybe you’re enthralled by the gutsy play and blistering shots of Carli Lloyd. Maybe you like a good underdog or a local kid made good. Point is, pick your fave and support them with all you got. You will need: a soccer crush and good enough eyes to pick out your favorite on the spotty live feeds.

4. Choose based on the quality of the match-up

Now, here I can be of some service. I’m excited for the Houston Dash to play Sky Blue this weekend. Sky Blue had a great run at the end of last year with the addition of Nadia Nadim, and by opening their season with a victory (albeit a squeaker of a victory) against FCKC they’ve become early contenders for the playoffs. The Dash look great with their new national team players in the lineup, and I’m bullish on them to go far this season. It should be a good contest.

I predict the Flash vs. Thorns game will end in another annihilation of the Flash, which is fun if you like that kind of thing.

FCKC vs. Washington might be a solid game, but it might end up with a dominated and demoralized Spirit side. You never know with that team. If Ali Krieger is out as a precautionary measure, they’ll be that much more likely to fall behind defensively.

I for one will be watching the Seattle Reign take on the Chicago Red Stars at 8pm, which at least gives me the option of watching the first half of one of the other three matches in real time. The Reign are clearly the team to beat this season, but the Chicago Red Stars historically have depth, physicality, and cohesion. They are a tough side to beat.

5. Watch them all, in a row

This option is not for the faint of heart. It requires absolute abstention from social media of all forms for a full 6 hours. Think you can handle it?

How are you going to decide which NWSL game (or games) to watch? Let me know your strategy for picking games in the comments.

Boston Breakers vs. Portland Thorns – Recap

The Breakers’ magic touch against Portland didn’t come through tonight. Poor Boston’s lone bright spot last season was their uncanny ability to *bring it* against the Thorns. And that special talent doesn’t seem to have made it through the off season. Portland dominated and won 4-1.

The first half was a chippy affair, and the Thorns netted two. Sinead Farrelly scored off a corner kick to make up for a stolen goal after some fine clutch defending by Kassey Kallman saved a chip off the goal line. Mana Shim, a PDX favorite, doubled the score a few minutes later on a cross from Kendall Johnson. Boston answered 20 minutes into the second half when Stephanie McCaffrey netted a brilliant strike – in her first pro game, no less! But PDX opened the floodgates soon after. Allie Long scored two pretty breaks in quick succession, and the game was sealed.

In the 2014 season, Portland seemed like a team full of superstars who were just unable to gel when it came time. Too many personalities. Paul Riley seems confident that his new 3-4-2-1 formation will provide the tactical glue to make the team cohere, and it did seem like a promising beginning overall. Like so many other Thorns games, the stars were relatively quiet tonight, but strong performances by the likes of Allie Long made up for it, and the formation was successful. Also, Michelle Betos stood out in goal for Portland, which should alleviate concerns for the Thorns as they face down most of their season without German International Nadine Angerer.

The poor Breakers. I hope for more from them this season, and it might be that their new Brazilian player and Stephanie McCaffrey will step up and produce. I love Kassey Kallman, and she proved a good addition tonight; she is still one of the most exciting young defenders in the league. Still, despite some heart and fire, they played like a frustrated team tonight.

Sydney Leroux’s Revenge – Preview

Sunday is shaping up to be a very exciting first test for the Seattle Reign.

Sydney Leroux, ignominiously traded to Western New York after requesting a trade to Kansas City to be near her husband, will be back in Seattle for the first game of the NWSL season, and she is mad. We know how Leroux plays when she is mad – witness her goal against Canada in 2013 after bearing the brunt of Canadian fan attacks.

Since the Reign got very little for the deal that sent Leroux packing, she probably should feel slighted. Laura Harvey might have felt offended by Leroux’s request to be traded to the team that bested the Reign to win the championship in 2014. Or Harvey might just have been tired of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Leroux struggled all of the 2014 season to fit into the Reign style of play and just never quite succeeded. For the brash, physically dominant Leroux, the tactical, possession-oriented play of the Reign proved impossible to adapt to. She was often out of her depth, failing to make needed runs off the ball and resorting to relatively predictable play on the ball. Her productivity suffered – after scoring 11 goals for the Boston Breakers in 2013, she scored only 5 in 22 games for the Reign. And she needed 51 shots to get that many.

This is not to denigrate Leroux as a player – I imagine the Reign are nervous to go against her on Sunday. When she’s on, she harasses defenses like it’s her job and uses her speed to make the best defenders in the world look like B-siders. And, if she shows up like she has said she will, she’s sure to bring the fire. She just never found a home in the Reign style of play.

It’s players like Leroux – a bit cocky, opportunistic, media-savvy, and able to bring it when it’s time – that make the game so much fun. Women’s soccer needs personalities, grudges, and hurt feelings. It’s what keeps the fire going. I love a good grudge match. And I’m excited to watch a new one unfold on Sunday.

-Megan

Is Laura Harvey a Diabolical Genius?

Alternative title: Was the Kate Deines, Merrit Mathias trade the most cold-blooded, revenge-soaked trade in women’s soccer?

Kate Deines announced that she was retiring from professional soccer just a few weeks before the opening of the NWSL season, leaving defending champs FCKC in the lurch. Their backline was already going to be light, since Becky Sauerbrunn will miss most of the season for the World Cup, and without Deines’ presence for the season the Blues are down to just 3 defenders on their roster.

The Reign, on the other hand, can look forward to several good years from 24-yo Merrit Mathias, who has extensive experience in the youth national team and started 18 of 22 games for FCKC in their title-winning year.

This is probably just an unfortunate coincidence for the Blues, but fans might be allowed a little leeway to speculate about Deines’ motives. She is, after all, a lifelong Northwesterner – she was born in PDX, raised outside of Seattle, and played her college ball at the UW. And FCKC did crush Seattle’s dreams by demolishing them in the 2014 NWSL championship game. And Laura Harvey does appear, at times, to be a ruthless, season-wrecking, diabolical soccer genius.

Now all that’s left is to see whether that Sydney Leroux trade pans out for the Reign too. Quite the gamble, that one.

Algarve Cup Preview: USA vs. Switzerland

Following a solid, if not overwhelming 2-1 victory over Norway, the US will face a rising Swiss side this morning. This summer will be the first World Cup for the Swiss, who benefitted from the expanded pool. Since they lack the history of a team like Norway, and have yet to show well in a major tournament, they’re not expected to pose a major challenge for the US. But, with the spotty play of the US and the capacity for surprise that this tournament seems geared for, who knows!

Players to watch

The Swiss star Lara Dickenmann is having a great tournament so far, with 2 second half goals in Switzerland’s first game against Iceland. Dickenmann has played professionally in the US during the first women’s league, and was even named the W-league’s most valuable player in 2007. Since then, she’s played for Lyon in France, sharing the pitch with US players like Megan Rapinoe. Look for her to make things happen in the counter and trouble the US defense.

Keep an eye out for Hope Solo’s second game back from her suspension to see whether the rust is being worn away. If anyone was unconvinced about the importance of goal-keeping, yesterday’s games should have put that to rest: Nadine Angerer’s miscue in the second half against Sweden sent Germany to an inexorable downward spiral, while Solo’s reaction save to stop Norway from going up by 2 ushered in the US’s comeback. Solo is still central to the US play, so having her in top form is a top priority. It will also be interesting to watch Morgan Brian’s continued development in the midfield.

Algarve Cup: Day 1 Re-Cap

The first day of the Algarve Cup showed fans of women’s soccer one thing: the level of competition is finally leading to upsets, dark horses and maybe new international leaders. This World Cup is going to be off-the-charts.

Germany was shocked by a truly mentally tough Swedish team, who came back from what could have been a soul-crushing 2 goal deficit in the first 5 minutes of the game to win 4-2. Japan was shocked by a universally underrated Danish squad, 2-1. The US conceded a beautiful goal to Norway after dominating the run of play, and barely eked out a come-from-behind victory thanks to a Carli Lloyd brace.

The rules of the women’s game no longer apply

It’s not like the 90s. We’re not sitting back and debating whether disciplined Germany, athletic USA, tightly organized China, flashy Brazil or maybe an upstart Norway would take the Cup. It used to a game between five, maybe six countries. Now Sweden is a real contender. Japan has won the Cup. France is playing some of the best soccer in the world. Hell, even the US has been challenged by teams like Mexico and Canada on off days.

Sweden is officially the team to watch

Depending on how deep Sweden goes in the World Cup, Pia Sundhage may go down as one of the best coaches of the women’s game. Today’s game against Germany showed a quintessentially Pia tactical feel: a bit loose, fun, energetic, with lots of dynamic utilization of the wings. Watching the Swedish team mentally recollect themselves and claw their way back into the Germany game was a testament to the mentality that Pia instills in her players. That, and Sofia Jakobsson looks like a player to keep an eye on, especially for the US, when they play Sweden in the group round! She was a beast on the left wing, which is turning into a sore spot for the US squad. All in all, if the Germany/Sweden game is any indication, Sweden is one of the teams to beat in the upcoming cup, and the cup itself is going to be a joy to watch.

5 reasons the Houston Dash are the team to watch

As the NWSL season approaches, I’m getting more and more excited to see what the Houston Dash have to offer. Will they pull another Seattle Reign, and go from the bottom of the table to the top? It’s possible, with the off season moves they’ve made, even if they will take a potential hit during the WWC.

Let’s review:

1) The Dash drafted Morgan Brian, the “future of US soccer”

Brian was the clear consolation prize of being the worst team in the NWSL in 2014, and it looks like Randy Waldrum is in the process of building a team around a stellar central midfield, anchored by Brian and by his next prized acquisition, Carli Lloyd.

2) They acquired Carli Lloyd from Western New York

Lord Carlos has been on fire and shows no signs of slowing down. The Dash proved to be a hard-charging, tenacious team last year, and Carli’s physical play will extend that modus operandi while bringing maturity to the squad.

3) Megan Klingenberg is back with the squad

Megan Klingenberg, a rising (if mis-used) star with the USWNT, will be back with the Dash for more of the season than she was last year. The team improved dramatically as soon as she made it back from Europe. So, even if she gets called up to the WNT for the Cup, she’ll be more of a presence this year, which can only help the Dash.

4) The Dash have acquired some non-internationals to fill in while USWNT players are away

While the Dash wait for the USWNT players to return from World Cup duties, they’ll need to rely on some non-international players. Enter Jessica McDonald – the surprise top scorer on the Portland Thorns last year – who will take a spot on the Dash’s forward line. To make things even MORE interesting, they’ve gone for a big splash of pizazz and technical ability by grabbing Stephanie Roche from Ireland.

5) The Dash is still the most promising MLS affiliate

All eyes will be on the Dash as they negotiate their relationship with the Houston Dynamo. It will be fun to watch how the Dash’s affiliation with the Dynamo affect their viewership and penetration into the Houston market. If they can milk this affiliation for interest and money, they have the potential to be a model for affiliations with the MLS.

It’s not quite to the level of “has Laura Harvey made a trade today?” but the Dash are making smart moves and building an intriguing squad for the 2015 season.

Club Play and World Cup Commitments

The Women’s World Cup is less than 100 days away, the Algarve Cup is right around the corner, and women’s soccer fans everywhere are getting more and more anxious for the thing to HAPPEN already. The anticipation is so great. I love it.

On the men’s side of things, though, things are different. As NPR reported yesterday, the men are busy thinking ahead to 2022 and the controversial Qatar World Cup. Since apparently no one worried about whether it was wise to hold a soccer tournament where the average daily temperature reaches 99 degrees, they’re ‘scrambling’ (7 years in advance is scrambling in the men’s world) to change the tournament to the winter months.

English Premier League owners are beyond angry because the new schedule will interfere with their league play. And they expect to be compensated… which makes sense, really. Why would FIFA interrupt league play and pull the world’s best players away from their professional club duties and divide attention? That’s guaranteed to decrease hype and attention, right?

Contrast this with the way that the NWSL has bent over backward to support the WWC. This league has no room for losing viewership. It’s in it’s third season, which seems to be the season of death for most women’s soccer leagues, and it’s trying desperately to accommodate world cup scheduling and league play. US Soccer has been particularly callous with respect to the international duties of the US players, calling them up for meaningless friendlies in the waning months of an exciting playoff run in the league. Then again, though, without the support of US Soccer (and the Canada Soccer and Mexico), the NWSL wouldn’t be viable at all. And in some respects, the refusal of the league to arrange scheduling around internationals leads to more interesting contests and less lopsided competition. The upcoming season will be interesting to watch from a coach’s standpoint, since losing star players for most of the first half of the season will certainly require some creative placements and utilization of amateur players.

The Seattle Reign, though – they’re sitting pretty. As sad as I was that Kim Little won’t be playing in the World Cup, I am beyond excited to watch her tear up the NWSL competition.

New Teaser for the Women’s World Cup – by Fox Sports

Get ready, guys!

Fox Sports is already hyping the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and it’s only February. I will admit that this ad got me excited and a little emotional about the tournament. Then I remembered that emotional manipulation is a big part of advertising…

Why this WWC ad works:

The USWNT is still a clear favorite to advance far in this year’s World Cup, despite some recent lackluster performances. We’re ranked #2 in the world. We won the most recent big tournament. So, if I’m Fox Soccer, I’m asking myself: who wants to root for the big dog? How can we give Americans the underdog story that we soccer-lovers crave? This ad effectively positions one of the most dominant teams in international football as a comeback kid, a cinderella story. A last shot at glory for a country.

America has a score to settle, alright. But it’s with our own legacy – the legacy of the US Women’s National Team. This team, despite so many victories and successes and records, is still living in the shadow of the famous ’99ers. Our addiction to winning is hampering our ability to develop and grow the game, and the world is catching up to us. We are playing scattered and even a little scared, and if things don’t change for the Algarve Cup, I would bet we’ll be real underdogs to the likes of Germany, France, and Japan come June.

But I will say this: if the last half of that video holds and the bars are as filled for the Women’s World Cup in June as they were when the men went down last year, I will be a truly happy women’s soccer fan, even without a victory. I love watching the progression of interest in women’s soccer. I love that Fox is hyping the tournament four months in advance. And I love that our girl Alex Morgan is so recognizable that she becomes a replacement for Jermaine Jones. It’s a good time to be a USWNT fan.