Seattle had the most chemistry/cohesion of anyone we saw this weekend [note: we were unable to watch all games fully].
Boston was often disorganized, especially in front of the net. While it’s going to take everyone time to find their groove, teams who find it first may have created enough gap in the rankings to carry them to the playoffs. Last year that was the Thorns, while the Reign found their feet far, far too late. This year it seems that will not be the case. It doesn’t hurt Seattle was playing very direct soccer; they were able to simply focus on pushing forward to where they had three players who could do with it what they willed.
Naeher was on-point, keeping attackers searching for better angles and making some great saves. Her defense did her no favors, and missed some crucial clearances which allowed more and more shots, but when they can stiffen up the back line and get more communication going, she’ll be able to make the saves necessary to keep a few clean sheets this season.
Solo, on the other hand, finally saw Seattle’s defense give needed support and clearances, and the midfield didn’t let attacks gain momentum into the offensive third; she recorded her first clean sheet for the Reign.
Seattle’s Potent Attack: Leroux/Rapinoe/Little
While Little is a fine player in her own right, she’s definitely going to reap the rewards of defenses focusing on Syd and Pinoe, who both managed to be dangerous even though Syd was often swarmed by two or three players and Pinoe biffed two fairly easy crosses. They’re obviously still working on optimal spacing to get the most out of the combo, and Syd kept getting lost on the outside in the first half, but once these three work out who is where when and get into the swing of the season, they may be the most dangerous combination in the league. And that’s not even counting what Naho can bring to the table once she can focus on the Reign.
Breakers Struggling Attack
Similar to the Dash this weekend, though the Breakers were able to possess, they didn’t often know what to do with the ball. Assuming her conditioning wasn’t in question, why on earth did DeVanna spend a second warming the bench? Super-subbing one of your standout players is a bit of a head-scratcher, especially since your defense was lucky to keep the score to 2-0 before she came on. The Breakers were really struggling to put together potent attacks through the middle, as well as finish, finish, finish, and you know who’s really good at both of those things? Lisa De Vanna. Once she got on the field, like Leroux, De Vanna was getting lost on the edges somewhat, not getting the ball fed into the middle. That’s got to change, and it has great potential to; the HAO/De Vanna combo has the potential to be about as great as Pinoe/Syd. But, it rather helps to be on the field at the same time.
[edit: Reader criminalyo informs us that De Vanna had traveled between the US & Australia several times in the past week and had some tiredness/fitness issues. But, still a rough game for the Breakers attack and still not-optimal positioning once De Vanna did get on the field. Thanks for the info, though, criminalyo!]
From the PK which led to Seattle’s first goal to missing some not insignificant fouls, reffing was a big factor. As tends to happen in US soccer, they let fouls against ‘star players’ slide, perhaps to show they’re not being partial, perhaps as an extension of the fact they’re letting dangerous play go too often overall. That needs to change, as reffing overall needs to be tightened and called more consistently.
But as for the elephant in the room: at 83’ Megan Rapinoe was fouled. Whether she was frustrated she’d been fouled pretty hard a couple times with no calls, or for some other reason, she blatantly retaliated. We’re huge Rapinoe fans here at NW/SL (Rapinoe and Wambach were the first players Dale’s 3-year-old knew by name), but that was utterly unacceptable. Some Seattle defenders claimed Avant’s fall was a flop … uhm, no. And getting one’s legs split like that conceivably could have torn something, too.
Going forward, refs cannot let these sorts of things—hacking at National Team players, or Big Name players being allowed to retaliate—slide, especially at the start of the season when everyone’s feeling out how far the refs can be pushed. This wasn’t some tackle with a chance at the ball but from a poor angle, or a professional foul to save a breakaway goal. This was 1) intentional 2) after the run of play 3) dangerous. The ref had blown the whistle and was looking right at her; Rapinoe is practically daring her to issue a red. The only reason there’s no red is she’s Megan Fucking Rapinoe.
Neither letting players get beat up nor letting them get away with things because of who they are is acceptable, and refs doing that is only going to lead to more injuries and a reputation the league does not want.
As we mentioned in our recap of the Thorns-Dash game, the NWSL is positioning itself as The League for the top international players in the game, and these two rosters provide as strong an argument as any others: Sanderson, DeVanna, Little, Fishlock, and Naho are all top players from non-CONCACAF nations who chose to play here because of the level of competition. But if players have to worry about uncarded cheap shots and wild tackles, NWSL teams are justifiably going to have a harder time recruiting international players.
This weekend showed how the NWSL teams have progressed in just one short year, and they’re playing a high-octane, talented, physical game. It’s time for the refs to get with the program, so we can focus on further development of the league, and expansion and growth of the women’s game overall.