Skip to content

Looking back at Week 3 of the NWSL season

Apr 29, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT

China v United States Getty Images

It seems we were a bit premature in touting the league’s ability to get goals, because while the NWSL’s first two weeks notably avoided WPS’s punch-less debut, it wasn’t until this weekend – Week 3 of the new league’s season – that we saw a surge. Whereas only one team (Portland Thorns, against Seattle) had bagged multiple goals in a game through “The N’s” first fortnight, every Week 3 winner got on the scoresheet twice, with matches in Kansas City and Chicago giving the league its first multi-goal margins.

While the product wasn’t necessarily better (`70s-style turf pitches challenging our soccer aesthetics), the execution was, with set piece precision and counterattacking awareness flashing the cohesion coaches have been trying to instill. With teams having only assembled for preseason six weeks ago, some growing pains were expected. Now teams are making good on their coaches’ two-week-old promises: As we get more time together, things will improve.

Take Boston, who injected ball-winner Mariah Nogueira into midfield, used Lianne Sanderson as a focal point at the top of midfield, and push Sydney Leroux wide to break down the Flash’s right back (Alex Sahlen). The result? Two goals for Heather O’Reilly cutting in from the right. That’s a system doing work.

Or look at Kansas City. On all the league’s teams, Vlatko Andonovski’s was most-ready to go on day one, but even the Blues made tweaks. They stayed 4-2-3-1 but moved Sinead Farrelly into the team, pushing Lauren Cheney wide. That tightened screw allowed FCKC to avoid their Week 1 slog, a trough that allowed Portland’s second half goal to take a point from Overland Park. On Friday, it was Kansas City scoring the second half goal, Renae Cueller’s second of the season sealing their 2-0 win over Seattle.

For some teams, asking fans for patience is so two weeks ago. Their changes are already collecting points that could make a difference at the end of this short, 22-game season. They’re also putting pressure on the rest of the league to catch up.

Here’s what else happened in Week 3:

source:  TEAM THAT STOOD OUT

With Western New York struggling out of the gate, it’s difficult to know what Boston was up against on the field, especially with Flash focal point Abby Wambach kept out of Saturday’s home opener. But this weekend in Rochester, the Breakers’ biggest obstacles were always going to be away from the pitch, where the team sought to move on from last week’s tragedies in Boston.

With last week’s match in Kansas City cancelled, Boston may have shown some rust while allowing Samantha Kerr to put the Flash up after six minutes, even if Heather O’Reilly’s quick response evened the scales. Late in the second half, O’Reilly’s dash from her right-wing position through the left channel created the game-winner, the U.S. international recording the first brace in NWSL history.

It’s easy to exaggerate the link between sports and “real life,” but there is a link, one that Lee Billiard and Lisa Cole talked about in the buildup to Saturday’s game. If not for Boston as a whole then for the team and community around it, Saturday’s game was an important return to normalcy. And a winning one.

MVP … OF THE WEEK

While O’Reilly recorded the league’s first double, FC Kansas City’s Lauren Cheney (above) was in a giving mood. Dangerous over dead balls all night, Cheney curled a corner kick two yards from the goal line to give Farrelly a far post, 21st minute opener.

But witness the real gem of Cheney’s night:

(Mark Yesilevskiy graciously made the GIF for us)

Cheney was a target striker in WPS, but in the year-plus since that league closed shop, she’s been converted to a midfielder by the national team, a move made possible by her intelligence and quality on the ball. But to this point, her performances in the middle have been merely acceptable, perhaps the product of a learning curve. She’s been steady, and her versatility allows for a lot of possibilities tactically, but squeezed backward by the national team’s forward surplus, Cheney just hasn’t had as much of an impact in midfield.

On Friday, that showed signs of changing. Beyond her two assists, Cheney showed a command for the game that justified Andonovski’s midfield deployment, assuming the responsibility of being the driving force in midfield. Whether wide left or back in the middle (Kansas City’s interchangeability seeing her move around), Cheney was the week’s best player.

At the time of allocation, there was some speculation Cheney would resume her natural, forward’s position, but after performances like Friday’s, we now have a proof of concept. Lauren Cheney – whether as a wide creator, late-match regista, box-to-boxer or a No. 10 – may have a viable future in midfield.

Also of note: “HAO” did have those two goals, Coco Goodson is a giant (h/t Lauren Barker), Christine Sinclair was again her match’s best player, and don’t forget our unsung hero, below.

NWSL Results

Date Home Score Road
Fri., Apr. 26 Kansas City 2-0 Seattle
Sat., Apr. 27 Washington 1-2 Sky Blue FC
Sat., Apr. 27 W. New York 1-2 Boston
Sat., Apr. 27 Chicago 0-2 Portland

ROUND’S BIG STORY

It’s no surprise the league’s first two-goal margins were produced by Portland and Kansas City, the two clubs at the top of most expert’s blindly predicted final standings. What’s more surprising: Two teams have joined them to create an early haves, have nots scenario.

That Boston and Sky Blue are undefeated is neither alarming nor remarkable this early in the season, but the quality gap between them and the league’s bottom four is surprisingly large:

  • Washington Spirit’s attack could click at any time, but until it does, they have no consist means of producing goals. More troubling: A defense expected to be the team’s backbone just allowed two goals at home against Sky Blue.
  • The Western New York Flash, thanks to being drastically short-changed in allocation, just don’t seem to the quality. Aaran Lines has done well to keep his team competitive in their three games, but the team’s yet to find a solution.
  • Like the Flash, the Chicago Red Stars’ allocation was lacking, though they did get a national team quality player in free agency (Lori Chalupny). Unfortunately, she’s the only Red Star that’s meaningfully distinguished herself through two games.
  • And just like Washington, the Seattle Reign just don’t have any goal scorers. Megan Rapinoe is coming, but it remains to be seen if they can scrape together enough points to stay close while she’s gone.

It’s too early to make any long-term assumptions about the league’s bottom half, but Week 3 gave us a lot of information about the chasm dividing the league’s eight teams. Not only did the scoreboards favor the league’s better half, the teams’ actual quality reinforced the notion of haves and have nots.

UNSUNG HERO

Washington may not have a reliable goal scorer, but in Diana Matheson, they have somebody who can create chances, like this one Saturday for rookie Caroline Miller:

It was her own Lauren Cheney moment, and although the Canadian international doesn’t have Cheney’s renown, she carries some of the same qualities: Somebody who can orchestrate play from the middle of the park. At 5’0″, though, Matheson has to go about her business much differently then the 5’8″ Cheney, with her willingness to turn on a ball and burst forward in attack feeding the natural description ‘spark plug’.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 3 7 +3 1
2 Sky Blue FC 2 6 +2 3
3 Kansas City 2 4 +2 2
4 Boston 2 4 +1 4
5 Washington 3 2 -1 7
6 W. New York 3 1 -2 6
7 Chicago 2 1 -2 8
8 Seattle 3 1 -3 5

In that way, Matheson is more Jessica Fishlock (last week’s Unsung Hero) than Cheney, with both the Canadian and Welsh internationals serving as examples of a women’s professional league ancillary benefits. While much of women’s soccer fandom in the U.S. is tied to the popularity (and exposure) of the women’s national team, there’s an array of underappreciated talent fans see to thanks to the NWSL’s arrival. At some point, women’s soccer might be about more than the Olympics and whomever’s the latest Mia Hamm.

Matheson’s 150 caps for Canada mean she’s well-known to most long-term women’s soccer fans, but newer fans drawn in by the U.S.’s World Cup and Olympic runs may know little about her. But with NWSL, Matheson may not be unsung for long.

LINGERING QUESTIONS …

Can Kansas City take their act on the road? … How much patience should Cindy Parlow Cone have with Portland’s midfield? … Why did it take until Saturday to hear the word “concussion” from Abby Wambach or the Flash? … Can Kelley O’Hara stop tackling like Paul Scholes? … Is Sydney Leroux: Left Winger a real thing? … Will fans turn out for Seattle’s home opener?

LOOKING FORWARD

Reign FC finally get that opener his weekend when FC Kansas City show up in Tukwila, a match we’ll feature as this week’s NWSL Game of the Week. With some factions of Seattle fandom balking at supporting a non-Sounders FC brand, owner Bill Predmore has a marketing challenge ahead of him. On Saturday, we’ll see the first product of his efforts.

And for the first time this season, the NWSL is going mid-week:

Wednesday, May 1
Western New York Flash vs. Sky Blue FC

Saturday, May 4
Boston Breakers vs. Chicago Red Stars
Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns
Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Roundup: Sporting climbs to first in East; RSL stays undefeated

    Apr 20, 2014, 3:53 AM EDT

    ned_grabavoy_javier_morales Getty Images

    Dallas stayed at the top of the Western Conference, while Seattle improved to 3-0-1 on the road.

  2. Late Martins goal gives Seattle full points at Chivas USA (video)

    Apr 20, 2014, 2:39 AM EDT

    Obafemi Martins 2

    Seattle’s high-priced strike tandem produced another late winner, giving the Sounders their fourth win of the season.

  3. Grabavoy winner prolongs Portland’s agony against Real Salt Lake (video)

    Apr 20, 2014, 1:51 AM EDT

    nick_rimando Getty Images

    Two huge saves in the final minutes from Nick Rimando keep RSL unbeaten.

  4. Sporting Kansas City takes care of business against Montréal, 4-0 (video)

    Apr 20, 2014, 1:05 AM EDT

    dom_dwyer AP

    Goal difference has the defending champions on top of the Eastern Conference.

  5. Pérez’s late goal gives FC Dallas 2-1 win over Toronto FC (video)

    Apr 20, 2014, 12:35 AM EDT

    blas_perez Getty Images

    Two more goals off set pieces gave FC Dallas its fifth win of the season.

  6. D.C. United takes a point out of Columbus, but referee has some explaining to do (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT

    bernardo_anor_davy_arnaud Getty Images

    Juan Guzman gave Giancarlo Gonzalez a pass. Columbus came back to claim a draw.

  7. Late strike from Manneh allows Vancouver to salvage a point against LA Galaxy (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT

    jay_demerit_robbie_keane Getty Images

    Two separate leads were pulled back as the Whitecaps fought back at BC Place.

  8. WATCH: Arlo White, Jim Beglin on Chelsea’s shock loss to Sunderland

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:24 PM EDT

    jozy_altidore_cesar_azpilicueta Getty Images

    NBC’s team on the scene reacts to the day’s big result:

  9. Colorado, San Jose combine for one shot on target, no goals (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT

    Clint Irwin AP

    San Jose remains without a win beside playing the second place Rapids to a standstill.

  10. WATCH: All the goals, highlights from Saturday in the Premier League

    Apr 19, 2014, 7:43 PM EDT

    sunderland_chelsea AP

    Look back at a Saturday that helped bring clarity to the Premier League’s title race.

  11. More late PK heartbreak sees Chicago draw sixth in a row (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT

    quincy_amarikwa Getty Images

    Two weeks ago, it was Mike Magee. On Saturday, it was Juan Luis Anagonó who couldn’t covert late from the spot.

  12. Union, Dynamo fail to break through, end deadlocked at PPL Park (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT

    gilles_barnes AP

    Will Bruin and Andrew Wenger came close, but neither were able to keep his team from playing out a scoreless draw.

  13. Bundesliga Roundup: Battle for European places continues in Germany

    Apr 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski of Poland, center, scores during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between BvB Borussia Dortmund and Mainz 05 in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) AP

    A host of teams are battling it out to determine who will fill Germany’s European spots. Meanwhile, the rush to avoid the drop continues.

  14. Watch Live: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT

    quincy_amarikwa_jack_mcinerney AP

    Chicago goes for its first win while New England looks to make it two-in-a-row, and it all starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra:

  15. Premier League Roundup: Chelsea blow it, Swansea, Spurs and Palace win

    Apr 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    Borini and Sunderland stunned Chelsea, as the bottom club beat the title chasers. Getty Images

    All the recaps, analysis and video highlights from a sensational Saturday:

  16. VIDEO: Jose Mourinho’s sensational swipe at officials after Chelsea suffer shock defeat

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Watch Chelsea’s manager implode in the post-match TV interview, as his unbeaten streak comes to an end:

  17. Serie A Roundup: Milan look set to sneak into Europe

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:52 PM EDT

    AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli, second from left, celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Livorno at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) AP

    Lazio, Torino and Parma all dropped points, opening a path for AC Milan to push into Italy’s final Europa League spot.

  18. Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland: Blues’ title dreams in ruins, as Black Cats grab shock win (video)

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Chelsea lose at home in PL under Mourinho for first time in 77 matches, as Sunderland shock Blues:

  19. Watch – Chelsea and Sunderland level with title and survival on the line

    Apr 19, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Eto'o is at the center of a huge controversy as Mourinho was recorded without his knowledge. AP

    Blues and Black Cats locked at 1-1 after nervy first half, watch live online right here:

  20. Magath insists Fulham will be able to avoid relegation

    Apr 19, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Aston Villa v Fulham - Premier League Getty Images

    According to the Fulham manager, if his side win their two remaining home matches, the Whites will stay up.

Featured video

PST Extra: Race for the PL title