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State of the NWSL, after Week 12: Reign FC’s narratives, Rankings of Power, and a look at Week 13

Jul 3, 2013, 5:35 PM EST

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If an NFL team went 0-8, we’d only watch for the train wreck. Once they broke through, we’d move on. Nobody’s interested in a 1-8 team.

But what if J.J. Watt all of a sudden appeared on their roster? And Adrian Peterson arrived a couple of weeks later? Like the record would matter, at that point. That injection of new talent on a wayward team? We’d tune in just for the spectacle.

That’s why the Seattle Reign have become must-see soccer. Midway through the season, they’ve finally added two of the league’s four most recognizable players, players whose absences had contributed to the team’s 0-9-2 first half. Hope Solo, sidelined through the season’s first two months while recovering from wrist surgery, has returned to solidify a defense that was overwhelmed through May. And Megan Rapinoe, having finished her Lyon sojourn, returned for Seattle’s draw in Rochester, the start of the team’s three-game unbeaten run.

Since Rapinoe returned, Seattle is 2-0-1.

“We’re starting to see the hard work paying off,” Seattte coach Laura Harvey told Equalizer Soccer. “We felt that we played okay in some previous games and decisions and luck hasn’t gone our way.”

That’s an understatement. Between a phantom penalty call (May 25), an out-of-character Solo error (June 9) and another phantom penalty call (June 23), Seattle recently had four points taken in aberrational circumstances. That’s not to say Seattle “should have had those points.” They did, after all, contribute to those circumstances. But it does hint Seattle’s current resurgence started before Megan Rapinoe galloped into town.

It just illustrates the fickle nature of narratives – the angles people like me choose when telling these tales. When Megan Rapinoe returns and Seattle stars getting results, it’s easy to see the correlation and think Rapinoe’s meant so much. And she’s certainly helped, but Seattle was on the verge of a breakthrough before her arrival. Any tale of Rapinoe’s illustrious contributions should note: Seattle’s been decent for a while.

It’s a shame there’s no pithy saying about correlation and causation, because it often bears reminding: They’re not the same. And while the Reign have certainly seemed to get a confidence boost from Rapinoe’s return, her performances haven’t defined Seattle’s wins. People like Christine Nairn, Jessica Fishlock, Keelin Winters and Kaylyn Kyle deserve more credit that they’re being given.

Then again, that may just be my narrative.

RANKINGS OF POWER

In reverse order. The underlying logic: Tomorrow, neutral site, who do we think is more likely to win:

8. Washington Spirit (last week: 8) – An embarrassing loss Friday at Western New York saw Mike Jorden lose his job, replaced by Mark Parsens. The move came after goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s post-match comments said the team lacked leadership and direction. Jorden’s response, via Equalizer Soccer: “I hope the Spirit fine her and sit her down.”

7. Chicago Red Stars (5) - A loss at Seattle sees the Red Stars lose two spots, but they’re much closer to 5 than 8 in terms of quality. They’ll be a problem tonight for Western New York.

6. Boston Breakers (6) - A Sunday win over visiting Sky Blue keeps their playoff hopes alive, but with games this week at Seattle and Portland, those hopes could be extinguished by Saturday.

5. Portland Thorns FC (4) - We could write this every week: Portland still hasn’t figured out how to replace Becky Edwards. Against Kansas City, it showed. They’re not the same team defensively, lacking somebody to protect the back line. They’re not the same offensively without that strong holder at the base of midfield. With the attack having slipped to fifth in the league, players are starting to get frustrated. There are rumblings in the house that Merritt built.

4. Seattle Reign FC (7) - It’s not an exaggeration to say two huge wins have turned the club around. The whole club.

3. Sky Blue FC (1) - Were second best in both of last week’s games, and although they got a miraculous point from FC Kansas City, their luck ran out at the boots of Sydney Leroux. They’re a rocket that’s coming back to earth.

2. FC Kansas City (4) - Two more goals from Lauren Cheney have the Blues’ midfielder running away with the MVP race. It’s not even that interesting to talk about, right now. Slightly more interesting: The comparison between her success and Christine Sinclair’s struggles.

1. Western New York Flash (2)- Carli Lloyd scored three times. Abby Wambach added two assists. And Sam Kerr wasn’t even in the country. I feel obligated to remind you: I picked this team to finish seventh.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Wednesday, July 3

Seattle Reign vs. Boston Breakers (10:00 p.m. Eastern) - Seattle’s strength in the middle guarantees a shakey Boston defense will have to deal with Rapinoe and Nairn. Newly acquired Renae Cuellar could play, a perfect addition to an attack that lacked a true striker.

Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City (7:30 p.m. Eastern) – The Spirit haven’t scored since May 16, and as a team, they’ve only scored one more time than Lauren Cheney, who will miss this game and Sunday’s as she marries Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holliday. That leaves the door open for Washington to spring an upset.

Thursday, July 4

Chicago Red Stars vs. Western New York Flash (2:00 p.m. Eastern) – The teams’ last meeting ended in a draw in Chicago, but with the Flash hitting for four on Friday, Aaran Lines’ team has recaptured their momentum. Their chase for a home playoff game is on.

Saturday, July 6

Sky Blue FC vs. Washington Spirit (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – If Sky Blue’s descent has started, a visit from Washington could give them a needed boost. If they can’t win this, we’ll know they’re in trouble.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Boston Breakers (10:30 p.m. Eastern) - Depending what happens mid-week in Seattle, this may be a must-win game for the Breakers. Cindy Parlow Cone shouldn’t relish the idea of her midfield against Mariah Nogueira, Joanna Lohman, Heather O’Reilly, and Lianne Sanderson.

Sunday, July 8

Western New York Flash vs. FC Kansas City (3:10 p.m. Eastern) - It’s one versus two, per our Power Rankings. The first time Kansas City visited Rochester, they came away with their first loss of the season. The short rest between two artificial surface games could have an effect on Wambach.

  1. lunasceiling - Jul 3, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    The problem with Thorns FC aren’t on the field, they’re on the sideline. Sure, losing the probably-USWNT-bound Becky Edwards for the season was a blow, but when a team fails to make tactical progress for half a season, it’s not on the players, it’s on the coaching staff.

    The Thorns’ early-season tactic of “lob it upfield to Morgan or Sinclair and hope for the best” was something other teams had figured out before the season started, and they’re only getting better at defending it. The problem is there’s no Plan B. Add bizarre substitution decisions and on-again, off-again player motivation, and you have to point the finger at CPC and staff.

    Dang, it hurts to write that…for a season ticket holder who fell in love with this team from the get-go. But these problems are too obvious to ignore.

  2. korules - Jul 4, 2013 at 2:22 AM

    ” 5. Portland Thorns FC (4) – We could write this every week: Portland still hasn’t figured out how to replace Becky Edwards. Against Kansas City, it showed. They’re not the same team defensively, lacking somebody to protect the back line. They’re not the same offensively without that strong holder at the base of midfield. With the attack having slipped to fifth in the league, players are starting to get frustrated. There are rumblings in the house that Merritt built. ”

    If only they had Amber Brooks.

  3. kernelthai - Jul 5, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    Well, to quote the sage, Pia Sundhage, the glass is half full. If u want to look at as Seattle was getting better anyway that’s fine. True is I only saw two of their game where they were over match. I like the glass is half empty. Yes Hope Solo arrived and organized to defensive line but another way to look at it was they said, Hey, we’ve got Hope Solo behind us and relaxed and started to play. The same goes for Rapinoe. Were they getting better before Rapinoe? Yes. Does that mean anything? No. They had good games early in the season. What u get with Rapinoe and Solo is the trickle down effect. With Rapinoe there Nairn can go back to being a first year player instead of the hub of the offense. Fishlock can concentrate on try to play like a human instead of super woman and Winters can do the stuff she does best instead of being on the end of goal scoring opportunities. Seattles scrappy back line now plays in the huge shadow of arguably the best GK in the world. So does the Renaissance happen without Solo & Rapinoe. Nope, I think we’re still talking about Seattle’s bad luck.

    The problem with Portland is instead of going to plan b they spend all their time trying to make plan a work.

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