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Walking through Week 14 of the NWSL season

Jul 15, 2013, 4:32 PM EDT

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At the onset of the season, Portland and Kansas City were thought to be the league’s measuring sticks, but as of the NWSL’s 14th week, the circuit’s standards might be sitting sixth and seventh. Amid a midseason lull the league’s top four can’t shake, Seattle and Chicago have surged, creating an undue amount of parity within the eight-team league. With seven squads capable of beating each other on any given day, expect an increasingly muddled playoff picture to become even more murky as the season progresses.

The benefits of that parity were seen Sunday in Seattle, during the league’s first ever nationally televised game. For the first time, Reign FC sold out Starfire Sports Complex, the additions of Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe combining with the team’s renewed relevancy to draw 3,855 to the southern Seattle suburb. For a team that had some questioning their viability two months ago, the Reign’s club suddenly looks very strong.

Here’s what else happened in Week 14 of the NWSL season:

Wednesday, July 10

Washington Spirit 0, Chicago Red Stars 2 – Last week, we mentioned this as a must-win for Chicago’s playoff hopes, and the Red Stars came through. A goal and a bicycle kick assist from newly acquired Adriana Leon produced two second half scores, while Washington continued a scoreless run from open play that extends back to May.

Implications: After a year of shuffling players around, accounting for injuries and ineffective play, Rory Dames has finally found a combination that works, and while that has involved moving Ella Masar to the bench, she’s strangely having more of an impact than she had while starting. For Washington, the post-coaching change energy is gone, perhaps predictably so. While they may be competing better than they were under Mike Jorden, the team’s still not very good. The dour atmosphere’s bound to return unless results improve.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 4 Sky Blue 16 31 +10
2 6 Portland 15 27 +5
3 1 Kansas City 16 26 +7
4 5 W. New York 16 24 +8
5 7 Boston 15 20 +1
6 3 Chicago 15 19 -4
7 2 Seattle 16 15 -10
8 8 Washington 15 7 -17

Thursday, July 11

Seattle Reign FC 3, Western New York Flash 2 – Abby Wambach scored twice to move within one of Boston’s Sydney Leroux for the league lead in goals, but it was a late score from emerging Rookie of the Year contender (leader?) Christine Nairn that allowed the Reign’s robust midfield and improving attack to overcome their erratic defense, pushing Seattle’s unbeaten run to five.

Implications: Seattle may need to run the table to make the playoffs, but with this defense, it’s difficult to see it happening. Their disorganization concedes too many penalty kicks and allows opponents to capitalize for opportunistic (read: preventable) goals. For Western New York, they just ran into a good team, one that showed that matching the Flash in the middle of the park will yield chances against a decent but unspectacular defense.

Saturday, July 13

Sky Blue FC 0, Boston Breakers 0 – Two strong goalkeeping performances saw the teams share points in a match that seemed destined to end scoreless. For Sky Blue’s Brittany Cameron, it was her eighth shutout of her remarkably unforeseen season, one that stands in contrast to Boston’s Ashley Phillips, would posted her first clean sheet. With Alyssa Naeher having undergone surgery on surgery on her broken nose, Phillips should get another extended run in Boston’s team.

Implications: Sky Blue continues to look like a team experiencing a dip, but to their credit, their points haul is transcending their form. With this result, Jim Gabarra’s team sat five clear of Portland at the top of the league. Boston, in the mean time, got a valuable road point against the league’s leaders, but the momentum they carried from their Cascadia road trip was slightly blunted. Even though the game ended in a draw, their attack got shut down.

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 10 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 10 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 6
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 9 Leigh Ann Robinson (FCKC) 5
Diana Matheson (WAS) 6 Heather O’Reilly (BOS) 5
Sophie Schmidt (SBFC) 6 Christine Nairn (SEA) 5

Sunday, July 14

Portland Thorns FC 1, Western New York 1 – Wambach went joint-top of the goal-scoring charts with a late first half goal, one that was equalized minutes later by Meleana Shim. The rest of the game was a goalkeeper’s duel, with Karina LeBlanc ‘beating’ Adrianna Franch thanks to a late penalty kick save on Wambach.

Implications: Portland dropped points at home, but they looked like a team that could develop into the Thorns everybody expected at the season’s onset. Tobin Heath deserves some of the credit, but Tiffany Weimer, the return of Christine Sinclair to forward, and Shim in her natural midfield role helped. For the Flash, their four-game road trip ends with a positive result, though only two points in four games curbed their surge toward the top of the league.

Chicago Red Stars 3, FC Kansas City 3 – Lauren Holiday returned with a goal and an assist, combining with another strong performance from Erika Tymrak (goal) to give FCKC a 3-1 lead headed toward stoppage time. Then another strong performance from super-sub Masar took hold, with a 90th minute goal and an assist on Lori Chalupny’s 96th minute equalizer giving the Red Stars an improbable point.

Implications: It was another tough result for Kansas City, who have had trouble closing out games. With Holiday, Tymrak, and Desiree Scott, they consistently out-play opponents only to drop points near the end, a pattern that extends back to the first game of the season. For Chicago, the draw was noble, but any dropped points at home do serious damage to the team’s thin playoff hopes.

Seattle Reign FC 2, Washington Spirit 1 – Washington scored, but it was from the spot. Although they took an early lead through Diana Matheson, the Spirit still hadn’t scored from open play, a fault that came back to haunt them over the match’s final 79 minutes. Goals four minutes apart from Red Stars cast-off Jessica McDonald sent the Reign into halftime up one, a lead they held through a scoreless second half.

Implications: The score looks nice, but especially compared to their earlier visit to Seattle — a four-goal game that marks the last time they scored from open play — you can see how far Washington’s fallen. The Reign, on the other hand, might be the best team in the league, one that has an outside chance of postseason place. Too bad they dug themselves such a huge hole.

  1. kernelthai - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:21 PM

    Franch should be include in every NT callup even if she doesnt get capped. Her game is on the cusp becoming very special and te work she puts in now will eventually bear fruit for the US.

    Even if they dont make it, Seattle is just a great team to cheer for. They r creative on the offensive end and gritty on defense. Teams r lucky they wont be in the play-offs because they might have won.

    Baby steps. First u spend 14 weeks find and offense. The next trick for Portland is to turn chances into goals. How many more months is this season? : )

    Chicago isnt as hug worthy as Seattle but u have to admire there tenacity.

  2. yellowledbett3r - Jul 16, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Rich,

    Agree – FCKC should be ranked no. 1. The have the best defense and midfield in the league. If the player allocations were redone via draft, I’d place Saurbrunn as a top 5 pick. On offense, Tymrak’s dribbling and passing is insane. Also, I’d like to praise Leigh Ann Robinson, yes, her long arms look funny, but who cares, look at her defense.

    Disagree – Yes, Portland’s midfield bounces the ball to and fro, and even Tobin was lobbing balls from the back third to get the ball forward. But the midfield’s not THAT bad. They have a good goal keeper. They have two strikers. 6th is kinda low. Take Franch off of New York and what happens to that team?

    Taking a step back to look at a bigger picture: Outside of Portland, and maybe Seattle’s growing base, can the league grow enough to prevent another collapse? I’m having doubts. I think the league needs to try something different for the teams with low attendance, and they need to do it soon, and they need to do it agressively. There is so much potential here – THIS could be so great. Or, it could fail, again.

  3. korules - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:10 AM

    I don’t give a crap about Power Rankings, cause I’m one of those snobby Euro’s… so I’m not even getting into that, I’m just happy the team I support managed to stay on top of the real rankings :D.

    I think Portland’s midfield could get real dangerous if they get used to each other a bit.
    (IF CPC keeps on Weimer, Shim and Heath and doesn’t (somehow) force all 3 of Washington, Long and Kerr back into the starting line-up. One of those 3 is enough, and if Edwards wasn’t injured, you wouldn’t need any of those 3 tbh)

    So far the top of the league, now to the bottom:
    Washington can still only score from the pk-spot and Seattle continues to be awesome now that they’re out of their slump. (Awesome as in fun to watch.)

    Btw, anyone else think The Spirit are pulling ‘a Pittsburg Penguins’ in order to get the first draft pic? :p

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