NWSL Historic 4th season: Week 1

After the hype of the 2015 WWC, I thought that my excitement for soccer had reached it’s top. M y mind was a constant replay of the Carli Lloyd goal (you know which one. And if you don’t, have you been asleep for the past 10 months?). Here it is any way , because I could watch this on loop for the rest of my life. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know if my little heart could take much more excitement. Could soccer still excite me? Will my feelings for WOSO  completely plateau from now on? My answer was unknown until I watched the Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers game last Saturday.

The first week of the “Historic Fourth season of the NWSL” *exaggerated announcer voice* featured all ten teams. For the past two season there have only been nine teams in the league with one team having a bye week every week. With an uneven number of teams, one team had to sit a week out while the other eight fought for bragging rights and a spot at the top of the table. I, for one, enjoy seeing each team with the opportunity to play every week now. The following teams faced one another for the first time this season.

On Saturday Night:

Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers

Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars

FC Kansas City vs. Western New York

On Sunday:

Seattle Reign vs. Sky Blue FC

Portland Thorns vs. Orlando Pride

Just typing out all of those names and all the games that happened over the course of the weekend, mixed on top with the amount of people who either attended or streamed the games makes me a little teary at the growth of the game. I remember during the first season I told one of my fellow followers of the league that I was going to watch every game, and she doubted me. Many games are streamed at the exact same time, or with extreme overlapping which makes it hard at times. With hard work, perseverance, and fully believing in myself, I somehow, made it through the struggle of watching 8-ish hours of live-ish soccer in a week. This season, I make a similar vow. Both to keep updating this here blog. Also because I am truly interested in noticing the different vibes, environments, and overall feel that surrounds each team and the games that they play.

So far this week, I made it through every game. I will give you the following thoughts and highlights on each of them. I plan to try and give a semi objective thought process for each of the game but: a sports fan will as, a sports fan does. I have feelings. I have players who deserve better. I have teams that could’ve had it all. Or that could just be residual feelings of the past seasons, who knows where this season will take us.

First up, we have the Washington Spirit vs. the Boston Breakers. All of the fans were greeted with their favorite thing about the NWSL, a blurry screen and lack of a picture after the streaming time was supposed to start. It was as though the soft frustrated groan of dedicated fans was heard in the winds throughout the entire country, when 6:00 CST hit and there was nothing on the screen. I had my hot little hands on my phone ready to tweet my feelings away, when the picture came back and the game was on.

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Joanna Lohman bicycle kick

When the game started I barely had time to settle myself down before I heard the muffled clatter of what was a goal announcement. Three minutes in and Joanna Lohman (15) of the Washington Spirit scored a goal with a freaking bicycle kick, of all things, to kick the game off. Anyone, who was a fan of the Washington Spirit the first few seasons, who how important the opening games can be. All released a collective breath when this happened. The Breakers fans, on the other hand, were probably just as confused and frustrated as the players on the team were. The game was a pretty well fit match. The Spirit, who have fully embraced their attacking players, did a phenomenal job of pushing the ball forward and gave the Breakers defense something to really think about. The Breakers, on the other hand had a bit of a time moving forward and gave newly acquired Spirit Keeper, Stephanie Labbe (1) only one a few chances to shine.

Players this game who made me go “huh” in a good way: Julie King (8) of the Breakers. Any player that can hold their own against Crystal Dunn (19) who is one of the strongest young offenders in the game, is a true stand out.Paired well with her other defenders, Julie made the well developed Spirit offence think a bit differently about how they would play the game.

End score Spirit 1 Boston 0 

Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars: I’m not going to lie, when the this game came on before the Spirit and Breakers game was over, I had both going on at the same time. I’m not saying I have a preference, but I’m from Texas. Instantly, on the screen I was reminded me why I enjoy watching Dash’s online streams in the past seasons. The level of quality with this stream compared to others is significant, as well as the broadcasting, and the level of enthusiasm from the announcers and the fans at the stadium. It was a really nice change from the out-of-focus camera on the Spirit field.

This game started as a hot mess between both teams. Which really is expected right at the beginning of a season since teams don’t know each other well: they’re getting used to the feel and the changing of rosters and the newness of this roster was very evident right at kick off. Christen Press for the Red Stars, or as I always call her, in my mind, whenever I see her CP23 decided to take things into her own hands and show Houston how it’s done by scoring very quickly.For any fan of the Dash, for any of the seasons they have been affiliated, nightmares came to mind of past seasons at the bottom of the table and consecutive losses. The Dash players apparently felt the same fire under them, because this was the only chance the Red Stars ever got the whole game.  The rest of the game,

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Alyssa Naeher with a save against the Houston Dash

Alyssa Naeher (1) for Boston took a beating behind goal. It looked as though nothing had changed for her in the past year, when she played for the Breakers in their disastrous season last year.She had three shots go past her and made many more impressive saves. Overall, the game was the most entertaining of the night, and highlighted a few very important players and strengths and weaknesses for each team.

Players that made me clutch my pearls: Rachel Daly of the Houston Dash. Just her. Who she is. How she played. Everything. Not only was her game amazing, but she made her professional debut a splash and made it clear that she wasn’t on the pitch to make friends.

The game ended Houston 3 and Chicago 1 

The FCKC vs. WNYF game came on at the same time as the Dash and Red Stars game. So, as any true fan, I attempted to have my eyes on both games at once. But to be honest, this game was so boring my attention was almost completely directed towards the other game.

Every person knew that this season was going to be hard for FCKC. They lost a lot players through retirements, trades, and baby-making in the off season, including Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez. Which made this season opener unsurprising that they did not play well, but still shocking that as defending champions they played so poorly. As defending champs, it’s almost always expected for a team to just completely blow it out of the water first game in. It was more like a slow explosion. New York held their own, which

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Heather O’Riley’s tackle against Jaelene Hinkle 

is always surprising with the lack of household names on their roster and given the loss of a certain soccer legend in the off season (Abby Wambach, tough she was gone last season as well). New management in hand, New York proved to be the leader on the field, even with the score ending in a draw.
Player who made me sigh in relief: Nichole Barnhart (18)  played her heart (haha) out for FCKC. Without her goal tending, the WNY score would’ve been much higher and FCKC’s confidence much lower.

Ending score was a 0-1 FCKC. 

On Sunday, the Seattle Reign and Sky Blue FC opened their seasons in Seattle. Seattle has been known to put on a good show, they have the home support, the flashy highlighter kits with the strange ombre on the shorts, and they have big names both locally, through the draft and on the national stage. Seattle entered this game with recognition and as a fan favorite and were the favorite to win by far.  By this game, you would not have had any idea that this was the team who has been the regular season champs for the past two seasons in a row. Seattle’s game presence was very similar to that Rihanna song where all they did was “work work work work work” for a few coordinated spurts and the rest of it couldn’t really be understood by anyone. Sky Blue, on the other hand, showed that they are still relevant and dominated the game by taking advantage of a very sloppy Seattle defense.

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Natasha Kai header with Kelley O’hara assist

Players who will always have my heart: Kelley O’Hara (19) of SBFC had her Wheaties that morning and wanted the world to know that she was here and ready to play some futbol. She is the most versatile player on the field and her comfort with quick transitions and her ability to be all over the field shows, The older she gets, the more controlled of a player she is, as well as a leader on the team. Her presence was surely noted by everyone.

The game ended Reign 1 to SBFC 2 

The week ended with the highest attended game held in Portland, between the Thorns and the Orlando Pride. This game had everything that any sort of fan, old or new, could’ve wanted. Big names, aggressive play, and the first goal in franchise history was noted for the Pride, as well as an amazing come back for the Thorns. Right out of the gate, the Pride noted that they were not a team to be taken advantage of, nor were they green in any way. Their offence was well matched for the well seasoned Portland defense and even though their match was a loss, it surely should not feel like one for the amount of wins they had in this game. Each team put up a huge fight and played until the very last second, with all the heart they could’ve put on that field. It was clear that both teams are serious this season and ready to make some history.

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Steph Catley’s amazing free kick against the Portland Thorns

Players that made me spill my beer: Let’s talk about Steph Catley (7) of the Pride. She made that free kick. You know the one. She made both her personal presence, as well as that of the team known straight off.

The game ended Portland 2 and Orlando 1. 

Overall there is one player that I feel the need to talk about in this weeks Player Highlight.

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Natasha Kai with Sky Blue FC

Let’s talk about Natasha Kai (32, F, SBFC), like, all the time. I, like anyone else, was disappointed when Tasha fell off the radar after the folding of the WPS and disappearance off of the USWNT. Whatever reasons they were, I held my breath for years at the idea that maybe one day Tasha Kai would come back to the wonderful world of soccer. Hoping she  would bring all of the sass and personality both to her play and to the team dynamics. When she was listed among the possible players for the Spirit in 2013, I was constantly biting my nails, for a year, waiting for her to make her return to soccer. Her goal, on Sunday, was an indication that soccer missed Kai just as much as I had. Her header sent electric chills throughout the game and made it clear that she is ready to take on this season her her team SBFC by storm.

Tweet of the week: Since I’m already on the topic of Tasha Kai, lets talk about these tweets.

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Well, week 2 of play starts today and if it was anything like this past week, we are in for quite a show

I’ll be back!

-SJ

P.S. I was late with posting this because sometimes life is really hard and being a full time soccer fan on top of a real life is a lot of responsibility. I will write my Week 2 notes and have them up later this week!

*I take no credit for any pictures or gif’s that are used in this blog. Everything that is used was found on various social media sites.

 

 

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