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A Week of Grinding

After a shortened week of matches last weekend, the NWSL had a full slate of matches with full rosters for teams to choose from. Now starting to head to the middle of the season, teams are realizing the wear and tear of a full professional schedule and the results were earned in more of a hard-nosed way than in previous weeks. But still these points were very important to grab and there was one team that took the opportunity in a busy week to make some strides through the standings. Lets take a look back at Week Nine of the NWSL Regular Season and some roster changes that teams will need to make in the next few weeks because of International Friendlies:

The Players

Abby Wambach: As if playing 270 minutes in one week wasn’t hard enough, the soon to be top career goalscorer for the USWNT provided 270 minutes of productivity. After playing the full 90 against Canada last Sunday, the Western New York frontrunner had two goals and an assist to lead her side to a successful weekend. She scored the first goal for the Flash on Wednesday night in Boston, a vintage Wambach goal where she out-jumped her defender Kia McNeill to meet a Sam Kerr cross (who had a great week in her own right, 2 assists and a tap-in finish against Sky Blue) and floated her header over Breakers goalkeeper Ashley Phillips for an early lead. Then on Saturday night, she gave the back four for Sky Blue all they could handle, feeding Kerr for an early strike and then tallying eight minutes from time on a unselfish cross from Kerr. Out of all players Western New York want to be clicking at a time like this, Wambach is the one. She leads by example and in this case, by tallying goals and putting in great shifts every night, the team will no doubt follow.

Julianne Sitch: In these weekly NWSL recaps, I try (as hard as I can) to give light to the players who may not light up the score sheet week in and week out but put in efforts that made a difference throughout the run of a match. On Sunday, Chicago Red Stars outside back Julianne Sitch had the key hustle play to set up Lori Chalupny’s winning strike in the first half, latching onto a loose ball in the offensive third, getting around a defender and slipping in Chalupny. But the key word to describe Sitch’s performance was hustle. Boston likes to play directly forward in their attack, either by going over the top to Leroux or getting the ball to one of the flanks. Sitch was a lock-down defender for 90 minutes: shutting down service to her left back position and handled the pressures of the many Breaker speedy attackers admirably. This back line for Chicago is getting a makeover as Sonja Fuss has inserted herself as a center back and players have been coming in and out of the lineup due to injury. But with Sitch’s performance on top of how the defenders played on Sunday, Chicago was able to come out with a nice win against a solid club.

Lauren Cheney: The stats really backed Lauren Cheney’s performance over FC Kansas City’s two matches this weekend. On Thursday, Cheney buried the penalty that Renae Cuellar earned and then finished an impressive cross to the front post from Leigh Ann Robinson. And then on Sunday night against Seattle, Cheney picked out a great pass that led to the decisive goal, as Erica Tymrak’s shot couldn’t be held by Hope Solo. Throughout the season, Cheney has been a top player for the Blues, controlling the midfield, taking the set pieces and being a leader in the middle of the field. Four goals and three assists through the first eight matches for FCKC has her tied for the team lead in both categories and those totals will definitely grow throughout the season.

The Little Things

Aaron Lines’ Quiet Confidence: After listening and reading to some of his post-match comments about his Western New York side throughout the season, he doesn’t usually show too much emotion. Usually comments range along the line from talking about the youth of his team to how they are still learning and building every day, the usual you want to hear from a coach. But nothing more than that, being very diplomatic with his answers. But on the inside, the man has to be very happy with what he is seeing from the Flash. Battling adversity against Boston on Friday and picking up a late equalizer, then dismantling the top of the table Sky Blue side, picking up four points in a successful road trip. The Flash are cruising up the table, currently in third with a match on hand on Boston, they have proven they can beat Sky Blue and while they haven’t faced Portland yet, they can match up with them as well. So while Lines doesn’t show it, he knows that this side might be his best one yet in his tenure at Western New York.

Karina LeBlanc: While the Canadian shot-stopper has been great for the Portland Thorns this year, it was a bit of a surprise that she did not make the Canada roster for their match against Germany next week. Erin McLeod was called in as usual and Stephanie Labbé from Swedish side KIF Örebro DFF will occupy the other goalkeeper slot for Canada. So while it may be a bummer for LeBlanc not getting called in, the Thorns will be happy to have her in between the posts for this weekend’s match against Seattle because she has been outstanding for them this season.

Acknowledging a Great 1v1 Battle

Merritt Mathias vs. Alex Morgan: Thursday night at Jeld-Wen Field gave us a wild contest between the Portland Thorns and FC Kansas City, with the final score of 4-3 (the most goals scored in one match this season) where the Thorns looked on a couple of occasions to put the match out of reach but only to see the Blues claw their way back into it. During the match, there was a nice battle taking place on the right side of the Thorns attacking area between Alex Morgan and FCKC’s Merritt Mathias. Most people would think that Morgan wouldn’t find a lot of difficulty getting past a midfielder/forward converted right back coming into this match, but Mathias truly held her own. There was a lot of physicality between the two, which is something that Morgan usually gets away with but Mathias stood her ground, cleared her lines nicely when asked and came forward a lot, something that Vlatko Andonovski uses in his formation, attacking outside backs. While Morgan did score a goal and assist on another, the battle between her and Mathis turned out to be a pleasant draw.

Social Media Award

With sporting teams having the tool of using social media, this gives them a great opportunity to connect to their fans. Fans want to feel like they know each one of the players on a given team’s roster and connect with them. It is kind of a way for the fans to see the other side of these players, not just their attitude and actions on the field. So this week I have to give a shout out to the Chicago Red Stars and this project they have started a few weeks ago. I feel they are the top dog in the NWSL when it comes to utilizing social media, especially via their Twitter and YouTube pages. This project that I’m talking about is the Ella and Carm show, where Red Stars players Ella Masar and Carmelina Moscato have been bringing in players every week and host a weekly talk/comedy/variety/anything goes show. This grew from at the beginning of the season where Ella and Carm faced off in their cut-off workout shirts with rapid fire questions to now giving fans a sort of behind the scenes look of the lighter side of the Red Stars family with their funny/tactical questions so they can embarrass their teammates quite often. These shows are quite hysterical and I’m telling you all that you should take a few minutes to watch these videos and see for yourself, (click here to go to the Red Stars YouTube page where you can watch all four episodes thus far of the Ella and Carm show). Well done to Chicago on the social media prowess and keep up the good work.

Week 10 Match to Watch For

Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash, Saturday June 15, 7pm Local Time, Maryland SoccerPlex

This match falls in an international fixture week for Women’s Soccer and the NWSL will see their allocated players depart their teams as the US will face South Korea twice and Canada will face Germany. Both teams in this match will lose players, but one team got a little lucky and the other lost a player they weren’t expecting. The Spirit will be without Canada’s Diana Matheson and Robin Gayle along with USWNT defender Ali Krieger while the Flash will be without only Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd. But Ashlyn Harris didn’t get a call into this camp so she will most likely feature for the Spirit but the big surprise involves the Flash’s Sam Kerr because she was called into an Australian National Team camp which will face New Zealand and then go on a European Tour after. Kerr will minimally miss this match for the New Zealand match and if she goes on tour with the Matildas, she will miss the rest of the June fixtures and potential some in July as well for Western New York. She is the only NWSL Matildas player to get called in, and the Flash will be missing her pace down the flank big time. Plus a rested Spirit team should be in fine mood at home to try and get themselves three points in a must win match, seeing that their bottom half of the table competitors have been getting some results, so they will need to do the same. And now with the most recent addition of German International Conny Pohlers to the side, pending NWSL and International Transfer Certificate paperwork completion, we can only figure the goals from the Spirit’s forward ranks will come very soon.

Week Nine Results

Boston Breakers 2-2 Western New York Flash

Portland Thorns FC 4-3 FC Kansas City

Sky Blue FC 0-3 Western New York Flash

Chicago Red Stars 1-0 Boston Breakers

JJ Duke

JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. While his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself of being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He is the Student General Manager at 107.7 The Bronc at Rider and has contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ area of high school and collegiate sports including The Rider News and Fish4Scores.com. He became involved with Our Game Magazine early in 2012 when upon following OGM on Twitter, he was contacted within minutes (which caught him by surprise) by Tiffany about working with the team. After spending the summer covering the USL W-League and the WPSL-Elite league as an intern, he is looking forward to continue working with the OGM team, especially on games in the US.

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