If You Bring Excitement….The Fans Will Come
It’s not as catchy as the ghost voice speaking to Kevin Costner in the Field of Dreams saying “If you build it, they will come.” But I feel the same concept can apply to week two of the National Women’s Soccer League action. After the first week of action where goals weren’t flowing as one would hope, the play in the two matches this week was quite a step up in quality and pace. There were late match dramatics, scene setters, injury scares and a rivalry that has been born. Plus with exceptional crowds at both the Maryland SoccerPlex and Jeld-Wen Field (standing room only crowd at the ‘Plex and overflow seating at Jeld-Wen to boot), it made for great play. As keeping form from week one, here are this week’s top players, the little things and some things to watch in the future:
- Sam Kerr: The young Australian International was a great pickup by Aaron Lines in the preseason for Western New York Flash. She has great attacking from the flank and shows a great sense to go for the goal. And after a good showing for Sydney FC in the Westfield W-League this past winter, I felt she would fit in nicely for into this attack minded offense for the Flash this season. She romped down the right flank the entire match against the Washington Spirit on Saturday night, using her speed to her advantage. While her service was spotty, she put in a few dangerous crosses that had Ashlyn Harris thinking twice before coming off her line. Also she came inside a few times as well, though throughout the match seemed a little trigger-shy, including an attempt that she had halfway through the second half where she was in on the keeper but looked for Abby Wambach instead. But the goal she scored off of Wambach’s flicked on free kick late in the second half was a goal that capped off a strong performance against Washington.
- Jessica Fishlock: The Welsh International was all over the Jeld-Wen Field pitch on Sunday afternoon against Portland as was one of the most active players in the match. What impressed me most about her performance was that she was fearless about going into challenges on the ball and when she had the ball at her feet. The first thing she did upon receiving a pass was pick her head up to look for space she could attack in. On a fast turf at Starfire Complex (where Seattle will play their home matches this season), she can be lethal with her speed and aggressiveness on attack. And the goal she scored on the half-volley was controlled quite exceptionally, plus the little celebration afterwards proved that she, like all the players on the field, are embracing this rivalry between Seattle and Portland and the other three meetings between the sides are looking to be as exciting as this one was.
- (delayed nomination) Michelle Betos: In fairness to Betos, I didn’t have an opportunity to watch the Reign’s first match against Chicago until after I posted my Week One recap. But after going back to watch the broadcast, the Seattle keeper played a very strong match and continued her form this week. She couldn’t do much about the three goals she has allowed this season. But the saves she has made have all been big ones and has dominated her box in both matches as well. While Hope Solo is recovering from her wrist surgery, Seattle may have found their short term replacement in Betos.
The Little Things:
How the NWSL approached the Boston/FCKC match: With the bombings at the Boston Marathon last Monday and the eventual manhunt that led to the capture of the suspects, it was the correct decision that the league decided to postpone the match between FC Kansas City and Boston Breakers. With players living in areas in Boston that were targeted, including one player living in the town that one of the suspects was eventually captured in, it would have been almost impossible to get the team to Kansas City and have them on the correct mentality to play a match. While fans who bought a ticket for that match were disappointed with the cancellation, it was the correct decision to look at the bigger picture and realize that safety of the players was more important.
The Atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field: And yes, this will be (hopefully) the only time where I will glow over the turnout of the Portland Thorns fans at a match this season. But honestly, how can you not talk about it? Over 16,000 jammed inside to see the Thorns play and everything seemed to be on par for the Portland soccer community: passionate fans support, the supporters section (dubbed the Rose City Riveters) out in full voice, the presentation of the roses to the goal scorers (similar to what the Timbers do with the tree logs to their goal scorers of the match) and just a great atmosphere for the players to be a part of.
The Things That Didn’t Go to Plan:
Abby Wambach’s injury scare: Injuries are something that national teams everywhere have to aware of when their players play for club teams. But for the United States, Canada and Mexico, who aren’t used to seeing their players play much outside of their national team duties, this will be something of a new obstacle to overcome. When Abby Wambach went down late in the Washington/Western New York match with a head injury, many people involved with the USWNT watched with baited breath for the last few minutes to see what would come of the injury. Eventually after the match Abby tweeted that she was fine and appreciated the support of the fans and her teammates, but we now realize that there is a possibility of top national team players getting injuries while playing for their NWSL club every week.
Week Two Match to Watch:
Boston Breakers vs. Western New York Flash, Saturday April 27, 7:35pm Local time, Sahlen’s Stadium, Rochester, NY
The Breakers are coming off of an unexpected bye week and possibly the extra rest could be a blessing and a curse. While preseason has been rough for many players, the resting of the weary legs might help in the long run. But when you need games under the team’s belt to gain better communication on the field and confidence in working through the team’s game plan, having an unexpected early week bye may not have been wanted by Head Coach Lisa Cole. On the other side, Western New York has one point through two matches and while they were the better team against Washington on Saturday, they did not get the result they earned. But the Flash now are coming home to what they hope will be a big crowd for their home opener, and getting Boston at this time in their current situation might not be the worst thing for Aaron Lines as he seeks his first win in the NWSL season.
Week Two Results
Washington Spirit 1-1 Western New York Flash
Portland Thorns FC 2-1 Seattle Reign FC
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.