One Part Northwest, Two Parts Midwest, All Parts NWSL Derby Weekend
This week held importance in the National Women’s Soccer League for a plethora of reasons. There were opportunities for teams to bounce back from an off match the week before. There were opportunities for teams to establish dominance over their regional rival and there were opportunities for teams to move up the table. This weekend’s matches gave us a little bit of all of the above, even without many key players available for all teams due to international duty. So lets take a look back at Week 10 of NWSL action:
Lori Chalupny: A lot of people are alluding to the Chicago Red Stars midfielder as one of the top players in the league, and one of the top players in the league not to be included on the current USWNT. But the thing that we saw this weekend from Chalupny is her effect on a game and how she elevates the level of the Chicago Red Stars when she isn’t on the field. In the Red Stars home and home series against FC Kansas City, game one at Chicago’s home she was on the bench to start and Chicago was in an early 1-0 hole. But minutes into the second half she was inserted for Dinora Garza and took control of the match. While her side didn’t win the first match, Sunday’s return leg in Kansas City was much different. She assisted on Inka Grings goal in the first half, whipping in a great ball to the back post for the German International to smash home. Then late on she drew the penalty that led to the insurance third goal for the Red Stars to take home three points on the road. Overall, she controls the field with her aggression and draws a lot of attention on the field, including getting fouled quite often. But while that leads to bumps and bruises, it also gives your team opportunities, which happened with the penalty on Sunday’s matches. With that being said, she is one of the leaders for the Red Stars by her play on the field and it was noticed this week when she was in action.
Karina LeBlanc: This Sunday, the Thorns hosted Seattle Reign at Jeld-Wen Field and head coach Cindy Parlow Cone wasn’t sure if she was going to have her top goalkeeper available for selection, due to Canada calling in players for a friendly against Germany later this week. Fortunately for Cone, Karina LeBlanc would march the Thorns out onto the field and put in a solid performance, picking up her league tying fifth clean sheet. Also she made a great penalty kick save on Christine Nairn late on in the match, guessing correctly to her right and making a nice kick save. She is the backbone for the Thorns defense and will be someone that Cone will rely on going forward as the Thorns look toward the postseason.
Erica Tymrak: In light of national team players gone for FC Kansas City (six players, the most for all NWSL teams), the chance for reserve players to get playing time was there, with two matches to be played for the Blues on the week. One of those players getting the nod for this week was Erica Tymrak, needing to fill the playmaker void left by Lauren Cheney. Tymrak did a nice job through the two matches, running into space well over the center of the field and creating options for her teammates. Plus she assisted on Courtney Jones’ goal in game one between FCKC and Chicago, drawing three defenders toward her run and slipping in Jones with a great wide ball. The Blues are expected to be one of the teams making the playoffs at the end of August, and depth will be something that they need. This weekend proved that Vlatko Andonovski’s side does have that depth to get them not only into the playoffs but potentially the finals as well.
The Little Things
The German Impact: When the Chicago Red Stars announced that former German Internationals Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss would be arriving to the Windy City in late May, there was uncertainty of would these two great, albeit aging, players have an impact on this league. Since their arrival, Chicago has taken nine of the 12 available points since Grings and Fuss have taken the field. It seems that there is a sense of calm and organization in the back with Fuss anchoring the defense and Grings’ has started to find the connection with Ella Masar and Lori Chalupny up front. For the people who wrote this team off when they only picked up two points in their first six matches, they are now only one point out of fifth place and only five points behind FC Kansas City for the last playoff spot. Don’t be surprised if the Red Stars are hanging around on the last day of the season.
Bounceback-ability: Probably the toughest thing to do for a team that lost a match, especially for the league leaders, is to try and go and win your next match…on the road….against a team that you beat badly and wants to get payback for that loss. So for Sky Blue, heading up to Boston after getting outclassed by Western New York last week was not ideal. But similarly to what happened two weeks ago, Sky Blue got on the board early with a Lisa De Vanna goal. And kept that momentum throughout the match, jumping out to a 3-1 lead halfway through the 2nd half. Despite giving up a late goal, a theme that Jim Gabarra hopes won’t trend for Sky Blue this year, the Jersey based side got their three points and are back on top of the table. They needed an uplift and a strong result and that is what they got.
Playing for Becky Edwards: One of the rocks of the Thorns midfield was not in uniform for Sundays match against Seattle, much to the surprise of the near sold out Jeld-Wen Field. But it wasn’t released until maybe an hour before the match that Becky Edwards tore her ACL in training during midweek and would be out for the rest of the season. As one of the top holding midfielders in the league, she had featured in every match for Portland and was very reliable on the field for the team. And it was a bit emotional for the players as many mentioned after the game that they were playing the game in her honor. In the weeks to come it will be interesting to see who will fill into that defensive midfielder role but it will be a loss for sure not having Edwards in the center of the pitch.
Two Rivalry Matches
This weekend, two regional rivalries took place and gave some nice light to the fixture list for Week 10. Chicago and Kansas City met for the first and second time of four meetings this past week while Portland hosted the third of four meetings against Seattle. All these matches were played pretty tightly and as expected, the Northwest derby had a lot of passion (and nearly 14,000 Portland fans in attendance). A split between the two Midwest teams wasn’t as expected, and even more both matches proved the road teams to be the victors. But in Portland, the Thorns continue their strong run of results over the Seattle Reign with a thorough 2-0 victory. Hopefully as the season goes on these regional rivalries start to equal the attention that the Northwest derby has gotten this season.
Week 11 Match to Watch
Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC, Saturday June 22, 7pm Local Time, Yurck Field at Rutgers University
Both teams are halfway through their regular seasons and have proven themselves to be the top teams in the NWSL this season. So why not have this match now? It can be a nice table setter for these teams going into the second half of the season, with one team looking up at the other after this match. The one positive thing for both these teams that each of their national team players should be available as well, and for the USWNT players, the commute from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ (where the USWNT will face South Korea on Thursday night) to Piscataway is roughly about 22 miles on Route 1. Don’t believe me? I’ve done that commute several times myself, as from Rider University, I have to pass Rutgers University on my way to Red Bull Arena every time. Regardless, there won’t be a problem of flying those players out and they could have some impact on the match, even if that means as substitutes.
Week 10 Results
Chicago Red Stars 0-2 FC Kansas City
Washington Spirit 0-2 Western New York Flash
FC Kansas City 1-3 Chicago Red Stars
Portland Thorns FC 2-0 Seattle Reign FC
Boston Breakers 2-3 Sky Blue 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.