Backline Chat: Searching for Reasons to be Optimistic
Updated: Jan 1
Charles Olney (@olneyce): Welcome everyone to our Backline chat for the first week of April. We’ve got some international games coming up, and the start of the NWSL season just past that on the horizon. We’ll cover both of those topics this week. But to kick things off, let’s start with the national team. With the two upcoming matches against Australia and Belgium likely the sternest tests they’ll face before the World Cup begins, what are you looking for here?
RJ Allen (@TheSoccerCritic): Was Ali Krieger brought in to play or just to give the forwards a tougher test in training? That honestly is my biggest question.
Luis Hernandez (@radioactivclown): Ali has to be a headline. I don’t see how you don’t start her if you’re Jill.
RJ Allen: It would be cruel to sit her at 99. And I am not a huge fan of major hyperbole when it comes to all of this.
Charles Olney: Yeah, I actually do expect her to play, though I certainly wouldn’t put any money on it. But I would be surprised if she only plays once.
One thing I actually appreciate about Ellis is that she just doesn’t seem to care much about the hoopla around stuff like this. But I don’t think she’s completely unaware of how it would look.
RJ Allen: Honestly having Krieger makes me less nervous about Dunn. They can play a 3.5 back with Krieger in and I would be much more comfortable.
Allison Cary (@findingallison): I agree.
RJ Allen: The best and worst (if you’re Ellis) thing about Krieger is she will stay back if she feels she needs to.
Charles Olney: I think I’m one of the lone voices that has generally been pretty happy with Sonnett out there, but there’s no denying that fullback is a massive weak spot for a team that’s pretty stacked everywhere else.
RJ Allen: I think Sonnett is more or less fine but she is not *really* an outside back.
Charles Olney: That said, I also think Krieger just isn’t really up to this level anymore.
Or an outside back anymore either, really.
I would be happy to be proven wrong about that, though. I’ve always been a fan of Krieger.
RJ Allen: I think Krieger at 80% is still better than 100% of Dunn at outside back though.
Charles Olney: Well, I won’t belabor the point, but all of this is yet another reason why it’s frustrating that Ellis proved so hopeless at organizing a back three. It would be a pretty clean solution to this particular weakness, if they could just do it.
Luis Hernandez: It’s also fair to say that Ali hasn’t had match minutes in a while and if she did start against the Matildas, well that may be interesting…
Charles Olney: Any other issues on your mind about these games? What do you expect in the midfield? More Sam Mewis maybe? More Pugh for some reason?
RJ Allen: Please let Sam Mewis play.
Allison Cary: I’d like more Mewis, please.
Anthony Merced (@nycsportsworld): At some point they have to show what kind of energy level they’ll have in France. I feel like these games are that. SheBelieves felt like an intentional mess which is “okay” but things needs to be smoother in these games.
Charles Olney: It is weird that they scheduled all these games, but it’s hard to identify what they’ve actually gotten out of them…other than wiping away a lot of the momentum from 2018.
Anthony Merced: Truth is USWNT is the only commodity US Soccer is running that anyone cares about.
So they are trotting them out for games that are very unnecessary and the team has to balance it.
RJ Allen: I would honestly like to see Morgan/Press/Heath and Pinoe “set free”. Sometimes it feels like the system is somehow just hoping they will have a great moment and win it vs setting them up and letting those moments come naturally.
Luis Hernandez: Pugh hasn’t done herself any favors with her recent run with the squad.
RJ Allen: Pugh also has the “kid savior” mantle that was given to her.
Luis Hernandez: I’m noticing a tread if you ask me. It starts and stops with Ellis as coach
RJ Allen: I don’t think anyone can live up to who she was when she bust on to the team. It’s like a pitch that blows people away year one and then people figure out.
Anthony Merced: Hopefully she survives that. It’s hard when that title weighs on you in big tournaments.
Charles Olney: It’s crazy to think how long she’s been around, and how young she still is. There’s all the potential in the world there still, but it’s been almost a full year since she’s really been any good.
Allison Cary: Yeah, she carries a lot on her shoulders for a player that still has a lot of her career ahead of her (and thus, a lot of improvement. Hopefully)
Charles Olney: Alright, any predictions for these matches?
Luis Hernandez: I’m on record. I think the US wins both matches.
RJ Allen: US does not win against the Aussies and then takes Belgium out back behind the woodshed.
Allison Cary: I think the US could lose or draw to Australia. Beats Belgium.
Anthony Merced: Feel the same way. Australia is really good.
Charles Olney: I’ll go with two wins, I suppose. But it’s been a long time since the US has really controlled a game against Australia.
Luis Hernandez: Is playing at altitude a factor at all?
RJ Allen: Maybe but not enough I think it will change much of anything. Australia has been there for a few days.
Charles Olney: So, staying on the national team, but moving off the pitch, the continuing cold war over equal pay continues apace. The most recent move was recently announced, with Luna Bar providing the cash to cover the gap in prize money for the men’s and women’s teams.
Big deal? Weird PR campaign? Signal of more to come?
Anthony Merced: Very weird PR. US Soccer can easily address this and come out looking better but instead things like this happen.
Allison Cary: Because it’s coming from a private corporation and not the federation, that limits how “big of a deal” it can be. It’s not a long-term solution, just a PR stunt. That being said, glad they are getting something out of it.
Luis Hernandez: It’s a weird PR campaign for sure. A nice touch, but still weird.
Allison Cary: I do think it looks bad for US Soccer. Which hopefully pushes them.
RJ Allen: It’s so weird but I am glad they are getting the money? I feel torn to be honest.
Luis Hernandez: I partly saw it as smart marketing with the USWNT PA.
Charles Olney: On the whole, it seems to me that the players are winning their social media campaign – but it’s more that US Soccer has been terrible and less that they’ve done a fantastic job.
Allison Cary: I’d largely agree with that assessment.
RJ Allen: I’m honestly not sure that USSF cares that much about any of this though.
Anthony Merced: USSF lives in a strange bubble where they think they can strike oil by paying foreign teams to come play in the United States.
Charles Olney: And I feel obliged to point out every time this stuff comes up that ‘equal pay’ is great, and I’m all for the USWNT getting fair compensation for their talents and labor. But it still does ring a little hollow when the equality is so strictly limited to the national team.
RJ Allen: A lot of it makes me just sigh.
Charles Olney: Same.
Allison Cary: I see where the national team can seem limited, but I think it’s a first step. We’re not gonna get equality between the leagues overnight. Hopefully this pushes things in the right direction.
Charles Olney: I think that’s right, Allison. Still, I would really like to see the solidarity be expressed a little more aggressively.
RJ Allen: The leagues are frankly not going to be equal in our lifetimes. That’s not to say we shouldn’t push forward and try though.
Allison Cary: Yeah, Charles, I definitely get what you’re saying. It’s hard not to feel like so many players are being left behind.
Charles Olney: It’s one of those terrible things where we put expectations on those who are treated unequally to care about those who are below them, while also still needing to fight for what they deserve. But just because it’s unfair doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a priority.
Luis Hernandez: seems like a reflection of our society
Anthony Merced: Absolutely a reflection of society. We like to pretend that there is equality (gender and race) but then there are glaring examples where the issues are very blatant. Just look at Latin American players in MLS and their treatment vs. European players.
Charles Olney: Alright, unless people have any other thoughts about the USWNT, let’s briefly look outside the US. There are a whole bunch of friendlies coming up. Any that you are particularly interested in? Any teams that still have something to prove as they work their way toward France?
Luis Hernandez: it frustrates me that soccer-crazed countries in central and south America are also not backing the women’s game there like they should be. I get it baby steps…
RJ Allen: I think England has a lot to prove.
They are going to want to show 2015 wasn’t a fluke.
Charles Olney: I’ve got my eye on Spain v. Brazil. This is a pretty weak version of Brazil but they were actually a little better in SheBelieves than I expected. And Spain is fascinating to watch develop.
Anthony Merced: It’s amazing how far Brazil has fallen.
Charles Olney: Yeah, England v. Canada should be good. That’s a team England really should beat, but who will be tough to play. We could learn a lot about both of them there.
Luis Hernandez: France should be bouncing back from the lost to Germany. Hope Japan does well.
Allison Cary: I’m not convinced on England yet. It will be interesting to see them face Canada. I agree that they have a lot to prove.
Charles Olney: I’m a little confused why the Dutch are ‘only’ playing Mexico and Chile? It seems like they could have used a tougher tune-up here? Mexico feels like the team you schedule for a couple weeks before the tournament to just get a game.
Allison Cary: Yeah, that isn’t exactly a challenging lineup.
Charles Olney: I wonder if it’s a matter of preference or if the FA just dropped the ball or something.
Luis Hernandez: I’m also going to keep an eye out on Sweden
Charles Olney: Okay, moving back to the US, let’s talk a little NWSL. The season is closing in. We can do a full leaguewide roundup next week. But for now, do you feel like you’ve learned anything from the preseason so far?
Luis Hernandez: Not me.
Anthony Merced: Sky Blue will be better, but I have no real evidence to prove that.
RJ Allen: I am team #PreseasonDoesNotMatter but I think the Portland event did show that playing other pro teams can be useful.
Luis Hernandez: Preseason can be taken with a grain of salt. It won’t tell you if your team is good, but if it’s bad then the early warning signs are there.
Charles Olney: Agreed there, RJ. Chicago won’t have liked to lose those games, but I think they’ll be in much better shape for having played them.
Anthony Merced: North Carolina is good but I feel like we already knew that.
Luis Hernandez: The Spirit played to a draw with the Tarheels, right? There could be a sign of trouble.
Charles Olney: They’ve definitely struggled with results across several of these games. Though they looked WORLDS better for the half that I did watch them against Bordeaux.
Luis Hernandez: Oh, and of course preseason isn’t great when you have season ending injuries for your team either.
Allison Cary: Luis is right. That sucks.
Charles Olney: Yeah, Sky Blue cannot catch a break, it seems. Though you do have to start wondering about training techniques when so many players are getting injured. Similar with Washington under Gabarra.
Luis Hernandez: Teah, that’s certainly a valid point. why are some teams more prone to injury?
RJ Allen: Trainers do not have consistent training from what I’ve heard.
Anthony Merced: NWSL teams don’t have deep conditioning coaching staffs.
Charles Olney: This was a major revolution in the men’s game in the 90s and early 2000s, with physical fitness coaches and nutritional people coming in to help players. And most of that has been shared on the women’s side. But it’s clearly not happening at the same level of detail, and especially not in the NWSL where the resources are so limited.
Anthony Merced: That leads to injuries.
Charles Olney: It does make me wonder if trying to mimic good methods, but failing to quite manage it, might end up being worse than doing nothing.
RJ Allen: A lot of it comes down to just not having the ability to do the same things, including the same testing, that would happen on the men’s side.
Anthony Merced: Also, from what I have seen, many of the preseason games have been on awful artificial pitches.
Charles Olney: Taking a step back slightly to look at the bigger picture, there’s been a conversation going on this week about the state of the NWSL in 2019. A lot of us are not thrilled. There’s still no commissioner (probably a permanent state at this point), no communications department at all, no official announcement about streaming, no new sponsorships. They canceled the Lifetime deal, supposedly to give them more flexibility to do things on their own. And since then…crickets. This feels bad.
Am I overreacting?
Anthony Merced: No, you’re not. It is very concerning.
RJ Allen: I think president has taken the title as commissioner.
Luis Hernandez: No, I check Yahoo Sports daily to see if anyone will update the soccer page
RJ Allen: I don’t think they are separate.
Allison Cary: The message seems to be that this is not a league looking to grow. And I don’t really mean adding new teams, but just getting more people involved. Raising the bar. Changing the status quo.
RJ Allen: The league feels like it’s trapped in quicksand. The harder it moves the deeper it sinks.
Luis Hernandez: the league is suppose to be holding teams accountable to these new standards. Is the league not clued in that it should go both ways. Then I listen to RJ and end up blaming USSF.
Charles Olney: The small counterpoints I’ll provide: the transition from Seattle to Reign FC was handled well, and is potentially a good sign that independent ownership can work. Chicago’s marketing approach is great, and a model for other teams. And Utah seems to actively be trying to grow, and might just be able to change the narrative about lackluster (non-Portland) MLS partnerships.
That’s me trying to be optimistic. Is it persuasive?
Allison Cary: It’s not all bad or all good. There are positives and negatives.
Luis Hernandez: don’t forget that Orlando made the commitment and hired a full time GM for the Pride. Or Houston increasing the size of the coaching staff. Seems like the teams if they have the will can get on the right path
Charles Olney: Good points. Even Sky Blue has made (some) progress.
It does feel like team-by-team you could tell a positive story about the offseason. It’s the leaguewide level that is troubling.
Allison Cary: True.
Luis Hernandez: In spite of the league, teams generally want to succeed
RJ Allen: And yet, they persisted.
Charles Olney: Well, we won’t reach any firm conclusions today. But as always it’s something to keep an eye on. Any final topics that people want to throw out there?
Luis Hernandez: I have a question for the group
Luis Hernandez: With the report that Ella Masar is leaving Wolfsburg at the end of the season, will she end up in the NWSL and if so where?
Allison Cary: I’d love to see her in the league, but not sure if she’ll find her way back here.
Anthony Merced: I think she’ll go to England.
RJ Allen: I was thinking England too.
Anthony Merced: Manchester United is heading for the D1 and they are going to spend some cash so that may be a landing spot.
Charles Olney: I wouldn’t be shocked if she ended up as a Laura Harvey surprise midseason move. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
And with that, we will close things out for today. Thanks for reading everyone. And as always, let us know if you have any topics you’d like to hear us discuss in future weeks!