Updated: Jan 1, 2020
Charles Olney (@olneyce): Welcome to this week’s Backline Soccer Chat. We’ve got some national team news to discuss, some NWSL games to cover, and even a few new NWSL signings to discuss. To kick things off, let’s start with the US Women’s National Team. The roster dropped a week ago, and we’ve all had some time to digest and reflect, so there’s no need to dwell too long here. But does anyone have any lingering thoughts?
Allison Cary (@findingallison): I’m upgrading McCall Zerboni not getting called up to a crime against humanity. That is all.
Charles Olney: I wrote a whole piece on that for SSFC, so I won’t say anything more except that I still don’t really get it. Particularly given the reporting which suggests that Ellis saw those final roster choices as all about managing ‘what if’ scenarios.
Luis Hernandez (@radioactivclown): I’m not going to go as far as Allison about Zerboni but I can see her getting pulled into the squad for an injured player or someone who can’t be 90 minutes fit by the World Cup starting.
Charles Olney: That would not surprise me at all. We’re still weeks ago from the actual deadline, so there’s a lot that could change.
Allison Cary: Yeah, absolutely.
Charles Olney: Two other omissions which were by no means surprises, but which I still want to note: Lynn Williams has been one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the league for three seasons now, and provides a physical presence that seems like it could be useful. And Vanessa DiBernardo continues to improve, and is genuinely one of the great passers of her generation. I’m not saying they absolutely should have made it, but it bums me out that they weren’t even in the picture.
Allison Cary: Yeah, I wasn’t surprised that they weren’t included, but like you said, the fact that they weren’t even in the discussion is disappointing. Especially Williams.
Charles Olney: I hope they both still get a real chance at some point. It would make me sad if they continue to play this well and just never make it back on the radar.
Luis Hernandez: I don’t think most fans would say those are really omissions. I think you kind of have to watch the league as a whole unbiasedly. They weren’t even given much of a chance to get snubbed.
I think after this World Cup cycle you see the return of more younger players or maybe just not as veteran a team.
For example, I’m a big fan of Ohai but she won’t get a look until the end of the chapter for this current team.
Charles Olney: We might talk more about Casey Short when we get to the games this week, but it also shouldn’t go unmentioned that her absence might well end up being felt this summer.
Allison Cary: I feel bad for Short. I think the injury and youth took her out of the picture, but I’m not sure it should have.
Luis Hernandez: At least Short has time to make another World Cup. I do think she’s solid for the US on the left side.
Charles Olney: Alright, to wrap things up, hopefully we can agree that even if the 23 isn’t precisely what we might each have preferred, it’s still extremely loaded and the US are most likely the favorites to retain their title? Or, at a minimum co-favorites.
Allison Cary: It is a fantastic side. I think there are other really good sides too, but I wouldn’t bet against this US side.
Luis Hernandez: I don’t have the US as the top favorite but yes they will be favored. I would be less nervous if the defense were more solid.
Charles Olney: Alright, the other piece of news that arrived this week is that US Soccer has responded to the USWNT player’s gender discrimination complaint, basically by denying the validity of the accusations in most key respects. The players responded with a pretty terse ‘we’ll see you in court.’ Do you have any thoughts about where this is going?
Allison Cary: Personally, I’ve tried to sort out my feelings, but I keep coming back to the fact that I don’t know anywhere near enough about equal employment law.
Charles Olney: As I said on Twitter, I’m not a lawyer but I am law adjacent, and my sense is that US Soccer has a decent legal argument but even if they might expect to win the case if it went to trial, they’ll take a beating in public opinion. So I still expect this to get settled out of court.
But I’m less sure about that now than I was yesterday.
Luis Hernandez: I’m not a lawyer, but I think US Soccer is going to have a bit of an uphill climb.
Allison Cary: If the team is playing for the court of public opinion, I think they’re doing well. What I keep coming back to legally is, do they have a burden of proof to show this is solely based on gender? Because that seems like a high bar to meet for anyone.
Luis Hernandez: I do think the players have more of an argument on some of the basics, but USSF has corrected most of what they can. Should be interesting to see how it plays out
Charles Olney: It is a pretty high bar. Certainly, organizations are allowed to treat groups differently based on a wide variety of things. That the USMNT and USWNT are (obviously) gender-segregated doesn’t necessarily mean every decision to treat them different is therefore gender-based. On the other hand, some of the public statement that US Soccer has made on these issues are pretty damning.
One final thought: obviously it shouldn’t matter legally, but I also wonder whether the results in France might shade things one way or the other.
Allison Cary: I think it will, unfortunately. I don’t think it should.
Charles Olney: Okay, enough of the national team. Let’s talk some NWSL. We had four games and two goals this weekend. So my first question is just: should we expect more of the same until the national teamers get back? Or was this just a fluke?
Luis Hernandez: I kind of think this question can be a bit unfair to the players from other nations still here. Certainly, the goal scorers this season so far have mostly been USWNT players, but I think there’s still some offense around the league
Allison Cary: We lost some of the top goal scorers but there is plenty of good offense left. We might see a drop in number of goals, but I don’t think it will be this sparse every week.
Charles Olney: Obviously there are a ton of good attackers still around. But there’s also no denying that virtually all of the top attacking performances this season have come from US national team players. I’m certain that others will step up at some point, but I wonder if that might still be a difference between now and four years ago: that defenses are more solid and less vulnerable to losing top players.
Luis Hernandez: Yuki and Sinclair have three goals, and Sam Kerr only has two.I think it’s just been fluky.
Allison Cary: I don’t think NC not scoring is going to be the norm.
Luis Hernandez: Most teams are deeper now and the league hopefully won’t see a major drop in talent and ability overall.
Charles Olney: So digging in a little bit more specifically, any thoughts from the individual games? My feeling is that we saw a lot of teams in holding patterns, without all that much clear evidence of whether to expect changes. Utah got three points (again), without necessarily dominating (again). North Carolina dominated (as usual) but couldn’t get their shots on target (except even more so). The Reign played okay but couldn’t score.
Orlando continue to struggle, without necessarily ever looking terrible. Sky Blue still don’t look great, but have managed points against the two finalists from last season.
Allison Cary: I want so badly to believe Utah is as good as their record reflects. And they did good without Sauerbrunn and Press, but they’re gonna lose many more players. Not sure if they’ll be able to sustain it. And like you said, as it is, they’re not dominating.
Charles Olney: I feel like we’ve mostly seen results that could either be indicators of big changes, or just indicators that things will mostly stay the same. And it’s really hard to tell which is which.
Allison Cary: Pretty much summed it up there, Charles.
Charles Olney: I would certainly be surprised if Utah keep winning every game. The real question is whether they drop off to a normal playoff contender pace, or whether they fall back to where they were last year. I’m more convinced by them now than I was a month ago, certainly, and those points are already in the bank, so…
Allison Cary: Yeah, it’s a good thing they’re racking in points now.
Charles Olney: I saw someone point out that Orlando right now is basically where Houston was last year after five games – manager who is new to the league, really struggling to put things together, major risk of being cut adrift. And then Houston righted the ship and started reeling off results. I’m not PREDICTING that will happen with Orlando, but it’s at least a potentially positive analogy.
Allison Cary: Orlando needs anything even potentially positive right now.
Luis Hernandez: I think this weekend was mostly what the teams this season will be. Maybe most teams outside of Orlando get another couple of games under their belt before we can say, “yeah, that’s who that team is for the season.”
I think we’re about to enter a phase in the league where teams are going to add some reinforcements from overseas like we saw with Sky Blue or expect from Orlando.
Charles Olney: Speaking of reinforcements, thoughts on the two additions that were just announced: Gina Lewandowski to Sky Blue and Casey Murphy to the Reign? I’m a big fan of both moves.
Allison Cary: Yeah, me too. Solid additions ahead of the WC.
Luis Hernandez: I don’t think that’s the best spot for Murphy long-term but I don’t hate the move. I wasn’t surprised by the Lewandowski move at all. I knew she was going to play in the US from what I had seen. Plus the only NWSL team she follows on her social media is Sky Blue. Yeah, I went there.
Charles Olney: Lewandowski was, I think, somewhat unfairly cut out of the national team picture due to being overseas. At this point, she’s almost certainly dropped off to the point where that’s no longer true. But even a below-peak Lewandowski could be huge for a team like Sky Blue that just needs some defensive continuity to build off.
Luis Hernandez: I agree with you Charles. She deserved more time in the national team picture, but I think you can also say that for Ella Masar, who is retiring to go into coaching.
Charles Olney: I agree that Reign is maybe not the ideal landing spot for Murphy. From all I’ve seen (admittedly not enough to really be sure), she’s good enough to be a regular starter in the league, whether during the World Cup or not. So I’d rather see her go to a team where she could expect to start right from the beginning. But as Claire Watkins was pointing out, this may really be about protecting themselves from expansion next year. Certainly no harm in building depth.
Alright, looking forward, we’ve got another four NWSL matchups this weekend. Sky Blue and Washington will meet up for the second time in a month, Utah will take on Houston, Orlando will face Portland (another repeat), and Chicago will play NC (see above). So, any thoughts of any of those matchups?
And also, what’s up with the lack of new opponents?!
Allison Cary: Yeah, lots of repeats.
Luis Hernandez: Frankly I think it sucks that we have so many rematches when teams like Orlando haven’t played Sky Blue or Washington.
I would like to wait a bit more to see replays between teams.
Allison Cary: Since Sky Blue managed to get two draws against two of the stronger clubs in the league, I’m curious to see how they’ll do against Washington this time around.
Charles Olney: Sky Blue-Washington is definitely one to watch. Both teams will be desperate to genuinely turn a new leaf on their awful 2018s, and getting a win here would go a long way for each of them. Which means it’ll probably be a draw.
Allison Cary: Probably.
Charles Olney: Utah-Houston is another good test for two teams who want to show that they’ve taken a step forward from 2018. If either gets a win, that will go a long way to proving that they are serious challengers. If Utah can get 12 points in 4 games to start the season, they would certainly become favorites to make the playoffs. And if Houston can knock them off, they would actually pass them in the table (albeit with an extra game played).
Allison Cary: Yeah, that’s true on both points. Houston knocking off Utah could be a big boost for them in confidence and points, and Utah being undefeated in four can’t be shrugged off.
Luis Hernandez: Obviously travel for Portland might also be a factor than at the opening of the season.
Charles Olney: Yeah, Luis, that’s a good point. Portland’s neverending travel adventure has got to be a drag.
Allison Cary: I’m exhausted just looking at Portland’s schedule.
Charles Olney: We’ve also managed to avoid mentioning the game between North Carolina and Chicago. That one certainly isn’t a ‘must win’ for either team, but I think they’ll both REALLY want to get the three points after extremely disappointing results last weekend.
Luis Hernandez: The big takeaway from all the rematches is if the results from the first go-around continue or there’s a shift between these opponents.
Allison Cary: Very true. It seems like both teams keep bouncing back and forth between having a really good match and then a really frustrating one.
Charles Olney: I’ll be curious to see how Riley changes things up – or if he sticks with the same XI. I thought they were fine against Sky Blue, but nothing like the sort of dominance we’ve otherwise seen. Is that just the absence of Dunn and Mewis? I expected they would handle the loss of Dahlkemper fine, but Kurtz had a rough game.
Luis Hernandez: Across all the games this weekend, I get a “must watch” vibe, but it’s also partly because they are replays.
Charles Olney: Any general thoughts before we wrap things up?
Allison Cary: Utah and NC doing Star Wars merch was cool and teams should be doing more stuff like that.
Also I hope Utah’s attendance stays high.
Charles Olney: Yeah! It didn’t really look like they had that many in the stadium, but even if some of those were ticket-sales-not-butts-in-seats, that’s still a HUGE number. They definitely don’t seem to be suffering a sophomore slump attendance-wise, which is really nice.
Allison Cary: Yeah, I really think women’s soccer could be massive in Salt Lake. I really want them to prove me right.
Charles Olney: It sure would be great if they could announce a big year-end event there to get everyone excited. Maybe the weekend of October 26. Just a thought.
Luis Hernandez: lol
One final thing: I just want to point out here that we’re this far into the schedule and the league still has the 2018 rules and regulations posted and nothing in the roster rules reflect the changes that we see on the pitch
Charles Olney: Given the hiring situation at NWSL headquarters, it may be that way for a while, unfortunately.
Well, that’s a suitably depressing note to end on. Thanks for reading everyone. We’ll be back next week, and in the meantime, we hope you enjoy some thrilling soccer.