Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, April 29, 2019

Assessing the NWSL before the internationals bolt, must-click links, a couple of quotes from Sauerbrunn and Harvey after Utah's latest win

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Assessing the NWSL before the internationals bolt

So we’re three games into the NWSL season (for most teams) and there’s a couple of emerging themes. But all of them will likely be moot in short order as players begin to prepare for France.

Let’s take a look at the league as it stands:

The North Carolina Courage are still good. The defending NWSL champions have two wins and a draw to sit atop the table. Crystal Dunn leads the league with four of the team’s NWSL-leading 10 goals while Lynn Williams has two goals and two assists. Loaded with depth, the Courage should be fine when the international players leave to prep for the World Cup.

The Utah Royals, who finished fifth last season and just outside the postseason, have played just two games but they’ve won them both, and both have been shutouts. Christen Press had a stunning left-footed goal this past weekend against the Pride. But like her counterparts across the league, Laura Harvey will begin to lose players starting this week, including Press and defender Becky Sauerbrunn. Katie Bowen made New Zealand’s World Cup roster, while Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott could be called into Canada’s national team.

The Portland Thorns are coming off a 2-2 draw on the road with Sky Blue, and now have a win a two draws this season — same as the Chicago Red Stars. Here’s the catch with Portland: They’re on the road for their first six games of the season because of construction at Providence Park. And they’ve given up six (Yikes!) goals. So perhaps five points at this point of the season is encouraging?

By the time the team gets home on June 2 against the Red Stars, they’ll be minus stars Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, Emily Sonnett and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch (and that’s just the Americans!). This is a team that’s going to be very thin, very soon.

Something to watch USWNT-wise: Horan missed this weekend’s match with a sore hip.

And finally, Orlando is still struggling. After finishing seventh in the league last season, the Pride parted ways with Tom Sermanni. Now under Marc Skinner, the team has one point in four games and sits in ninth. Two weeks ago Ashlyn Harris was blunt in her assessment of the team’s performance. Skinner was similarly blunt following this weekend’s 1-0 loss to Utah.

“I think what’s really, really missing from this team is a consistency. First half, again, we’re talking halves at the minute, and first half — far too passive. Didn’t affect the ball enough, I mean the goal is a ridiculous goal, it’s a ridiculous goal. We can’t concede things like that and hope to build the foundations that we need to go forward so we have to affect that. And I’ve just talked in the huddle at the end about accountability. The players must be accountable for that because no coach in the world can stop that goal going in. Second half we looked much better but we were just out of the game by that. We give teams too many leads and that’s what we need to fix,” Skinner said.

Oh one last theme: Sky Blue seems to be geeing its stuff together. Read Jonathan Tannenwald’s story (linked below) for more on that.

Here’s a good thing to think about going forward: Who will be the breakout star back home during the World Cup? In 2015 it was Dunn, who just missed the cut for Canada. She finished with 15 goals and won the Golden Boot. Oh, and then there was Thorns GK Michelle Betos, who scored a goal and went on to be NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: email me at apeterson@ap.org or DMs are open on Twitter, @anniempeterson.

This Week in Women’s Soccer

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.

So while we’re thinking about possible breakout stars, how about Midge Purce? Tyler Nguyen of Stumptown Footy took a look.

Jonathan Tannenwald covered the Sky Blue game against the Thorns, and found things are looking up for the New Jersey team both on the field and off.

OMG! Jamie Goldberg profiled Chistine Sinclair! Remind me to tell my Christine Sinclair story sometime. There’s a reason she’s one of my favorite players.

Sarah Spain took a look at how the World Cup may impact the NWSL for ESPNw.

Stephanie Yang writes for The Athletic about how the Courage keep that underdog mentality when they’re clearly not.

A female referee officiated a Ligue 1 match over the weekend. PS: She’ll be a ref at this summer World Cup.

AFP looked at the big European clubs buying into women’s football.

Barcelona women have reached the Champion’s League final.

Barcelona’s opponent in the final will be Lyon, which bounced Chelsea in the semifinals.

Is the NWSL coming to Hartford? Here’s the Hartford Courant’s story. Jeff Kassouf was all over it (what else is new?) for The Equalizer.

Katelyn Best wrote what we’ve all been thinking about Adrianna Franch. What now?


Tweet of the week


Five at The IX: Postgame with Becky Sauerbrunn and Laura Harvey

Here are a few quotes from Becky Sauerbrunn and Laura Harvey after the Utah Royals got their second-straight shutout, a 1-0 victory over Orlando. Sauerbrunn is Press’ biggest fan, I think. Thanks to the Royals media folks for passing on.

Sauerbrunn on the Royals: “I think we’re just really scrappy. We take a lot of pride in getting the clean sheets and we’ve been lucky enough to do that these last two games. And hopefully we’ll carry it on while the internationals are gone.”

Sauerbrunn on controlling the tempo: “I think we were pretty successful. I think there are definitely things we can work on, timing of the press, staying on the front foot. I think later as the game went on we were more on our back foot and they were starting to get more opportunities. So I think we just need to be brave and continue to step forward and pressure as high on the field as possible.”

Sauerbrunn on Christen Press: “She was phenomenal. That goal was world class. That touch she has, I’ve seen her do it before, so I know it wasn’t a fluke. She does it all the time. She’s just class. She was super dangerous and helped us defensively and on the attack. I can’t speak more highly of her, she’s playing on a different level right now and we’re lucky to have her in Utah.”

Harvey on her message to the team: “We just now need to up our performances, and things will take care of themselves. I said last week, the feeling on the team is we, performance-wise, we can be better. But the mentality, grit, resilience is way better that it was a year ago. And for me as a coach, that’s the best bit. We know performances can be better, We just have to be better on the ball. We need to keep our mentality. We need to keep our resiliency, we need to keep pushing.”

Harvey on Press: “That’s why we traded for her. The girl can score goals. She sees the game, she understands the game. She creates opportunities for other people, she scores on opportunities when they come her way.”


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
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By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
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