Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By MIKE McCALL
The National Women’s Soccer League waters are still a bit murky, but this weekend ought to help clear things up.
After an opening round that featured three 1-1 draws and a fourth match decided by an own goal, there weren’t many statements being made, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it takes a few weeks for the teams to find their form.
Players were in and out for national team duty during an already-short preseason, meaning there wasn’t much of a chance for clubs to work out the kinks and build chemistry.
Those tasks are ongoing as the league enters its second week of games, with six of the eight teams back in action this Saturday and Sunday while the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC are on byes.
But before we jump into the match previews, a quick news update from Thursday:
LEAGUE LANDS TV DEAL: The opening weekend brought many gripes about the quality of the online match broadcasts, and while those will still be in use throughout the season, there are a few moments of relief on the horizon.
On Thursday, the NWSL and FOX Sports announced a deal to televise one game in each of the final six weeks of the regular season (beginning July 8), followed by both semifinals and the championship game.
The schedule has yet to be announced, and other matches will still be streamed through the NWSL’s YouTube channel, but any number of televised matches is an important step for the league’s inaugural season.
As far as the online streams, Washington Spirit coach Mike Jorden summed up the problem pretty well when asked about his ability to scout opponents.
“If you look at some of the streaming we looked at over the weekend, it was pretty difficult to see shapes and that kind of thing,” he said during the Spirit’s media teleconference Thursday.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s matchups:
WASHINGTON SPIRIT vs. WESTERN NY FLASH (Sat., 7 p.m.)
Abby Wambach’s allocation to the Flash was a return home for the native of Rochester, N.Y., but this match will be something of a homecoming as well. Wambach previously spent two stints in D.C. with the Washington Freedom, and she’ll come in looking to erase the sting from last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Sky Blue FC, when she sailed an open, close-range shot over the bar in the final seconds.
Meanwhile, the Spirit will lean on fellow U.S. national teamers Ali Krieger, Lori Lindsey and Ashlyn Harris to smother Wambach while hoping for offense via the young guns led by forward Tiffany McCarty.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (Sat., 7:35 p.m.)
FC Kansas City announced its presence in style, earning a draw with the vaunted Portland Thorns in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Their second game will reveal whether those fans are in it for the long haul or if they were showing up for a peek at Portland’s Alex Morgan, and it’ll also be a chance for the club to prove that it’s serious about being one of the league’s top teams.
Young forward Renae Cuellar followed up a very strong preseason by scoring the first goal in league history last week, and she’ll be matched on the other side by Boston’s lone goalscorer, U.S. forward Sydney Leroux. KC is the more balanced side, but Leroux, Heather O’Reilly and Kyah Simon make the Breakers a constant threat.
PORTLAND THORNS FC vs. SEATTLE REIGN FC (Sun., 2 p.m.)
Sunday brings yet another incarnation of the Portland-Seattle rivalry, and the home side will be looking for its first win amidst a raucous atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field, the league’s top venue. This matchup figures to be a lot more fun later in the year when Seattle gets goalkeeper Hope Solo back from injury and Megan Rapinoe returns from France, but there’s enough to hold water this time around too.
Michelle Betos appears a capable fill-in for Solo, and she’ll get the toughest test the NWSL has to offer in this one, as Portland’s high-profile strike force of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair aim to give a large expected home crowd their money’s worth.
Which matchup are you most looking forward to? Think Portland takes Round 1 of the rivalry? Excited about the league’s TV deal?
Share your thoughts below.