This week, as the NWSL is largely quiet for the international break, we look at the 2018 season after approximately three-quarters of the games have been played, after 18/19 matches (except for Sky Blue FC which has played only 16) of their 24 game regular season schedule. At this point (as of July 27, three of the four teams at the top are set to repeat as 2017 semifinalists—North Carolina, 2017 Champions Portland and Orlando, with second place Seattle replacing fifth-place Chicago Red Stars, who have made the semifinals during the last three NWSL regular seasons.
We also look at the NWSL attendances so far this season, with the league average increasing by 15% over last season, to 5,842 in 2018 (after games on July 21/22) from 5,083 last season. Utah is averaging over 8,500—replacing FC Kansas City's league low 1,788---plus Boston Breakers 2,896 (third from the bottom in 2017) are no longer pulling down the league average.
We then look at the final for the two amateur summer leagues in North America, the UWS and WPSL.
2018 NWSL Season to Date
North Carolina Courage (14-4-1--46 points—First)
The Courage is a stunning 16 points ahead of second place Seattle Reign and clinched a playoff spot almost two months before the end of the season with a 4-0 road victory over last place Sky Blue FC on July 14. They have scored 41 goals, 12 more than second place Portland (29), and have also allowed the fewest goals in the league (14), one less than Seattle (15). Their only loss has been to Utah at home on June 16 1-0, with substitute Brittany Radcliffe (ex-University of Virginia, who is in her third year in the league) scoring a late injury-time winner in front of 5,164 fans, but then the Courage bounced back to defeat Seattle 4-1 away on June 23 and then won four more consecutive matches until their next trip to Utah, where they again lost points on July 19 in a 0-0 tie; the Courage had six starters away on U.S. national team duty for the Utah match. In three matches between the clubs this season, Utah has 1 win and 2 deadlocks, while the rest of North Carolina's other 7 opponents have combined for 2 ties against the Courage. Lynn Williams is third in the league in scoring with 8 goals along with 4 assists; she scored a hat trick in the Sky Blue win. Crystal Dunn, after her season with Chelsea, is tied for fourth in the league in scoring with 7 goals along with 5 assists, tied with Portland's Christine Sinclair of Portland (7 goals and 6 assists), Seattle's Meagan Rapinoe (7 goals and 4 assists) and Houston's Rachel Daley (7 goals and 0 assists). Debinha of Brazil (tied for eighth in the league) has 6 goals and 2 assists from a deep-lying midfield role along with veteran American forward Jess McDonald, who currently has 6 goals and 4 assists. In late June, the Courage traded forward Makenzy Doniak (ex-University of Virginia who is in her third year in the league) and a third round selection in the 2019 College Draft in order to add another veteran, U.S. Soccer international Heather O'Reilly, who joins after time with Arsenal; North Carolina also received a 2019 second round College draft pick from Utah. O'Reilly won a NWSL title with FC Kansas City in 2015 and head coach Vlatko Andonovski told this reporter after the game that he felt she was the crucial element in not only their win over Seattle Reign but for the entire season, allowing them to repeat their 2014 title. A 4-1 home win over Chicago on Independence Day (July 4) again sent a message that they may be one of the best professional sides ever in the States.
In midfield, veteran American McCall Zerboni has 3 goals and 1 assist while Sam Mewis has added 3 goals and 2 assists. In defense, Merritt Mathias has 3 goals and 1 assist and New Zealand's Abby Erceg has 1 goal and 1 assist. During the late July break, North Carolina is playing in a high profile international club tournament in Florida, which we will review next week.
Seattle Reign (8-6-4--30 points—Second)
In their first two games in June, the Reign had consecutive scoreless deadlocks at home to Orlando and on the road at Washington before collapsing at home to North Carolina 4-1. Since then, they won three and tied one of their next four matches from June 27 through July 1, with the three wins all coming at home over Portland (1-0), Houston (3-1) and Utah (1-0).
Memorial Stadium attendance has been overwhelming in the Emerald City with only 3,172 attending on July 7, a gorgeous Saturday night, versus Houston. Their seasonal average is 3,899, just below last season's 4,037, but well below the league's average gate of 5,842.
Megan Rapinoe is having another stellar season tied with fourth in the league with goals with 7 and 4 assists. Danish international Theresa Nielsen (32) has quietly had a strong first season in America, playing in 13 games, and goalkeepers Michele Betos and Australian international Lydia Williams continue to share the duties. Also new this season, U.S. international Allie Long has been a strong edition in midfielder with 3 goals while English international forward Jodie Taylor has 6 goals and 1 assist in a central role, with Rapinoe playing out wide. Wales international midfielder Jess Fishlock is still the engine of the side, paired with Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi, who is not posting as gaudy of numbers as in past seasons, (3 assists) but is still visionary with her passing. Fishlock received a MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) last month for her services to women's football and the LBGT community—congratulations to her.
Portland Thorns (8-5-5--29 points—Tied for Third)
The reigning league champions Portland Thorns have been playing well of late, with only one loss in seven games, four of which were wins. They recorded three consecutive wins going into the break (at home over Utah 4-0, at home against Houston 3-1 and at Sky Blue FC 2-1) and on present form should make the playoffs. They have the second highest goals total in the league (29) and fourth fewest allowed (22), tied with Chicago.
Lindsey Horan has been stellar this season and leads the league in goals with 9 (along with 2 assists), tied with Chicago's Australian international Sam Kerr. Canadian international Christine Sinclair has also been at an all-star level with 7 goals and 6 assists (tied for fourth in the league in goals). Swiss international Ana Crnogorcevic is actually starting to score more than when she arrived earlier this season (4 goals, 2 assists). English native head coach Mark Parsons has moved her once to right back, where she is potentially better than up front, but he will probably keep her in attack for the time being as she has scored a goal in her last three matches before the international break.
Midfielders Midge Purse and Celeste Boureille are having strong seasons in midfield along with Brazilian Andressinha—they have scored no points—but when you have Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath (3 goals and 3 assists) in front of you, they don't really need to.
In the stands, Thorns have attracted 145,745 for 9 games, for an average of 16,194, compared to the league average of 5,842. They are below last season's average of 17,653 but there are still three more home games: there are no alarm bells ringing as they are still the best drawing women's soccer club in the world.
Orlando Pride (8-6-5--29 points—Tied for Third)
A crucial 1-1 tie at home against Seattle on July 21 was a missed opportunity to leapfrog the Reign for sole position of second, and instead the Pride fell to a tie for third with Portland, and have played one more game than the Thorns; they have Chicago (28) points, nipping at their heels with a game in hand (18 versus Orlando's 19 games completed). At the end of May, the Pride seemed to be coming into form, but had a scoreless deadlock on the road in Seattle to open June, then narrowly defeated Sky Blue 3-2 at home with a brace from U.S. international (and former Canadian youth international) Sydney Leroux, a narrow 1-0 road win over struggling Washington, before losing a late 1-0 lead at home against Houston to fall 2-1, with the Dash goals coming in the last 10 minutes. Orlando then lost at home to North Carolina (3-0). Moving into July, they defeated Washington 2-1 at home, coming from a goal down, but then fell to Houston again on the road 3-1, before another come from behind victory over Utah in Salt Lake City 2-1 on July 14. They have let in 26 goals, third highest in the league and U.S. international goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris has looked rattled at times. The Pride has scored 27 goals, the third highest total in the league, to offset their defensive jitters and remain in the race for the final four.
Leroux has 6 goals and 2 assists on the season after missing last year on maternity leave while fellow international forward Alex Morgan has looked very good up front with 4 goals and 2 assists. Australian back Alana Kennedy scored a brilliant goal from the midfield stripe for the winner in the 1-0 victory over Washington; she has 2 on the season. Brazil's Camilla has returned from injury after missing most of the season and is gradually gaining more playing time and will be crucial in the run in to the playoffs.
Former Arsenal striker Chioma Ubogagu has 4 goals and 1 assist while Rachel Hill has 4 goals, largely as a sub. Hill, who played at the University of Connecticut, has continued her scoring from a successful offseason in Perth in the W-League.
Marta has 3 goals and 3 assists but had to sit out a game after a late red card for striking at Rachel Daly against Houston in the 3-1 home loss on July 11. Coach Tom Sermanni continues to tinker with the lineup looking for a consistent lineup.
Off the field, Orlando—which hosted last year's NWSL Final—is only attracting an average of 4,716 after 9 games, well below last year's average of 6,186 and 8,785 in 2016 their inaugural season (the second highest total in the league that year to Portland), even though they finished ninth of ten teams with only 19 points.
Chicago Red Stars (7-7-4--28 points—Fifth)
Australian international forward Sam Kerr has caught fire with 5 goals in her last 5 games; she is now tied for the league lead in goals with 9 along with 2 assists. Kerr scored a hat trick in a 3-1 victory over her former club Sky Blue FC in New Jersey on July 6 to catapult to the top of the goal scorers' race, which she won in record-setting form last year. Chicago has looked strong after a slow start to the season and Kerr's understanding with Japanese international midfielder Yuki Nagasato has been brilliant and Nagasato tied for second in the league for assists with Crystal Dunne on 5, one behind Portland's Christine Sinclair, who has 6. Nagasato has contributed 4 goals as well from her attacking midfield position.
Earlier this month, Chicago was involved in another three way trade, as they were in January that saw Sam Kerr come to the Windy City, Carli Lloyd move from Houston to Sky Blue FC and supposedly Christen Press transfer from Chicago to Houston. The latter's well documented snit towards moving to the Dash resulted in her playing in Gothenburg for a few months but she is back in the NWSL, with Chicago significantly sending U.S. international forward Sofia Huerta and defender Taylor Comeau to Houston for the rights to Press, which were then sent to Utah along with defender Samantha Johnson for Brooke Elby and Utah's first round selection in the 2019 college draft and future draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Chicago received the rights to former player Morgan Brian, who played with Olympique Lyon this past spring. Brian has played in 3 games since returning from France. All the crucial U.S. national teamers are now playing in the States ahead of October's CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament.
American Alyssa Mautz, who won a U-20 World Cup in 2008 in Chile, has 3 goals and 3 assists. Attendance has been stronger this season for the Red Stars in the MLS Fire's Toyota Park with 4,612, well above last season's average of 3,198.
Houston Dash (6-5-7--23 points—Sixth)
The Dash, which was completely scorched in Christen Press' petulant escapade to avoid playing there when they effectively traded Carli Lloyd for her in January, has been compensated through another trade, with Sofia Huerta coming in from Chicago (she has scored 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games in the Texas metropolis and 5 goals and 3 assists combined on the season) as well as competent defender Taylor Comeau, who played at the University of California and is in her fourth season in the league. American forward Kealia Ohai now has 4 goals and 2 assists on the season after her return from an ACL tear last season and the team feeds off of her drive and passion.
England's Rachel Daly has 7 goals, tied for fourth in the league, and has been dangerous in attack all season, after moving up front after a brief early stint as a wing back to help solidify the new defensive shape of first year head coach Vera Pauw.
Rookie Veronica Latsko, who was a third round draft choice from the University of Virginia, has been impressive, scoring 2 goals with 1 assist. Veteran Australian international and long-time Brisbane Roar captain Claire Polkinghorne signed in June—she had played in Portland after the Women's World Cup in 2015—and her experience will help the Dash as they remain an outside bet for the playoffs. Overall, this team has been very entertaining to watch in 2018 and much improved under Vera Pauw's first season in charge. Attendance has fallen off by 13% from last season (3,961 average in 2018 vs.4,578 in 2017) but Houston has had very hot weather and storms during some games.
Utah Royals (5-7-6—22 Points—Seventh)
Utah continues to draw too many games (7—tied with Chicago for most in the league) to seriously challenge for a playoff spot at this point but is looking more coherent and now has Christen Press to help the anemic offense. After refusing to play there in January and then reconsidering when it was too late, she came as a result of a complicated trade (see above in the Chicago section). Press has 1 goal and 1 assist in 3 games and has looked dangerous up front. Their undoing as far as their playoff hopes was a 4-0 loss in Portland on a Friday night (July 6) in front of 17,930, when the Thorns jumped to a 3-0 lead by the 34th minute, including a Tobin Heath creative chipped goal in the2nd minute. Australian international Katrina Gorry (0 goals and 1 assist) has been strong in midfield along with Icelandic international Gunny Jonsdottir (1 goal and 2 assists).
Attendance is stellar, with 8,761 coming to see a 2-1 loss to Orlando on July 15, but three straight losses to start July have probably put pad to a playoff spot. Still struggling up front (14 goals) and less than 1 goal a game (18 played), the defense has been stellar with only 18 goals surrendered, third best in the league. Canadian international Diane Matheson has been a magician in midfield with her passing and running the gap between midfield and the forward line (2 goals and 1 assists). American forward Katie Stengel (ex-Boston Breakers) has 3 goals now but Norway's Elise Thorsne has yet to score in 9 games. Brittany Ratcliffe has two goals in a supporting role and could see more time in the end of season run-in. Erica Tymrak, who has been with the franchise all six seasons and played at the University of Florida, Bayern Munich and Melbourne City on loan, has 1 goal in a limited role this season.
Utah has done superbly at the gate with and average of 8,578 for 9 games, replacing FC Kansas City's 2017 average of 1,788 and exceeding the team's management target of 8,000 for this first season; the CEO wants to increase average attendance next year to 12,000 and have complete sellouts in year 3, (2020) of 20,000, which is doable if the team can compete for the playoffs over the next two seasons and add more firepower in attack.
Washington Spirit (2-4-12--10 points—Eighth)
June saw a lack of scoring for the Spirit, coinciding with Mallory Pugh's two month injury layoff while on national team duty, which has not helped the situation and they have been in a free fall in July, with 5 consecutive losses since June 23—which were preceded by two consecutive scoreless deadlocks—three of the losses though have been by only one goal and the other two by a two goal margin. They have scored 11 goals all season, the lowest total in the league—even winless Sky Blue has scored more often in 2018 (12).
Ashley Hatch—last year's league Rookie of the Year with North Carolina—has 4 goals and 1 assist to lead the club in scoring, while Nigerian forward Fran Ordega has 3 goals. After Mallory Pugh's 2 goals and 1 assist, only veteran American midfielder Jen Lohman and Argentinian forward Estefania Banini has scored (1 each). Chilean international midfielder Yanaro Aedo was released in late June. The former Valencia of Spain player, who had 7 goals in 2016-17, helped the Spirit Reserves win the 2015 W-League Championship with two goals in the final. She will probably be in Chile's squad for the 2019 Women's World Cup and should find a club in Europe or South America.
Sky Blue FC (0-3-13--3 points—Ninth)
Sky Blue is still waiting for its first win of the season, but has been more competitive of late, and could have stolen a point at home against Portland Thorns on July 21, putting the high scoring side on the ropes at times. Carli Lloyd scored a late goal to give them a tie against 1-1 against the Thorns in Portland on June 27 and she has 3 goals and 1 assist on the year. Not to imply that she is a jinx or anything, but in 8 professional seasons across the NWSL and WPS, she has played on exactly one playoff team—the 2013 NWSL runners-up Western New York Flash. She is a tremendous player and leader but continues to find herself on teams (such as the Atlanta Beat in 2011 in WPS and the Houston Dash in her 3 seasons) that seem to look to her to do everything herself but, like any good player, she needs talent to support her. U.S international and rookie Savannah McCaskill is certainly one of those talented individuals; she also has 3 goals and 1 assists and is in the running for Rookie of the Year, looking very accomplished on the ball. Shea Groom, in from FC Kansas City/Utah, has been very active but only has 1 goal and 1 assist on this team that has only scored 12 goals in 16 matches. Imani Dorsey (ex-Duke University and the number 5 pick in the 2018 College Draft) signed as a free agent and first was a replacement player while their international players were away but was signed in mid-June to a full time contract and has been very impactful for a struggling side, with 1 goal and 1 assist. Canadian international Adrianna Leon (ex-Zurich FC) was sent to Seattle in June in exchange for a 2019 Fourth Round draft choice. Jen Hoy, who played 5 seasons with Chicago and scored 15 goals, has only played 28 minutes all season as she has had knee difficulties.
Sky Blue is also bottom of the league in attendance with 2,299 after 9 games or a total of 20,694, almost what Portland draws in one game and down from an average of 2,613 last season, when Sam Kerr was doing well and they were in the race for a playoff berth for much of the year. They are right now on track to set records for fewest wins in a season (3 for Boston Breakers in 2016 and Washington Spirit in 2013) and points (11 by Boston Breakers in 2016).
This will be team fixer-upper during the offseason, though rumors persist that, with their pathetic attendance, that it is a target for downsizing or a move to another city.
UWS and WPSL Championships Crown New Titlists for 2018
The two summer amateur leagues in North America, the UWS and WPSL, finished their 2018 championships over the weekend of July 14-15. In the UWS four team finals, the Houston Aces defeated Inferno Rush 1-0 in overtime in Grandville (Lansing) Michigan. The Aces, a charter member of the UWS, won their first title from Julie Gavorski's (ex-University of Cincinnati) game-winner in the 118th minute, assisted by Colombian international Tatiana Ariza (who played at Austin Peay University in Tennessee), in a game marred by heavy rains. Gavorski was also named as the UWS Finals MVP and said about her winning goal: "It was a crazy finish but we gave it a lot of grit and we had to keep going. [Ariza] played in a great ball up the middle and all I had to do was place it in the back of the net. I kind of closed my eyes but it went in and it was just a magic moment. You just have to finish your chances and that's what I did."
This was the second time that the UWS National Championship Game went to extra time; in 2016, Santa Clarita defeated New Jersey Copa FC 2-1 with a 119th minute bicycle kick goal from Julia Hernandez (a Spanish youth international who plays at UCLA).
Gisela Arrieta (13 goals, one assist), Julie Gavorski (eight goals, two assists), Tatiana Ariza (five goals, three assists) led the way for the 2018 Champion Aces. Colombian international Gisela Arrieta Betancourt finished second in Greece in scoring with Elpides Karditsas A.C. during the 2017-18 season with 23 goals. The Houston Aces ran through the competition in the newly formed Southwest Conference, outscoring their opposition 52-3 in eight matches, and only had two of their contests decided by four or less goals. The Aces acted as a reserve team to the Houston Dash of the NWSL, including Mexican international goalkeeper Bianca Henninger, midfielder Michaela Hahn and defender Jennifer LaPonte.
In the semifinals, Houston Aces defeated Calgary Foothills 3-1. Canadian U-20 international Lauren Raimondo (who also plays at Harvard University), scored four goals with two assists on the season to lead the Alberta, Canada side, the only Canadian team in the league. In the other match, Grand Rapids FC were the defending UWS Champions from 2017 but the Inferno Rush (Lancaster PA) overcame them 4-3 with a hat trick from Haley Crawford (James Madison University), who had 10 goals during the regular season. The Rush's defense was superb all season as they tied for second among UWS teams (with both Grand Rapids and LA Galaxy OC) for the fewest goals allowed (ten) along with being amongst the league leaders in shutouts (four).
The UWS had 24 teams in 4 conferences plus 3 teams in the provisional Southeast Conference, which is expected to expand for the 2019 season.
In the WPSL, the Seattle Sounders Women won the 2018 WPSL Championship with an undefeated season, defeating Pensacola FC of Florida 3-1 in Norman, Oklahoma. Mireya Grey (University of Washington sophomore) assisted on the first goal to Jenna Holtz. Georgia Cloepfil, a native of Linfield, Oregon—who has played in Australia, Sweden and South Korea since graduating from Division III Macalester College—was crucial in midfield, with Florida State University freshman this fall Kirsten Pavlisko and Spanish international Celia Jimenez Delgado (who played for Iowa Western Community College and the University of Alabama and was a fourth round draft pick of the Seattle Reign in 2018, after appearing for Spain in the 2015 Women's World Cup for Canada) crucial in attack up front, with Delgado scoring the game winner. Defender Pascale Dumesnil (a native of San Diego who will be a senior this fall at the University of Washington) closed out the scoring in stoppage time. Uchenna Kanu, the top scorer in the WPSL from Pensacola, could not score on the Sounders' defense. Kanu, a native of Nigeria, will be a junior this fall at Southeastern University and played for her country in two CONCACAF hosted World Cups in the same season, at the 2014 U-20 World Cup in Canada and the 2014 U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica.
The WPSL had 104 teams and three provisional sides competing in 17 conferences across 4 different regions. Puerto Rico Pride FC was a new team that did not win a game and was based in Florida, but aimed at developing talent of Puerto Rican descent in the state.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
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