Equalizer Soccer http://womens.soccerly.com The No. 1 Source for Women's Professional Soccer News Sat, 30 Aug 2014 02:55:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 FC Kansas City teammates laud Sauerbrunn as world’s best center back http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/becky-sauerbrunn-kansas-city-nwsl-final-best-centerback-world/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/becky-sauerbrunn-kansas-city-nwsl-final-best-centerback-world/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 02:55:43 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16304 Becky Sauerbrunn is considered by teammates and some opponents to be the best center back in the world. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Becky Sauerbrunn is considered by teammates and some opponents to be the best center back in the world. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the short history of the National Women’s Soccer League, FC Kansas City has enjoyed the most success on the field. Offensively, Lauren Holiday, Erika Tymrak, and Amy Rodriguez light up the scoreboard, but an argument can be made that their success stems from their defense more than anything. Kansas City has accumulated a .609 winning percentage in two seasons, only allowing 54 goals and accumulating more shutout victories than any other team.

The undisputed leader of that defense, Becky Sauerbrunn, was named the 2014 NWSL Defender of the Year on Tuesday. This is the second year in a row that she earned the award, making her the only repeat-winner in NWSL history.

From the outside, a person needs to only attend one of FCKC’s training sessions to see the impact Sauerbrunn has on her team.

As players arrive on the training field and begin stretching, they all keep an eye on their captain. All conversations and activities stop the moment Sauerbrunn begins to take a light jog around the field. Suddenly, the entire team forms behind her for the unofficial start to practice.

Coming from ‘The Show Me State’, the St. Louis, Mo., native takes her state’s motto to heart as she prefers to lead with her actions on the field.

“She’s definitely a lead by example person,” says veteran defender Leigh Ann Robinson. “When we’re doing technical drills at practice, things like that, she’s always doing them to a ‘T’. You look at her and think, ‘ok that’s how I’m going to work…that’s how I’m going to do it.’ Obviously, being around great players makes you better, but she’s made our entire back line a whole other level better.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2014 NWSL final  |  KC looking to bring another title to city]

In two seasons with FC Kansas City, Sauerbrunn has directed the team to fewer goals allowed, more shutouts and more wins than any other team. Incredibly, in 41 games along the way she has committed only seven fouls and been given one yellow card.

“She’s so good at what she does and so smart, she doesn’t need to foul,” said rookie and fellow defender Kassey Kallman. “It’s not that she’s not aggressive, because she is. She just doesn’t need to foul to get the ball. When someone from the other team is passing the ball up the field, Becky leaves to pick off the pass before it’s even left her foot. She rarely steps and doesn’t win the ball.”

Kallman was FC Kansas City’s first round draft pick in 2014 and has been a starter on the team’s backline for much of the season. Joining a backline with Sauerbrunn, Robinson and Nikki Phillips, three players who have all represented their national teams at the highest level, she appreciates any help she can get.

“It’s pretty awesome being on the backline with her, especially my rookie year,” says Kallman. “I’ve learned so much from her. If I have questions I’ll go up to her, if she sees something she’ll point it out to me, but just watching her…her positioning, her winning the ball, and even her offensive play. I learn from all of those things.”

Sauerbrunn made a name for herself playing in WPS and is often cited as one of the reasons having a domestic professional league is so important.

After a head-turning season with the Washington Freedom, she was a last-minute addition to the 2011 Women’s World Cup qualifying roster. She ended up making the team that traveled to Germany and then filled in admirably during the semifinal match while Rachel Buehler was suspended. Since then, she has been called to nearly every USWNT camp and has solidified her position as a starting center back for FIFA’s number one ranked team.

“I think she’s the best defender in the world,” says Lauren Holiday, her teammate on both FC Kansas City and the national team. “There are lots of good players, but she is the best at what she does, hands down.”

That’s an honor others have bestowed upon Sauerbrunn, including Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley before last week’s semifinal.

“I feel like she makes everyone else’s job around her so easy,” adds Robinson. “Not only is she commanding our back line and keeping everyone on point, but she’s also winning balls and then distributing into our midfielders…into our forwards to where we can then create an attack off of her.”

Vlatko Andonovski (right) and Becky Sauerbrunn. (Photo Copyright: Thad Bell | http://www.tpbphoto.com/)

Vlatko Andonovski (right) and Becky Sauerbrunn. (Photo Copyright: Thad Bell | http://www.tpbphoto.com/)

What fans love about Sauerbrunn, is that she is so approachable off the field. Most often, she is the last one off the field following a game as she tries not to miss a single autograph request, photo opportunity or media interview. She is equally comfortable with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati or a member of the Blue Crew supporters group.

“I think the coolest part is how she’s the best player in the country…the world and you don’t even feel that when you’re around her,” Kallman remarks. “She’s down to earth, so normal, always looking to talk to anyone. You don’t realize how ‘big-time’ you are around her because she is so humble.”

In December 2012, after the initial NWSL allocations were announced, Sauerbrunn was the first player to visit Kansas City. Coming in for a quick publicity tour, she signed hundreds of autographs and joined the broadcast crew of a Missouri Comets game at halftime.

In that interview she mentioned many times about how excited she was to be coming to the city. She laid out many goals she had for her time here. Chief among them were to help fans embrace FC Kansas City, to help her team be successful on the field and to help bring home a championship.

Sauerbrunn has knocked down two of those goals. This Sunday she could go three-for-three as her team faces Seattle Reign FC for the NWSL championship. Win or lose, one thing is for sure: Kansas City’s defense is in good hands with her in control.

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Deines, Kopmeyer relish what chances they get http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/seattle-reign-deines-kopmeyer-relish-chances/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/seattle-reign-deines-kopmeyer-relish-chances/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 22:12:31 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16295 Haley Kopmeyer in action for Seattle. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Haley Kopmeyer in action for Seattle. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

TUKWILA, Wash. — Haley Kopmeyer knows that if things go according to plan she will not play in Sunday’s NWSL Championship. She also knows that she’d better be ready – just in case.

“You’ve got to know that’s your spot” the Seattle Reign FC goalkeeper said after the she trained Friday at Starfire Sports Complex. “It’s definitely a unique position but you train as if you are the first-team keeper. Anything could happen at any moment. There is a very big balance between me going out there and making sure I get everything I need and then as we approach game time, making sure Hope (Solo) gets what she needs.”

Kopmeyer was drafted 31st out of 32 in 2013 and served mostly as a second-string goalkeeper for the Reign. She was eventually waived when Solo returned and the club needed a roster spot to add a field player. After clearing waivers she was asked to remain in the area and train with the team, and eventually signed as the backup to Solo last fall.

“I kind of went into the offseason with the (thinking) I don’t know where the best place is going to be,” she said. “I’m going to see how the goalie situation shakes out and then I am going to try and try out somewhere. Laura (Harvey) gave me a call before that could happen and asked me to re-sign. I was thrilled.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of the 2014 NWSL Championship from Seattle]

Kate Deines began last season as a starter for the Reign before injury knocked her season off stride. She grew up 20 minutes from Starfire, played college soccer at the University of Washington, and was the local tie to the Reign in 2013. When the season ended the club went on the open market and began adding players. Deines

“There’s always that question mark,” she said. “That’s just part of professional sports. There is always that unknown. Someone is always after your spot.”

Kate Deines has made the most of her opportunities this season in Seattle. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Kate Deines has made the most of her opportunities this season in Seattle. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Like Kopmeyer, Deines is a backup player in the 2014 Reign side, but as a field player there are more opportunities to get into matches. She got into 18 of the 24 regular season games, starting half the time. But Deines totaled less than 900 minutes. And then came the semifinal and the injury to right back Elli Reed. That allowed Deines to start in central defense with Lauren Barnes pushed out to the right.

“It was probably one of the biggest games of my life,” Deines said. “With Elli out that was a huge loss for us. She’s been rock solid for us all season. I had big shoes to fill. I just wanted to come in and do my role for the team. I could not be happier that we got the result and we’re in the championship because that’s what we’ve been working for all season long.”

Reed is looking like she’ll start on Sunday, meaning Deines is likely back on the bench. If she had her druthers her position would be center back, but the bench role is usually to sit on top of the back four to help kill the game.

“It really depends on the scenario,” Deines, 24, said. “For the most part I have a fairly good idea of what minute I’ll go in, who I’m going in for, and other responsibilities I’ll have when I go in. All of that is communicated fairly thoroughly and very up front to me. But anything can change at the drop of a dime so it’s just being ready to do whatever the team needs.”

It is different for Kopmeyer. Only an injury or red card to Solo will get Kopmeyer off the bench. But she must remain ready at a moment’s notice. Or as was the case earlier this season, when a legal issue threatened to take Solo away from the club.

Kopmeyer made her season debut June 19 when the Reign won in Boston in June. Solo was expected back three days later in Western New York, but was arrested in Seattle before rejoining the team. That gave Kopmeyer the start against the Flash and she played ahead of Solo the next weekend against Sky Blue.

“We showed in that Boston game that despite not having a lot of national team girls that we had people that could step up and play,” Kopmeyer said. “The second that happened, we said that we’re not sure what’s going to happen but we do know that next game Haley we’ll be in goal. We’ll be fine. If we play the way we’re supposed to play nothing should change. We took it head on and focused in, got some really good results despite everything that was going on around us. We just kept her in our thoughts and have supported her throughout all of this.”

Solo’s legal issues are not resolved yet but it has not affected her time with the Reign since those first few weeks. Kopmeyer played once more, a win over the Dash just after the Reign wrapped up the Shield.

So for Sunday, it’s business as usual for Kopmeyer, watching…and waiting.

“I just try to stay involved in the game, do as much as I can to try and read the game. Anything that from my side view might give me an advantage,” the 24-year old Kopmeyer said. “I get up at the 20-minute mark and just shake out, make sure I stay loose and make sure I’m feeling alright. It’s one of those things where the chances are…it’s never going to happen, but in case it does I’ll for sure be ready.”

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Blues look to bring another soccer title to Kansas City http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/fc-kansas-city-soccer-town-culture-seattle-portland-nwsl-final/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/fc-kansas-city-soccer-town-culture-seattle-portland-nwsl-final/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 21:14:47 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16291 FC Kansas City take could bring a third soccer championship in a year to the city with a win on Sunday. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

FC Kansas City take could bring a third soccer championship in a year to the city with a win on Sunday. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

TUKWILA, Wash. – Nestled in the abundance of deep green trees sitting under the oft grey skies of the Pacific Northwest is a culture of sports fandom hard to match elsewhere in the United States.

It’s a point of contention and ire for some outside the area, but nonetheless a point difficult to argue.

Seattle Seahawks fans continue to break records for volume levels, making sure they can be heard loud and clear, a far as the I-5 can stretch. The noise isn’t just that, though, as the current crown of Super Bowl champion backs up the Emerald City’s off-field actions.

Sounders fans spew their rave green colors into the streets, drowning out the colors of their rivals from Portland, Vancouver and any other intruder at CenturyLink Field. And those two cities do their part to make sure that the unique feel of fandom is truly regional, particularly in the case of the ravenous supporters of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns.

But while all of this precipitated into something huge in that corner of the country over the last decade, a different kind of fan support has taken hold in a seemingly more inconspicuous part of the country: Kansas City.

[MORE: Complete coverage of the 2014 NWSL final from Seattle]

This Midwest landing spot is currently the home of the MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City, as well as the country’s reigning indoor title holders, the Missouri Comets. And on Sunday, FC Kansas City – coach by Vlatko Andonovski, also the Comets’ coach – aims for a soccer sweep in Seattle against Reign FC, looking to bring another soccer crown back home with them.

Vlatko Andonovski has FC Kansas City in the final vs. FC Kansas City. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Vlatko Andonovski has FC Kansas City in the final vs. FC Kansas City. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

With that success has come a support that demands attention. Sporting draws an over-capacity average attendance north of 20,000 per game, and its boisterous group called the “Cauldron,” who welcomes opponents to Sporting Park, now in its fourth season, with a sign that reads, “Welcome to Blue Hell.”

Supporters are evident but far more tame for the NWSL’s FC Kansas City, but the message is that Kansas City continues to be one of the hotspots for soccer in the United States.

Much like in the Pacific Northwest, soccer is becoming royalty.

“Soccer in Kansas City is almost becoming the sport,” Andonovski says. “There is definitely a buzz in the community with Sporting winning the title, of course it’s huge. But then with FC Kansas City having the success both years, being successful and consistent, winning lots of games the Comets winning a championship, the community is out there supporting the game. It’s probably the go-to sport for youth athletes.”

FC Kansas City finished second in the regular season last year before losing to Portland in the semifinals. This season, the Blues flipped the result against the Thorns in the playoffs to make the final.

U.S. Soccer also recently announced plans to build a national training center in Kansas City.

Attendance has been down for FC Kansas City after moving to a cozy venue on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, averaging just 2,018. Clearly, there’s a great deal of room for improvement.

But there is a hope that those numbers will grow, and a championship should help. Finding a way to parlay some of Sporting’s success over to the women’s game will be crucial. As of now, the interaction is mainly on a player level, with each team’s players going to each other’s games for support .

“Obviously anytime you have teams that are relatively close to each other and play relatively close to each other, you get to know them,” FC Kansas City defender Leigh Ann Robinson said. “I think it’s been kind of cool for us because obviously Sporting has been selling out their stadium every game. We got to go to a couple of their games, and those guys will show up at UMKC and support us.”

On Sunday, the Blues look to replicate their neighbors, Sporting, in bringing a championship back to Kansas City. But they’ll have to go through a Reign team that has lost only twice this season in 25 matches, including Sunday’s semifinal win over Washington. The Reign beat FC Kansas City in their first meeting of the season before drawing twice.

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Seattle, Kansas City lead NWSL Best XI selections http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/nwsl-best-xi-announced-seattle-kansas-city/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/nwsl-best-xi-announced-seattle-kansas-city/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 20:19:48 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16289 Seven players in Sunday’s National Women’s Soccer League final between Seattle Reign FC and FC Kansas City were named to the NWSL Best XI on Friday.

Regular season champions Seattle placed a league-high four players on the Best XI, while Kansas City had three players. Seattle also had three players on the Second Best XI.

Four players were named to the Best XI for the second straight season: Sky Blue FC defender Christie Rampone, FC Kansas City defender Becky Sauerbrunn , Seattle Reign FC midfielder Jess Fishlock and FC Kansas City forward Lauren Holiday.

NWSL Best XI

Position Player Club Country Note
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher Boston Breakers USA 106 saves
Defender Kendall Fletcher Seattle Reign FC USA .83 team GAA
Defender Ali Krieger Washington Spirit USA 1 goal
Defender Christie Rampone Sky Blue FC USA 1 goal, 2 assists
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn FC Kansas City USA 8 shutouts
Midfielder Verónica Boquete Portland Thorns FC Spain 4 goals, 6 assists
Midfielder Jess Fishlock Seattle Reign FC Wales 4 goals, 8 assists
Midfielder Kim Little Seattle Reign FC Scotland 16 goals, 7 assists
Forward Lauren Holiday FC Kansas City USA 8 goals, 7 assists
Forward Nahomi Kawasumi Seattle Reign FC Japan 9 goals, 5 assists
Forward Amy Rodriguez FC Kansas City USA 13 goals, 3 assists

 

NWSL Second XI

Position Player Club Country Note
Goalkeeper Hope Solo Seattle Reign FC USA 5 shutouts
Defender Lauren Barnes Seattle Reign FC USA .83 team GAA
Defender Stephanie Catley Portland Thorns FC Australia 5 assists
Defender Stephanie Cox Seattle Reign FC USA .83 team GAA
Defender Julie Johnston Chicago Red Stars USA Rookie of the Year
Midfielder Carli Lloyd Western New York Flash USA 8 goals, 5 assists
Midfielder Allie Long Portland Thorns FC USA 9 goals, 3 assists
Midfielder Heather O’Reilly Boston Breakers USA 9 goals, 5 assists
Forward Jessica McDonald Portland Thorns FC USA 11 goals, 1 assist
Forward Christen Press Chicago Red Stars USA 6 goals
Forward Jodie Taylor Washington Spirit England 11 goals, 2 assist

Voters for the Best XI provided selections for four (4) defenders and a combination of six (6) midfielders or forwards; with the ability to select a minimum of one (1) and a maximum of three (3) forwards. The Goalkeeper of the Year was automatically named to the Best XI.

The NWSL Second XI is comprised of the next leading vote getters at each position that did not make the Best XI (listed alphabetically, by position). The NWSL awards are voted on by a selection of journalists that cover the league on a consistent basis, club officials and NWSL players.

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Looking back on WoSo finals gone by http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/looking-back-on-woso-finals-wusa-wps-nwsl/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/looking-back-on-woso-finals-wusa-wps-nwsl/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:42:00 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16275 The Bay Area CyberRays won the 2001 Founder Cup in the most glamorous of women's soccer events.

The Bay Area CyberRays won the 2001 Founder Cup in the most glamorous of women’s soccer events.

TUKWILA, Wash. — At some point over the last calendar year it was brought to my attention that having attended all of the top-flight women’s soccer finals in the United States, it put me in a unique position – at least among journalists. Looking back the first seven have much in common, and much that is different.

The biggest commonality is that with one exception they have been played at high intensity by both sides, offering as many twists, turns, and dramatics as one can expect from a final match. What has been different have been the teams, locations, and many of the players who have risen to the occasion for their clubs. One more difference has been the pizzazz with which the events have been put on. Founders Cup I with its lavish parties at a swanky, downtown Boston hotel was a clear example of WUSA owners spending themselves out of business; yet it should stand as a beacon of what women’s soccer can one day become.

As I prepare for another championship match, here are some memories of the first seven:

2001 (Founders Cup I)
Foxboro Stadium; Foxboro, Massachusetts
Bay Area CyberRays 3, Atlanta Beat 3, asdet (4-2 on penalties)

The Mood: Festive. The fledgling WUSA closed out its inaugural season with a grand show. The week began with the unveiling of the Founders Cup, a magnificent trophy with three sides at the bottom—one each for the founding players and investors, and another for the names of its champions. The night before the match a party big enough to fill a ballroom saw the league’s award winners announced. The Defender of the Year, Doris Fitschen, casually announced her retirement while milling around at the open training session at Nickerson Field. Another party followed the match. The league, born on the success of the World Cup two years earlier, had gone big and thought it would end up being its demise, most left Boston in August 2001 feeling pretty good about WUSA.

The Game: It may be because it was the first, but for my money this match has not been topped by any future final. There were three goals in the first 14 minutes and two in the last seven that vaulted the match to classic status. It looked as if Chinese star Sun Wen had given Atlanta a championship when she nutmegged a defender to score a spectacular goal near the end of regulation. But Tisha Venturini tapped in a rebound a few minutes later to force sudden death extra time. The CyberRays overcame the loss of Sissi, who was nothing short of fabulous for 90 minutes before leaving injured, and a Nikki Serlenga free kick off the post to get to penalties. The world waited for Brandi Chastain to rekindle her 1999 World Cup glory in the anchor leg, but after the Beat misfired twice, Julie Murray converted the 4th spot kick to give the CyberRays the Cup.

2002 (Founders Cup II)
Herndon Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia
Carolina Courage 3, Washington Freedom 2

The Mood: Hot. At least for me being in the southern summer for the first time. The week saw Mia Hamm in the final after her Freedom endured a disappointing inaugural season. Hamm’s strike partner was a rookie who would eventually break her international scoring record, Abby Wambach. On the other side were the Courage, the only team to finish below the Freedom in 2001, and thus the one team that passed up Wambach, allowing her to go to Washington. Instead the Courage had taken Danielle Slaton, who was named Defender of the Year. The league had spent less, and cut way back on the pomp and circumstance. There was a loud postgame party at an Atlanta night club and an awards’ ceremony, but the glitz and glamor of the first game were already a thing of the past.

The Game: The stars were out. Birgit Prinz completed a dominating opening season in the States, setting up Danielle Fotopoulos’ go-ahead goal early in the second half and adding her own a few minutes later. Fotopoulos also scored one for the Freedom—the first own goal in a final, but the highlight goal was Hamm’s that cut the lead to 3-2 and made for a frantic final 25 minutes. Hege Riise was an injury concern coming in but was nothing short of sensational as she put on a game-killing clinic in the final minutes. And they had some help from Bai Jie, the Freedom’s Chinese striker who misfired on two golden opportunities to equalize. The unsung hero though was Nel Fettig, who played brilliantly in midfield, reading and snuffing out many Freedom plays before they happened.

2003 (Founders Cup III)
Torero Stadium; San Diego, California
Washington Freedom 2, Atlanta Beat 1, asdet

The Mood: Dreary. It was an open secret after season three that WUSA was in trouble. An unspoken cloud hung over a match played in a city where cloudy days are few and far between. The awards ceremony did include some videos of the season, but was otherwise staged as if someone reminded WUSA leadership at the last minute that they absolutely had to do it. Only the impending World Cup, set to begin in a few weeks and moved to the U.S. after a SARS outbreak in China, kept hope alive. Unfortunately the league could not even survive to the first kick of the very tournament that helped create it.

The Game: The teams that lost the first two Founders Cups returned and each played with the fervor of a team that burned to be on the right side of this one. This one saw the first penalty during play in a final, converted by Charmaine Hooper in first-half stoppage time to level it after Wambach scored early. There was also Brianna Scurry’s highlight-reel-for-life save on a Sandra Minnert free kick. But the match came down to an encounter between the two best players on the pitch, Wambach and unheralded Beat center back Nancy Augustyniak. The latter, in a rare moment out of position, was forced to take down Wambach and was shown a straight red card. Within minutes Wambach scored the golden goal to give the Freedom the championship, and sadly, close the door on WUSA forever.

2009
The Home Depot Center (now Stubhub Center); Carson, California
Sky Blue FC 1, Los Angeles Sol 0

Christie Rampone and Sky Blue FC were the most unlikely of champions of the 2009 WPS season. (Zimbio photo)

Christie Rampone and Sky Blue FC were the most unlikely of champions of the 2009 WPS season. (Zimbio photo)

The Mood: Hopeful. Six years after WUSA sank, WPS rose, and the final match included Marta, the world’s most famous female player of the day. It also landed in Marta’s home park thanks to the format that saw the regular season champions go directly to the final where they would play host. And then there was Sky Blue, the most unlikely of finalists. They were on their third coach, center back Christie Rampone, who was just 1-1 at the helm, including a loss in Washington that opened the door for the Breakers to steal the final playoff spot. Only they lost to the Sol, letting Sky Blue in. After turning the tables on Washington and upsetting Saint Louis Athletica, Sky Blue landed in the final. There were no parties or ceremonies—WPS never even named an official Best XI—but the host hotel in Carson was adorned with acknowledgments that WPS was there. The league had spent less than WUSA, two expansion teams waited in the wings, and there were generally good feelings.

The Game: Not only were Sky Blue underdogs on paper, they had played twice in the prior week while the Sol had been given two weeks to prepare. Both teams were missing players to the European Championship—Camille Abily for the Sol and Anita Asante for Sky Blue. On paper Asante looked the bigger loss, but it turned out the other way. That was mostly due to the play of relative unknown Jen Buczkowski, who everyone within earshot of me thought was MVP of the match. Actual MVP Heather O’Reilly scored the goal and registered a daring but world class tackle on Aya Miyama that could have led to a penalty and red card. Instead the only red went to Allison Falk, a call still debated in women’s soccer circles, and a blow from which the Sol were never able to recover.

2010
Pioneer Stadium; Hayward, California
FC Gold Pride 4, Philadelphia Independence 0

The Mood: Tenuous. For starters, Saint Louis Athletica had folded during the season, a foible the league spun well but never recovered from. Second, Tonya Antonucci, the driving force behind securing the necessary investors to launch the league, was leaving. And finally, the Independence arrived in Northern California a tired team. They extolled what Sky Blue had done a season earlier, but unlike Sky Blue, the Independence won both of their matches in extra time, the first in blistering heat. Waiting for them was the well-oiled machine led by Albertin Montoya, who rounded up some of the best male players in the region, lined them up like the playoff teams did, and filled the empty weekend by having his players simulate as many conditions they would face in the final as possible.

The Game: This is the one dud in the batch. As Scott French, who to that point had also been to every final, said that night, it was a celebration of one of the great club sides in the nascent history of women’s soccer. But the match was never close. The Independence may have said they weren’t tired, but they were. It was never more evident than the runup to the second Gold Pride goal when Kandace Wilson worked her way around Allison Falk—Falk again!—to get the shot off when it looked like the play was dead. Instead the only things dead were the Independence’s title hopes, the cockamamie idea of a visiting team possibly needing to play three times in seven days, and only a few months later, FC Gold Pride.

2011
Sahlen’s Stadium; Rochester, New York
Western New York Flash 1, Philadelphia Independence 1, aet (5-4 on penalties)

The Mood: Confusing. On one hand the recently concluded World Cup had given the league some much-needed exposure. On the other hand the season had been a mockery thanks to the inclusion of  the late Dan Borislow, who helped save the league by purchasing the Freedom only to sabotage it by going rogue and refusing to comply with most of its policies and eventually dragging it all through courts. Borislow’s magicJack club had come close to the final before losing in Philadelphia, but its star player, Abby Wambach, still commanded enormous attention as she signed autographs prior to the match played in her hometown.

The Game: Not as exciting a game all around as the score would indicate. Amy Rodriguez equalized late in the match but also missed more than a couple of golden opportunities to find the match-winner in extra time. In the penalty shootout, both teams were on form from the spot, even Laura Del Rio, the final shooter of the match. The Spaniard took a strong kick but Ashlyn Harris stretched wide to knock it away and give the Flash the championship in their first season in the top flight.

2013
Sahlen’s Stadium; Rochester, New York
Portland Thorns FC 2, Western New York Flash 0

Inaugural National Women's Soccer League champions Portland Thorns FC celebrate. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Inaugural National Women’s Soccer League champions Portland Thorns FC celebrate. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

The Mood: Understated. The third attempt at a pro soccer league played its first final before a healthy crowd in Rochester and a Fox Sports 2 audience, but little else. It was a no-frills week with very few signs of a championship match being played outside of those directly involved. NWSL had muscular backing from U.S. Soccer plus a commitment to build slower than WPS, which had committed to building slower than WUSA. The result was something of a tense optimism among fans of the sport. There was also a slight glimpse of the future as a sizeable group of Thorns supporters—the Riveters—made the trip from Portland and easily out-cheered the 9,000-plus Flash fans.

The Game: For the first hour it was as intense and hard fought as any women’s soccer final I have seen. It was also one of the worst refereed matches ever played in the women’s game. Amy Barczuk was allowed to stay in the match despite a double-footed takedown of Tobin Heath. And Kathryn Williamson was sent off for the Thorns thanks to some help from Abby Wambach’s generosity in leaving her feet. Heath had a foot issue that prevented her from training all week but she buckled down and hit a majestic free kick with the injured foot to put the Thorns in the lead. The match actually lost steam after Williamson’s red card as the Thorns battened down the hatches and eventually added a second.

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Ellis names 28-player roster for Mexico friendlies http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/ellis-names-28-player-roster-for-mexico-friendlies/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/29/ellis-names-28-player-roster-for-mexico-friendlies/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:12:12 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16278 Jill Ellis has named her roster for next month's matches vs. Mexico. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Jill Ellis has named her roster for next month’s matches vs. Mexico. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Jill Ellis has named her 28-player roster for the United States women’s national team’s two September matches vs. Mexico. The roster includes most of the usual faces, but also marks another return for midfielders Shannon Boxx and Kristie Mewis.

Mexico and the U.S. will play on Sept. 13 in Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah — home of Real Salt Lake — and again on Sept. 18 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y.

Boston Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is also in camp after winning the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Award for the 2014 season. Naeher joined the team last week for a match vs. Switzerland after Ashlyn Harris was ruled out, but Naeher did not play in the match.

Morgan Brian is the only college player on the roster.

The U.S. is 27-1-1 all-time against Mexico, with the one loss coming in a critical 2011 World Cup qualifying semifinal that forced the U.S. into a world playoff vs. Italy at the end of 2010 in order to qualify for the tournament.

Full roster:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (10): Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (Houston Dash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Rachel Van Hollebeke (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Kristie Mewis (Boston Breakers), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

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Fishlock thrived in improved Reign side http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/fishlock-thrived-in-improved-reign-side/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/fishlock-thrived-in-improved-reign-side/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:43:30 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16267 Jess Fishlock has found comfort in her new role for Seattle this season. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Jess Fishlock has found comfort in her new role for Seattle this season. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

TUKWILA, Wash. — Jess Fishlock hit NWSL like a tornado last year.  She arrived from Wales a virtual unknown but made an immediate impact.  Fishlock cut a conspicuous figure with her platinum blonde hair, and was conspicuous with her physical play and unwavering dedication to ball winning.

And so it came as a surprise to some earlier this season when the 27-year-old midfielder admitted she was so intimidated by the physicality of her first NWSL match she considered bolting the Reign right then and there.

“I nearly jumped on a flight back home after that one.  You can ask Laura, I told her, I can’t do this.”

Fishlock stuck it out and wound up being named to the league’s Best XI in 2013 despite the Reign finishing near the bottom of the table.  And more than any other Reign player who is still on the roster from last season, Fishlock has benefited from the upgrade in personnel virtually across the board.

With Kim Little — named 2014 league MVP on Thursday — now running the offensive end of midfield and Kendall Fletcher having been the final peace in creating a quality back four, Fishlock is free to keep on creating turnovers in the midfield.  Only instead of trying to turn it into instant offense, she can now play it ahead and watch Little and friends turn it into magic.

“More kind of relaxed this year than last year,” Fishlock said on a conference call to preview Sunday’s championship match against FC Kansas City.  “Last year I was kind of going 99 or 100 miles per hour every game.  Whereas with the personnel that we have, we have people to do the attacking and score the goals.  I’m really happy with my role this season.  I’ve had a lot of fun playing it.”

On Little, Fishlock said there was a rapid cohesion that developed when the Scot joined the midfield.  That much was evident when the Reign jumped out of the chute with seven straight wins, and played nine more after that without losing.  Yet it is Little’s simplicity over flare that Fishlock believes makes her a world class soccer player.

“She does the very simple things at the highest of quality,” Fishlock said of Little.  “It’s something like that makes her as good as she is.  You probably won’t see her do 10,000 step overs and get past people that way.  But her first touch and the way she opens her body and the way she rolls her body.  It’s simple, but it’s of the highest quality.  And you don’t find that often.  The beauty with us is we find Kim because she’s always in great position.”

The third member of the midfield trio is Keelin Winters, another returning Reign player.

“It’s a fun trio,” Fishlock said.  “We all know our roles (and) our jobs.  We have a great balance between the three of us on how to deal with things and control the tempo of the game.  When you have the likes of Keelin with you and someone like Kim on the other side of you.  It’s a lot easier to kind of just play the game the way you want to play because you’ve got these fantastic players around you.  The three of us just really have a great bond and a great connection.  And we really do work for each other.”

The simplicity brought to the team by Little was infectious in last Sunday’s semifinal victory over the Washington Spirit.  The Reign made a killing this season off of falling behind in matches but still managing to get a result.  But after starting 7-0-0 their supremacy atop the table was never really tested.  So when they fell behind to the Spirit in a hotly contested match they suddenly found themselves staring down the end of the season.  And yet no one panicked.

“(Sunday) was probably the first time since maybe Portland (May 10) that we really, really had to win the game,” Harvey said.  “I didn’t see a difference, we still played the same football.”

Fishlock said that starts with Harvey, going all the way back to last year’s 5-14-3 season that included a nine-match losing streak.  “One thing about Harvey is she just didn’t change.  Nothing from day one last year to right now has changed in her approach to the way she coaches and the way she handles situations.”

With one more match left to reach their ultimate goal the Reign do not expect that one to be easy either.  They played FC Kansas City three times and all three matches included stretches when the Reign got pushed back on their heels a bit.  Harvey said her team set out to play similar to the way she saw Kansas City play in 2013, and that has created a matchup not only of the two best teams in NWSL, but of two teams capable of playing attractive soccer at the same time.

“I’m sure it will be really tight,” Harvey said.  “The games have been tight but there have also been a lot of goals in them.  I think that will probably be the case again.”

“I think it’s the right final,” Fishlock said.

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Bailey: No NWSL expansion for 2015…as of now http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/nwsl-no-expansion-2015-same-teams/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/nwsl-no-expansion-2015-same-teams/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 23:42:52 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16263 NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

As of now, there won’t be any expansion for the National Women’s Soccer League in 2015, league executive director Cheryl Bailey says.

But of course, as the tail-end of 2013 proved, things can always change.

Bailey said on a national conference call that that the league will not add any teams in 2015 — as of now — and that all nine teams currently in the league are expected back in 2015 — as of now, of course.

“In terms of expansion, at this point and time we don’t have plans at the moment to expand in 2015,” Bailey said. “But I think it’s something that we will look to re-evaluate for 2016 and we do anticipate growth after the 2015 season.”

[MORE: 2015 schedule to stretch to September, include World Cup break]

That was the message last August, when behind the scenes the Houston Dynamo ownership group was exploring the possibility of an NWSL team, and eventually decided late in the calendar year that they wanted in on the league. And so, in the first week of December 2013 — the latest an expansion team has been added in NWSL or the WUSA and WPS days — the Houston Dash were born.

And there are some concerns, to varying degrees, among some owners in the league that there is a possibility that not every team will return. Does that mean not return at all, or return in a different location? It’s unclear. But Bailey’s words in addressing the matter on Wednesday were pointed.

“At this point and time, we do anticipate all nine teams coming back for 2015, which is certainly great for the league and the teams and the players themselves,” she said.

So while the answers to the big, yearly expansion question and the always looming contraction worries were delivered, don’t yet take them as concrete.

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Thorns loan Brooks to Bayern, Dash re-sign Henderson http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/portland-thorns-loan-amber-brooks-bayern-munich/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/portland-thorns-loan-amber-brooks-bayern-munich/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 19:57:41 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16266 Amber Brooks will head back to Bayern Munich on loan. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Amber Brooks will head back to Bayern Munich on loan. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Portland Thorns FC today has loaned midfielder Amber Brooks to FC Bayern Munich — her previous club — for the 2014-15 Frauen-Bundesliga season.

Brooks scored 10 goals in 22 appearances in 2013 with Bayern Munich prior to joining Portland.

With the Thorns this season, Brooks appeared in 20 matches, scoring once and adding two assists. She was Portland’s third-round pick (24th overall) in the 2013 NWSL College Draft from the University of North Carolina, a selection made by then head coach Cindy Parlow Cone.

Brooks left Bayern Munich for Portland as part of the mass offseason homecoming for U.S. players to the NWSL.

Dash re-sign Henderson

The Houston Dash have re-signed forward Melissa Henderson, four-month loan to Fortuna Hjørring of the Danish Elitedivisionen beginning Sept. 1.

Henderson, 25, was acquired by the Dash from FC Kansas City via a trade in July. She appeared in all nine remaining Dash matches following the trade, starting eight. Henderson also played for current Dash coach Randy Waldrum at Notre Dame.

Fortuna Hjørring are defending champions and currently first in this season’s table.

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Reign midfielder Little named 2014 NWSL MVP http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/kim-little-nwsl-mvp-seattle-reign/ http://womens.soccerly.com/2014/08/28/kim-little-nwsl-mvp-seattle-reign/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:00:21 +0000 http://womens.soccerly.com/?p=16258 Kim Little is the 2014 NWSL MVP.  (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Kim Little is the 2014 NWSL MVP. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Seattle Reign FC midfielder Kim Little has been named the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League MVP. The Scottish midfielder led the league in goals (16) in her first season in the NWSL. She also had seven assists in 23 matches.

Little was named NWSL Player of the Month three times this year — in April, May and July. The 24-year-old played primarily as one of Seattle’s three midfielders in coach Laura Harvey’s 4-3-3 formation, but would push up into a more advanced role when the Reign were in need of a goal.

Little has her team in Sunday’s NWSL final against FC Kansas City, having helped the Reign turn around last year’s seventh-place finish into a dominant regular-season performance that won Seattle the NWSL Shield.

“The thing about Kim that makes her as special as she is, is that she does the very simple things at the highest of qualities,” Little’s Seattle teammate Jess Fishlock said on Wednesday’s national conference call. “It’s something like that that I that makes her as good as she is.”

Seattle acquired Little’s rights from the Washington Spirit in a November 2013 trade that sent Christine Nairn to the Spirit.

Portland Thorns FC midfielder Verónica Boquete finished second in the voting, while FC Kansas City forward Amy Rodriguez was third. Last season, FC Kansas City midfielder Lauren Holiday won the MVP award.

On Wednesday, Harvey was named NWSL Coach of the Year.

The NWSL awards are voted on by a selection of journalists that cover the league on a consistent basis, team officials and NWSL players.

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