Chaotic NWSL Challenge Cup final — Must-click woso links — Talking with Erceg and Pickett

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, May 9, 2022

Happy Soccer Monday! The NWSL Challenge Cup took a decidedly ugly turn as I watched from my hotel room in Spokane, where I was at my daughter’s college graduation. (Just had to put that in there because I’m so proud!)

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If you missed it, the game was in the waning moments when the Spirit’s Jordan Baggett was taken down by North Carolina’s Debinha.

The medical team seemed slow to react, despite pleas from Baggett’s teammates (we’ve seen commentary since that the response was correct). Spirit players took it upon themselves to run the stretcher on the field.

The Spirit’s Trinity Rodman weighed in:

It was clear especially late in the game that players were tired with each playing three games in the span of a week. We all know that when fatigue sets in, mistakes and injuries happen. The Challenge Cup was a far too lengthy preseason tournament that extends into the regular season, and included an international break with some players traveling abroad.

Someone suggested it might be better for the Challenge Cup to be played like the U.S. Open Cup, with games smattered throughout the regular season. Or, make it a shorter preseason showcase at a neutral site to include fans in markets that don’t have teams (Oh hello, New England and the San Francisco Bay Area!)

But the format of the tournament isn’t the only issue. The other was officiating. It was simply subpar on Saturday.

Perhaps the most egregious missed call came in the second half when Abby Erceg took a cleat to the chest and there was no card.

Another card-worthy foul on Kerolin was also missed.

This is embarrassing for the NWSL, in its 10th season and on national television, that these very basic calls were missed. I understand that officiating is never perfect, there are refs across the spectrum of soccer that make mistakes. VAR, while expensive, would help ensure the correct call is made.

The Reign might have something to say about this, too.

We can all agree that player safety is of utmost importance. The Challenge Cup final demonstrated that the players’ well being, both on and off the field, must remain be a priority for the league.

One good thing: The prize money for the Challenge Cup was $10,000 per player on the winning team, and $5,000 per player to the runner-up.


So all the drama of the final got a lot of media attention (good), but it certainly wasn’t all that positive (bad).

The Washington Post’s takes on the Challenge Cup final.

Jeff Carlisle’s report for ESPN.

Sports Illustrated weighed in, too.

As did Jack Baer at Yahoo Sports.

Emma Hruby’s take for Just Women’s Sports. Oh, and The Snacks podcast ay JWS is back! Yay! Also, good story from this morning on Bethany Balcer taking issue with the officiating.

WRAL spoke to new NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman.

Morgan Comes Alive! San Diego bests Gotham.

LA Times on Orlando (and former owner Cromwell) downing Angel City

NBC’s Alex Azzi with an excellent story on the impact of the NWSL CBA.

Meg Linehan with a good story on how Angel City is ushering in a new era for The Athletic.

San Diego Union-Tribune on Alex Morgan’s California joy.

The Washington City Paper did a nice job with this story on Angela Salem.

Yahoo Finance spoke to Jessica Berman about sponsorships.

Katie Whyatt takes a look at Sky’s WSL coverage for The Athletic.

Sophie Lawson’s `Treatise on Fandom in Women’s Football’ for All for XI.

The Guardian writes about how the French hijab ban is impacting Muslim players.

Five at The IX: Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett Post-Challenge Cup

Question about the injuries

Erceg: It’s a final, things like that happen. I think the excitement and the adrenaline is very high. So things like that happen, you always kind of expect it. I’m a little less aware of it. Like, at the end of the day, you win and you forget about it. But ask me again in the morning and I’ll give you a different answer probably.

Question about the tired legs.

Erceg: Honestly, I think the quality of the game was quite low. You can tell that the players were tired, you could tell that the fatigue was sitting in it was just a matter of who is more fit. I think it’s really disappointing for a final, I think you want to see two teams that are doing really well play the best football that they can — a competition of that rather than who’s more fit. So I think it’s a little bit disappointing. Fortunately, we were fit, we came on top. I think we did well. I think did what we needed to do. It wasn’t pretty by any means. But, you know, when you’re planning a final, semi-finals, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about getting good results, so proud of the girls and proud of what they did.

Question about the turnover on the team.

Pickett: I just think throughout our careers in professional sports, you’re gonna lose some people and it’s unfortunate sometimes but it’s all about who is here in the locker room. I think that the people that came in and the people that are returning, they bring everything day in and day out. So I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing players, so many amazing people and people who just want to be here and compete.

Erceg: It’s tough because I think the transformation that we went through isn’t normal, you’re never gonna expect that in your career. So I give a little bit of kudos to the club. Something that happened was a little bit out of my control, and they responded in a way that I think helped players. There were a lot of conversations behind the scenes, there were a lot of things that needed to change and I think the club has done a really, really good job of that. And I think that’s allowed us as players to do our job on the field. We feel a lot more comfortable than we did last year. So I do have to say thank you to the club for that, I think they did a good job. And then on the other side, I think also the players picking up as well, that’s a big history to pick up. It’s a big thing for new players to carry. So for a lot of those plays, especially the new ones coming in, the same thing — kudos to them. It’s a big job, especially when you’re coming to a club that is so successful. So yeah, it’s a big around thank you all around to the club and the players coming in.

Question about what the team has showed.

Erceg: I think it just shows the potential that we have, what this is six weeks? Six games? And there’s still so much growth. By no means have we put in a complete performance yet, it’s not even close. There’s so many mistakes that we’re making, that I know that down the road this experience is going to just pay off for us, it’s going to pay dividends, when heading into playoffs and championships. We’ve got this experience under our belt already so it’s good for us and I think it’s good for the players.

Question about the more money coming into the tournament.

Pickett: I mean, in our profession, 10k changes people’s lives. So I think that we have to give credit to the sponsor, and to the league, and we’re finally getting somewhere. And I think that when you’re competing day in and day out, it’s nice to have some kind of bonus. It’s nice to raise a trophy but it’s also nice to have money. So I think that it’s just really big for league and I think it’s honestly something that we’re moving forward.

Question about winning another championship.

Erceg: Obviously I’ve been a part of championship teams before. We missed out the past couple of years. So doing that, again, it’s really, really addictive. At the started the year I said I really want this team to experience that feeling. Coming into preseason — there’s just a feeling about the group. There’s a vibe about the group and an energy and it’s a winning energy. So I wanted the group to experience that. I think moving forward, it’s only going to help in terms of experience. So yeah, I’m really, really happy for the girls. I think they’ve done a lot to get to the place that they are. I think we were written off quite early for them to come through and prove everybody wrong, is cool and I’m really proud of the group.

Question: about how you keep your focus in a game like this with the injures.

Pickett: I think that’s professional sports. No matter what happens, we’re trained to just keep our head in the game and to not worry about external things. And unfortunately, obviously we send good vibes to the Washington player and hope that she recovers. But injuries happen that’s just what happens in professional sports and especially soccer. So I think it was important with such little time left in the game to just try and keep our composure, stay together and finish the game.

Question about how the tournament can be tweaked in the future.

Erceg: Obviously, it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. I think it’s a little bit unfortunate because it gives fans three days to get to an event that — we could have sold out the stadium if we had a little bit more time. And in hindsight, I think just giving the players a bit more of a break would have been better. I know we’re early stages in terms of scheduling and I know there’s a lot of moving parts but it’s just tough for the players. It’s not only for the players, but for the fans as well. The fans want to see good football, so it’s disappointing for them as well. But I think moving forward, we’ve got some people in place that are aware of the issues and I think they’ll be rectified and moving forward. But having to move a home opener to play a final, it’s almost like you’re on the backfoot being so successful. It shouldn’t be the way. And then you think about Seattle, who are finishing atop the group and they’re not hosting in their own city. There’s so many things that can be fixed and can be changed, but I know the league is aware of it, so hopefully with all those things will be rectified.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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Written by Annie Peterson