The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, September 14, 2020

Nah, the NWSL isn't dying, it's getting better — Here's a guide to a few unheralded players that I'm going to be watching during the Fall Series — Plus links and Emily Menges interview

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First, a little breaking news: The Cascadia rivalry match between the Thorns and OL Reign, moved from Saturday to Tuesday night because of poor air quality, has been rescheduled again for Sept. 30.

This was a good decision. Here’s the view from the deck of my boyfriend’s downtown condo. Yuck.

Back to the regularly scheduled programming:

Now we can guess why Alex Morgan wasn’t available to the media last week.

The Pride had scheduled a press conference with Morgan after her first practice with the team. But it was called off because the team got Labor Day off.

Days passed with no reschedule. Turns out something was up: Tottenham Hotspur. The Athletic’s Meg Linehan and Paul Tenorio broke the story.

Morgan joins the growing list of players heading overseas for the winter season, something we’ve chronicled here at The IX. Here’s a handy guide in case you’re wondering where your favorite player went, courtesy of Jen Cooper with Keeper Notes.

Fans were understandably bummed with the departure of Tobin Heath and Christen Press to Manchester United.

As I told one Twitter user, sure, it’s a bummer the Thorns don’t have “Tobin F-ing Heath” but at the same time there’s plenty to be excited about. Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver, and Kelli Hubly, just to name three.

With some of the league’s stars off in Europe, or opting out in the cases of Megan Rapinoe, Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz and Jessica McDonald, this is a great time for young players to get some valuable playing time.

In the long run this will only make the league stronger.

I know I’m preaching to the choir somewhat here, but let’s take a look at a player to watch from each team, shall we? A few aren’t exactly young, but these are players I’m looking toward to make the most of the fall series opportunity.

Portland Thorns:  No brainer: Sophia Smith. The top pick in the NWSL draft didn’t play in the Challenge Cup because of injury. Mark Parsons indicated she’d get minutes on Tuesday (If the game even happens, see below).

OL Reign: Forward Katie Benz, who has a fascinating story. She was a standout at Cal but broke her leg her senior year in 2011. She has been an assistant coach at Montana for the past three years. Se was a surprise name on the Reign’s roster, and it will be interesting to see if she gets some minutes.

Utah Royals: More Tziarra King, please. Both on the field and off, this is Utah’s most exciting young player.

Chicago Red Stars: Sarah Luebbert. She scored her first goal over the weekend in Chicago’s 2-1 loss to the Spirit. She was a training camp invitee for Chicago but earned a contract. You can read more about her story here in a nice profile from The Athletic during the Challenge Cup.  

North Carolina Courage: OK, several Courage players are playing in Europe or have opted out of the fall series. They still have Debinha and Lynn Williams, which bodes well for them. Among the players signed for the rest of 2020, I’m interested in Danica Evans. She was drafted by the Pride and played there for three seasons before heading over to Spain to play. Could this be her opportunity for a breakout?

Orlando Pride: So she’s certainly not a young player, but how can you not root for Sydney Leroux? I just want her to light it up.

Washington Spirit: Ashley Sanchez. Another no brainer. She won the Challenge Cup’s “Future Legend” award. Take a look at this profile from Black and Red United’s Andre Carlisle

Sky Blue: Jennifer Cudjoe. She’s had an amazing journey. Read this excellent story by Bria Felicien for The Equalizer. 

Houston Dash: She’s been around since 2017, so she’s not exactly a new player, but Nichelle Prince has got to be a sentimental favorite in the fall series. She tore her ACL in the World Cup last year and is making a comeback. She also opted to play in the Challenge Cup despite the death of her father. Harjeet Johal wrote about Prince and what she’s gone through for The Equalizer during the tournament.

And with that, we’re on to the links.


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

Please click on the links above as well as these! Also, wanted to get more WSL links but ran out of time today!

Meg Linehan for The Athletic also believes the player exodus shouldn’t be looked at as trouble for the NWSL.

Katie Whyatt takes a look at the FAWSL exodus for The Telegraph.

Emily Olson on the Spirit’s win over Chicago for The Equalizer.

Also for The Equalizer, Blair Newman looks at how Heath and Press can help ManU.

Sandra Herrera on Julie Ertz opting out of the fall series for CBS Sports.

My AP colleague and genuinely nice person Steve Douglas on Alex Morgan joining the American talent headed overseas.

Another AP colleague, Koji Ueda, on Yuki Nagasato’s history-making move to a men’s amateur team.

Alex Vejar looks at Christen Press’ move to ManU for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Steven Goff with his take on the exodus for The Washington Post.

Bloomberg spoke to Midge Purce about soccer and activism. Bloomberg is teaming up with The Athletic, a cool collaboration.

Dan Lauletta recaps women’s soccer around the world, a daunting task, for The Equalizer.



Five at The IX: Portland’s Emily Menges

Emily Menges spoke, with Meghan Klingenberg and Mark Parsons, on Friday before the game that was supposed to be played against OL Reign on Saturday. Here’s a bit of what she had to say.

Question: What has the turnover this season been like, with Tobin leaving and the injuries?

Menges: I think one thing we learned from the Challenge Cup is just how deep of a team we are. And that’s been just so cool to see. While it was so unfortunate that Sophie couldn’t get a start, Becky had to leave early, AD was unhealthy, I think that the players that we needed to step forward stepped forward. And I think that everybody on our team has the capability of stepping forward, which has been just such a cool thing to realize. I think, not just for us to realize, we’ve known, but for the league to realize, just see how deep Portland is. It is exciting that players are coming back. Injuries are terrible. And this year, I mean, I can’t imagine keeping up your motivation, in a normal year is kind of tough, as an injured player. But this year I can’s imagine it. I watch Sophia every day and she’s had a tough go, but we’re all rooting for her. And hopefully we get some of the injured players back on the field this fall series.

Question: Question How do you how do you approach these games that are just kind of plopped down in the middle of the fall with no real specific goal in mind as far as winning something?

Menges: So we’ve had to talk about this a lot as a team, and everyone’s in all different places. Like you have the players coming back from injury who are just raring to go and want to get back out there, get games in. And then you have some players who might need a little bit of mental break and that kind of thing. But I think we’ve kind of understood as a team that we are in such a unique situation, because we are one of the only teams that has basically our entire team here. Obviously we’re missing Tobin and missing a couple of others. But we are in a better position to start preparing for next season than a lot of teams are. And so one of our main goals is to just kind of build on the Challenge Cup. You rarely have the opportunity directly after a season to then kind of reflect immediately and build up some of the things you wish for better during that season. Usually you have a five month off-season that you can reflect, but by the time the preseason comes and it’s kind of All right, let’s not look at past. Let’s look at the future.’ I think that’s kind of been a unique situation for us: we’ve looked back at a couple of games in Utah, against Houston, against North Carolina and just kind of being able to pick out those key moments on what we can build on, what we need to do better if we’re going to win the championship next year. So while we’re looking ahead, we have unfinished business. We want to win these games. We want to kind of leave a statement. Hopefully it will give people an opportunity, like Sophie or some other players, to get more minutes. We’re not wasting this time.

Question: Most players grew up loving the game and everything. How much does your enjoyment level changed with everything going on and all the restrictions?

Menges: No, I don’t think it’s changed. It’s so different. I mean, those nighttime games under the lights with a packed stadium is what we live for and what we play for. But at the same time, the everyday, when nobody’s watching, the 95 percent of what our job actually entails, is exactly the same. And I think we’ve all, in this world, have had to adjust to the situations around us. And so I think that’s just the thing we have to sacrifice. It’s not as big of a sacrifice as a lot of people have had to make. So I don’t think my enjoyment has dipped. I think definitely playing in front of an empty stadium is way less fun and playing in front of a packed stadium. But in terms of the day-to-day practice, working towards something, being around our teammates, being competitive. That’s that’s still there, luckily.

Question: What practice has been like, especially with the fires and the smoke, and how has it impacted you? How are you handling everything?

Menges: Yeah, it’s really only affected us the last couple days. I think physically they’re being extra careful. Obviously, we run around, we use our lungs. It’s not great to be breathing in ash for an hour and a half. So, like Kling said, we’ve adjusted today. We spent some time inside, focused on some other stuff. But I think you can kind of feel it mentally, as well. It kind of sets in on your mood a little bit having the sun behind the ash. It doesn’t look right. It kind of kind of feels a little bit dystopian, but I think mostly mental. We don’t know about tomorrow, the weekend, the game, everything. So we’re hoping that this clears up, obviously, for our sake, but for everyone’s safe.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Annie Peterson