What to think of the national team? — NWSL playoffs commence! — Current heroes speak

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Oct. 17, 2022

Welcome to Soccer Monday. While the fallout from the Yates investigation simmers in the background, the NWSL has embarked on the playoffs.

But first: The U.S. women’s national team is back from the European swing. The team lost two straight for the first time since 2017.

While the loss to England wasn’t all that surprising — the Euro champions were playing at home — the 2-0 loss to Spain was a bit more concerning. Spain was without some of its best players because of a dispute with the Spanish federation.

But is the sky falling for the USWNT? No.

I know a lot of folks were online criticizing Andonovski. “Vlatko” was actually trending at one point. But let’s look at the team right now. Key players, including Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis and Tierna Davidson are out with injury. Alex Morgan and Mallory Pugh didn’t even make the European trip.

Andonovski has made good on his promise following the Olympics: He brought in young talent. We now have players like Carson Pickett and Sam Coffey in the mix. And I’d argue that with a bigger pool of talent to draw from, the team that goes to the World Cup will be stronger.

Second of all, I don’t think we can discount the impact the Yates report had on the players. It was a reckoning, much like the the scandals that rocked Penn State and USA Gymnastics. It will change the sport going forward, hopefully for the better. But right now it still feels very heavy.

And finally, often a disappointing loss (or losses) are enough to inspire the team going forward. The USWNT lost matches in the run-up to both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. And remember, the U.S. failed to even medal at the 2016 Olympics.

The good news this past week was the U.S. is still ranked No. 1 in the world. They’ll be seeded going into the World Cup draw later this week in Auckland. Yes, the draw is this week!

One last thing to point out, which we all know: Teams worldwide are getting better. It is inevitable that there will be highs and lows. Believe me, as a USC grad I’ve seen a dynasty turn sour fairly quickly. But it’s a usually a pendulum: eventually down teams rise and top teams topple. So this may just be the future for the USWNT, it might not be all domination all the time. That’s what makes this sport interesting for everyone.

The USWNT still have a pair of games against Germany set for November on home soil. Let’s see what happens before slamming that panic button.

Issue 2! The NWSL playoffs have started, with San Diego downing Chicago 2-1 on Sunday, after the Current beat the Dash 2-1.

That sets up Sunday’s semifinals between the Thorns and the Wave, followed by the Reign against the Current.

Oh and look here:

And one last note: Many folks in Portland are boycotting games or dropping season tickets at Providence Park because of current ownership. Yes, it’s a personal decision. But the Thorns operate in the red. Ownership is not making money off the team. Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby made an impassioned plea about how the players need fan support now more than ever.

Final Note! This is awesome!


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LINKS!

Alex Azzi’s story on KC’s win for On Her Turf.

The Athletic recaps the quarterfinals.

Julie Foudy looks at the state of the game in Europe for ESPN.

Claire Watkins breaks down the USWNT by position for Just Women’s Sports.

Bleacher Report on the criticism of Andonovski.

Story on first Indian-American national team player Mia Bhuta.

SI’s Avi Creditor looks at the USWNT after the losses in Europe.

All For XI says the USWNT needs a backup plan.

Hope Solo objects to the USWNT settlement. Sigh.

The Equalizer’s Best XI for the NWSL this season.

The Courage waives Jaelene Daniels.

Nadia Nadim speaks to what happened at Racing Louisville.

Cindy Parlow Cone says three more players have come forward in the wake of the report, from ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle.

ESPN did a great timeline of the scandals.

My story on the reactions of Becky Sauerbrunn and Alana Cook to the Yates report.

Also from me: Thorns fire executives, Louisville apologizes.

Howard Megdal on NWSL free agency.

And a little breaking news from this morning!


Five at The IX: Kate Del Fava and Lo’eau LaBonta

Question: Lo, you got that goal early. How much of an advantage was that for you guys?

LaBonta: Yeah, I think scoring early is probably the best thing that can happen in the first playoff game in the whole league. You knew everybody was going to be flying out there. So just to have that little pillow to rest on was very beneficial for us, I think.

Question: Kate, walk me through the goal, your emotions. Did you think of the celebration at all?

Del Fava: Yeah, I’d say I didn’t have my celebration as planned as Lo did, I think. But yeah, I just I saw Lo and Alex with a nice little 1-2. And I said, it’s the 99th Minute, I’m going to take a chance and get in the box and good things happened.

LaBonta: I don’t think I let you celebrate definitely jumped on you. My bad.
Question: Just how many tools do you guys feel like you have on your belt to kind of take on any sort of game situation that you guys face?

LaBonta: Full toolset. We’ve got all the tools. And I think that starts with you know, we have everybody going forward to attack, we have numerous people that can score. We have staff doing all the scouting for us. I think it takes everybody here and we use every single tool. Bring it full circle.

Question: Kate, it feels like you were further up the field?

Del Fava: We were playing four in the midfield so yes, I was in the midfield, so that helped with getting into the box. The formation change, it was a good tactical decision that allowed us to get numbers a little higher on the field and put ourselves in a good situation there.

LaBonta: I think with Kate too, I know she doesn’t get the iron woman award because she hasn’t played every single minute, but she will make every single run cover every inch of ground on the field. So I think she should get that for our team. And give her some bonus money.

Question: For LaBonta: You’ve got a big win in front of a huge crowd. Have you allowed yourself to kind of take that moment in?

LaBonta: I mean, I wasn’t tearing up like some of the other players were, the veterans. I think just because a lot of us were on the team last year when we were in last. And just all the work we put in, the grind and everything, I think it pays out in the end. We came out with the win and now it’s on the next level. I don’t know if I’ve soaked it in yet because I’m just so happy. I haven’t really processed all of it but I think it’s just living in the moment for sure. And I’m trying to rush this so that I can go hang out with my teammates and truly celebrate. We’re gonna do ice baths we’re gonna have a party in the shower. All the professional things. But we’re enjoying it. I think you could see that on the field with all the players. We have a good time together. So yes, you’re not gonna see tears yet, only cellies and smiles.

Question: Alex stepping in for Desiree in the middle there. What did you make of her performance?

Del Fava: I think she did a really good job. She stepped up into the sixth role for us a couple of times this year. And Alex is super versatile. And it’s really rare to have a rookie who can play all over the field and and step up in big moments like she can. So I think she’s been a really, really important player for us and she obviously had a big part in the game winning goal there and you can see her quality on the ball for sure.

Question: AD came up with a lot of clutch saves. Wanted to get your thoughts on her performance and the point-blank shot in stoppage time.

LaBonta: Yeah, I mean AD isn’t up for goalkeeper of the year just because. She continues to pull out saves like that for us. I think that last shot came from a counter that we probably should have scored at the other end but she’s there to hold it down for us back there. So we got a wall with our back three and we got a wall with AD so that’s why I think we have one of the best defenses and again that’s why AD is up for goalkeeper of the year.

Quote: Kate Was that your first ever goal in NWSL history ever?

LaBonta: Oh my god. I thought it was just this year! Oh my god. That’s wild. Let’s go. Yeah, soak in the moment. How do you feel man? I’m turning his interview back on you. How are you processing all this?

Del Fava: I haven’t yet. I’m excited to now. Good timing. That’s all I’ll say. Happy to score my first goal and happy for it to be in the playoffs.


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: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Eleni Demestihas, @strongforecheck, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Annie Peterson