The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Monday, Oct. 19
NWSL Fall Series team-by-team reviews — Interview: Toni Pressley — Must-click woso links
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NWSL Fall Series team-by-team reviews
The Fall Series is over. Boooo. But I’m already looking forward to the 2021 season. If there is a 2021 season. Let’s hope. Wear a mask.
I want to quickly take a look at the NWSL’s teams and what we learned about them in a decidedly odd 2020.
First off, my local club, the Portland Thorns. This team is just so loaded, depth-wise, and it is especially apparent in goal. With Adrianna Franch nursing an injury, then Bella Bixby going down with a season-ending injury, Britt Eckerstom proved she was more than capable of starting — and may have had the save of the Fall Series. Christine Sinclair showed she’s still got it. It seems like Becky Sauerbrunn joined her hometown team like 10 years ago, but it was only in March. Such a steady veteran. And rookie Sophia Smith is a game-changer. So is Simone Charley. OK, so maybe I’m a bit biased.
North Carolina Courage. Don’t take the results of the Challenge Cup and the fall series too seriously. This was clearly an evaluation year for Paul Riley, and he said as much. Think of all the talent that isn’t playing in the fall series: Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Abby Erceg and Jessica McDonald. Then there’s Lynn Williams and Debinha, who just keeps getting better and better. This is another team that’s simply loaded. Honestly, any team with Dunn is gonna be a nightmare for opponents.
I have the same opinion about the Chicago Red Stars. But don’t believe me, believe coach Rory Dames: “I think if you look at where we started to we finished and the amount of players we’ve had that have given impactful minutes to the team, I think we’re in a great spot heading into the pre-season. I think we know for sure, two deep and three deep, the players that are actually good enough to play in this league, I would say in probably nine out of the 11 positions for us. So we feel pretty good about what we set out to do. We were pretty clear on our intentions, all the way before the Challenge Cup, to finishing this, and we’ve stuck to that.”
Orlando Pride. Such a disappointment that this team never played in the Challenge Cup. Then 14 players took their talents elsewhere instead of playing in the fall series. And can you blame them? Four games in a year is just not enough. Nine players made their NWSL debuts in the fall series. Ashlyn Harris said Friday it’s been frustrating: “You can’t bring in young players and expect them to fill the roles of senior players. It’s just not going to happen. To have those expectations and standards, it’s really, really hard for them to be able to deliver. To fill the shoes of the 14 players out on loan, it has been nearly an impossible task.” So did we learn anything about the Pride this season? No, no we did not.
But they still have Marta. A treasure.
Which brings us to OL Reign, another team I just couldn’t get a grasp on during the Challenge Cup. I mean, they have plenty of talent. I have enjoyed Bethany Balcer building on her rookie season. Shirley Cruz progressively got more involved. Then there’s Sofia Huerta! So why does this team still fell like such a mystery? The Reign seem to be adapting to first-year coach Farid Benstiti and the whole possession thing. But all the possession in the world means nothing if you aren’t also scoring, as we saw in the Challenge Cup.
Utah Royals. Let’s face it, things are a bit of a mess, with the whole Dell Loy Hansen debacle and then coach Craig Harrington getting abruptly placed on leave, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s not known whether he’ll return. Assistant Amy LePeilbet was put in an awkward position as interim head coach, but has done as well as can be expected under the circumstances. She appears to have the wholehearted support of her players. The Royals did not win a fall series match, but we did get to see the emergence of Tziarra King, and that’s good. Let’s just face it, Christen Press gives this team another dimension.
Houston Dash. What’s not to like? And what else is there to say? The Dash are the surprising feel good story of 2020. They won the Challenge Cup, and then performed well again in the fall series. Kristie Mewis was arguably the most valuable player of this season (Sorry Sinc!). Shea Groom, too. Quite simply, This is a team that believes.
Washington Spirit. The pieces are promising: Ashley Hatch, rookie Ashley Sanchez and Kumi Yokoyama. The midfield trio of Rose Lavelle, Andi Sullivan and Jordan DiBiasi was so enticing, I recall that they played together once in the Challenge Cup, but that era is over now that Lavelle’s rights have been traded to OL Reign. The Spirit likely have some moves to make in the offseason.
Sky Blue. Alyse LaHue has this team on the right track. I was confused about Midge Purce, but after we saw that Vlatko Andonovski also has her listed on defense for the upcoming camp, I’m beginning to understand what’s going on. Oh, and just look at what coach Freya Coombe said at the start of the Challenge Cup: “I’d like to see her develop role in the back and be able to spring forward from a deeper position and use the attacking talent that she’s got.” Kailen Sheridan is a heck of a goalkeeper, too. The one question mark, obviously, is Carli Lloyd and how she fits into the team’s plans for next season.
(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! firstname.lastname@example.org.
I WAS ON MEG LINEHAN’s PODCAST! Here’s the Apple link, but you can find it in a bunch of places. Full Time with Meg Linehan. It’s worth subscribing to.
I wrote about Toni Pressley, and you can check out excerpts of my interview with her below.
Jayda Evans wrote a nice story about the Reign’s Madison Hammond for the Seattle Times.
Alex Vejar did a great job with this piece on Michele Vasconcelos for the Salt Lake Tribune.
Meg Linehan broke down the camp roster with Vlatko Andonovski for The Athletic. This was very informative.
My wonderful The IX colleague Howard Megdal talked to Lisa Baird about the season that wasn’t in the NWSL, for Forbes.
Katie Whyatt, now with The Athletic, wrote about Alex Morgan and coming back to soccer after pregnancy.
I missed this last week so I want to amplify it this week, The Athletic’s Matt Pence wrote a wonderful piece on Madison Hammond.
Jeff Kassouf’s Kickin’ Back Podcast featured Kristie Mewis!
Ameé Ruszkai has a good story on Vivianne Miedema for Goal.com.
Really enjoyed this story from The Times of London on Alex Scott.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Toni Pressley
Hey, so I went a little longer with this, because I felt it was important. Pay attention to your body. If something feels off, it is worth checking into. Your life could depend on it.
Question: Can you go back and tell me what you felt when you first heard your diagnosis?
Pressley: I think my first reaction when I found out, I mean, I was shocked. Because as someone who is an athlete and seemingly healthy, you think that you’re immune to a lot of things, which obviously is not the case. I think I just was totally in shock, but I quickly got all that emotion under control and was thinking to myself, OK, like this is the news that you’ve just received. What are going to be the next steps? I quickly turned my focus on, you know, what was next in my process of getting healthy again.
Question: Did you have a family history? Was there any indication that this might be happening? Did you find a lump?
Pressley: So no family history of breast cancer. I tested negative for everything genetic-wise. I did notice a small lump in my right breast. And I was feeling pretty like achy and tender and sore. And that is one of the reasons that led me to go to the doctor.
Question: What were the emotions that you had running through your mind when you were told?
Pressley: At that point, I kind of knew it would be a possibility just because of all the doctor’s appointments that I had been going to leading up to that moment. By that time, I had a mammogram, I had a biopsy, I had an MRI. So I kind of put it in my mind, `OK, like, going through all these different appointments and this process, this could be a real possibility that you could have breast cancer.’ So even though it was still pretty shocking, I think that just understanding that and setting myself up for that, helped a lot, just preparing myself for the news. But, once I was told I just quickly just had to shift my focus on what my next steps would be, especially because we had a game the next day, as well. So I couldn’t really spend too much time, I guess, worrying about the information, knowing that I had to kind of put all of my focus on preparation to play a game.
Question: What was the treatment? Did you have a lumpectomy?
Pressley: I actually had a double mastectomy. Even though the cancer was only in my right breast. I was like, just take them both.’ Just so I wouldn’t have to worry, hopefully, about any future issues. So, yep, had a double mastectomy and then I didn’t know, at that point, before my surgery, if I needed chemo, radiation or not. So after that surgery, I found out that I in fact did not need chemo, I did not need radiation. And going forward, my treatment was basically I’m on medication now for five years. And that is the extent of it, hopefully.
Question: What was your recovery like?
Pressley: I think I’m pretty lucky because I didn’t think it was too terrible.
I don’t ever really remember being in a lot of pain. I just recall, obviously needing to rest and to kind of recover and recuperate and not being able to do anything too strenuous, which was hard because being an athlete, I’m used to doing all kinds of activities and exerting my body. To be told, Hey, like you need to stay in bed. I was like, wait, what?’ So I think that was pretty hard. But I don’t ever really moving in too much pain. I think one of the hardest parts of that process actually was the moment that I went to the doctor and they took my bandages off, just to understand and process of what I now look like. I think that was mentally one of the hardest parts of the surgery.
Question: Were there any special concerns for you this season because of COVID-19?
Pressley: No. I felt fine and I wasn’t too worried about, having had cancer, being kind of susceptible to catching COVID. I think also because I wasn’t, or I’m not like, immunosuppressed. And the medication I’m on doesn’t affect that either, which is good. So although I still was worried about catching COVID, like in general, I think having cancer, it didn’t add to that stress at all.
Question: So you get back, you get yourself back. And then this season starts and then you guys didn’t go to the Challenge Cup. How disappointing was that for you personally?
Pressley: It was really tough, just with how last season went and the challenges and hurdles that I went through personally. And then to go off into the offseason and work really hard and then to come back, and to have that happen to us as a collective, to not be able to go to the Challenge Cup, it was really disappointing because we all worked really hard to display all of our hard work, through performance, in this tournament, And to have that taken away, it was really disappointing. But I think, for me personally, I just used that time for a lot of reflection and to kind of also pull myself away from soccer a little bit and find what I like to do outside of soccer, which has been nice, especially during such a stressful time.
Obviously now we have this fall series, which is just another chance to prove ourselves and and show what we’ve been missing. And and to kind of show that through performance.
Question: You had returned to the starting lineup last season, are you confident you can get back there?
Pressley: Yes, I do. Last season, I felt really confident and obviously, having cancer was a major setback, but I don’t really feel like I’m still hindered by that. I feel like I did before. I feel normal. I feel, you know, healthy. I feel fit. So I’m just really looking forward to kind of, you know, showing that in these final games and then hopefully next season as well.
Question: Do you feel like the experiences, both the cancer and the adversity, have made you a better player?
Pressley: Yeah, for sure. I mean, how could it not? You go through things through soccer, and it can be kind of an up and down rollercoaster, like you’re you’re starting, you’re not starting, you perform well, you might have a bad game here and there, you have injuries and whatnot. But I think, in general, we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are and we can overcome almost anything. I’ve certainly learned that with going through having breast cancer, that I don’t think we’re given anything we can’t handle. I think as long as we kind of have the right attitude and mindset, it will only help us.