The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, July 13, 2020
NWSL Challenge Cup Yelp — Lots of links and conversation with OL Reign's Shirley Cruz, with an assist from Celia Jimenez Delgado
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NWSL Challenge Cup Yelp
I don’t want to necessarily bring up a sad topic, but I’m really bummed that the Challenge Cup might be all we see of the NWSL this season.
That’s because I see so much potential in some of these teams. I’m thinking mostly Dash and Sky Blue. But I’ve enjoyed Utah, too. And it’s so disappointing that we’re not seeing the Pride. Imagine a full season for some of these teams.
Lisa Baird told me there were so many questions to be answered before the league considers playing beyond the Challenge Cup.
“That’s going to be very much based on whether fans will be allowed in stadiums, and that is going to be up to the individual states and their governments. I don’t know what kind of patchwork will be put together in America in the fall. But it’s certainly something I’d like to do, is have something for the fans because they are a key component of our equation, both for sport and for business reasons, and I want to do something for them. I just don’t right now what we can do because think that playbook has to be written.”
So I wanted to rate the teams playing, not necessarily based on wins and losses, but based on other intangibles. We’ll go with a 5-star star system, kind of like Yelp. The more stars, the more impressive the team has been, at least in my humble opinion.
We’ll start with the two teams we saw this morning.
THORNS: 2 Stars. Lindsey Horan has been magnificent and Rocky Rodriguez is meshing well with the team, but overall Portland has seemed a bit flat. What I like, however, is that the Thorns seem to be incrementally improving. Not enough to get them past the Courage in the quarters, however. Morgan Weaver is a developing talent and I’m glad she’s getting some experience. She just needs to finish.
REIGN: 2 Stars. No Megan Rapinoe, but the Reign still have reigning Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer, who continues to be impressive. But she’s got the Reign’s only goal so far, so that’s a concern. Sofia Huerta finally making her debut with the team is a great sign, and hopefully we’ll see more of her than just a quarterfinal. Jess Fishlock is back, too.
RED STARS: 3 Stars. Overall disappointing but the 1-0 victory over the Spirit to finish off the group stage was encouraging. And Casey Short! Needless to say, Chicago looks way different without Sam Kerr. (I know, duh.) But I expect they’ll adjust sooner rather than later. Alyssa Naeher is still tough in goal, with 11 saves in the tournament.
ROYALS: 2 Stars. With a gutsy come from behind 3-3 draw with the Dash, the Royals looked like they were going to do just fine without Christen Press. But they allowed a disappointing stoppage time goal against the Reign and dropped Sunday night’s game to the Red Stars — but with usual starters on the bench. I really do like this team, but let’s face it, I’d like any team with Vero Boquete. Tziarra King is a bright talent for the future. And Kelley O’Hara is back, which is always good.
SPIRIT: 4 Stars. OMG that 18 pass sequence for Bayley Feist’s goal against the Dash! But the Spirit were dealt a blow today when it was revealed that Andi Sullivan is out for the rest of the tournament with a torn miniscus. A huge blow. Was really hoping to see Sullivan and Rose Lavelle click. And depending on Monday night’s results, the Spirit may be seeded second for the quarterfinals. I didn’t have that on my bracket.
DASH: 4 Stars. OK, so they the Dash started strong but then tapered off. That doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this team. I’m giving them stars just for potential! Rachel Daly, Shea Groom, Kristie Mewis. What isn’t there to like? This is the team I most wish we had more of a season with, because I think we’d see vast improvement from last season.
SKY BLUE: 4 stars. This is another ‘potential’ team after an eighth-place finish last season. And just imagine when Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh get back — because both players will be motivated to show they’re worthy of a possible spot on the U.S. national team ahead of Tokyo 2021. One gripe: The team needs to figure out what to do with Midge Purce. Such a talent shouldn’t be wasted. This team is headed in the right direction.
COURAGE: 5 Stars. Because they’re the back-to-back champions. A juggernaut with Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald when she’s healthy. Good all the way around.
You are free to disagree, of course. Send me your thoughts! I’m at email@example.com.
Also, wear a mask.
(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.)
Sandra Herrera on CBS Sports on Sarah Gordon’s hope to form a Black players coalition.
Nice story here from Jayda Evans on Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos for the Seattle Times.
The Chicago Sun Times’ Annie Costabile writes about life in the bubble for the Red Stars.
The Financial Times has a story on women’s soccer. That’s something.
Susie Rantz had an interesting story on the Reign saving 29 jobs with a PPP loan for Sounder at Heart.
The Courier Journal on Racing Louisville’s big reveal.
Meg Linehan for The Athletic on the league’s statement for Pride. “Foundational to who we are as a league.”
My The IX colleague Howard Megdal has been covering the Challenge Cup for Forbes.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette says the city needs an NWSL team.
The wonderful Matt Pentz on OL Reign’s Steph Cox for The Athletic.
CAN WE PLEASE STOP with the every-two-years Women’s World Cup? Please?
Cute story on supporters groups sending banners to Utah for the tournament.
Sarah Valenzuela praises the WNBA and the NWSL, says leagues are vital to the fight for gender equality.
Keep an eye on coach Maya Hayes, from Stephanie Yang for All For XI.
Stephanie Yang again with a good story on kids in the bubble.
TWEET of the Week
Let the hype begin!
Five at The IX: Shirley Cruz
The Reign held a fun Zoom Call with Shirley Cruz and Celia Jimenez Delgado. Celia did much of the translating. Here’s some of the conversation.
Question: Shirley, when you and Portland’s Raquel Rodriguez play it will be the first time that two Costa Ricans have faced each other in the NWSL.
Shirley: (Celia is translating) It’s a really special moment because she has never had the opportunity to play with another Costa Rican national team teammate. And it’s also a very new scenario for both of them, because Rocky, it’s the first year that she’s with Portland, so she has to to adapt to a new style of game. And for her, too, it’s a new team and she’s getting used to new teammates, a new style of game. So she feels like it’s a privilege and really special moment for them to play against each other. And also, it’s such a big rivalry between Portland and Reign.
Question: Shirley, how are you adjusting to the NWSL?
Shirley (via Celia): It’s been a short period to adapt just due to COVID. We had only had a month of preseason, and also we haven’t had the chance to have friendly games and play against other teams just to get a feel for the NWSL. But she feels confident that during this three, four matches, we’re going to get a hold of it and we’re going to figure out the new style of play, get together with the teammates and get to know each other on the field. And that’s going to hopefully show up and improve in the next few games.
Question: You’re coming to the NWSL has been sort of like long awaited. Why did you decide to come now and did you want it to happen earlier?
Shirley (answering for herself, said Farid called her while she was in Costa Rica): My whole career I played in Europe. So right now I’m trying to learn a different style. I really like these players. They help me with the culture and even tried to help me the first week, and I know all about this Covid situation. So we need to work together and try to build as soon as we can and get to know eachother on the field. So right now I just try to help the team and Farid, try to learn a new style with him. And I’m just glad the players were really good to me. It’s a different time and I enjoy to play with the girls right now.
Question: Celia, can you talk about having a teammate like Shirley who has played for Farid before as the team learns his style and tactics on the field, and his personality?
Celia: I do believe that having Farid coming from Europe and Shirley has played in Europe for a long time. We also have some European players on the team, including myself. I believe it’s always easier when you already have someone that understands that style game and understands what you want to do with the project. It’s going to make the task easier. And in that sense, I am grateful that we have so many players, including Shirley, that understand that style of game and it’s going to make the transition or the adaptation easier.