Western Vikings Run Home Unbeaten String to 23 in 4:1 Win Over Central

On Senior Night at Harrington Field at Western Washington University, one of the highlights for the visiting Central Washington University Wildcats came early, in the fifth minute, when the Vikings’ Becca Cates took a penalty kick which was saved by Wildcat freshman goalkeeper Emily Holt, who then fell on the rebound before any of the Vikings could get to it.

14711401_10102659153302533_6226878277790135438_oThe evening would turn chillier for the visitors in the 20th minute, with Western’s Gabriella Pelogi finding a seam in the middle of the Central defence and burying a shot from the top of the 6-yard area. Minutes later, Pelogi would have a shot at the brace as she was played in by Elise Aylward, but Holt held her ground and was able to corral the shot.

In the 27th minute, the Vikings would make another bid to stretch their margin to two, with Caitlyn Jobanek missing just high with a left footed drive from the top of the box.

The second goal wasn’t long in coming, though, with Liv Larson finding twine behind Holt, curling a drive from just outside the box into the top right corner.

Western continued the pressure on the Wildcat back line, but headed to the turn with just the 2:0 advantage, with junior goalkeeper Ashley Homer barely tested by either of Central’s two shots.

14707896_10102659143991193_7345475923273747235_oAbby Litka would ruin Homer’s clean sheet in the fiftieth minute, left-footing a shot into the side netting from the left post, after creeping into a seam resulting from a coverage error on a Wildcat corner. The goal conceded snapped a skein of 422 minutes the Viking defence had held opposition off the scoreboard.

“Goals change games,” noted coach Travis Connell, reprising the phrase Laura Harvey has made famous throughout women’s soccer in the Pacific Northwest. “Central is a good team, a strong team, and they play a physical game. We knew this was going to be a test for us, and it gave us something to work on. Even conceding the goal, it gave us something to work on we haven’t gotten to work through very often this season.”

In the 56th, the visitors from Ellensburg would spring McKenzie Nolte behind the Viking defenders, but the cross from Bailey Martoncik was just a little too heavy for Nolte to keep in, and kept the margin at one.

At 2:1, the game settled into more of a back-and-forth struggle until the 70th, when Mariah Roggow capitalized on a feed from Jobanek to restore the Vikings’ cushion to two, where it would remain until the eighty-eighth minute, when Aylward chipped Holt to stretch the score to 4:1.

“I’m just so proud of these girls, the way they’ve worked all season, and their work shows in the record,”Connell concluded.

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The win ran Western’ record to 15-0-1 and a perfect 10-0-0 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and marks the 23rd consecutive home victory for Western. The Vikings close out their campaign with a pair of road matches against Portland Nazarene and Montana State Billings before the GNAC tournament, which will be hosted in Burnaby, British Columbia by Simon Fraser University.

Photo credits to Max Aquino and Jacqui Roddewig, as noted on the respective images

Is The NWSL Broken Beyond Repair?

A discussion originated on an National Women’s Soccer League-related forum in which I’m active wherein the original poster discussed potentially withdrawing support from the NWSL and its teams due to several issues with the league and its US Soccer Federation parentage. The following started as a response to that thread. This is definitively editorial in nature, so I hope the readers will forgive the departure from journalistic convention into the use of the first person pronoun. After all these are one person’s opinion. That person happens to be ‘this reporter’, but usage of that convention in an op-ed seems at best stilted.

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

Is the NWSL flawed? Yes. I’m sure that anyone who has been paying any attention can rattle off lots of ways it is.

Is it still the best option we have? Yes.

Unfortunately, there’s a weird chicken-and-egg situation. The league won’t grow without better infrastructure and simultaneously, can’t [afford to] develop better infrastructure without growth. It’s almost comically minor-league – perhaps even bush-league – that the league office is something on the order of three full-time employees and a handful of interns, and at least in the non-MLS co-owned/partnered markets the situation is likely at least as sparse (I know in Seattle it absolutely is and that the turnover rate is incredibly high – we’re on our third or fourth media contact of the season, and have had I think seven now in my three years covering the team). People are stretched to the breaking points and beyond – and this is just the off-field administrative stuff.

The NWSL has abdicated its responsibility to the writers and photographers who cover the league and the game, allowing a self-selected clique of accredited media to form an officially sanctioned media association. I think this is solely because someone from that pool noted that such a thing was probably needed and the league Director of Communications simply didn’t have the bandwidth to oversee the formation and governance of one. This group alleges that it models itself on the Baseball Writers Association of America, ostensibly to ensure access and facilities which empower the press to do their jobs, but elects to ignore the tenet of “[t]he main requirement for membership is still that a writer works for a newspaper or news outlet that covers major league baseball on a regular basis.” Rather, what the NWSL Writers’ Association seems to have arrogated unto itself fits the BBWAA’s description of a chapter Warden (see Article 3, Section 4 of the BBWAA constitution while conveniently ignoring that primary qualifier and seemingly using it to exclude media who have covered the league for other outlets. [nota bene: The Goalkeeper Guys were both nominated to the NWSL Media Association by our local representative, Jacob Cristobal, but were not accepted by the unknown composition of that group. We love Jacob and see him as a brother-in-arms covering the team, and thank him for the nomination while indemnifying him from defending the decision. He’s a good guy, and if you don’t already read his stuff, you should.]

The player payscale is simultaneously ridiculous and sustainable – as wrong as it is for anyone who works as hard as the players for potentially as little as $7000 a season (assuming they make the roster and aren’t amateurs who may work as hard for nothing), there isn’t the revenue stream to support it being higher – and even though team owners are reasonably well heeled it’s an unreasonable expectation to demand that they lose more to pay better. We’ve also seen in past leagues what results when compensation rates are significantly higher – leagues folding in three years because they become fiscally untenable. That option is obviously not viable from past experience.

So, how then to fix it? I don’t have the answer, but I suspect that it involves significantly more investment from the US Soccer Federation as the lead partner in the coalition of associations which underwrite the NWSL – particularly given the general track record of the US Women’s National Team – into both the infrastructures and on-field product. Getting more teams will help – it seems ludicrous that there are only five NWSL teams in the top 20 US markets (#3 Chicago, #5 Houston, #6 Washington, D.C., #10 Boston, and #15 Seattle) and the list of those other 15 is studded with places which come up over and over again – NYC, Northern and Southern California, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, St. Louis. Adding eight to ten teams at once is probably disastrous, but if I’m in the commissioner’s office, I’m actively recruiting potential ownership groups in those places and building a plan to include them as rapidly as seems feasible. Adding presences in those places will help build revenue, and has the chance to make it possible for the league to get a TV contract which doesn’t see it displaced by NASCAR second-tier truck racing and high-school football (in the past two years, playoff games have been shoehorned around such events, resulting in such disasters as a semi-final match featuring Washington at Seattle having a 10 pm Eastern time Thursday kickoff even if this made it unrealistically late for fans of the visiting team to watch).

Sure, having almost every game since the league’s inception available for viewing and live-broadcasting those which aren’t televised via YouTube is great, and makes it possible for fans without deep pockets to follow their teams away from home. But I don’t think anyone can make the argument that doing so is an acceptable alternative to having a regular nationally televised match broadcast on a significant outlet. As with so many of the things we’ve seen above, if you’re already a fan, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t know about the broadcasts; but if you’re not, they’re not easily discoverable – and that accessible discovery goes a long way in building interest.

I’d be looking at ways to make the merchandise more readily available by getting it into national distribution and offsetting the hit to owners by giving them a share of the profits – this has been cited as a reason why it hasn’t been done yet; that by making merchandise available strictly through the teams and league stores it drives all that revenue back to the owners. This strikes me as one of two things: either a well-intentioned mistake on the part of the league or a tacit acknowledgement that there simply isn’t the overhead and infrastructure to hire a league merchandising and marketing director worthy of the title who could get this sort of thing done. There are so many places in Seattle I can go and buy merchandise from our other professional sports teams. For that matter, I can buy Seattle Supersonics gear, and the Sonics were uprooted to Oklahoma City eight years ago. I know of a single store which isn’t online or the team’s Match Day popup in the stadium where I can find Seattle Reign stuff, and that one’s limited to t-shirts. I strongly suspect that this particular outlet (if you’re curious, the Simply Seattle! store at 1st and Pine) bought a handful of shirts in their most common sizes for women, youth, and men from the team itself simply because people asked for them.

I’d also want to focus on some way to get the players – not merely the cadre of national team stars – visibility and name recognition, at least within their communities. For instance, if you’re a sports fan in Seattle or Portland, you probably know who Clint Dempsey or Diego Valeri are; if you’re a soccer fan, you probably know Alvaro Fernamdez and Darlington Nagbe. Sports fans probably recognize the names Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe – but what does that say about the Jess Fishlocks and even moreso the Hayley Rasos of the league? I’d be surprised if 2% of self-identified sports fans in Seattle know who Jess is, and would suspect that the Portland number might be less than 2% even among self-identified soccer fans for someone like Raso. Yet it’s the intensity and drive of the Fishlocks and Rasos – and of the twenty or so players on each team’s roster who aren’t well-known names from the US. If you can find me someone who isn’t a die-hard fan, family member, classmate or former teammate of Andi Tostanoski, Didi Haracic, or Allie Wisner who knows who they are, I’d be shocked.

 

So, the NWSL thus far has failed at a logistic level; it has failed to properly treat its players and particularly those amateur players who train with the teams and fill out the rosters when national team players are off representing their respective countries; it doesn’t market itself well enough to get more than a toehold of national broadcast coverage for anything but some of the most important matches each year; it hasn’t managed to establish a presence in more than a quarter of the largest metropolitan areas, and remains nearly invisible and hard to detect outside the cities where it does have a presence.

Still, it’s a start. We need to support it, lest it go the way of the WUSA and WPS. What do you think can reasonably be done to make the league a better and more sustainable presence? Chime in! Your opinions are as valid as mine.

Kawasumi, Reign Top Breakers 2:0

Two years ago, the Seattle Reign made a run for their first NWSL Shield on a remarkable undefeated skein which ran nearly the entire length of the season. Part of that roster was Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi, then on loan from Kobe Leonessa.

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Nahomi Kawasumi sends her first of the match past a diving Jami Kranich.

The Reign match against the Boston Breakers on July 2 marked the return of ‘Naho’ to the Reign lineup – but this time, not on loan. It didn’t take long for her to display the form which contributed to her becoming a fan favourite, opening the scoring in the 15th minute by converting a Manon Melis cross which deflected off of Boston defender Kassey Kallman and slotting it past netminder Jami Kranich, who had little chance diving to her right.

The half would end with the score still at 1:0, but not without more Reign scoring chances. Jess Fishlock had one roll just wide in the 23rd, and Kim Little drilled a Kawasumi cross in the 43rd solidly off the corner of the frame.

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Boston goalkeeper Jami Kranich catches a chipped shot from Seattle’s Kim Little in front of the Scottish international.

Little’s pursuit of her 30th NWSL goal continues, with the Scottish star generating four solid scoring chances, but seeing none register on the scoreboard, with Kranich extending vertically to capture Little’s chip in the 54th minute.

Nine minutes later, Kawasumi would round out the scoring with her second of the night, converting a pass from Keelin Winters at the top of the box to provide the final margin of victory.

The Reign defense merits note as well, coming into the Boston match with a skein of four consecutive clean sheets, two each behind goalkeepers Hope Solo – now off in training camp with the US National Team – and Haley Kopmeyer.

Kopmeyer would register three saves on the night to earn the fifth in the skein of shutouts, leaving the Reign holders of a new league record and three minutes short of another for the longest time without conceding a goal.

Nahomi 'Naho' Kawasumi scores her second of the night.

Nahomi ‘Naho’ Kawasumi scores her second of the night.

Quick Thoughts: Portland Thorns FC 1: 1 Seattle Reign FC

Neither team left Memorial Stadium with the three points each hoped to earn in tonight’s match, but with the one apiece each probably deserved. It became the tale of two halves: the first marked by tentative play and with each side looking as if they were afraid to make the mistake which would put the opposition ahead; then the second, which started with a fire in the head of both teams which saw Portland’s Nadia Nadim opening the scoring seconds into the new half, only to be answered by Seattle’s Bev Yanez three minutes later.

It’s not an understatement to say that this is a rivalry game, and one between two teams which are building a not inconsiderable dislike for one another.

DSC09400Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” could have been the theme song for the second half hits reel, as the game took on the sort of physical tone more commonly associated with Western Hockey League matchups between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks, as Reign players were being knocked to the turf repeatedly – and with the match referee calling for immediate medical treatment on three incidents.

Surprisingly, only two yellow cards were produced, likely the result of two of the three most severe collisions being on 50-50 balls. Even so, the visitors where whistled for six fouls in the half.

Two sets of matchups stood out- the #16s on both side, defenders Emily Sonnett of Portland and Carson Pickett of Seattle, the latter of whom ended up slotting into a midfield position after the departure of Manon Melis in the fifth minute with an unidentified leg injury.

The other pair, the #25s, Portland and US Women’s National Team defender Megan Klingenberg and Seattle’s Kiersten Dallstream, getting the rare start at forward.DSC09235

More in a bit, as I have the time to sift through photos and figure out why Word Press is showing me white text on white backgrounds.Rebooting fixes everything, right?

Update, 17 May: OK, so rebooting doesn’t fix everything, but reinstalling WordPress fixed us.