Week one is in the books, and we've had some time to digest the first four games of the first NWSL season. There were some great games, many draws, and one hero that arose amongst the 18 Canadians that we here at Waking the Red are keeping our eyes on.
Many of the streams had some usual teething problems, but otherwise, for a first week the NWSL showed a lot of promise, and some Canadians really stood out amongst them...while others, not so much.
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FC Kansas City 1-1 Portland Thorns
The first game of NWSL ever, and the first two goals were the byproducts of Canadians. It's hard to swallow, but on the very first goal by Mexican Renae Cuellar, Thorns' keeper Karina LeBlanc was completely off her line, and when the ball fell to the Mexican Cuellar, she made absolutely no mistake -- some of the fault fell to the defenders in front of LeBlanc, a group that is largely unexperienced and playing in front of a 'keeper that was away for most of training camp.
On the other hand, Kansas City's "Canadian Wall" held beautifully, and even generated a few chances on her own. Desiree Scott was solid in the midfield for KC, keeping both Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan frustrated for most of the evening along with Lauren Sesselmann, who proved once again her adeptness at the back. If not for what was a marginal call for a penalty by the referee, she would have been feted for playing a large part in keeping what would have been a clean sheet. Regardless, both should get another chance.
As for Christine Sinclair, she was frustrated by Scott and Sesselmann, and only found the back of the net because of a penalty that shouldn't have been. It was as we predicted in our preview, and it came true for the most part -- Sinclair and Morgan were dangerous together, and when Tobin Heath becomes available should be even more dangerous, but the fact that the Canadian Wall were able to keep them at bay, shows that KC could be a dark horse come at the end of the season.
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Chicago Red Stars 1-1 Seattle Reign
Seattle's Tiffany Cameron was not available for this game as she was finishing up her studies at Ohio State, while Carmelina Moscato was an unused sub for the Red Stars. The rest, which included Erin McLeod in goal for Chicago, Emily Zurrer in defence and Kaylyn Kyle in the Seattle mid, were on the field and played the full 90 for their teams.
Zurrer was solid in the back, and despite giving up the goal to Chicago didn't look all that out of place. But Kyle made an absolute nuisance of herself with the Chicago defenders, and had a few chances to put Seattle farther ahead in the first half after Christine Nairn and Liz Bogus opened the scoring -- she gave the Red Stars defense fits, and late in the first half was almost allowed to go one-on-one with McLeod, but desperate defending kept her from that. Kyle appears to have made quite the impact, and until Seattle's pieces fully come together (and even afterwards), she could play a huge role in determining if the Reign make the playoffs or not.
McLeod was solid in net, and the goal given up could be chalked up to early game jitters but once the tally was gone, she led the defence and looked like a #1 keeper. All three players should likely get the start again, while judging from the Seattle lineup, as we predicted -- Cameron will have a hard time breaking in.
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Sky Blue FC 1-0 Western New York Flash
The only win of the opening weekend was by the New Jersey side, but it was almost a Canadian who could have turned that result on its head. With Abby Wambach pretty much stifled by the Sky Blue defence, Jodi-Ann Robinson came on for the Flash in the 65th minute, and got three chances to cancel out a first half own goal by Western New York's McCall Zerboni, the best one coming in the 82nd minute on a feed from Wambach, that Robinson couldn't control and was saved by Brittany Cameron. Robinson may still be young, but could see another off-the-bench role next week.
Sophie Schmidt meanwhile played a key role in the Sky Blue midfield, getting a few chances and looking cool and comfortable in her place with the side. Melanie Booth and WNY's Bryanna McCarthy were both on the bench, but were unused subs.
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Boston Breakers 1-1 Washington Spirit
Robin Gayle was pretty much thrown from the frying pan into the fire by the Spirit, being assigned the dreaded centre back position and getting the unenviable task of keeping Sydney Leroux quiet, along with Ali Krieger. And for the most part, while the Spirit's defense looked a bit slow, it largely got the job done until the second half stoppage, when Leroux finally broke through. Candace Chapman was not dressed for the game, but will likely bring some stability and pairing to Gayle and Krieger once she is available -- and given how TFC-like the Spirit defence was, they should be hoping that Chapman will be 100% soon.
In the middle, Diana Matheson made herself very useful behind striker Tiffany McCarty, finding herself in very dangerous spots. While McCarty did get the opening goal for the Spirit, Matheson remained dangerous throughout the entire match, and could have easily made it 2-0 if the Breakers' 'keeper didn't just tip her shot late in the first half over the bar. McCarty and Matheson has proved to be a neat combination, and could see further action in the future.
Meanwhile, Adriana Leon was on the bench, while Rhian Wilkinson played the full 90 for Boston. Wilkinson in particular was more dangerous on the right, which the Breakers attacked quite viciously at that weak point. That could likely be Chapman's place when she becomes available, but at the stage it is in, a stronger offense could have turned that weakness into an interstate towards the Washington net, something that the Spirit will need to work on if they wish to be successful in the long run.
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We will have more coverage next week as the season continues, including a monthly report card and some local opinion on the CanWNT 18. Stay tuned to this space!