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woso wrap-up: NWSL review

Welcome to the very first smlwld women post!

It’s a pleasure to bring you woso content at smallworld. There’s so much of a lack in coverage for women’s soccer, and smallworld wants to change that in whatever small way we can.

However, we don’t have to start small. The NWSL Challenge Cup was a big success, posting more than half a million views for the final a few days ago, and providing the world with some excellent soccer for the past month.

But before we delve into a review of all the action, we have to let you know who smlwld women chose to stan, even if it didn’t exist until the tournament was over.

The team we stanned (and will continue to) is OL Reign. Though we generally don’t like the rebrand to fit Olympique Lyon, the author, danny from smallworld, has three separate connections to the team. Seattle is still the author’s birthplace. On top of that, Costa Rican star Shirley Cruz is a key cog in the lineup, the country danny loves and spent a few months in. Then, there’s Bethany Balcer, a really awesome person and player who we’ve got a lot of respect for.

Add Megan Rapinoe to those three cool connections, and stanning OL Reign is obvious. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite perform when it came to crunch time.

Let’s review their path to failure (and why it wasn’t a total failure).

What stands out during their entire Challenge Cup campaign is a lack of goals. However, they did a good job of keeping their opponents out as well.

Their opening match was a respectable 0-0 draw with Sky Blue FC. It wasn’t anything special, but the team looked solid if nothing else. Not a bad return to competitive play.

Next up, though, was a 2-0 loss to Houston Dash. Looking back, now that the Dash are champions, that doesn’t feel like too bad of a result, but failing to score in two straight matches is concerning. Nobody truly looked like they were providing a spark, and that’s obviously somewhat of a problem.

It did get better on matchday three when Reign beat Utah Royals 1-0. The defense continued to be strong, while the attack finally bagged a goal through none other than Bethany Balcer in the dying embers of the match. Would have liked to see that effort from the onset, but when your defense is strong enough to hold a clean sheet, it’s not a problem.

Unless, of course, you fail to score a goal again, which is exactly what the Reign decided to do against Portland Thorns. The beloved side from Oregon kept Reign out of the net for the third time in four games as both sides settled for a 0-0 draw. Once again, there was just a lack of creativity and excitement in the attack.

This is probably the point in the post where we point out that Megan Rapinoe’s absence was felt enormously. She would have really changed things for the entire squad, because that’s kinda just what she does. That attacking energy from her is what we needed more than anything.

Despite all this, though, Reign finished in a respectable sixth place in the group stage, earning the right to play third-seeded Chicago Red Stars. It was a 0-0 scoreline after 90 minutes (go figure), and Reign fell just short on penalty kicks. Not the way you want to go out, but you can’t say the defense wasn’t consistent.

Overall analysis from a fan’s perspective: it wasn’t a great performance, but it’s not too concerning for whevever we’re back to the NWSL officially and Rapinoe rejoins the team. That crucial piece is exactly what we were missing throughout, and if the defense continues its quality of play when Megan comes back, Reign will be a very competitive side.

Outside of the on-field play, here were some of the best highlights from the tournament:

  • live TV coverage: Cool opportunity through CBS to televise every match for supporters, and some incredible viewership numbers as well! The final got 653,000 views. More than half a million people were reminded that CBS exists and actually tuned into the station to watch NWSL soccer, and they were rewarded with a quality broadcast and a quality match.
  • engagement through social media: Big ups to Orlando Pride here. They became the stan account for the entire tournament, and boy was that fun. We endured cursed Twitter polls, countless memes, something about a playground, and in the end, a perfect way to unite supporters and keep the excitement going via Twitter.
  • the actual quality of play: Sure, there were a few low-scoring matches over the course of the tournament (OL Reign were probably responsible for most of them), but the playoffs were very exciting and there were no real blowouts or runaways. Lots of drama towards the climax of the cup, and an event well worth the time and effort of all those who watched it.

All that being said, it was a perfect time for NWSL to step up and prove the validity of women’s soccer to a national audience. And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what they did.

I’m hopeful that this success trickles down to lower-league women’s soccer as well, especially when those teams start playing again.

Until then, though, I’ll be happy to settle for the NWSL’s moment in the spotlight after what was an excellent Challenge Cup.

Support women’s soccer and stay weird!

Blessings,

Danny

By danny kotula

danny kotula is an aspiring sports writer and play-by-play commentator. unfortunately, he is not good at either one. his interests include watching soccer and listening to obscure music genres, and those aren’t even his most boring ones. he was born in Tacoma, Washington but has called South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, California, Georgia, and Costa Rica home over the course of his life. he generally knows where to put a comma, which is by far his most redeeming quality. he is writing this in third person as if he were famous enough for someone to write him a biography, but don’t be fooled. he’s not famous.

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