I had great intentions to write an intelligent post about the Coach of the Year award, and then this weekend happened. Between two BC Women's Soccer games and the two semifinal matches, plus all the other work I had to do, this post just wasn't going to happen.
So here are some quick hits. I've got a lot coming up this week before I drive up to Rochester on Thursday night for the NWSL Championship. Some more podcast recording, another rountable, plenty of editing and writing, laundry, you know, the usual.
And finally, Coach of the Year.
Who will win: Vlatko Andonovski
Who should win: Aaran Lines
Who I voted for: Laura Harvey
I'm still not convinced the Flash are overall a better team than FC Kansas City, but it's the playoffs and anything can happen, and FC Kansas City lost, so here we are. I'm glad the voting happened when it did, because I'm of the opinion that the team that wins the championship isn't always the best team, which is something that happens in all of sports anyway.
Regardless of the Andonovski vs Lines debate, which I'm already ridiculously sick of thanks to Twitter, my first place vote wasn't for either of them. It went to Laura Harvey, who might have gotten the best reward out of all of them: a contract extension until 2017. I had some panicked reactions when I brought up her name for the England gig, but I meant it. Every Reign player I talked to this season did not hesitate when I brought up her name and what she was doing for the team as they worked through their 0-9-2 start to the season.
Maybe I'm just sentimental, maybe I just like the story line of Seattle's season, even if they did peter out a bit at the end. Harvey's got a decent task ahead of her in this off-season: Pinoe's heading back to Lyon and will miss the start of the season, she's got to make the best of a draft with the consequences of the Keelin Winters trade finally hitting home. (By the way: this still isn't a trade I fault Seattle for; back in March we weren't even sure the NWSL was coming back for Year 2.)
It's going to be fun to watch what Seattle does. It's going to take some creative thinking, some smart draft picks, maybe another block-buster trade. But I can't wait to watch.
I'll have links this week to everything I'm working on, but expect a lot of coverage from The Equalizer this week as we count down to the Championship and we all trek up to Rochester this weekend.
Evans! [insert Harry Potter reference]
I submitted my ballot for the NWSL awards last night, a little early because I’m heading to New York City this weekend. (And, if you are in the city, I asked The Australian bar on 34th between 5th and 6th to air the WNY Flash vs Boston Breakers game, and they have said they can make it happen. So come and watch an NWSL game in a soccer bar, and since it’s an Australian joint, we will talk a lot about Kyah Simon and Sam Kerr.)
Most of my votes will probably fall in line with the end result: Lauren Holiday for MVP, Becky Sauerbrunn for Defender of the Year, Erika Tymrak for Rookie of the Year, Karina LeBlanc for Goalkeeper of the Year. I’m guessing that’s what we’ll see announced starting next week, although it is up for grabs with the weighting of the votes being a little unexpected. Jeff tweeted that information out, which sees owners/GMs/coaches at 25%, the media with 25%, and the players getting a whopping 50% of the final weight of the results.
I think the players will generally be fine voting – many of the players I know or follow on Twitter talked a lot about watching other games in the league, not to mention watching video as part of their official prep work for each game. They (and the owners/GMs/coaches) are not allowed to vote for themselves or people from their own team, from what I understand.
I did want to touch briefly on someone I didn’t put in my Top 3 for Rookie of the Year, but I’m still excited about as a player. When you cover a team, week in and week out, and manage to get to a couple of practices, you develop a different way of interpreting the team’s performance than one you might just see on livestreams and in person once or twice a year. I think way too much about the way the Breakers are playing and what works and what doesn’t compared to Seattle Reign FC, and it’s simply a case of knowing the team more.
Maddy Evans was the 4th round (29th) pick for the Breakers, and not a surprising one, considering the summer before she had trained with the team and played for Aztec MA in the WPSL. She ended up making the roster after the departure of Lisa-Marie Woods, and has ten appearances/two starts with 362 minutes logged, with the last week of the regular season still left to play. Evans ended up tied in with Lisa Cole’s Rhian Wilkinson roaming-midfielder experiment, which hasn’t been perfect, but was a mid-season adjustment that did make a difference for the Breakers.
Evans has that rookie drive and engine that is just fun to watch. There are still elements of her game that she’ll need to work on in the off-season, and she’s going to need to improve the fitness and conditioning levels in order to keep up with NWSL expectations, but when I think about rookies right out of college this year, that I just loved watching as they adapted and upped their game? Erika Tymrak, Mana Shim, Maddy Evans. It was nice to have one of those at home.
The Best XI was a little tougher, and instead of having an endless mental argument with myself, I just started writing down names that felt right after the season we’ve seen so far. Is it a perfect assessment of the top eleven players in this league right now? Probably not. There are definitely names that could go on here instead, and would deserve the vote. But I’d also defend every name I have listed on here as well. It’s a nice problem to have too much talent in the league, right?
Here’s my Best XI:
Goalkeeper: Karina LeBlanc
Defenders: Becky Sauerbrunn, Christie Rampone, Leigh Ann Robinson, Brittany Taylor(*)
Midfielders/Forwards: Lauren Holiday, Diana Matheson, Abby Wambach, Lori Chalupny, Lianne Sanderson, Jess Fishlock
Tomorrow or tonight I’ll get into my pick for Coach of the Year. It’s not who you’re going to expect. (Unless I’ve previously talked to you about it, and then, well, yes, it’s that coach.)
(* Correction, I had incorrectly typed Lindsay in the first draft. Thanks to @arusulato30 for bringing it up.)
Alex Morgan, actual human being!
On Monday, Jonanna Widner and I took almost two hours to talk about one thing: Alex Morgan. And even though this went on for almost two hours, I still feel like we barely scratched the surface about all the things we could have talked about.
You can read the post here at Stumptown Footy.
The entire idea for the dialogue and the post came after I sent her a fairly grumpy direct message on Twitter after I saw some of the reaction to Alex's tweet concerning the Western New York Flash stream. You know the one. Personally, I'm a big fan of swearing, I'm a big fan of players expressing themselves on Twitter or on the internet or in person (which can backfire, sure, but as someone who's had to make their feed a little more professional, a little less curse-filled, it sucks), and I enjoyed the tweet 1000% on those two levels.
So that's what prompted the discussion, but there's a lot more to talk about with Alex Morgan this season. When I went out to Portland for the PTFC vs FC Kansas City match at the start of August, I was lucky to be able to hang out with people who think about soccer A LOT, and we had plenty of discussions about Thorns FC, and plenty more about Alex Morgan specifically. One night, out at Goose Hollow Inn drinking a Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen (which, sidenote: if you tell me where I can find that in Massachusetts I will owe you a major favor), I compared Morgan to Alex Ovechkin, considering this whole talk about the season being a disappointment, a young star being tasked with being the face of a league (with the admission that Ovechkin at the height of his stardom was still splitting the duties evenly with Sidney Crosby), and playing in a system and with a coach that wasn't a perfect fit.
The only thing is: Alex Morgan has the added bonus of being a female athlete in America, in a sport that most mainstream sports fans ignore, look down upon, or simply don't even know exists. Sure, the U.S. women's national team gets plenty of attention during major tournaments, and sure, Alex Morgan gets plenty of attention from dudebros who are convinced that they will end up marrying her, but these generally aren't the eyeballs that the NWSL is attracting to the game. But Alex Morgan transcends the NWSL, in a way that Brittney Griner transcends the WNBA.
That's the discussion Jonanna and I ran out of time for, and that's the discussion that we, as fans of a sport played by women, still need to take part in. The one comment theme that has stuck in my head for days is, after Morgan tweeted "Can you figure out your shit," there was an immediate comparison to Hope Solo. And that was a BAD thing, to the people who said this, a very bad thing indeed. Because Hope Solo is the example of what not to do, because we judge Hope Solo for having opinions (both ones we agree with and ones we don't), apparently.
The way we look at Alex Morgan is a symptom of a greater disease in America: they way we've been trained to judge female athletes for their looks and behavior, rather than their performance. This isn't to say that we should ignore behavior entirely—but at the end of the day, female athletes are judged on it a lot more harshly than the average male sports star.
Maybe it's just me. As I was writing this, all I could think of was a specific Kristen Stewart quote that you can find in the gif below. I hope if you do have some thoughts, you leave a comment here or on the post at Stumptown Footy. So far, it's been a pretty encouraging response, especially for the first of a collaborative effort between myself and Jonanna, but I like being able to have a good, thoughtful (if informal) talk and share it with everyone.