Portland Thorns Win NWSL Final: 6 Thoughts from the Inaugural Season

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Portland Thorns Win NWSL Final: 6 Thoughts from the Inaugural Season
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Portland Thorns celebrate

With the Portland Thorns defeating the Western New York Flash 2-0 in the NWSL final on Saturday night, the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League is done and dusted. After 22 regular-season games and three playoff matches, here are six thoughts.



Congratulations to the Portland Thorns

A lot of credit has to be extended to the Portland Thorns. Not only were they excellent all season long, but to win the league, they had to beat the league's two best teams in FC Kansas City and the Western New York Flash on the road in the playoffs. To make it even more impressive, they did it missing two of their best players in Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath for stretches of both matches.

Morgan missed the entire semifinal match and was only a second-half substitute in the final. Heath was withdrawn early from both the semifinal and final matches.

Oh yeah, they also played the last 40 minutes of the final down a man after Kat Williamson was ejected in the 56th minute.

 

Could Becky Sauerbrunn Play as a Holding Midfielder for the USWNT?

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Shannon Boxx

While most of the attention from the U.S.’ success in the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics focused on the U.S.’ offensive stars in Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, one of the unsung heroes for the United States in both tournaments was holding midfielder Shannon Boxx.

Boxx, sitting in front of the U.S.’ center-backs, has always been the one doing the dirty work for the team, breaking up opponent’s attacks, getting possession started out of the back and contributing with the odd set-piece goal.

Now 36, battling lupus and only starting one game in this year’s NWSL season, Boxx looks to be near the end of her career. Losing Boxx with leave a giant-sized hole in the U.S. midfield, and with Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney—who were the midfield combination for much of the 2012 Olympics—proving this season they are much more valuable as attackers, the U.S. needs to be looking for some cover at the holding midfield position.

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Becky Sauerbrunn

Yael Averbuch may be able to do it and has looked promising during some of the U.S.’ recent friendlies, but Becky Sauerbrunn, the 2013 NWSL Defender of the Year, may be another option that hasn’t been looked at.

Sauerbrunn faces intense competition for playing time as a center-back with Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler and Whitney Engen all firmly in the mix. Sauerbrunn also lacks elite-level speed, something very valuable for center-backs in the women’s game, and tends to struggle against teams with pacey forwards.

However, Sauerbrunn is excellent in possession of the ball (her bad giveaway in the NWSL semifinals notwithstanding), tactically smart and good in the air, three keys to being a top-class holding midfielder.

At the very least, it’s worth a look.

 

Alex Morgan Didn’t Get the Joke

If you missed the Twitter explosion last weekend between soccer writer Beau Dure and Alex Morgan and a host of USWNT fans last weekend, you really missed something.

During the Portland-Kansas City NWSL semifinal game, Tobin Heath was taken out on a tackle. Morgan, injured and on the sideline for Portland, could be seen and heard on the television broadcast screaming at the center official.

Dure, attempting to make light of the impression that USWNT players receive special protection by the NWSL’s referees, posted the following tweet:

Many fans, not getting that the tweet was in jest, set off on a series of overreactions and Morgan herself tweeted that Dure was an idiot:

To be fair to Morgan, Heath was injured on the play and had to leave the game. Heath recovered in time to play in the NWSL final and score the game-winning goal. Morgan, apparently, is still unaware that Dure was kidding as her tweet is still online.

 

Will the USWNT Stars Support the League Enough for It to Survive?

Last week, it was reported that Megan Rapinoe will be returning to Lyon for the 2013-14 season and will miss the first half of the 2014 Seattle Reign FC season once again.

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Megan Rapinoe

Numerous other players like Tobin Heath, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Whitney Engen, Yael Averbuch, Christen Press, Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg have played or are currently playing overseas, but Rapinoe’s absence for the first half of the 2013 season hurt both Seattle and the league.

She is one of the most recognizable and marketable players and, like it or not, the average fan comes out to see the stars and their favorite players. With Rapinoe not playing, the league loses money. For Seattle, missing Rapinoe contributed to the Reign ending up with one of the worst records in the league, They finished with a meager 18 points, half of what was needed to make the playoffs.

You can’t really blame Rapinoe, who simply wants to play at the highest level possible, but if the top USWNT players don’t support the league, it has no chance of surviving.

 

Why Does Karina LeBlanc Not Start for the Canadian National Team? 

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Karina LeBlanc

As a USWNT fan, I’ll admit that the only time I watch the Canadian team is when they are playing the U.S. So, maybe LeBlanc has been given her chance and not taken it, but based on club form, LeBlanc seems to be clearly better than Erin McLeod, the usual starter for Canada.

Besides the subjective evidence that LeBlanc simply looks like a better goalie, the objective evidence backs that up. McLeod finished the season with 28 goals against her in 16 games for a 1.75 goals-against average. LeBlanc finished with 23 goals against her in 21 games for a 1.09 goals-against average.

One might argue that LeBlanc had a better team in front of her, but a closer look at the statistics points to the fact that LeBlanc is what made her team better. LeBlanc finished with 92 saves, or 4.38 saves per game, compared to 64 saves, or 4.00 saves per game for McLeod.

 

Erika Tymrak is One to Keep an Eye On

2013 NWSL Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak is a player the casual fan has yet to be introduced to, but is set to be a future star. Tymrak finished the season with six goals and four assists and has a lethal combination of dribbling skills, goalscoring ability and is a strong passing skills.

Many of the NWSL games this season were only available on gritty webstreams with few closeups, but even so, this short highlight clip will give you an idea of Tymrak’s skills.

Tymrak recently received her first USWNT call-up and will be part of the U.S. team facing Mexico on Tuesday, Sept. 3, in Washington, D.C.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran

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