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Right Side, Strong Side

When I became a U.S. Women’s National Team fan in 2011 and more so in 2012, it was because I fell in love with the personalities of the players on the team. As you may know, they got my attention after their dramatic 2011 Women’s World Cup Semifinal win against Brazil on penalties. I watched the rest of that World Cup and realized how amazing these women were at their craft. It was a year later when I got to know them as more than just athletes though. I watched videos, read articles, books, and interviews, followed twitter accounts, and in turn learned so much about these incredible role models. They had a strong core group of players lead by Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone. They had young rising talent in Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. They also had several players in the middle of the pack who brought special elements to the team. Some were around for years, while others made their way into the lineup over the last cycle (the 4 years between World Cups). One of those players was Heather O’Reilly, who I quickly learned was known to the Women’s Soccer world as HAO (pronounced Hey-Oh) (O’Reilly’s initials which stand for Heather Ann O’Reilly).

The New Brunswick, New Jersey native made her USWNT debut in 2002 while still in high school. She played alongside 1999 Women’s World Cup heroes Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and Brianna Scurry. Then she began her storied college career at women’s soccer powerhouse, the University of North Carolina under legendary head coach, Anson Dorrance. At UNC, she was a part of 3 National Championship winning teams and also made the USWNT roster for the 2004 Olympic Games, where she helped the team to Olympic Gold. After college, she continued with her USWNT career and played professionally once women’s leagues were again formed in the U.S. by joining Sky Blue FC in the WPS and the Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City in the NWSL. HAO currently plays for FC Kansas City. As a member of the USWNT, O’Reilly played in 230 matches, scored 46 goals, assisted on 54 goals, won 3 Olympic Gold Medals (2004, 2008, 2012) and 1 World Cup Championship (2015), out-performed everyone on the beep test multiple times, and displayed a limitless amount of game faces. HAO has been nothing short of incredible. Tonight she will play her final game as a member of the USWNT. She isn’t retiring from the game of soccer by any means, just from international play. Nonetheless she will be missed tremendously on the world’s stage.

With the additions of many new faces to the USWNT in the past year, HAO’s playing time dwindled. I’m guessing it may have played a role in her decision. Despite that and the fact that she was named an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games, I didn’t see this one coming. It hurts a lot more than the rest. She’s only 31, which is on the older player range, but still not as old as some. HAO was also a part of the USWNT for so long. She was a part of that core group I began following when I became a fan and part of a special duo that most fans of the team know and love.

As a midfielder, HAO played along the right side of the field. Somewhere along the way, which I believe began around the 2011 Women’s World Cup, she formed an in-game connection with right outside back Ali Krieger and the phrase “right side, strong side” began. I’m not sure who coined the phrase. It might have been an announcer, a fan, or even the pair themselves, but it became known among the USWNT community that #9 and #11 in the game equals right side, strong side. They might have coined the phrase themselves because they use it too. Hopefully HAO and Kriegs take the field tonight and play one last time dominating the right side of the pitch. Either way it will surely be an emotional night for HAO’s family, friends, teammates, coaches, and fans who watched her perform for the red, white, and blue. She’s the true definition of world class and represented U.S. Soccer in the best way possible. Thanks HAO for all you’ve done both on and off the field. Right side, strong side forever!

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The National Women’s Soccer League

When I started this blog, my very first post was about the NWSL championship last season between FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC. As you know, if you’ve been following since then, I’m pretty into women’s soccer, but I’ve never gone in depth about this league I’ve been following for the last 2 years, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Since I started this blog at the end of last season though, I haven’t had the chance. It was the off-season. There have been other soccer things going on (like World Cup stuff with the USWNT..my first soccer love). You get the picture. While I was at Coachella two weeks ago (can’t believe it’s already been that long), the NWSL kicked off (no pun intended) it’s third season with a matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Houston Dash. With the start of a new season, it’s the perfect time to write about the league (since I finally settled down after my epic Coachella weekend of course).

The NWSL began in 2013 as the United States top professional soccer league for women. The Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) formerly held that title from 2007 until it folded in 2012. When developing the NWSL, the idea was to create a stable professional league for women in the U.S. that could withstand the factors that lead to the downfall of other top women’s pro leagues before it (WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2000-2003)). With the involvement of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), the NWSL seemed to start with a better foundation than the other leagues.

At it’s start in 2013 the league was comprised of eight teams, the Boston Breakers, the Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, the Washington Spirit, and the Western New York Flash. National team players from the USSF, CSA, and FMF were allocated to all eight teams in an even distribution to prevent teams from being stacked with talent, and thus making the league more competitive and exciting to watch. Also, since players from the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams were required to play in the NWSL, their respective national team programs paid their salaries, which allowed for some breathing room in the money department for the league so to speak (it still works this way).

Like other professional sports markets, the NWSL has a draft every year giving teams an opportunity to add top college talent to their squads. USWNT mid-fielder Morgan Brian was number one overall at this year’s draft. She was drafted by the Houston Dash, who was added to the league last year as its first expansion team. There are currently other markets looking to join the NWSL, but I’m guessing with the World Cup this year it was difficult for more expansions to occur in the 2015 season. Also because of the World Cup this summer, the league will be taking a break during the World Cup group stage. Since the league is comprised of players from not only the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams, but national teams such as England, Germany, Australia, etc. many of the league’s players will be competing in the tournament (so the NWSL will be missing a bunch of players on their normal rosters). If a national team fails to make it past the group stage, players who play on that respective team will return to their NWSL teams. To compensate for the World Cup break, the league will finish in late September compared to the last week of August as it has done the past two seasons. I’m guessing it may follow a similar format for the Olympics next summer.

Around the time the league began is when I started to really follow women’s soccer, the USWNT in particular (got into it a bit in 2011 during the World Cup but after the 2012 Olympics is when my interest began to peak). When I read about the U.S. allocations in January of 2013 is when I first discovered the league and what they were trying to do. I had no idea which team I would end up rooting for or if I would even be into any team. I mean it obviously wasn’t going to be at the level of skill I was used to watching with the USWNT. After some other circumstances that occurred during that time though (which I may get into at another point), I decided to follow the Washington Spirit. I’ve been following them since.

With the 2015 season beginning a mere two weeks ago, it’s the perfect time to see what the league has to offer. It’s a fresh start. There’s been new off-season additions, trades, and draft prospects added to the rosters. New kits (uniforms for those who don’t speak soccer) have debuted for clubs (the Spirit’s are dope!). Currently the national team players are taking part in some games before they have to report for their respective pre-World Cup camps. At this time, it’s almost like a World Cup preview of players. If you’re wondering how you can watch the NWSL matches, you can check out almost all the games on Youtube (they’re streamed). If a game isn’t on Youtube, that’s probably because it’s being aired on television. Yes, some games air on TV. Tonight the Boston Breakers have their home opener vs. the Houston Dash at 5 p.m., and my beloved Washington Spirit visit Sky Blue FC at 6 p.m. If you’re reading this at another time, considering the Breakers-Dash match is about to start, check out the NWSL website for a list of the league schedule, teams, and other information. The interest for women’s soccer in the United States continues to grow. With the help of the NWSL, hopefully the growth will be lasting.

The Countdown Continues: USWNT23

With 53 days until the official start of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, U.S. Soccer released the official 23 woman roster for the tournament. The list didn’t contain any surprises as all the players on the roster were with the squad for the Algarve Cup in March, the friendlies in February in Europe, and the friendly in St. Louis 2 weeks ago (with a few exceptions for injuries and the incident with Hope Solo). The roster is as follows:

Goalkeepers

Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers)

Defenders

Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

Midfielders

Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

Forwards

Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (unattached)

For keepers Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher and players Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Morgan Brian, Sydney Leroux, and Christen Press, it will be their first time competing in the tournament. Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Amy Rodriguez were part of the 2011 squad and will be competing in their second consecutive tournament. Lori Chalupny who was left off the 2011 team will also be competing in her second tournament as she was part of the 2007 Women’s World Cup team. It will be the third consecutive World Cup for Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Heather O’Reilly, and fourth for veterans Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx. Christie Rampone who was part of the famed 1999 World Cup team will make her fifth consecutive roster appearance. The USWNT begins their 3 game send off series on Sunday May 10th vs. the Republic of Ireland. They follow up with games May 17th vs. Mexico and May 30th vs. Korea Repbulic. Then it all begins. The countdown is coming to a close so stay tuned for more with the final preparations for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

NWSL Final: SRFC vs. FCKC

Ok first post time. Sorry I didn’t plan something big for the first one but at the moment this is some relevant news in the sporting world for me.

My interest in women’s soccer piqued around the 2011 World Cup, almost exactly after the famous quarter final match when Abby Wambach of the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) scored a goal to tie the game in the 122nd minute and then the USA went on to win on PKs. I’m pretty sure that match started some interest in the women’s football game for a lot of people and it was no different for me. I became a USWNT fan from then on and my interest in the game grew.

Fast forward a little over 3 years and here we are a day after the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championship match. I’m not gonna pretend like I know the two teams that competed in the final like the back of my hand (I’m a Washington Spirit fan) but I do know both teams worked hard all year to make it (and I do know how to look up some facts). The Seattle Reign was at the top of their game all season long and won the regular season championship. FC Kansas City finished at the second spot in the standings. Kim Little of Seattle (Scotland Women’s National Team) and Amy Rodriguez of Kansas City (US Women’s National Team) finished first and second in the league in goal scoring. The list of each team’s achievements could go on, but I’ll stop there.

If you follow the league like I do, you would have thought Seattle had it in the bag with the dominance they’ve displayed all season. Not the case. FCKC struck first in the 22nd minute with a goal by Rodriguez and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room at the half. Seattle had plenty of time to come back, but Rodriguez had other plans. She put another one away in the 56th minute giving FCKC a 2-0 lead. Both goals were assisted by fellow USWNT player, Lauren Holiday. Megan Rapinoe (USWNT) got Seattle within one in the 87th minute but the Reign couldn’t equalize. FCKC walked away with the ‘ship and the second NWSL season came to a close.

It seems like this new women’s league, which began in 2013, has been doing well enough to continue for a third season despite the expiration of the United States, Canada, and Mexico player contracts. Hopefully a new deal is reached between the league and the soccer federations of the respective countries because I think with the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2015 there will be an opportunity for growth in the women’s game. How much growth may be dependent on how well the USWNT performs, but if the NWSL Playoffs are any indication I would say fans are in for a long ride (crossing my fingers). I can’t get ahead of myself though. Qualifiers are from October 15-26. Qualifying is the first priority for the ladies from the U.S. of A. and you can bet I’ll have something to write about when that happens.

Until then if you’re reading this right now and you don’t follow women’s soccer, I suggest you check out the USA vs. Mexico friendly on September 18th. Its on ESPN 2 at 7 PM and I promise you as a sports fan it’s worth watching. These women can do some unreal things without using their hands (I know…except the keepers) and it’s a preview for what I’m sure will be the talk of the country come next June.