This is a busy week for Women's Soccer/Futbol/Football. It's not, however, a busy week for "Ladies" football, at least in London. Chelsea FC Women is the new moniker for the former Chelsea Ladies. This is fine. I'm sure that there are women who know far more about the relative cultural meanings of "ladies" vs "women" who will be applauding this move.
But I can't get over the idea that it still reinforces the default male status quo. That's a problem worth breaking down everywhere, and certainly worth fighting during a feminist re-brand. How about also calling the other team Chelsea FC Men? As long as there is an institutionalized default male posture to stuff like this, the subtle message that goes out is that there is one "real team" and one "girls team, because we have to, but it's not the real thing." That's rarely the expressed message, but it is certainly how some people take it. Ever read a comments section? Football itself isn't male or female, yet women's sport always has to specify by gender. Why can't men too?
This is a problem for many aspects of society, but that doesn't mean it is one that can't be solved. It's got to start by being aware of using gendered defaults.
At the professional level, most sports are divided by gender. But in the United States, none of the various men's leagues specify a gender. It's just assumed. It's the default. National Football League. Major League Soccer. National Hockey League. National Basketball Association. All of these have a parenthetical message: (ONLY FOR MEN AND THESE ARE THE REAL LEAGUES AND THE REAL SPORTS).
Women's leagues generally have to differentiate by adding a "W" to their name. National Women's Soccer League. National Women's Hockey League. Canadian Women's Hockey League. Women's National Basketball Association.
The assumption that the male whatever is (and should be) the default whatever has dramatic impacts across society. There are fewer women in boardrooms, elected office, and basically everywhere else than there should be, all other things being equal. Though the worldwide population of women is ever so slightly smaller than the population of men, in the United States, women outnumber men by around 2% (Source).
So if anything, the default should point towards women. Stop laughing. It should. And you should definitely listen to what I have to say on the matter, because I'm a tall, cis straight white male and you've been societally conditioned to know that my kind generally knows what we are talking about on any topic, any time we open our mouths.
Let's kick that default to the curb too. The sooner the better.
OK—back to football played by women, which is the only football you'll ever encounter on Her Pitch.
The NWSL has SEVEN games this week, spread out over Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We'll preview the Wednesday matches first, then get to the rest later in the week as the injury reports emerge.
Plus, the UEFA Women's Champions League Final between Wolfsburg and Olypique Lyonnais was held on Thursday in Kyiv. Hopefully you watched that match on YouTube, because it was amazing. Lyon ended up winning 4-1, but that's hardly the whole story. Here's the whole story, and a great gallery from Daniela Porcelli.
As always, you should follow Her Pitch on Instagram. Thursday, Daniela Porcelli did an Instagram takeover live from the game! She photographed the match and all the best pictures are up! That's 100% more coverage from Ukraine than we've ever had on Her Pitch, so get excited.
What Happened in COG 8?
Pretty much nailed it last week, my friends. Except for Seattle. What. On. Earth, Seattle? A scoreless home draw? To the Red Stars? Next thing, you'll probably find a way to lose to the Dash in Houston on Wednesday!
(Ron Howard's voice: "They found a way to lose to the Dash in Houston on Wednesday.")
Utah defeated visiting Houston, the Thorns grabbed a goal from Ellie Carpenter to win 1-0 in Washington, Sky Blue fell 2-1 to the road warrior NC Courage and then Seattle somehow drew at home with Chicago. Just a minor stumble for the 2nd place Reign, right?
I'm sure I'll screw things up again this week. Let's find out.
North Carolina Courage at Orlando Pride
Wednesday at 7:30PM Eastern on Go90
Now the season gets interesting. Through their first nine games, the Courage have not once failed to earn at least a point. They've found a way to win seven of those on the way to a nine-point gap at the top of the table. The teams within striking distance that have played fewer games still can't get within 3 points of last season's runners-up were they to win out.
Lynn Williams remains out with her hamstring issue, and Kristen Hamilton is questionable with a right calf strain. That's no big deal if Crystal Dunn continues her streak of form.
But Orlando has been looking better and better over the past month, taking care of the ball and getting results where they should. There is some concern for the team with both Ashlyn Harris and Monica listed as questionable with knee soreness, but there is good depth for this squad (even in goal) available if needed.
I think the Pride are able to put together another good win following their 2-1 away win over Portland on May 12th. This game will be fun, and I won't be surprised to be wrong here, but the gut says a narrow win for the home team.
Orlando Pride 2-1 NC Courage
UPDATE: Nope. Why did I doubt the Courage? They just fight and fight and never get concerned and play their game and win. EIGHT times now, in ten games.
Result = Orlando Pride 3-4 NC Courage
Sky Blue FC at Washington Spirit
Wednesday at 7:30PM Eastern on Go90
What can be said about a combined one win in fourteen matches? These teams are bad? That's not good enough? Don't watch this?
No, that's never the answer. Here are the bottom two teams in the table, fighting to remain relevant for the rest of the year. There is nowhere to go but up, and only an idiot would doubt the will and desire of the players to make every minute count.
Case (or Kaycee) in point:
There was good news for Spirit fans on the injury report: Rose Lavelle is off of it. Cleared. Ready to go. Prepared for action. Maybe we'll see her as a late sub, but unless nobody pays attention to recent history, Lavelle should be eased back to service. Perhaps more importantly, Estelle Johnson is also off the injury report. I'd imagine she'll end up with more minutes this weekend than will the former Breaker 1st round pick.
Sky Blue did manage a goal (a really great Carli Lloyd set piece strike that came too late to matter) against the Courage last week, but didn't really threaten otherwise. Washington will give them an opportunity to have a realistic shot at getting their first win.
Bad news though, I think the Spirit will be too much for Sky Blue. Washington mostly looked decent against the Thorns a week ago, and the Thorns are much better than Sky Blue. They'll put more passes together and with Johnson back in the lineup should be able to hold field at home.
Washington Spirit 2-1 Sky Blue FC
UPDATE: Hey, I got one right, and for almost the right reasons.
Result = Washington Spirit 1-0 Sky Blue FC
Seattle Reign at Houston Dash
Wednesday at 8PM Eastern on Go90
I can't believe the Reign couldn't get a win at home vs the Red Stars last weekend, but there it was. They dominated possession for long stretches but the final connection to Jodie Taylor was never just right. Jasmyne Spencer's introduction brought a spark, but again, the dots just didn't quite connect for the Reign at home.
Houston had been looking a tad better, but Utah exposed a few things about the Dash. The worst thing that was evident is that Kealia Ohai has not (yet) recovered the speed that made her such a dynamic player before her injury. It would be a serious bummer if she can't get that back eventually. But she was easily defended on plays that depend on her ability to get separation—and getting that separation isn't going to be any easier against the Reign. The best thing that was evident is that Allysha Chapman is back to her amazing, Tasmanian devil-ish self.
I can't make a case for Houston winning this one, and though they might find a way to nick a draw, I really think the Reign are going to find a way to record another lopsided win.
Houston Dash 0-3 Seattle Reign
UPDATE: Not even close. Houston went down 0-1 within 15 minutes, but fought bravely back to level and then found a winner in stoppage time. Very solid result for the Dash against a very good but slightly underperforming Reign squad.
Result = Houston Dash 2-1 Seattle Reign
Utah Royals at Portland Thorns
Friday at 10:30PM Eastern on Go90
Utah were last seen defeating the Dash. The Dash were last seen defeating the Reign. And the Reign defeated the Thorns on their most recent trip to Providence Park. Utah wins big, right?
There can't be any doubt that Portland hasn't looked like everyone expects them to look this year. I wrote about some of the Thorns' (Thorns's? Thornses? I've heard it both ways) issues last week, including their need to shore up the defensive midfield. Sure, there have been injuries and international delays and more, but some of their issues have been with formation, and they haven't adjusted fast enough when things aren't working. That's led to the 3-3-3 record. Last week's win came off the foot of Ellie Carpenter, but it took the Thorns almost 70 minutes to find the goal against the Washington Spirit. A loss tonight would dump the Thorns out of the top four playoff spots. Could that really happen?
Utah's looked pretty good lately. They've won the games they should, and have drawn the better teams in the league. One of the Courage's two non-wins this year was a draw at the Royals. Two draws against Orlando and another against the Thorns have all been encouraging. But if the Royals want to make some noise this year, they're going to need to start collecting wins, not draws against the top teams. They held the Thorns to a draw at home, but what will happen tonight in Portland?
Emily Sonnett won't be a part of the action for the Thorns back line, as she's out with lower back pain. The other bench will be home for Kelley O'Hara, who is still nursing her right hamstring back to health. Otherwise, the teams are pretty healthy.
I've been thinking the Thorns have to put it together sooner or later, but I'm not sure the matchups with the Royals (plus the Sonnett-less defensive center) have that in the cards for Friday night. It feels like a very close match without a ton of space for either team to move forward the way they want. Still, I'm going to give the slight home edge to Portland, and guess that Tobin Heath finds enough room to operate on the flank without Kelley O'Hara available to disrupt her.
Portland Thorns 2-1 Utah Royals
Orlando Pride at Chicago Red Stars
Saturday at 3:30PM Eastern on Lifetime TV
No joke, Orlando looked TIRED on Wednesday night, especially towards the end. That was odd, since they hadn't played for nine days. Maybe, just maybe, they'll look fast and sprightly on short rest for the Lifetime Game of the Week on Saturday. Stranger things have happened.
The visitors may be without Sidney Leroux (illness) and Monica (right knee soreness), both of whom are questionable. Toni Pressley remains out with her left quad strain. I'd expect to see a lot of Rachel Hill, who was sharp and bright in a sub role on Wednesday night. A start might just give her the opportunity she needs to really start to get some recognition.
I continue to have no idea what to expect from the Red Stars. Their only non-draw in a month was a 2-0 home loss to this Pride squad. Sam Kerr hasn't been able to replicate her magical game saving form for her new team, and very good players around her sometimes disappear for long stretches. It's worth asking if the formation isn't putting their players in their best positions, but let's reserve judgment to see if Chicago can do better than a draw.
I'm not sure they can. These are both decent teams but Orlando's wins are more impressive. They came very close to handing the Courage their first loss. And, they didn't have many problems in Chicago on their last visit. Pride win a match that begs for better defense.
Chicago Red Stars 2-3 Orlando Pride
Seattle Reign at Sky Blue FC
Saturday at 7PM Eastern on Go90
I don't know what has been going on with the Reign, but surely they'll find a way to sort it out against the winless Sky Blue FC in New Jersey, right?
OK, it's actually not too difficult to see what's up with the Reign. Their back four aren't the same, which requires some midfield help, which throws off the attack timing, which ultimately has resulted in inches-wrong final passes and missed scoring opportunities. Everything starts with the defense. It's still a good defense, but the Reign have missed (and will continue to miss) Megan Oyster as she fights back from a knee strain.
New Jersey is healthy, except for Erica Skroski (right hamstring strain) and Rebekah Stott (right groin strain) who are listed as questionable on ye olde injury report. Stott is a quietly important piece for Sky Blue, and has many other skills that her new team hasn't been able to exploit. Hopefully she's fully fit soon, as she'll be needed to dig out of what is likely soon to be an even deeper hole of winless games. After Saturday night, the count will be up to seven.
Sky Blue FC 1-3 Seattle Reign
Washington Spirit at Houston Dash
Sunday at 8PM Eastern on Go90
This match will be played in Texas, where the Dash defeated the Reign on Wednesday. Vera Pauw's Dash are starting to come together, and she's got a bench full of mystery that can provide speed and quality from players who are still relatively unknown in the league.
Both of these teams have won twice, once each against Sky Blue. But Washington's other win came at the expense of the early season incarnation of the Pride, whereas the Dash's other win was earned in Wednesday's defeat of the Reign. The Dash have just looked better more recently, which probably means they're going to get surprised by the Spirit.
Rose Lavelle got in a few good minutes for her new team, but she's likely to be brought along slowly considering her injury history. One would have thought she'd have learned her lesson after nearly being taken from us in a freak tarp incident last season in Boston.
Let's jump on the Dash bandwagon for at least a week. It's usually pretty empty.
Houston Dash 3-2 Washington Spirit