Weeks from the Pitch

soccerball on wide green grass field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By the time this posts, I’ll be headed down to Portland to watch the last games of the Thorns preseason invitational. In two weeks, we’ll watch the first two matches of the 2019 NWSL season. This post details my wishes for the upcoming season, predictions, and hopefully serves as the first of many NWSL posts on this blog. Jump in to read all about it.

2019 Season Bucket List

  • A non-Portland, non-Carolina championship
    • Obviously, as a Portland fan (and also a human being with moral standards #SorryNotSorry), I hope Carolina doesn’t make it to the finals. But also, as a Portland fan, I hope we don’t either. I hope Carolina places worst in the league and loses every game (which won’t happen), and Portland makes it to the playoffs, but I hope both teams fail to achieve their third annual championship meeting. With the league out of a network deal, and instability in team survival year to year, it would bolster many fans’ confidence (including this one’s) to see development across the league.
    • If I had to pick, I’d chose Sky Blue or Washington versus the Royals championship match up, for a win fit for Royals (though I’d also love to see the Pride make it in there).
  • The Recovery of Sky Blue
    • I’m encouraged that the First Lady of New Jersey has committed, even if abstractly, to undo the work (or, more accurately, the alleged lack of work) of her husband. PR out of the Blues seems to suggest that standards for players have improved somewhat. I would love, above anything else this year, to see Sky Blue players excited to get to work, proud of the league, their team, and the city standing behind them. It’d be amazing if this catapulted them to their former winning standings. I’m a Portland fan first, Royals fan second, but for this season and this season only, I’d ditch them both for Sky Blue’s recovery.
  • Better Burke
    • Many verbal abuse allegations (including homophobia which is already monopolized by the NC Courage) have surfaced against new Spirit coach Richie Burke. The organization has vehemently denied all of them. While I hesitate to disbelieve anyone, I hope that either the rumors are untrue or that Burke will grow and mature in the new, professional arena. With the truly stunning new United arena, I’m hopeful that Burke can thrust the Spirit into the visibility it failed to attract last season. Merging the gap between MLS and NWSL fans is crucial, and the Spirit has an opportunity to elevate the woman’s game this next season that I hope they can capture.
  •  World Cup Crossover
    • Branching off the above point, I hope World Cup, American soccer fans are able to see the incredible club season available to them every year. The US Soccer lawsuit will hopefully attract more media coverage and empowerment to the league, and more importantly, the players, in 2019 and beyond.

2019 Predictions

  • The World Cup call ups won’t be officially announced for at least another month, but I expect the Thorns and the Courage to be hit the hardest with USWNT player absences. This will hopefully allow the two teams to be dethroned. With the iconic Providence Park under construction until halfway through the season, the Thorns will face an additional hurtle, with a lack of Riveter boost for the first 6 games. For these two reasons, I don’t anticipate the Thorns having a world-class season.
  • The Reign’s relocation from Seattle to Tacoma, meanwhile, I believe will bolster the team’s standings. Surrounded by other athletes in a far-more hospitable stadium, the staff, players, and fans will ignite a fire on the pitch. I love Seattle and am a (mostly) proud resident, but its treatment of the Reign during their tenure is revolting in every way.
  • The lack of a TV sponsorship during a World Cup year will not be as disastrous as many are saying. Yes, the game’s production value will tank, and Aly and Jenn will be missed, but the accessibility of the Women’s game will help newcomers ease into the league and feel emboldened when (hopefully) NBC Sports picks them up in 2020.
  • Despite all of Duffy’s wise dodging of specifics, I believe a new franchise will launch in 2020. While it seems Canada and California (at least backed by Barcelona) are out of the running,  I’m hopeful we’ll at least get an Indiana, Atlanta, or New York team. Failure to launch a new team (and retain all current ones) will spell disaster for the league, and obliterate the hope of hundreds of NWSL fans. Duffy knows this. She’s too conservative and smart to do anything reckless, but the severing of the Lifetime deal means Duffy and her team have hope in the league’s future.
  •   Week One Game Predictions
    • US v Belgium (3-1)
    • NC v CHI (2-0)
    • WAS v NJ (2-1)
    • ORL v POR (1-1)
    • HOU v SEA* (1-0)
    • NC v ORL (2-1)

Be sure to follow my new NWSL Twitter for live, game-day updates and let me know what your predictions are in the comments below.

Bryce’s debut collection can be purchased here. 25% of the profits go to organizations like RAINN, 1in6, and End The Backlog. He writes short stories for free here.

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* SEA is still the designated code of the Reign on the NWSL site. With a clear rejection of any associated city, and WAS already taken by the Spirit, it will be interesting to see how production handles the team moving forward.

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