With the inaugural regular season of the National Women’s Soccer League in the books, it’s time to hit reset and mentally prepare for the playoffs, which begin with semifinals on Saturday.
We obviously wanted to win the game against the Washington Spirit in our last game Sunday night (we tied 1-1). Going into the weekend, everyone knew the four teams that would be competing in the postseason, so the results were going to determine what teams would host a playoff match. But mostly, ending with a win would have given us more confidence going into the playoffs.
It’s been a season full of ups and downs. The Sky Blue have been struggling with injuries, and a lot of players have been shifting around to different positions. Kelley O’Hara and Caitlin Foord are out for the season, and Brittany Bock has been out dealing with some injuries. . And then a few others are playing through pain with nagging injuries, which is a part of professional sports. So our back line has changed, which is tough. But we’re doing what we can to know our limitations and communicate to the best of our abilities. We’re not necessarily playing where we’re most comfortable, but we’re learning.
On the plus side, we recently picked up Ashley Nick. She’s been doing well, and we’re lucky to have her because we’re struggling at the end of the season, and she’s coming in fresh. I’m a little weary myself -- and not just from soccer. Driving back and forth between practice and my home base with my family is taking a toll. Now that it’s summer, I’m fighting beach traffic on Thursdays and Fridays, so it can take two hours!
But at the end of the day, it’s 90 minutes that we have to focus on. We have to let go of the past games and just prepare for what’s coming up on Saturday. I’m really excited that we’re playing the Western New York Flash. They’re definitely the hot team, and we haven’t played well against them (1-3) so far. So it will be a test to see how we handle the pressure, and whether we change or go out and play the way we’ve been playing all year. We’ll see what coach Jim Gabarra has in store for us. We have to be much better and give it 90 minutes -- more if we need to.
In the past we’ve had a lot of defensive breakdowns and have given them some easier goals than we should have. We need to stay organized on Saturday, so that if they score it’s because it’s a brilliant goal -- not because we gave it up too easily. They have great attacking players in Abby Wambach, Sam Kerr and Carli Lloyd, and we’re going to have to play our best to beat them. We have to have a solid defensive unit from the top down, not just the back line. And then we have to transition out on offense to catch them on a counter.
Looking back, the league has shown it’s very competitive. Every game has counted. And while some teams match up better than others, in the end it’s 22 games of very good competition, and that can only increase the level of women’s soccer. Not knowing what to expect, it’s been a good season. Every team has had its share of ups and downs, adversity and struggles. Some of us have had to learn how to lead, and others how to follow, but overall it’s been successful. We still need to increase the attendance and awareness of the league, but there’s no question the soccer has been good. And next year, with more college players coming out and more players with a season under their belts, it’s going to be better still.
For now it comes down to 90 minutes. Mentally, it’s almost a new season. Two games. But we can’t look ahead; we just have to play this game the best we can.