It’s Week 4, and we’re quickly progressing from “start of the season” into the full-blown heart of regular season action. There’s been controversy on and off the field, keeping things relatively exciting for fans. So, let’s see what all the talk’s about for Week 4.
Now that we’re in Week 4, what are your general thoughts on how the season has started?
Chelsey: It’s been surprising in some ways. There are some players and teams, such as Boston, who are really doing better than expected, and others, like Christen Press, who haven’t quite found their form yet. As always, it’s making predictions a difficult exercise!
Allison: I think the season has started out much the way I expected it to, with Boston being the only real big surprise so far. And what a (pleasant) surprise they’ve been! Other than that, we’re still in the part of the season where teams aren’t quite up to the level of playing we’ll see of them come summer. So far we’ve had a number of games where only one goal has been scored, and while you don’t need a ton of goals to be exciting, not all of these games have been the most exciting. I think that will definitely start to change in the next couple of weeks though.
Is it too early to be concerned by low attendance numbers seen around the league?
Allison: I think it’s something we definitely need to keep an eye on but not necessarily start the troubleshooting process just yet. It is still relatively early, and the numbers haven’t been too damning just yet. I do think that the number of afternoon matches is a factor though. I was in Orlando for their home opener and was in a section of the stadium where there was no shade, and the heat was brutal. Like, borderline heat exhaustion levels bad. If I were just a casual fan, no way would I subject myself to those conditions.
Chelsey: Similarly, I was in Houston for their home opener, which was an early afternoon game, and it was awful. Kealia Ohai mentioned after the game that it was one of the most tiring games she’d ever played. And that was only April! I can’t imagine how it’s going to feel in July or August. The heat is going to drive casual fans away, and I think the timing of the games is, too. When I’m planning my Saturday, I’m much more likely to plan around going out for the evening as opposed to going out for a midday event. I think we all knew going into this season that the afternoon games would negatively affect attendance, but ultimately I think it’s part of the growing pains that come with a new television deal and not at a truly worrying point yet.
Other than attendance, are there any other areas of concern right now?
Chelsey: Since we’re talking about television, I think we have to talk about go90. It’s been a mixed bag, hasn’t it? You never know what you’re going to get – some games work perfectly, others are on the entirely wrong stream flashing like a strobe light. As I said about Lifetime, I think some of this is still growing pains and as both the app and the stadium crews figure things out, it should get better. We’re not past the point of tolerance yet, but it’s coming.
Allison: To follow up on Chelsey’s comments about go90, we knew there would be some glitches and it wouldn’t be perfect right off the bat. However, we’re more than three weeks in, and those glitches should be getting fixed. It’s going to be a very bad look if they continue, and the league could very likely lose some casual fans if they do. Other than that, I think it’s got to be the number of players missing games because of injuries and, now, excused absences. Few teams are at full strength because of injuries, and now some are losing starters for other reasons. To be fair, this has been going on all along; we just weren’t always made aware of it ahead of time like we are this season. And don’t get me wrong–players are allowed to have personal lives and some things are more important than a regular season soccer game, I totally get that–but this seems to be a slippery slope. Fans and media have criticized how often national teamers have been pulled away from their teams and how that can negatively affect the team’s performance, and I don’t want to see more teams drop results because they’re not at full strength for what may be preventable reasons.
What’s the biggest storyline going into this weekend?
Allison: It has to be Mal Pugh, doesn’t it? Even though it’s the storyline least likely to actually impact this weekend’s matches, it’s the one that seems to have the WoSo world buzzing the most. There’s been very little that has actually come out regarding trade negotiations, but there’s been very much speculation, and it will be interesting to see where she lands. Personally, my money’s on France, but I’ve been wrong a time or two before.
Chelsey: It’s definitely the talk around town, so to speak, and it could impact several teams, which is where my interest lies – not so much where she ends up, but the ripple effect on one or more other teams as the result of potential trades. Or, as you said, she could go to France and the NWSL will keep on swimming. For me, another storyline is that Boston could potentially top the league by the end of this weekend. It’s still early in the season for sure, and the standings will take all sorts of turns between now and September, but a year ago no one would have imagined Boston ever competing for top of the table at all. Or two years ago. Even three.
What matchup are you most interested in watching this week?
Chelsey: Obviously Boston and North Carolina for the reason mentioned above. A top of the table clash is always fun, and both teams have been a lot of fun to watch so far. I’m also interested in Houston and Chicago because Rachel Daly has scored on Chicago every time she’s played them so far, so I’m curious to see if that trend continues as well as seeing if the Julie Ertz attacking midfielder move continues to pay off.
Allison: I’m very excited to watch Boston and North Carolina face off. With how hot Rose Lavelle, Natasha Dowie and Adriana Leon have been for the Breakers’ attack, not to mention how good Abby Smith has looked between the posts, they definitely have the potential and momentum to be the first team to steal points from the Courage. But the Courage…man, they just really have something magical happening right now, and they’re definitely the team to beat. I continue to be impressed with the on-field chemistry between Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald, and Debinha has been so good in the midfield for them. I want this game to end with one team walking away with three points and I think the Courage do have the edge, but I’d be satisfied with a Boston win as well.