Tonight’s Washington Spirit-Western New York Flash game was infuriating, frustrating, bizarre, comical and downright baffling. And I’m pissed off.
I’m pissed off because … the season is almost over. And I want more of this.
I don’t want to see a bunch of national team players who’ve already had a ticker-tape parade and endorsement deals strutting around on a dadgum “Victory Tour” playing meaningless exhibitions. Not now, anyway.
I don’t want to see sycophantic pseudo-journalists and radio hosts booking these players for interviews in which every question is some variant of “So how did it feel when you got that medal?”
I want to see Crystal Dunn racing toward the goal, stopped only by the skill, speed and impeccable timing of Whitney Engen.
I want to see Chantel Jones atoning for a howler by flinging herself across the goal and to the upper corner to swat away Dunn’s best shot of the night.
I want to see Franny Ordega turning a defender one way, then another, then another.
I want to see Christine Nairn blasting 35-yard shots that either go in or rattle the crossbar.
Farther afield, I want to see Christen Press challenging Becky Sauerbrunn. I want to see Alyssa Naeher single-handedly keeping the Boston Breakers from utter catastrophe.
I want to see stuff like this:
And I want to see players develop. I want to see Nairn shake the habit she showed tonight of getting caught in possession. I want to see Kealia Ohai pushing herself to make that extra move to create chances. I want to see Julie Johnston trying to organize a back line to contain Dunn, Ordega and Diana Matheson.
Last and not least, I want to see referees develop. I want to see Kari Seitz and Margaret Domka come back from the accolades of a World Cup or Olympic assignment and be humbled by botching a domestic game. (I can only hope their assessors are honest with them.) I want to see PRO called to account for refs who think grabbing an opponent’s shoulder and shoving her down is a legal shoulder charge.
There’s some debate over a play late in tonight’s game in which Ali Krieger tried to take a quick restart, only to find Michelle Heyman standing in her way. Krieger kicked, and the ball wound up on a Spirit arm. The call: handball on the Spirit. I thought it was an atrocious call, figuring Heyman deserved yellow for delaying the restart. At the time, I based this solely on that old standby of referee critics: “What I recall seeing in other games.” Others have told me Krieger was supposed to ask ref to give her the 10 yards.
I think I’m right, based on this passage from the U.S. Soccer Advice to Referees:
Typical examples of causing a delay in this way are kicking the ball away when a decision has gone against them, picking up the ball and not giving the ball to the attacking team or to the referee, moving to retrieve a ball some distance away and then walking slowly to bring the ball back, and standing so close by the ball as to effectively interfere with all reasonably likely directions for the restart. These ploys must be met with an immediate response because, as a result, a delay is no longer theoretical; it has been forced and the challenge to Law 13 must be dealt with swiftly.
Heyman was practically on top of the ball, so I think the part in bold applies.
But the part that had Mark Parsons engaging in a lengthy postgame rant was just basic control of the match. It wasn’t even so much this match as it was his team’s last two or three, where he says referees have just let obvious fouls go. This match, he says, wasn’t proper soccer and was difficult to watch. Parsons went out of his way to say the ref didn’t decide the outcome of the game. Just its quality.
Refs, like players, aren’t going to get better prancing around the country like the Harlem Globetrotters. They’re going to get better when they’re on the field for a domestic league game that matters.
A game that makes fans stand up and applaud when a Nigerian player leaves the field after a terrific effort. A game that makes fans in the USA’s capital embrace a Canadian. A game that rattles coaches’ senses so strongly that Flash coach Aaran Lines thinks he had a perfect view of the goal line when he’s 70 yards away on a bench. (And thinks his team had momentum at the end of the game.)
Bottom line: This NWSL season is ending far too quickly. Players need more. Refs need more. Fans need more.
So next year, my advice would be to take a break for the Olympics. Play a few friendlies — give the non-international players a couple of games to stay sharp and the fans a nice discounted night out. But then play longer into the fall.
That might cut down on players spending their offseasons elsewhere, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Tori Huster has been going back and forth between the NWSL and Australia, and now she’s banged up and not starting.
Regardless of how long the season goes, it deserves more attention. You want development? It’s here. You want drama? It’s here.
And I’ll give the reminder I always give the posers who’d rather sit around eating meat pies in their basements watching soccer on TV instead of going out to see the supposedly lesser games live … nothing beats live soccer.
TV isn’t going to do Crystal Dunn’s slicing offensive moves any justice. YouTube certainly won’t. You have to be there.
Not just once every couple of years, when the national team decides to come to your town to walk through a game, graciously accept your applause and then sign about 8,000 autographs. Several times a year, whenever you can make it to the stadium. (Weeknight driving to the SoccerPlex is not fun.)
You’ll see drama. You’ll see development.
The Spirit only have one more home game left this season.
And that pisses me off. Not that I think they deserve a home playoff game — based on their current results, they don’t. I just want to see more.