D.C. United Women impress in W-League conference final

How good are D.C. United Women?

Their opponent in Sunday’s W-League East final, the Charlotte Lady Eagles, had eliminated the defending W-League champion Atlanta Silverbacks by winning their division. Charlotte followed that up with a rout over the Long Island Rough Riders, who had won a tough division that included the talent-laden New Jersey Wildcats.

Tough test? You’d think so. But United had Charlotte on its heels from the get-go, taking a fully deserved 3-0 win.

Next up: the W-League semifinals as the Eastern U.S. representative. Pali Blues will represent the West, and Quebec City Amiral will make the slightly shorter trip to join the host Ottawa Fury.

Continue reading D.C. United Women impress in W-League conference final

Sauerbrunn’s sendoff, Sullivan’s smashing debut and a JoLi party

Scenes from D.C. United Women’s home regular-season finale at the Maryland SoccerPlex, in which DCU beat Dayton 4-1 and clinched home field for the W-League East playoffs:

1. Becky Sauerbrunn, the one-time “iron woman” of WPS who had played every minute for the Plex-residing Washington Freedom through 2009 and 2010, played her fourth and final game with D.C. United Women this season. She seemed to be cursed in her previous games. DCU Women needed a late goal to beat Dayton 3-2 in May, and Virginia Beach handed DCU its only tie in June. This time, DCU dominated the first half but only got one goal to show for it, then went in level at 1-1 when Dayton scrambled in an equalizer in stoppage time. But the curse was broken in a big way.

Here, she talks about her season, prospects for pro women’s soccer going forward, MLS involvement in women’s soccer, and Lauren Cheney’s non-British pregame music selection. Seriously — no Knights of Cydonia?

2. The DCU roster got even better this week with the addition of U.S. Under-17 player Andi Sullivan. The Bethesda SC player just finished her season in the ECNL, and to put it mildly, she didn’t seem intimidated facing older opposition in the W-League. She created several chances down the right wing, including one for herself when she sliced into the middle and ripped a shot just wide, and she scored from a holding midfield slot later in the game.

3. DCU teammates Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson are continuing their work with JoLi Academy, with plans to return to India in January. Sanderson scored the game’s first goal. Here, Lohman talks about the Academy and her “shot” during the game.

Dayton — starting a murderous five-day, four-game swing through the sauna of Northern Virginia — defended well through the first half and managed to scramble the ball into the goal on one of its few chances. But once a team like DCU gets rolling, it’s very hard to stop.

Atlanta had drawn with VSI Tampa Flames earlier in the evening, which meant DCU’s win clinched home field for the Eastern playoffs.

The results also saved the W-League from an absurd situation.

In the current W-League playoff format, the three division winners in the East make the playoffs. The division winner with the best record is the top seed. The wild-card team is the team that finished second in the division with the top seed. So it could be in a second-place team’s best interest to make sure the first-place team has the best record.

This hypothetical problem so nearly became reality. Had Atlanta run the table — not that winning at Charlotte next weekend will be easy — the Silverbacks would’ve finished up their season this coming Saturday around 7:30 p.m. with 32 points. DCU has 31. So Virginia Beach, the second-place team behind DCU in the Atlantic, would have to hope DCU won its final game or at least drew and earned a tie-breaking edge.

The problem with that? DCU’s finale is at 8 p.m. Saturday … at Virginia Beach. So if Atlanta had won out, Virginia Beach would have entered its season finale at home knowing that a win or possibly even a draw would eliminate it from the playoffs. Lose, and the Piranhas would be in.

Crisis averted, but clearly, this playoff format can’t stand next year.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that. Virginia Beach can focus on keeping second place and a playoff spot — the Piranhas’ Sunday game with third-place Fredericksburg has been postponed. And DCU can prep for the playoffs.

Video: D.C. United Women vs. Virginia Beach Piranhas interviews

Still testing various video editors. The Flip video editor did some unnecessary transitions, and I lost the caption for D.C. United Women goalkeeper Didi Haracic.

The topics covered here:

1. Mikaela Howell, a youth teammate of Lianne Sanderson’s back in England, scored both goals for D.C. United Women. (Sanderson and Joanna Lohman weren’t eligible to play in this one. Marisa Abegg also was out because her boyfriend is briefly back from Afghanistan. And Becky Sauerbrunn is still busy with the national team.) The first was a beautiful turn at the top of the box. One day, I’ll get a goal on video. D.C. United Women had highlights from the Breakers exhibition, so maybe they’ll post these highlights later.

2. The Piranhas have a diverse roster, to say the least. They have a couple of players from Sweden and three Nigerian players — goalkeeper Marbel Egwuenu and skilled speedsters Linda Chukwuji and Esther Anyanwu. Coach Wendy Waddell’s comments are recruiting them sight unseen are interesting.

3. After seeing the United-Breakers exhibition a week ago, the physicality of this game was stunning. I counted three blatant Piranhas fouls in the first 80 seconds. United adjusted and started to shove back as well. The ref was generally consistent, at least, and she started to take more control with a few whistles late in the first half.

4. D.C. United Women have three talented college goalkeepers on the roster. Didi Haracic (Loyola, Md.) was fantastic against the Breakers last week, and she played well in the first half in this game. Danielle DeLisle (Virginia) played the second half. Britt Eckerstrom (Penn State) was unable to play Saturday. As you’ll see in the video, the team plans to rotate to make sure the players are developing.

5. For about 10 minutes, no matter where I stood on the sideline, the ball followed. I trapped one, and another whipped past me to the wall of the bleachers. It was a little eerie, like I had a magnet for the ball or something.

Anyway, here are a few comments on video …

(And yes, I’m aware of the glitch in which the video freezes on Jorden’s face. The interviews that follow: Haracic on goalkeeping at 2:30 mark, Jorden on rotating goalkeepers, Haracic on rotating goalkeepers)

D.C. United Women and Boston Breakers: A W-League/WPSL friendly

The leagues may have a fractious history, but second-year W-League club D.C. United Women welcomed the WPSL Elite League’s Boston Breakers (formerly of the WUSA and WPS) to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday.

Play was a little ragged, as you might expect from one team (D.C.) that barely had time for introductions and another (Boston) that is still very much in early-season form. And as you’d expect, the professional team with a bit more preseason practice and a game under its belt (Boston) had the better of play and won 1–0.

But D.C. United Women had a few good moments as well as some sensational play on defense and in goal.

I caught a few highlights on video and spoke with many of the players.

Crowd wasn’t bad — definitely 1,000, maybe more — on a beautiful night.

Thunderstruck: D.C. United Women’s home debut

A decent crowd was walking up to the stadium despite the 100-degree heat, the bagpipes were in effect, the staff was ready, the players were warming up …

Bzzzt … beep … blaaaaaare … bzzt.

That’s the static-electricity detector at the Maryland Soccerplex, telling everyone to get inside.

So for two hours, fans and players crowded into the gym at the Plex, waiting for the all-clear. The rain didn’t last long, but we were just close enough to a couple of passing storm cells to see some flashes and hear some rumbles, each one restarting the countdown until we could get the game underway.

The upside was that the game, once it started, was uninterrupted. The storm cooled off the Plex, and it turned into a very pleasant night with 100 or so fans remaining from the original crowd. Surely that crowd would’ve been more on a weekend — getting up I-270 to the Plex is difficult at rush hour — and the heat/storm forecast didn’t help.

The crowd included a group from New Jersey that stuck it out. Good for them for making the trip. The bad news was that they echoed the Wildcats’ coaching staff in hounding the refs throughout the game, at times inventing their own reality.  I wound up in an argument with one gentleman who claimed the ref saw the retaliation (the Wildcat red card) but not the original foul on a late altercation. But Christie Welsh got a yellow — a debatable one — for the original foul. So surely the ref saw something.

The coaching staff didn’t put up much of an argument on the red card. That may have been a smart move, or they may have simply been hoarse from complaining about everything from physical play to throw-ins at midfield. Frankly, it was comical at times.

But the Wildcats have a solid team, strong at the back with a dangerous player in Kylee Rossi. The goal, an opportunistic long-range effort from Andrea Lopez, was well-taken. Both goalkeepers had solid games, with Emmy Simpkins making a couple of big late saves after starter Caroline Williams was hurt in a collision.

D.C. United has some communication issues, not surprising for a team that’s still being cobbled together. Welsh just got her clearance to play, as did former 2.Bundesliga player Hayley Siegel. The talent level is pretty strong, though, and Nairn stood out throughout with good runs in midfield and accurate, powerful long-range shots.

The weather may have thrown players off a bit. Long passes skipped on the wet turf, though the excellent Soccerplex field drains quickly.

These teams may see each other down the road. New Jersey has only two blemishes on its record — the tie with D.C. and a one-point deduction (if anyone knows why, please let me know). D.C. lost its opener 0-1 at New Jersey. As both teams come together, a late July playoff matchup could be something special.