VAR’s ‘clear and obvious’ question in NWSL; Emma Hayes explains Conti Cup clash: Full Time

Full Time Newsletter ⚽| This is The Athletic’s weekly women’s soccer newsletter. Sign up here to receive Full Time directly in your inbox.

Still waiting for the first half of Spirit vs. Royals to end, I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan, Steph Yang and Jeff Rueter — welcome to Full Time!

NWSL Recap

What the VAR?

Bonus soccer is great, but 103 minutes of stoppage time combined across seven games over the weekend is not the way I want it. We essentially watched an additional match with the time added to games due to injuries, fouls and extended VAR checks. Some of it was unavoidable, some were, well, I’m just going to have to agree with Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan:

“‘Clear and obvious’ should be ‘clear and obvious’ and it shouldn’t take a long time to decide if something is ‘clear and obvious.’”

Let’s look at a few of the stoppages:

  • During the Chicago Red Stars’ 1-1 draw with the Orlando Pride, a no-call on a potential DOGSO (denial of a goal-scoring opportunity) in the second half started a pause that lasted approximately 6.5 minutes.
  • In the Kansas City Current’s 4-2 win over Angel City, an offside call on a goal in the first half triggered an approximate delay of just over three minutes. A different offside ruling on a call in the second half delayed the game by about two minutes and 45 seconds.
  • But none caused a longer delay than the 13 minutes of stoppage time during the first half of the Washington Spirit’s 2-1 win over the Utah Royals after a long pause to confirm a penalty kick and a longer pause to determine if what ultimately became a yellow card to Dana Foederer was red-card worthy.

Steph Yang watched the full slate of games this weekend, so I asked for her thoughts.

A year ago the NWSL implemented VAR. How do you think the system integration is going?

Steph: It’s clear VAR can disrupt the very games it means to help make fairer. It interrupts the run of play, gives players time to cool down in the middle of the game, impacts fitness by extending time and gives losing teams much more time than they would ordinarily have to get goals back. But it can also perform as intended — the delays in Kansas City were much shorter, with long stoppages coming from injuries.

Match official experience levels could be a mitigating factor. Notably, the KC-Angel City referee was Danielle Chesky, who has several years of experience as a center in this league. Conversely, Nabil Bensalah, who officiated Spirit vs. Royals, only recently made the jump to NWSL from MLS Next Pro. The referee for Chicago-Orlando was Anya Voigt, who also has several years of experience in the league.

NWSL referees are not highly compensated, and the training, now complicated by the addition of VAR, is still a work in progress. But every single stakeholder, from the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) to the league to the players’ union, should be incentivized to consider further development of VAR procedure to help mitigate excessive delays and keep matches functioning smoothly.

Further review needed

Speaking of reviewable plays, Angel City forward Sydney Leroux took to social media to point out an incident in front of goal that left her with a “stiff” neck.

Leroux jumped to head away a Current corner just as first-year defender Ellie Wheeler came in with force, colliding with Leroux in mid-air. Is this only a yellow card?

Mal Swanson gets back on the score sheet

Red Stars forward Mallory Swanson returned to her goal-scoring ways for the first time since her knee injury in April of last year, scoring the tying goal for Chicago against the Pride. I asked Jeff Rueter, resident midwesterner, what Swanson’s return means for the Red Stars.

Jeff: Coming into 2024, Red Stars fans had ample reason for optimism. Chief among them was Swanson’s return. But new head coach Lorne Donaldson’s side still can’t be too reliant on Swanson, especially as she returns to regular U.S. national team participation.

In the NWSL’s early weeks, that alternative option appears to be Jenna Bike, who played a brilliant looping ball to Swanson for her goal.

“The thing I admire the most about (Jenna) is that she keeps her head down and keeps working, keeps pushing,” Swanson said. “Eventually, the hard work pays off.”

Bike joined the Red Stars ahead of the 2023 season, having been waived by Gotham after just one season. The winger was a rotational player as Chicago finished last in the league in 2023, but has emerged as a starter over the past two games.

“(Mal’s) just a person and a player that makes everyone around them better,” Bike said after the 1-1 draw in Orlando. “It has been probably one of the highlights of my career playing with a player like you and thank you, you make me better, you make our team better and having you back after last year is such a blessing.”

Up next for Swanson? International duty.

Meg’s Corner: Welcome to the international break

The Current and the Red Stars remain atop the NWSL standings, and the USWNT is about to enter its final training camp and set of games without incoming head coach Emma Hayes on the sidelines. (I’m probably just as ready to be done talking about that “incoming” label as the players.)

The USWNT’s first match against Japan in the SheBelieves Cup (April 6, 12:30 ET) feels like it’s going to be a very important test for this team — and something completely different from the challenges they faced in the W Gold Cup against the likes of Mexico, Colombia, Canada.

The last time the USWNT played Japan was last year’s SheBelieves Cup when Mal Swanson provided the only goal of the game in Nashville. Something that might be in the back of a lot of people’s minds heading into this upcoming one is how Japan embarrassed Spain in the 2023 World Cup group stage. Despite having only 23% possession, Japan beat the eventual tournament winners 4-0.

The good news: Swanson just got her first NWSL goal in over a year, and she’s back for real with the USWNT for SheBelieves Cup. Another player to keep an eye on based on form is midfielder Sam Coffey, who’s gotten more extended looks in the midfield under interim head coach Twila Kilgore over the past year. Her golazo in second-half stoppage time for the Thorns saved them from a third consecutive loss.

The garbage news: While Midge Purce wasn’t on the SheBelieves Cup roster, her chance to make a push for an Olympic roster spot has ended. Purce announced last week that she had torn her ACL in a match with Gotham FC.

There will be one major off-field storyline following the team heading into this camp: Korbin Albert’s social media activity and subsequent apology. It’s still not entirely clear how this particular version of the USWNT locker room will choose to address anything, but it’s worth remembering that in 2022, the team wore “Protect Trans Kids” wristbands in Texas during SheBelieves and “Defend Trans Joy” in 2023. With state legislation just passed in Georgia (where the U.S. will face Japan) that limits trans kids from playing sports, will this team step up?

Conti Cup Final

Arsenal wins second consecutive Conti Cup

Chelsea and coach Emma Hayes lost a third consecutive Continental Cup final on Sunday and for the second consecutive year at the hands of Arsenal. It took extra time for Stina Blackstenius to score the only goal.

It wasn’t all celebrations for Arsenal though, as 24-year-old midfielder Frida Maanum appeared to go down away from play in second-half stoppage time. Medical staff came on to treat her while the game was stopped for an additional seven minutes before she was stretchered off the field while receiving oxygen.



Arsenal’s Maanum in stable condition after collapsing during Conti Cup final

Maanum was “conscious, talking and in a stable condition,” according to Arsenal.

Shove or no shove?

In a match that may have been the final meeting between frenemy coaches Jonas Eidevall and Emma Hayes, tension spilled over after the final whistle. After the game, Hayes gave Eidevall a push during the postgame handshake. The future USWNT coach followed the moment by calling Eidevall out for “male aggression,” referring to how he reacted to how Chelsea captain Erin Cuthbert handled restarting play after the ball left the pitch. Eidevall was arguing that the teams agreed to a single-ball system before the game, but Cuthbert went to pick a ball up in stoppage time that was different from the one that left the field.

“I don’t see it as a big thing,” Eidevall responded. “I definitely don’t see myself as aggressive in that situation. That’s very irresponsible, putting that label on it.”

The Athletic staff has been debating all day, was it a shove by Hayes or not?

Full Time First Looks

Pretty cool: Lots of talk about VAR in this newsletter, but I missed potentially the best sponsorship in NWSL this year: the VAR cooler by Yeti. The KC Current’s VAR booth was set up in a Yeti-branded cooler with a fan to keep the technology cool. Fox 4 reporter PJ Green has the inside look, literally.

MVP in tears: North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin earned the NWSL MVP title last year, becoming the first Courage and Brazilian player to win the award. (I had to look it up too, because of Marta). Kerolin is currently recovering from a torn ACL suffered on the final day of the 2023 regular season. North Carolina presented her with the award before the team’s win over Gotham FC, and the forward showed just how much it meant to her.

Celebrating history: Despite losing to the Houston Dash in its first home opener, expansion side Bay FC had plenty to celebrate on Saturday. The team fought hard in front of a sellout crowd of 18,000, saw record-breaking transfer Racheal Kundananji get her first minutes and score, and honored some long-standing history. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II was there to witness a massive moment for the club.

ICYMI: 23-year-old Sophia Smith wants to play the “prime years” of her career in Portland. The Thorns signed Smith to a new extension last week that will once again make her the highest-paid player in the league on an annual basis. Smith talked about her renewed commitment to the club and why Europe wasn’t her best option at this time.

Enjoy this? Sign up for our other newsletters! Scoop City 🏈 | The Bounce 🏀 | Full Time ⚽ | The Windup ⚾ | Prime Tire 🏁 | The Pulse 📣

(Top photo: Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top