Houston Dash: A Primer on Women’s Soccer Part III

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Aug 24, 2013; Overland Park, KS, USA; Portland Thorns midfielder Allie Long (10) and FC Kansas City midfielder Kristie Mewis (19) fight for the ball during the second half of the match at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Portland won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If you do not know much about the National Women’s Soccer League (“NWSL”) or the Houston Dash, you are not alone. In the lead up to the inaugural match for the Dash this Saturday against the Portland Thorns, House of Houston will be providing an overview of the league, the team and spotlighting several players to help fans new to the sport and the team to get up to speed.

In this article, we review year one of the NWSL and look forward to year two. Read Part I of the series, an overview of the pre-cursors to NWSL here and Part II, how NWSL came to be, here.

A Look Back at 2013

The inaugural season of NWSL kicked off on April 13th with Portland Thorns FC visiting FC Kansas City; a match which ended in a 1-1 draw. Portland Thorns FC went on to win the inaugural NWSL championship with a 2-0 win over Western New York Flash.

NWSL saw mixed results in its first season.  Portland Thorns FC were a massive success, benefiting from the ownership by Portland Timbers of MLS and the strong soccer culture in the Portland area. Portland had far and away the highest attendance totals, averaging 13,320 per match – well above the league average of 4,270. 39% of fans attending an NWSL match in 2013 did so in Portland.

Attendance was slightly disappointing across much of the rest of the league. The clubs that were part of WPS in 2010 or 2011 saw a dip in attendance from those seasons. Chicago saw a 58% drop from 2010 (they averaged 1,711 per match), Boston dropped by 45% (2,427) and Sky Blue FC dropped 22% (4,626).

Western New York and Washington fared slightly better (8% and 5% drops respectively from their last WPS seasons). Rounding out the league was Seattle Reign FC which drew 2,306 per match. On the plus side, league wide average attendance increased in the second half of the season – at the midway point it stood at 4,238 and rose to 4,270 by the end of the season and attendance for the playoffs was healthy.

There were a number of contributing factors to attendance comparisons with WPS. Boston played in a smaller stadium than they did in the WPS days. Chicago played well outside of the city itself. Sky Blue FC was not easily accessible from New York City, Seattle played in a small stadium in Tukwila.

For 2014, Boston moves back into their old home: Harvard Stadium, with a larger capacity. Seattle has moved into Memorial Stadium within the city itself. Houston enters the league with top notch stadium facilities right downtown. Meanwhile, FC Kansas City moves to a stadium with a lower capacity but will no longer have to play on a field with football lines as they did last season.

On the pitch, it was a season of haves and have nots. The top 3 sides (Western New York, FC Kansas City and Portland Thorns FC) all finished the season even on 38 points. Sky Blue FC grabbed the final playoff spot finishing only 2 points behind he leaders. Boston and Chicago both finished on 30 points. Meanwhile, Seattle Reign FC had a very disappointing season with 18 points and Washington brought up the rear on 14 points.

In the first round of the playoffs, Western New York Flash defeated Sky Blue FC by a score of 2-0. Meanwhile, Portland Thorns FC needed extra time to defeat FC Kansas City by a score of 3-2.

Portland Thorns FC won the championship despite going a man down in the 57th minute when Kathryn Williamson drew a second yellow card. A 40th minute goal from Tobin Heath and a clinching goal in added time by Christine Sinclair saw Portland through.

The league’s biggest names performed as expected. The US National Team topped the scoring charts in the form of Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux. Holiday also topped the assist charts with Wambach just behind.

Despite not winning the championship, FC Kansas City made a clean sweep of the post-season awards. Holiday took MVP, Tymrak took Rookie of the Year, Becky Sauerbrunn was Defender of the Year, Nicole Barnhart was Keeper of the Year and coach Vlatko Andonovski was Coach of the Year.

Click “next” below to look forward to the 2014 NWSL season.