We knew going into the 2015 season that the rosters of every NWSL team would be affected by players coming and going at the whim of their respective federations in preparation for that summer's World Cup. The U.S. players were available for the first three games of the season, some countries either didn't allow their players to compete at all pre-World Cup -- or just strongly suggested that they didn't -- and others were in and out. A season later, it's felt a little less like a revolving door -- we're already six weeks in and there's only been minimal, if any, disruption ahead of this summer's Olympics. Until now.
June 4 and 5 are FIFA dates. The league wisely didn't schedule any games for that weekend, assuming that with the Olympics looming various federations (like say, U.S. Soccer) would want to start scheduling some friendlies, which they did. For the USWNT, that means two games against Japan, on June 2 in Colorado and June 5 in Cleveland. This probably wasn't super hard to figure out scheduling-wise with that whole USSF-NWSL connection. So, Week 7 games run May 27-29, put the necessary players on planes to Colorado, FIFA dates, back to their respective NWSL clubs. Easy.
This is not what U.S. Soccer decided to do. Instead, the USWNT will report to Colorado on May 27 for a short training camp ahead of these two friendlies. And look, I get it, the team hasn't been together since an April 10 friendly in Philadelphia, Japan is always a tough opponent (5-2 World Cup final notwithstanding) and doing well at the Olympics is important because were else will it be acceptable to wear t-shirts proclaiming that greatness has again been found? Imagine if these players had to play in their NWSL games this weekend and then fly to Colorado to play in a friendly some three days later. It would be like if these players had to play in a friendly and then play in another friendly three days later. How crazy would that be?
Some teams will feel the effects of this more than others. Boston, for example, will only lose defender Whitney Engen. But following the Breakers' first win of the season last weekend (and Engen's superb performance in it), it would have been nice to try and build on that this week when they take on the Flash. Western NY had struggled early in the season, but broke out offensively in a major way last weekend in a 5-2 win over Sky Blue FC. Boston will now be facing one of the league's suddenly highest-scoring teams without a key part of its back line. Not that we should expect Western NY to put in another five goals this weekend, because they'll be missing both Sam Mewis, who scored one of those five goals, and Jaelene Hinkle, who assisted on two of them. Plus, Boston is actually not that bad of a team defensively.
Houston is another team that will lose only one player to a USWNT call-up, midfielder Morgan Brian. But the Dash are already struggling, going 1-2-1 since losing Carli Lloyd to injury in the second game of the season, and Houston is taking on the top of the table Spirit on Friday. The Dash's Rachel Daly was also called in to the England WNT for a pair of Euro qualifiers, but she won't be heading to Europe until after Friday's game.
Washington will be without Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn. We've already seen the Spirit work pretty well without Krieger for long stretches last season, but that was when Dunn was still available and playing out of her mind thanks to a World Cup roster snub. A year later, Dunn is in the picture for the USWNT ahead of the trip to Rio in August, making this week a much bigger test than Washington faced a season ago. The Spirit lost for the first time this season last week, and with Chicago now even on points and both Portland and Orlando only one back, Washington needs a win on Friday.
The Red Stars also have one of the weekend's most favorable matchups, taking on a struggling Sky Blue FC on Sunday. Sky Blue was on the wrong end of that huge loss in Western NY last weekend, and though they get to keep Christie Rampone -- who withdrew from the camp earlier this week, feeling she "was not physically ready for the rigors of international training and competition" following knee surgery in December (though she has played in all six of Sky Blue's games this season) -- they still lose Kelley O'Hara. O'Hara's a major part of both an otherwise young defense, and an already middle-of-the-road offense that will also be without the injured Maya Hayes this week. Chicago does lose three major components in Christen Press, Alyssa Naeher and Julie Johnston, but the Red Stars are built to handle this exact situation -- Chicago was one of the league's best teams without its USWNT players a season ago.
One team that's been untested in the "How Well Can You Cope" department is the expansion Orlando Pride. Unlike all of the other teams in the league, who went through this sort of thing a season ago, and to much greater effect, the Pride are seeing this revolving door business firsthand for the first time. They're going to feel it right away too, losing two huge players in Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris. Morgan shares the Pride's scoring lead with Lianne Sanderson, with two goals apiece. And though Sanderson has been good for the Pride and looks more comfortable in Orlando than she has with any of her previous NWSL teams, she also hasn't played a full 90 minutes yet this season. Harris' absence will likely mean a start for Aubrey Bledsoe, who spent last season with Sky Blue, where she played a total of eight minutes, giving up one goal.
The good news for Orlando is that Saturday's opponent is an FC Kansas City team that's got to be somewhere beyond rock bottom after the loss to Boston last weekend that sent the Blues into last place. FCKC was hit hard by the retirement bug in the offseason, still trying to recover from that, and now they'll lose the last remaining piece of that championship defense in Becky Sauerbrunn. FCKC will also be without Heather O'Reilly, who's back in a USWNT camp after Jill Ellis found her paperwork crumpled up in the pocket of a jacket she hadn't worn in a while.
The weekend's last game -- and perhaps the biggest -- is this season's second meeting between Portland and Seattle. The last edition of the league's one true regional rivalry was just three weeks ago, a 1-1 draw in Seattle. In that one, the Thorns were without Tobin Heath, who was suspended for a red card she'd acquired in the previous game. This time, the Thorns will again be without Heath, as well as Adrianna Franch, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett ... hold on, still going ... Lindsey Horan and Allie Long. That's more than half of the Thorns' usual starters. Seattle, meanwhile, loses only Hope Solo, whom they were already without last weekend due to a personal matter. But while the Reign will be losing Solo, they're also getting a player back. Jess Fishlock, who hadn't played since fracturing her tibia on April 24, started and put in 31 minutes in a friendly between the Reign and Arsenal Ladies on Thursday night.
Whether you think it's ridiculous that U.S. Soccer is simultaneously running NWSL and finding ways to undermine it, this is where we are, and all of these players will be missing this weekend. Ellis' initial camp roster was 25 players, with 22 coming from NWSL teams. Even without Rampone, that's still 21 NWSL players missing from action in a weekend that features some pretty big matchups. It's also a holiday weekend, which means people might have some extra free time to do things like go to a soccer game. And while I [still] hate the idea that people are only going to games to see the "famous" USWNT players, regardless of the team they're on, it's [still] a reality too.
FC Kansas City vs. Orlando Pride, 8:30 p.m., Swope Soccer Village (YouTube)