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NWSL’s Top Five Surprising Moments of 2019

Foolishness is just as much a part of the game as brilliance is.

2019 NWSL Championship

The National Women’s Soccer League, like any other league in the world, is capable of the sublime and the ridiculous at any given moment. In the 2019 season, the brilliance overshadowed any moments of absurdity, but that does not mean that those moments of absurdity were not worth noting. Below are the top five eyebrow-raising moments of the 2019 NWSL Season (in no particular order).

Marta vs Daly

In early August as the NWSL regular season was winding down, the Orlando Pride hosted the Houston Dash. Neither team had managed to find the back of the net but the Dash were given the chance to do so with a questionable penalty call in the 82nd minute. What followed that decision by the referee was an incredible ending to what had been a testy match throughout.

As the referee was discussing the call with her lineswoman, away from the camera, Rachel Daly and Marta seemed to have gotten into a heated discussion which saw Daly fall over. The other players and the crowd saw what happened but anyone watching at home would have missed the interaction as the cameras had cut away from the penalty area. Kristie Mewis then get involved and ended up falling over herself as she confronted Marta. The referee had enough of all of it and proceeded to give Marta a straight red card. Marta was reluctant to leave and her teammates continued to argue her case but the referee was adamant and after a few minutes, Marta left the pitch.

This had not been the first time Daly and Marta had gotten into it on the pitch but this was the first time it had resulted in a sending off for either player. No doubt this little battle will continue on next season as well.

Merritt Mathias and the Houston Dash

Merritt Mathias has always played on the edge during her time in the NWSL and it has led to some tetchy moments between herself and other players in the league. This all came to a head in September when after tangling with Rachel Daly, Mathias had to be substituted out due to injury. She was then informed in the following days that she had torn her ACL and therefore, would miss the rest of the season. Mathias was not happy.

Mathias called for accountability from the officials and the league which she had every right to do as the level of officiating in the NWSL leaves a lot to be desired. However, Mathias has committed fouls of her own that should have seen her sent off but were missed by the referee on that day. The Courage defender does not feel any remorse for her tweets that day and considering the consequences, you can see why she doesn’t. It would do her some good to reflect on her own history in the NWSL though as she has been guilty of far worse fouls that that which led to her ACL injury.

What is a penalty?

Every season, the NWSL seems to change the definition of what is a foul inside the penalty area. This year was no different when the Orlando Pride played against Sky Blue FC.

Elizabeth Eddy was played clean through on goal and her initial shot was saved by Ashlyn Harris. However, the rebound escaped Eddy and as she looked to get to the ball first, she was hauled down by the Pride goalkeeper. The referee decided that Harris had done nothing wrong and instead, gave the free kick against Eddy for....falling over?

Clearly the league agreed with the referee’s call and proceeded to reward that sequence as the Save of the Week in Week 24.

“I want to create art”

Arsenal Women v Birmingham City Women - FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup Quarter-Final
Marc Skinner had a “baptism of fire” in his first NWSL season

Marc Skinner did not have the best of starts to his managerial career at the Orlando Pride this year. The Pride finished with four wins out of 24 matches and were rock bottom of the table when all was said and done. Skinner’s introduction to soccer in the United States was a hard one but his September interview with the BBC showed that Skinner had yet to realise just how poorly he had coached his team up until that point.

AllForXI went into detail about just how puzzling his comment was and how it yet to be shown with the type of soccer his team were playing. In fact, it smacked more of someone grounded in the philosophy of it all instead of the reality of his situation. He may have been looking to create art but his team was nowhere near artistic in their approach.

Injuries galore

No one has ever seen a season quite like Reign FC had with the number of injuries they received throughout the campaign. Making the playoffs was almost a miracle considering the amount of players they lost and how many of those players were influential players at varying positions in the team.

Utah Royals v Seattle Reign
Jess Fishlock spent July onward on the sidelines due to injury
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

They lost Jasmyne Spencer during pre season, Michelle Betos went out for the season in the first match, Jess Fishlock followed shortly with her own season-ending injury and many more missed significant time due to injury. Not only that but the Reign were also short on players as the Women’s World Cup called up many of their players for national team duty and some of those players returned to their club with injuries as well.

Somehow, the Reign battled through it all and made it to the playoffs. They may have lost in extra time but the players who stepped up and filled in for the missing starters have gained valuable experience this season which can only be a great thing going forward for the Reign.

What were the biggest surprises for you this season?