We’re back with another edition of the Weekend Recap. Every Monday, we make it easier for you to keep up with the most interesting and important things in American soccer.
Today, we’re taking you through some of the past weekend’s key storylines, including Americans winning the Champions League, the Houston Dash’s turnaround, and a potential X-Factor getting his first minutes in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.
Lowery: Macario and Horan win the Champions League, Marsch avoids relegation from the Premier League
There was absolutely no shortage of drama over the weekend for Americans playing and coaching in Europe. A trio of Americans took part in two of the biggest European games that Americans have ever participated in, with Catarina Macario and Lindsey Horan starting for Lyon in their 3-1 win in the Champions League final against Barcelona on Saturday and Jesse Marsch managing Leeds in the final game of their relegation escape on Sunday.
As far as situations go, a Champions League final against Barcelona and a relegation-decider against Brentford couldn’t be any more different. Still, both games had undeniable stakes.
Two USWNT players win the Champions League Final
For Macario and Horan, the game against FC Barcelona presented them with the chance to help Lyon win their sixth Champions League title in the last seven years. However, between Lyon and their trophy stood maybe the most dominant team in women’s soccer history. This season, Barcelona finished their domestic campaign with a plus 148 goal difference. Plus 148! They had only lost once all season heading into Saturday’s final and they were heavy, heavy favorites to beat Lyon and claim their second consecutive Champions League trophy.
Though many of the pre-game signs pointed to a Barcelona win, Lyon raced out ahead, scoring three goals inside the first 33 minutes. Macario, a genuine star for both her club team and the U.S. women’s national team, capped off Lyon’s scoring flurry with the goal that put her team up 3-0 in the first half.
While Macario influenced the game from an attacking midfield position, Horan added control from slightly deeper in midfield. Both players provided real energy and obvious quality against a strong opponent in Lyon’s 3-1 win.
“You can probably see it on my face. You know, this is what I dreamed of ever since I was a little girl,” Horan said after the game.
The match was a genuine spectacle between two of the best women’s soccer teams of all time. Getting to watch a pair of Americans participate in the final – and upset Barcelona – was truly special.
Marsch and Leeds escape relegation
This weekend was special for Marsch in an entirely different way. His Leeds United team didn’t play for or win a trophy, and yet the manager still found himself at the bottom of a celebratory dogpile. Thanks to their 2-1 win over Brentford on Sunday (and some help from Newcastle), Leeds avoided relegation from the Premier League.
When he was hired in late February, Marsch became just the third American to ever coach in the Premier League and was given the sizable task of stopping Leeds United’s free-fall. Before Marsch arrived, Leeds had lost five of their previous six games under Marcelo Bielsa and were within a couple points of the relegation places. Leeds’ open, man-oriented defensive system was killing them and inching them closer and closer to a return trip to the Championship.
Things weren’t drastically better under Marsch, but they were better. Per FBref, Leeds’ xG differential improved once the American took over. We’re not talking about an “oh my goodness, this team is actually good now” type of improvement. But we are talking about an “oh my goodness, this team might actually avoid getting relegated despite letting teams run right through them for the first six months of the season” type of improvement.
For Leeds, that improvement was just enough to rescue their season – and their next season, too.
Speaking of which, it looks like their American connections are going to run even deeper in 2022-23. The USMNT’s Brenden Aaronson is reportedly headed to Leeds United for a fee that would make him one of the most expensive American players ever. Marsch, Aaronson, and Leeds will all hope that next season isn’t quite as dramatic as this one was.
In the meantime, though, Leeds can take a deep breath. And so can Jesse Marsch.
Cascone: One game, one player, and one moment from this weekend’s NWSL action
The Houston Dash, Angel City, San Diego Wave, Racing Louisville, and Chicago Red Stars added three points to their season totals this weekend, while the OL Reign and Washington Spirit held each other scoreless for the second time in three games. There was so much going on this weekend that we’re debuting a new “one team, one player, one moment” format where we touch on one team, one pla…okay, you get it.
Let’s get to it.
Team: Houston Dash start turning the ship around
The Houston Dash handed the Portland Thorns their first loss of the 2022 regular season on Saturday, thanks to goals from Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt. This was the Dash’s fourth win all-time against Portland and the second consecutive game where they’ve beaten the Thorns at Providence Park. After opening their season with a loss to the San Diego Wave at home, the Dash have secured seven points during a three-game stretch on the road and now sit in fourth place in the NWSL standings. Their recent form is markedly better than their Challenge Cup showing in which they posted only two wins across six games.
Since their disappointing Challenge Cup, the Dash’s coaching personnel has changed. James Clarkson, the team’s former head coach, was suspended indefinitely by the league on April 26. The Dash’s assistant coach Sarah Lowdon has since stepped in as interim head coach following Clarkson’s absence.
With Clarkson at the helm, the Dash played a 4-3-3 last season and tested out a 4-2-3-1 in the Challenge Cup. They’ve since adapted a 3-5-2 and have found success with Lowdon’s emphasis on defensive organization and off-the-ball movement. They’ve only conceded two goals through four games with Lowdon in charge, which is an improvement from the 13 conceded goals through six games under Clarkson. On average, the Dash are conceding 1.7 fewer goals per game under Lowdon (0.5 goals conceded/game vs. 2.2 goals conceded/game).
Sticking with the defensive narrative, Jane Campbell also had an impressive showing in goal on Saturday. She posted a clean sheet and four saves, though defender Katie Naughton made a goal-line clearance in the 16th minute to keep the score even. With her performances through Week 3 of the regular season, however, Campbell and the Dash were posting the worst goals conceded per game ratio with 1.75 goals/game. With that said, Saturday was definitely an improvement.
Player: Taylor Kornieck shines in San Diego
Taylor Kornieck recorded her first assist of the 2022 regular season in Sunday’s 1-0 victory against a winless North Carolina side. Kornieck has been a key player in San Diego’s midfield so far this season, appearing in all 11 of the Wave’s games in 2022 and starting 10 times.
Rewinding to her days before the NWSL, Kornieck was a standout center midfielder at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her collegiate play earned her a pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft and she was selected third overall by the Orlando Pride. Kornieck didn’t take the field in an Orlando jersey until 2021, though, because the Pride withdrew from the first edition of the 2020 Challenge Cup after a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak. When Kornieck finally suited up in Orlando, she played out of her natural position, often lining up as a winger.
Since returning to the center of the pitch with San Diego in 2022, she’s on her way to having a break-out season. Through 893 minutes over 11 games in 2022 (Challenge Cup and regular season combined), Kornieck has outperformed her 2021 statistics in several major categories. Note that all data are normalized per 96’ and higher values are italicized.
Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.
Granted, Kornieck’s 2022 sample size is roughly 1,000 minutes smaller than 2021’s, but these numbers are promising and serve as reason to keep our eyes on Kornieck and the Wave this season.
Moment: Lauren Barnes records 15,000 regular-season minutes in the NWSL
During OL Reign’s match against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, Reign defender Lauren Barnes became the first player in league history to record 15,000 NWSL regular season minutes. She’s been with the club since its inaugural season in 2013, when she was selected as the second pick in the NWSL Supplemental Draft.
Barnes is no stranger to these accolades. In her ninth season with the Reign in 2021, she was the second player in league history to record 150 appearances and the first player to do so with the same club.
In 2022, Barnes is holding down a backline that’s allowed only eight goals on 10.05 expected-goals against through 10 games, combining the Challenge Cup and the first four games of the regular season. Even so, the Reign have been winless so far this regular season, posting three draws and securing only three points. This isn’t immediate cause for panic, though.
The Reign’s 2021 season didn’t start off very strong either, and they still secured the second-overall seed in the 2021 NWSL Playoffs. Given the caliber of the Reign’s roster, head coach Laura Harvey’s record of success, and Barnes’ leadership, it’s very likely that OL Reign will get back to their winning ways and emerge from the bottom of the table in the coming weeks.
Morrissey: Former league MVP Solomon Asante debuts for the Indy Eleven
Solomon Asante signed with the Indy Eleven in mid-April, bringing a resume along with him that contains two MVP awards and three all-league seasons.
At the time, the Eleven were sputtering. They had earned just five points in their opening five matches under new manager Mark Lowry. Since then, however, Indy have been on fire. They have four wins in their five post-Asante signing matches, albeit against weak competition in a stretch of mostly home games.
This weekend, Asante finally made his debut in the Circle City. Lowry made clear that the former Phoenix Rising attacker was only fit enough for a cameo, and, indeed, Asante played just 11 minutes. Still, there were hints of what’s to come. Wearing No. 14 and slotting into the left wing in a 4-2-3-1, Asante showed his usual bursts of speed in tracking back to solidify a 2-0 win for Indy over the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday. He only found a handful of offensive touches, but he was already trying to spark one-touch moves and was driving at opponents on the dribble.
In other words, classic Asante appears to be alive and well, if a bit rusty. What does that mean for the Indy Eleven going forward?
Following Indy’s recent run of form, the team sits seventh in the USL’s Eastern Conference, holding the last playoff spot. On a points per game basis and by xG conceded, Asante’s new team is 5th in the East. Things fall apart on the offensive end, though, and that’s where the playmaker can make a difference. Indy sit second-to-last in xG in their conference, wedged between MLS affiliates in Atlanta and New York. Their hot-streak rode on high conversion rates from players like Stefano Pinho and gritty one-goal wins powered by goalkeeper Elliot Panicco. Altogether, Indy have a sub-50% chance of making the playoffs according to my projections.
Asante’s integration into Indy’s lineup can rectify these issues and add an extra dimension to the Eleven attack. Take the Ghanaian’s track record for proof:
- 2021: 89th percentile in xG, 93rd percentile in xA
- 2020: 93rd percentile in xG, 99th percentile in xA
- 2019: 92nd percentile in xG, 97th percentile in xA
This season, Lowry imported his typical diamond-shaped 4-4-2 system, utilizing a forward pair with one back-shoulder-running striker and a deeper creator. Asante could play that latter role, or he could slot in as the No. 10 spot or even one of the outside central midfield positions in the diamond. Players at those central midfield spots for Indy have tallied just 0.08 xG per 90 this year. Last season, Asante alone generated 0.41 xG per 90. It’s safe to say that the Ghanaian can solve some problems for his new team.
No matter where he slots in, Asante is an electric offensive player, one who can turn an attacking-challenged playoff fringe team into a contender.