Pressure on the Portland Thorns; Emma Hayes’ poetic moment: Full Time

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Read for the NWSL numbers, stay for emergency diapers and Jack Harlow’s dog. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan, Steph Yang and Jeff Rueter — welcome to Full Time!

International Break Wrap-Up

End of an interim era

Well, that was a fun international break. The USWNT won another trophy and finally exited its interim period. Emma Hayes will be in charge the next time the team plays, but will it be worth the wait?

Meanwhile, Nigeria and Zambia filled the final Olympic group spots. Zambia will join the USWNT in Group B, along with Germany and Australia. Orlando Pride striker Barbra Banda, who has just joined the club, scored twice to lift the Copper Queens to qualification.

We’ll also get to Hayes’ Chelsea poetry slam later, but first, let’s look at the NWSL.

NWSL By The Numbers

There were 15 goals over the weekend in the NWSL. The Houston Dash watched a strong first half performance crash away at the feet of two Washington Spirit rookies — and that’s not the Dash’s only problem. Bay FC battled to another exciting finish at home, this time securing its first win at PayPal Park. Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto are becoming the most dynamic duo in the league for the KC Current. And Marta added another accolade to her legendary career.

Marta scores monumental Pride goal

200: Orlando Pride forward Marta, 38, scored the lone goal against the Utah Royals. The 68th-minute tally was the 200th regular season goal scored in team history. It was only fitting as Marta owns 33 of them.

New kids on the block

27%: Of the 70 goals scored across the league so far this season, rookies and first-year NWSL players account for more than a quarter of those goals. A pair of dynamic duos lead the group.

For the first-time NWSL players, Chawinga and Zaneratto are leading the way for the KC Current. It’s not outlandish to consider the two for end-of-year awards already, even after Chawinga had to exit Sunday’s game against Gotham in the 86th minute due to injury. Her speed and precision are unmatched, and her pairing with Bia is almost unfair.

For the rookies, Croix Bethune and Hal Hershfelt are quickly making a name for themselves with the Spirit and helping each other along the way. Both players scored Saturday in a comeback win against the Dash.

Houston, you have a problem

$1.5 million: The Dash’s record signing, María Sánchez, might not see out the four-year, $1.5 million contract she signed just four months ago. The forward has reportedly requested a trade ahead of Friday’s NWSL transfer/trade window closing, according to ESPN. Sanchez was a restricted free agent this offseason, which gave Houston the ability to match any offer she received from another NWSL team.

The news is the latest blow for the Dash, which has struggled with poor results and general apathy since its inception in 2014. The club appointed Fran Alonso as its new head coach in the offseason, its fifth coach in three years, to mixed results. The club also recently dismissed goalkeeping coach Matthew Lampson for violating the NWSL’s anti-fraternization policy and coach code of conduct.

The Dash’s only win this season came in a 3-2 stoppage-time battle with Bay FC.

Bay FC, an expansion team, has a number of its own: six, the amount of equalizing or go-ahead goals scored after 80 minutes. Talk about on-field drama.

Meg’s Corner: Pressure mounting in Portland

The pressure is very much on the Portland Thorns four games into the NWSL season. The team is in uncharted territory, having only managed a single point so far in 2024. It didn’t get any better this weekend, with a 2-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage. Early goals have undone Portland this season, and Saturday was more of the same with Tyler Lussi striking off a set piece in the first five minutes.

On Tuesday, the team restructured its technical department, moving head coach Mike Norris into a new role as technical director. Rob Gale will take the role of interim head coach while the Thorns and general manager Karina LeBlanc conduct a global search for Norris’ full-time replacement.



Portland Thorns promote Mike Norris, name Rob Gale interim coach

After the Courage game, the mood was subdued, frustrated, and even slightly baffled. The team lost some players in the offseason, but not enough to explain why they look so lost — and especially not after they secured Sophia Smith on a new, record-setting contract. Smith can only do so much though.

“This is a special group, made of very special players,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said on Saturday. “We need to find a way to highlight our strengths and to minimize our weaknesses.”

Sauerbrunn said she had “all the faith in the world that (they) could figure this out.”

It’s hard to get a read on how the team’s new ownership, led by Lisa Bhathal Merage, might be looking at what changes they could make, but a coaching change is a start.

Norris acknowledged the pressure of the Thorns gig. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we want to operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that.”

Sauerbrunn said it’s important they shut out the noise, and focus on themselves. “It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated. People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.”

The Thorns, at the bottom of the table, are at home against Houston next weekend. If it goes wrong again, what else is next?

Meanwhile, In Europe

Emma Hayes gets poetic

On Friday, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes recited a line from Robert Frost’s poem “Choose Something Like a Star” in response to questions about her Arsenal counterpart Jonas Eidevall after the two clashed in last month’s Conti Cup final. Maybe Hayes has truly turned to the “Mending Wall.” (Still wondering if it was a shove or not).

In “Choose Something Like a Star,” the narrator speaks to a star in the night sky, urging it to provide clear answers.

“So when at times the mob is swayed, to carry praise and blame too far, we may choose somewhere like a star, to stay our minds on and be staid,” Hayes quoted.

The media weren’t the only ones questioning Hayes about the incident with Eidevall. Her five-year-old son Harry also asked about the push, to which she conceded, “You can’t meet aggression with aggression.” When a reporter asked Hayes what she meant by reciting the poem, she responded: “I’ve already explained an important analogy with my son and the lessons learned and my focus is on moving forward. I’ve had time to look at my star.”

GettyImages 2127891443 scaled

(Photo by Marc Atkins, Getty Images)

The next day, Hayes’ Chelsea fell to Manchester United 2-1 in an FA Cup semifinal, ending Hayes’ hopes of a fourth consecutive FA Cup.

Chelsea, who saw its quadrupedal chances dwindle to a possible double, and the USWNT, looking to bounce back from a dismal World Cup, have learned Nothing Gold Can Stay. The question now is: can gold return?

Hayes stands where two roads diverge. It may not be a yellow wood but before her is the final leg of Chelsea’s WSL and UWCL season and the USWNT’s impending Olympic run down. As of now, she continues down both paths.

Bonus Content

Finally, I promised you dogs and diapers.

JJ Watt defined the meaning of an emergency diaper while honoring Kealia Watt’s return to Houston.

Meanwhile, Jack Harlow continued his local Louisville soccer tour, attending Racing’s scoreless draw against San Diego Wave with a furry friend.

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(Top photo: Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

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