PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
We here at the Victory Press like to take joy in the simple pleasures. The NWSL has been back for nearly three weeks. Iconic Jazz Flute Virtuoso Lizzo has a new album out, and it is very good. Today, ahead of the Great World Cup Camp Exodus, we take a moment to combine these two things that bring us joy, and give you the NWSL sides and the Lizzo songs that have matched the first two weeks of their season.
"I was ashamed / Now I'm crazy, about to 'tatch your name"
Sky Blue begins this year trying to climb out of the foamy, unkempt pit of their 2018 season, and it's clear they have work to do. After a pair of losses, new general manager Alyse LaHue has discussed how the heavy scrutiny around the club can only help it grow. And there are signs of life on the pitch for Sky Blue, most notably in the mighty, athletic work of keeper Kailen Sheridan in staving off the Dash's attacks.
But the energy, that bombastic devotion that kicks off the title track from Lizzo's new album, that can be seen in Sky Blue's supporters, who have been through it and back. But they made the trek to Maryland for the season opener against the Spirit, toasted with champagne (and donated beer) for the home opener and showcased a sunrise/Les Misérables-themed scarf and new tifo to remind their club who loves them and who will make them better. Part of that 'tatch your name devotion to a club is holding it accountable, and Cloud 9 is ready to do just that.
"Don't hide no emotions, wear 'em on my sleeve"
So far, perhaps the most-talked-about moment in the Pride's first three matches happened off the pitch, where keeper Ashlyn Harris let the press known exactly how she feels, giving a brutally honest and impassioned assessment of her and her team's performances.
Pride supporters have reasons to cry if they want to after a rough start, but also a few reasons to smile if they want to – Marc Skinner's side is starting to gel and work on that consistency, and that Alanna Kennedy bicycle kick was pretty sweet.
"Mind your business / I been working, working on my fitness"
The Reign started their 2019 campaign with some tough injuries, losing Megan Rapinoe, Beverly Yanez, and backline mainstay Steph Catley for their opening match, a frustrating draw which saw them outshot and out-possessed by the Houston Dash.
The home opener saw a different story with the return of Yanez (a welcome one ahead of the Great World Cup Camp Exodus) and more energy and cohesion out of the Reign. As the season progresses and the team get accustomed to the grounds at their new home at Tacoma's Cheney Stadium, fans should expect some improved results.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me what you see / It's that, oh my God, it's looking heavenly"
The Red Stars may not be getting the scorelines they want, but there are plenty of positive signs that should boost the fans' confidence like that one mirror you can't help but check yourself out in. They managed a point against two of their toughest opponents, Uncle Alyssa Naeher had some killer saves, Sam Kerr is doing what Sam Kerr does. Michele Vasconcelos is living up to her "super sub" reputation, helping Kerr create a chance in her appearance against the Courage and netting a goal just a few minutes after coming on against Portland.
Where the Red Stars should be really feeling themselves is in happenings off the pitch – a new swoon-worthy Chicago-centric home kit and a local TV deal to get them in more homes are helping them, to use a certain former Chicago Fire suit’s parlance, "own the soccer conversation" in a saturated sporting market.
"Woke up feelin' like I just might run for President / even if there ain't no precedent"
I mean, we had to give the club that plays in D.C. the one with the Presidential opening line, right? The girl-power pump-up of "Like A Girl" will probably be heard a bunch in the context of WoSo as a whole this summer, especially with the World Cup, but it feels especially prescient for the Spirit as a club whose success this season will lie with players still in the beginning stages of their careers.
Mallory Pugh – who is 20 but has like 50 caps for the National Team and plenty of experience in multiple NWSL seasons – brings pace and direction to the attack, while the backline, anchored by newcomers like Paige Nielsen, Tegan McGrady, and top draft pick Sam Staab has only conceded one goal (and Staab has scored one herself!).
"Who told you that you stood a chance with this royalty?"
We've seen the least amount of the Royals of any squad, but they made a statement in that 90, and in the minutes that followed. Although Christen Press never found the back of the net, her new nickname should be "Climate Change" because she’s a constant, looming threat. Lo'eau LaBonta netted her first goal off a Press assist, and with a nimble steal of the ball, Desiree Scott pulled off the best heist since Ocean's Eight.
Now, let's talk about the supporters – more than 18,000 made it to Sandy for the Royals' home opener, more than double last year's attendance. Gunny Jónsdottir led the ecstatic supporters in the "Boom, Clap" popularized by the Icelandic national teams. If they keep up this attendance and energy, with the results to back it up, the Court of Rio Tinto will be one of the most intimidating places to play this season.
"Woo, I'm lit, don't mess with it / woo, stand back, let me do my shit"
Lots of things have been on Houston's side in their solid start to the season: a persistent and crafty attack led by Nichelle Prince and Sofia Huerta; and the most iconic duo since Ant-Man and the Wasp, Jane Campbell and Carli Lloyd's wide shots.
The Dash have given up two penalties and thanks to an excellent Week 1 save from Campbell and a miscalculation by Cap'n Carli, they haven’t conceded any goals from them. One can almost feel the sigh of relief from reading that. If they can stop creating penalty situations, they're in good shape to be a fiery contender this season.
"If I'm shiny, everybody gonna shine"
When everyone's fully healthy, this Thorns side is a threat – blame it on their juice, and by juice, we mean attacking power. Although that wild, windy day in Chicago ended in a couple dropped points, the Thorns still found the back of the net four times, and tallied six total goals on the road in their first two. Portland's attack is as well-rounded and prolific as Dolly Parton's discography, with Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan making magic in midfield and even the back four getting in on the action, with Meghan Klingenberg netting two solid assists last game.
But the Vitamix making all this juice happen has got to be this week's NWSL Player of the Week, Christine Sinclair, who netted a hat trick against the Red Stars and received praise from coach Mark Parsons for her leadership this week on and off the pitch. If Christine Sinclair is shining, everybody gonna shine!
"Baby how you feelin'? / Feelin' good as hell"
Last year's NWSL champs should feel good as hell about starting the season unbeaten – after a draw in their first homestand, they bounced back with a resounding 5-0 rout of Orlando. Even when they only managed a point in their home opener, the Courage demonstrated control and creativity, out-possessing the Red Stars and creating 24 chances, six on goal.
Although the Courage will be without Crystal Dunn during the World Cup (who broke through for the sole goal against Chicago and earned a brace and an assist against Orlando), things look sunny ahead. The Courage can boast an injury-free squad, an in-form Jessica McDonald and Lynn Williams (with a goal and an assist each so far), and strong performances from newcomers like Swedish international Julia Spetsmark, who scored in her NWSL debut. Plus, they're rested after a bye week, and that has to feel, well, you know.
Tweet us at @thevictorypress with your reactions to the season so far and your favorite Lizzo lyrics. We look forward to sharing more stories, analysis, and match weekend coverage with you throughout the season.
(Photo: David Lee / Wikimedia Commons)