NWSL Notebook: The NWSL Teams' Summer Performances as Classic Summer Movies
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NWSL Notebook: The NWSL Teams' Summer Performances as Classic Summer Movies

NWSL Notebook: The NWSL Teams' Summer Performances as Classic Summer Movies by Lindsay Eanet

Labor Day has come and gone, the official End of Summer in most of the U.S. The kids are back in school, the last embers of barbecue season are being tended and NWSL playoffs are just weeks away.

To commemorate this changing of the season and a thrilling summer of hot soccering action, we say goodbye by comparing each NWSL side's summer trajectory (through Labor Day) to a classic summer movie.

North Carolina Courage: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Maybe this is a stretch, but The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a movie about some very different girls who all love and support each other and also come into their own as powerful individuals. Kristen Hamilton, in particular, is the Blake Lively billing glow-up between The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Hamilton has been on fire, netting eight goals and two assists between June and August, including a hat-trick and a hat-plus-one. And her summer ended with a flourish as she made her debut for the USWNT.

In addition to Hamilton, the Courage's regular power players like Debinha and Abby Erceg, who came off their World Cup appearances to net two consecutive NWSL Team of the Month appearances, are keeping the Courage in title contention. Also, the cameos from flashy European sides like Olympique Lyonnais and Manchester City for the International Champions Cup made us dreamy for sweeping summer holidays abroad and the magic that happens on them, or something like that.  

Portland Thorns: Dirty Dancing

The Thorns spent the summer making moves, and we're not just talking about Emily Sonnett dancing for the people on the 'gram. Portland managed to wrangle at least a point from the bulk of their games, and went into the close of summer sitting at the top of the table – Midge Purce has looked unstoppable and Christine Sinclair led her squad's attack like Patrick Swayze leading an increasingly confident Jennifer Grey. Fans broke stadium records on a Wednesday and it's clear they had the time of their lives.

But here's the thing about Dirty Dancing. After the sweet glow of the final dance scene at Kellerman's, there’s a sense that romance is fleeting. And, like so many couples who have attempted to recreate that Swayze lift, so too have the Thorns fallen with back-to-back losses, including a 6-0 routing at home, into the fall, although just one point out of the top of the table with a ways to go. Nobody puts Sincy in a corner.

Chicago Red Stars: Wet Hot American Summer

Weird, amazing and with an all-star cast, featuring, surprise!, Mackenzie Arnold entering the mix at the end like H. Jon Benjamin. With their World Cup veterans returning, Chicago looked complete if not unstoppable, with Samantha Kerr and Yuki Nagasato putting away goals the way Wet Hot puts away endlessly quotable one-liners. Skipper Vanessa DiBernardo has been the Jeaneane Garofalo, the deadpan, quietly skilled center of it all, camp directing on the field to the best of her ability. Sarah Gorden even rescued some ill-fated campers on a rafting trip.

But like some of Wet Hot's romantic asides, some of Chicago's performances have felt not-quite-there, or overly long, or just a few degrees removed from how great you know they could be. The Red Stars winning five in a row and then dropping three is just as puzzling and uncomfortable as the end of Molly Shannon's subplot.

Utah Royals: The Sandlot

I recently rewatched The Sandlot for the first time in more than a decade and a thing I had forgotten about The Sandlot is that through the first like half of the movie, nothing really happens save for a fake-drowning community pool scene that in retrospect, is mad creepy. And so it was with the Utah Royals, who saw defeats from the likes of Sky Blue and Washington in the midst of a summer free-fall.

But like most inspirational '90s kid sports movies, this one ends pretty ideally. An unbeaten streak since the beginning of August, bolstered by consistent attacks from Amy "The Jet" Rodriguez and a solid Christen Press (your most recent NWSL Player of the Month), has put the Royals solidly back in the top half of the table and alive in the title fight.

Also, a thing I did not know when I picked The Sandlot here was that The Sandlot was actually filmed in Salt Lake City. See? It's perfect.

Reign FC: Stand By Me

Stand By Me also takes place in the sweeping, beautiful Pacific Northwest. Like the ragtag band of kids seeking out a mythical corpse, the Reign have also experienced some pitfalls – a rash of injuries taking out the likes of JESS FISHLOCK MBE and Megan Rapinoe, and a goalkeeper position that's felt more precarious than trying to cross a railroad bridge when the train is coming, or finding a leech on the last place on your body you'd want to find a leech.

There's a feeling of tense uncertainty that hangs on Stand By Me, and so it is with the Reign's season, where they sit in the middle of the table, fighting for playoff contention. But like the Stand By Me kids, the squad and the Royal Guard faithful have stuck together, added a necessary attacking x-factor in Rosie White, and may just find what they’re looking for yet.

Washington Spirit: The Goonies

It's hard not to have a soft spot for the Spirit this season, no matter where they are in the table. Like the resourceful misfits of this nostalgic classic, the 2019 Spirit are young and fun and finding their footing as a team. Like the Goonies, each member of this Spirit squad contributes something compelling, whether it's Aubrey Bledsoe putting up four clean sheets this summer or Andi Sullivan firing this screamer, storming into the net like "HEY YOU GUUUUUUUYS!" They even hit a treasure of their own in the form of a massive crowd at Audi Field in August.

The Goonies is also almost two hours long, which is entirely too long for a kids-looking-for-treasure movie, and at times, especially toward the end of the summer, the Spirit's results have left the crowds wanting more. But this squad is still much improved from last season, and while The Goonies II may be just a video game, here's hoping a stronger Spirit is for real in the seasons to come.

Houston Dash: Caddyshack

Like a coke-fueled screwball comedy from the 1970s, when the Dash get it together and their attack is doing what they do best, it's as entertaining as you remember. But when they don’t, it feels like someone's dropped a Baby Ruth in a swimming pool. It's like watching the same scene all summer, the Dash's defense playing the role of Bill Murray, drawing penalties all over the place. And then theres Jane Campbell, popping up from the chaos to save a penalty, the invincible dancing prairie dog who can seemingly survive this challenge every time. Cue the Kenny Loggins.

Sky Blue FC: A Goofy Movie

And before you say anything, yes, A Goofy Movie is a classic summer movie, do not @ me. Over the past few seasons, Sky Blue has seen more mishaps than a father-son road trip under false pretenses, with facilities and management more broken-down and upsetting than Lester's Possum Park. Swapping Tony Novo for Alyse LaHue was, perhaps, the Perfect Cast, and although there's virtually no hope of a Sky Blue playoff berth, a handful of big wins, bravado, choreographic goalkeeping from Kailen Sheridan and a culminating Big Production Number at Red Bull Arena that smashed the club’s previous attendance records, it feels like resolutions are happening. For the first time in a long time, the club and supporters, it seems, are seein' it I2I.

Orlando Pride: A Simple Favor

Like 2018's lush summer cult sensation, the Orlando Pride have an impressive talent roster and, at times, a sunny Floridian backdrop (Ali Krieger is Linda Cardellini, Alex Morgan is Blake Lively, I promise I’m going somewhere with this). And Pride supporters have been rewarded with moments of fun and deliciousness, from a solid unbeaten run in July to a wild win over Chicago at the tail end of August to some Ashlyn Harris heroics to a little bit of Marta doing Marta things.

But like the lives of the well-to-do beautiful people of A Simple Favor, there's a settling of unease and doom as the season draws to a close – a number of losses, injuries, a Marta suspension, Chioma Ubogagu playing one of her best games in a Pride shirt and then heading off to pursue opportunities in Spain, coach Marc Skinner putting his foot in it (he later clarified his comments). Orlando sits at the bottom of the table at time of writing, and may need to take the remainder of the season and months that follow to reset and start over, just like [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] did after [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS].