A Coach’s Perspective: Becki Tweed Talks NWSL Playoffs
NJ/NY Gotham FC might be out of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention. All season, Gotham’s coaches have analyzed their opposition, getting intimately familiar with the personnel and tactics utilized by each team. Assistant Coach Becki Tweed sat down with Nets Republic to give her insight on what fans can expect to see during the 2022 NWSL playoffs.
The 2022 NWSL Shield winners are definitely one to watch during this playoff period. “OL Reign for me are so well rounded, top to bottom,” Tweed said. “They have players that can change a game. They are a team that can not play well and still win because they have those special players. They’re incredibly organized.”
Tweed credits OL Reign’s coaching staff, helmed by Laura Harvey, for the squad’s organization, tactics, and ability to problem-solve. “They are brave in possession and have individual quality that can win them games even when they don’t have things go their way. “
For Tweed, OL Reign’s mentality puts them a step above. “They just believe that they can win, they’re really savvy,” she noted. In Gotham’s home game against OL Reign, the team lost 0-1 on a penalty kick. To Tweed, this perfectly exemplifies OL Reign’s ability to find a way to win, even without overpowering teams. “They bring Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock off the bench!” Tweed said. “Unfortunate for Gotham, but it shows the level of intention of who Reign want to be.”
With the team’s excellent coaching and team cohesiveness, Tweed says the key to taking on OL Reign is to exploit them in transition. “They have good spells of possession and they get very expansive in possession,” she said. “You can catch them while they’re expansive and catch them off guard in wide areas.”
When it comes to the Portland Thorns, Tweed has three words: “They can score.” Their strength lies in their attacking power and chance creation, and for Tweed, the key to taking them on lies in taking advantage of the space left exposed while they are in the attack.
“They’re so brave going forward, and it can leave them exposed,” she explained. “Modern-day soccer gets the fullbacks involved and they have to become an attacking threat. If you look at our last game of the season, we scored one goal from a breakaway, exposing them in that space they left open.”
Another chance teams can take to exploit the Thorns comes from set pieces. In fact, Gotham picked up two goals from set pieces in their 3-3 draw to end the season.
San Diego Wave FC
When it comes to the Wave, the first-ever expansion team to make it to the NWSL playoffs, their strength is in their core. From Kailen Sheridan in net, Naomi Girma at center back, Taylor Kornieck in midfield, to Alex Morgan up top, the central areas of this team allow them to play direct and be effective. “Their central areas of the team and how they recruited down the middle has been a real big key for them,” Tweed said.
San Diego is a team that Gotham really struggled against this season, losing both their home and away matches by multiple goals. “They know their strengths, and they’ve adapted to the teams they played against,” Tweed noted. “They have their own identity, but they’ll solve what you throw at them.”
In both losses to San Diego, Tweed observed how much the team struggled to defend against the Wave’s longer ball and direct play, and commended Alex Morgan’s lethality in front of goal this season. For Tweed, the key to getting one past the Wave is scrappiness in and around the box, second balls, and sustained pressure. “Most teams can say they can play in the space in behind, but Naomi Girma is a really good 1v1 defender and she stops you from doing that,” Tweed said. “You have to change the way you play a little bit, and keep the pressure on.”
What a season the Houston Dash have had. Between coaching changes and their star striker Rachel Daly leaving to play at home in England, the Dash have had what Tweed calls a “crazy season.” Yet despite it all, the Texas-based team was resilient and now is making their first-ever post-season appearance. After a brief, but successful, interim coaching period by assistant coach Sarah Lowdon, the Dash brought in Juan Carlos Amorós who helped the Dash comfortably make their way into the NWSL playoffs.
There is talent on the Houston squad from top to bottom, but in particular, Tweed notes that Ebony Salmon was able to come in and make sure the team did not feel the loss of Daly. Salmon’s aptitude in front of net combined with Maria Sanchez’s skill on the ball makes the Dash formidable.
One of Tweed’s roles at Gotham is to predict the starting line-ups of opponents, and the Dash was the team that was the most unpredictable in terms of formation and personnel. “Collectively, a well-rounded squad is what has gotten them through the crazy part of the season,” Tweed noted.
Now, the Dash will have to figure out how to handle their first playoff experience. “They had a coaching change mid-season, so how does that carry on into the playoffs?” Tweed questioned. “It happened with us at Gotham last year. It’s difficult.” For Tweed, Houston’s spot in the post-season could be difficult for clubs trying to pinpoint an unpredictable squad. “Teams will have to figure out how you break them down,” she said.
Kansas City Current
For Tweed, the Current is one of the more interesting teams in the NWSL playoffs this year. “They play in a 3-5-2, and what I love about Kansas is that they stuck with it,” she explained. “Everyone knows they play that way, but they still continue to play that way” She commended the coaching staff for bringing out the best in their squad, particularly with defender Hallie Mace and midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta.
The Current employ a direct style of play and use their pace efficiently. They have a deep squad, with the ability to bring in a rookie like Elyse Bennett off the bench, and made smart trades like bringing in Kansas native Cece Kizer to solidify their attack. With AD Franch in goal, the Current have proven they’re a tough one to beat. Both times that Gotham faced the Current this season, they lost 1-0.
“Set pieces will be a big one,” Tweed said of getting one past Franch. “They are really valuable in playoff moments. Games can really be even and you can win on a set piece.” Tweed also noted that the Current are extremely dynamic going forward and are dangerous in the box. Their ability to draw penalties is another piece that opponents will need to take into consideration when defending against this Kansas squad.
Chicago Red Stars
“They always find a way,” Tweed said of the perennial NWSL playoff team. This season, the talents of Mal Pugh have been paramount for the Red Stars to find their way and sneak into the 6th and final spot of the post-season. “Pugh is incredible, a game changer. You have to defend differently against Mal both individually and as a team,” Tweed said.
What is most fascinating about the Red Stars for Tweed is how they can play their same shape efficiently both attacking and defensively. “When we played them last year in the playoffs, they played it very defensively, we couldn’t break them down,” Tweed recalled. “It was frustrating. It’s hard to play against a team that sits in a low block and doesn’t give you any space between units and goals.” It was this frustration that ultimately led to a turnover and a goal scored by Pugh to seal the game.
Teams looking to take on the Red Stars will have to prepare for either an attacking or defensive tactic. “That’s the thing – they have both, you don’t know what they’ll do! If you prepare to play Chicago, you have to prepare for both,” Tweed said.
This year, Tweed noticed that with the Red Stars playing with a three-back, there are areas to exploit when the wingbacks go up in the attack. “How do you pull out their three center backs and get into those spaces? How do you create in those moments?” Tweed said.
Whatever happens, the playoffs are sure to be full of exciting match-ups and the classic NWSL chaos fans have come to know and love. Tweed will be watching, and with three first-time playoff teams, the postseason is sure to deliver on the excitement.
What do you think will happen in the NWSL Playoffs? Tweet us @NetsRepublic on Twitter and let us know your predictions.