NWSL Round-Up: Regular Season Resumes with a Bang
If you’re feeling the post-soccer blues from the end of the Women’s World Cup on Sunday, no need to fear, the NWSL is here! The regular season picked up right where it left off last Friday, with six exciting games that left no room to look away. A little over halfway into the season, now is the time for dark horse picks to start turning things around if they want to make the playoff line. As well as clubs who are looking to add another star to the ones already above their crest. The chaos didn’t disappoint this weekend, here’s what happened in the league:
Deadlocked One-to-One Ties
If you’re a Dash fan, you’re more than likely disappointed that this match didn’t earn you three points. With over sixty percent possession against a Washington Spirit without Trinity Rodman, you’d expect the Dash to pull through on this one. Unfortunately, this match ended in a disappointing one-to-one draw.
The Spirit were on the front foot in the beginning, but by the second half, they were constantly chasing the Dash and trying to keep up. Their one-on-one defending was less than ideal, allowing the Dash to take twenty-one shots total. But only one of those shots went in, and it did so in the 91st minute off the foot of Maria Sánchez who had been knocking on the door all night.
Aubrey Kingsbury kept the Spirit in this one until then and will be surely upset she didn’t get the clean sheet she deserved given the several spectacular saves she made to keep the Dash out of the net. But probably the best headline from this game came from Ashley Sanchez, who came on in the 60th minute and scored just forty seconds later.
The Spirit will also be excited to see Andi Sullivan return alongside Trinity Rodman, who will hopefully let the Spirit have some more possession and in return get some more shots on target.
The other draw this weekend was another one-to-one deadlock by two playoff hopefuls. Angel City traveled to play Racing Louisville, and both teams walked away with a point. This one really felt as though it could’ve gone either way, possession split down the middle between the two sides that both ended up scoring late. Katie Johnson put the LA ahead in the 67th minute before Kristen Davis brought things level in the 79th.
Racing’s stand-out star as usual was Katie Lund who stepped up big time in huge moments to keep Angel City off the board. But Racing had their chances, with a shot off the post and an incredible block by Sarah Gorden keeping things scoreless for the first half. Angel City outpaced Racing a lot of the time but couldn’t get clinical in the final third. Racing had good buildup and great moments in transition but weren’t able to body their way past the Angel City center backs.
Racing broke their attendance record this weekend, with that post-World Cup swell bringing lots of new spectators out to the NWSL this weekend. Here’s hoping those numbers keep going up for the second half of the season. It’s also worth noting that Angel City has yet to lose a game since Becki Tweed took over as interim head coach back in June, and they could be on their way to a playoff berth if trends continue.
The Gift of Second Chances
After coming off a rough losing streak, the San Diego Wave finally put one away at home, getting a late two-to-one win over Gotham. The Wave hadn’t won a match since June 4th, which was poetically also against Gotham. This game easily took the cake for the most chaotic match of the week, which is a hard-earned title in this league.
San Deigo took the lead early with a beautiful assist from Jaedyn Shaw finding its way to Makenzy Doniak in the 17th minute. After having to make two first-half subs for early injuries, Gotham was out Midge Purce and McCall Zerboni and their momentum surely suffered for it. Surprisingly, Gotham had over sixty percent of the possession in this match, but they couldn’t walk away with points to show for it. The Wave were most dangerous in moments of transition, making the most of their time on the ball with quick decision-making and well-placed balls.
In addition to the early substitutions, this game had several other chaotic moments. Chai Cortez had to come off for a head injury, and returned to the field in her teammate Madison Pogarch’s jersey, presumably because there was too much blood on her own jersey. Melanie Barcenas became the youngest player in the league to record an assist. Nealy Martin had to step into goal for Gotham when Abby Smith was taken off the field due to a late injury. And finally, Gotham got one back off a late stoppage-time strike from Katie Stengel to top off a truly wild game.
Kansas City made a statement this weekend with a win against OL Reing at home, packing the stadium and even breaking the decibel record. Although the Reign had Quinn, Angelina, and Huitema back amongst their ranks, it didn’t make a difference in this 1-0 loss. If it wasn’t for the incredible experience of their backline, the Reign could’ve been looking at a much higher scoreline.
The Current are working their way along the road of redemption, and it’s all starting in the midfield. Even with so many of their superstars still out with injury (Sam Mewis, Morgan Gautrat, Vanessa DiBernado), the Current are working things out, albeit probably later than they wanted. Having Debinha back definitely helped, as well as AD Franch coming in clutch with the penalty save to keep Huitema off of the scoresheet.
But this matchup was all about backlines, as the Reign’s worked hard to keep things even and the Current's pulled the strings to get their side a win that they desperately needed.
What other team would become the first team in history to win a game after a first-half red card than the Portland Thorns? In one of the many wild storylines from this weekend, the Thorns went down to ten in the 17th minute when Kelli Hubly was shown a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity just outside the box. The Thorns would concede a goal just a few minutes later off the Tyler Lussi free kick that curled right into the crossbar to bounce past Bella Bixby.
But in classic Portland fashion, they didn’t give up and you would’ve never guessed that there were only ten players on the field by the end of that match. There were simply red and black jerseys everywhere, denying the Courage their usual rhythm that makes them such a threat in the attacking third. Hannah Betfort put the Thorns level just before halftime, and who else to come off the bench and score the game-winner than Sophia Smith. It was a celebratory night for the Thorns, after winning a game a home that could've truly been a disaster if not for the inevitable success and hard work of Portland.
Making a Statement Run
In the NWSL, it’s never too late to make a playoff run, and the Pride are setting themselves up to be this year’s dark horse pick. They made the most of their game against Chicago, putting five up against the Red Stars. It was rookie Messiah Bright’s first career brace, and once Orlando got started they simply couldn’t stop.
Even though it was her debut game for the Pride, Brazilian defender Rafaelle scored her first NWSL goal of the season in the 15th minute. Orlando wouldn’t stop scoring for the next eighty minutes while Chicago was unable to catch a break. The other goal scorers for the Pride were Messiah Bright (24’, 49’), Mariana Larroquette (64’), and Mikayla Cluff (68’).
Chicago was without one Tierna Davidson due to injury, and the rhythm on the backline was all over the place. They were turning over balls in the midfield, and unable to stop the Pride’s momentum. Things picked up for Chicago with their second-half substitutions, but it wasn’t enough for them to get one back. Hopefully, things will settle down for Chicago once their ownership gets truly sorted out. Until then, it’s all eyes on Orlando for their standout performance this week.