NWSL Week 10: Rivalries and Returns
A bonus third day of action kept us all enthralled during this past weekend's NWSL matches. Besides all the usual flashy goals, big plays, and even a red card appearance, Week 10 brought us this regular season's first edition of the Cascadia rivalry, a record crowd in New Jersey, and one long-awaited return. Let's dive right into a recap of all of this weekend's excitement.
Cascadia Rivalry Thriller
There is arguably no better way to open up a weekend of NWSL games than with another edition of the league's fiercest rivals: the Portland Thorns and OL Reign. The Reign hosted the Thorns at Seattle's Lumen Field on Saturday in a doubleheader with their MLS counterparts, Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers. Although it is hard to know how many fans stayed for both games, it is reported that 42,000 tickets were sold for the double-header.
The energy was certainly high between the two teams, but Portland struck first. Sophia Smith shocked the home crowd when she slotted a low ball past goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce in the 17th minute of play. Smith sits tied at the top in both goals and assists categories for this season. Throughout the remainder of the second half, OL Reign appeared to have the better opportunities, but could not capitalize on their chances. A through ball sprung Elyse Bennett in the waning minutes of the first half, but she could not get her shot on frame to equalize for the home side.
OL Reign continued to press in the second half, but could not find the back of the net. Christine Sinclair put the final nail in the Reign's coffin with a strike from just inside the box in the 87th minute. The Portland Thorns scooped up their first-ever win, 2-0, at Lumen Field in an exciting victory, and they now sit at the top of the table.
Sophia Smith (center) carries the ball for the Thorns during their Saturday match against OL Reign / Photo Courtesy of Portland Thorns
Seeing Red in DC
Racing Louisville traveled to Audi Field to take on the Washington Spirit on Saturday at the Spirit's Pride Night game. The Spirit got off to a speedy start when Ashley Hatch found Trinity Rodman just three minutes into the game to put them up early. Rodman's nutmeg goal against stalwart keeper Katie Lund was a thing of beauty, and the Spirit rode that energy through the rest of the first half.
While the Spirit had the hot start in the first half, Racing got awarded an early PK in the second half off of a foul by Paige Metayer in the box. Savannah DeMelo had no problem sending keeper Aubrey Kingsbury the wrong way to continue her goal-scoring form in the 51st minute to draw the two sides level.
In the 77th minute, substitute Elli Pikkujämsä was quickly awarded a red card for taking down Trinity Rodman. Pikkujämsä had just entered for Racing, but her play potentially saved a goal-scoring opportunity on Rodman's breakaway. Racing played with just 10 players from there on out, but their defense held strong against a barrage of Spirit attacks. Multiple shots hit the post behind Katie Lund, but the Spirit could not find the back of the net. The game ultimately ended in a 1-1 draw.
A group of Washington Spirit players during Saturday's game in D.C. / Photo Courtesy of Washington Spirit
Two Home Victories, Two Early Goals
The Houston Dash played host to the Orlando Pride on Saturday and took home three points in the third win of their last four games. An early goal, which came from the rebound of a María Sánchez corner, put the Dash up in the sixth minute when Sophie Hirst tapped home her first career goal. Houston's high-octane offense kept the Pride's netminder Anna Moorhouse busy, with threatening shots from Diana Ordóñez and Michelle Alozie. Alozie eventually slotted one past Moorhouse after dancing past an Orlando defender to put the home side up by two in the first half.
Despite some early chances from Houston, the second half featured a lot more pressure from the Orlando offense. Jane Campbell certainly earned a clean sheet as she turned away numerous opportunities from the visitors. Houston's win puts them at sixth in the league, just inside the playoff line.
Michelle Alozie (left) celebrates with Diana Ordóñez after scoring on Saturday / Photo Courtesy of Houston Dash
Saturday's second home victory came in Kansas City, where the Current held on against the North Carolina Courage after an early goal from Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton put her team up in the eighth minute off of a lovely pass from teammate Debinha. The Current had a number of big shots and opportunities, but keeper Casey Murphy turned aside quality shots to keep her team competitive.
Kerolin's fancy footwork created some chances, but ultimately North Carolina could not string together a coordinated attack. The Courage's Olivia Wingate's goal was called back for being offsides in the 80th minute, and they could not eke out a result from this road trip. The 1-0 victory for Kansas City was their first win in six games and felt like a breath of relief to their faithful home crowd.
The Wave Silenced A Record Gotham Crowd
NJ/NY Gotham FC hosted the San Diego Wave in front of a record-setting 15,058 fans at Red Bull Arena on Sunday for their Pride Night game. In what was expected to be a competitive match, the visitors crashed Gotham's party with a 1-0 victory. In the first half, San Diego's struggled to stay onside in their early chances thanks to a tight line from Gotham's defensive line. Lynn Williams appeared to be everywhere for the home team, but could not ultimately capitalize on some good chances from fellow striker Yazmeen Ryan.
Coach Casey Stoney made impactful changes to the Wave side by subbing in Makenzy Doniak and Jaedyn Shaw, who immediately made their presence known. Just 46 seconds into the second half, Shaw played a beautiful through-ball into open space, and Doniak got on the end of it to put the visitors up, 1-0. San Diego kept Gotham's goalie, Abby Smith, on her toes as they followed with waves of attack. After a long stoppage time, neither side was able to find the back of the net and the Wave left victorious.
Makenzy Doniak (left) celebrates with a teammate after scoring for San Diego on Sunday / Photo Courtesy of San Diego Wave FC
Chicago Spoils Sydney Leroux's Return
Angel City's Sydney Leroux made her long-awaited return from injury on a rare Monday-night game to finish Week 10 action. The LA side hosted the visiting Chicago Red Stars. Despite Angel City controlling possession for most of the match, they could not come back from an early 2-0 deficit to earn a result. Ava Cook earned herself a brace when she scored in the 16th minute, and again in the 27th minute. Cook's first goal was a beautiful header off of a corner taken by Julia Bianchi.
The Red Stars' Casey Krueger truly earned her 100th NWSL appearance, making it tough all night for the Angel City attack to get any quality opportunities. The crowd went wild when they saw veteran Sydney Leroux enter the match in the 76th minute. Despite being down by two goals, Angel City did not relent and eventually found the back of the net in the 88th minute. Young phenom Alyssa Thompson delivered a scorching ball across the net to find Sydney Leroux, who notched her 40th all-time NWSL goal.
While Angel City did not come out of the match with a result, the return of one of their star players is a bright spot for their devoted fans. An offense featuring Thompson and a healthy Leroux seems like a very dangerous one, especially with USWNT veteran Julie Ertz working up to more minutes in the midfield. This loss drops them to eleventh in the league, while Chicago jumps to tenth overall with their win on Monday.
Alyssa Thompson hugs teammate Sydney Leroux after her goal on Monday / Photo Courtesy of Angel City FC