One thing this week has shown us is that there is unbelievable parity within this league. There are no easy games played and fans will never confidently predict which team will win a full 3 points. The second half of the season is officially underway, so here is a quick recap on this past weekend.
Rookie Makes History
In a record-breaking 22 seconds, Kansas City Current’s forward Michelle Cooper scored the fastest goal in NWSL history. Not too bad for a rookie to get her first regular-season career goal. Kansas City was on the front foot going up two goals early in the first half with Debinha and Cece Kizer creating many scoring chances, but Washington Spirit’s Ashley Sanchez had other plans in mind. In the 36th minute, Sanchez dribbled to goal on a solo effort to score on her favorite right foot from outside the box. In what was her third goal of the season, Sanchez gave her team the push they needed to complete a historic comeback win. A win that came from a converted center-back, Tara McKeown. Washington Spirit’s head coach Mark Parsons may consider putting McKeown back on the frontline, but after her outstanding defensive performances against Kansas City, she may have to get comfortable on the backline.
Angel City finally got the win they have been praying for in the most classic fashion – against their California rivals. For the first time this season, Alyssa Thompson and Sydney Leroux paired up together in the starting lineup. Fans were excited to see this dynamic duo in action as change was needed since the departure of former head coach, Freya Coombe. It was a 0-0 draw against the top-of-the-table San Diego FC until the 57th minute when Alex Morgan layed off a perfect weighted ball into the feet of Kristen McNabb who fired a rocket into the back of the net.
Moments of doubt creeped into the back of Angel City fans’ minds as they saw their team struggle to find attacking threats. Julie Ertz was often found dribbling in the midfield pointing to her teammates to make runs into space. There were moments the team lacked cohesion, but there was never a doubt the team was playing to win. In the 69th minute, center-back Paige Nielsen broke the silence and all hope was on to win the 3 points.
A sign of a great team is one where unexpected players show up in big moments. In this case, left-back M.A. Vignola got to add to her scoring record with now two goals in back to back games. In what was a poor giveaway by San Diego, Angel City capitalized on every chance and created an opportunity that would bring smiles to all supporters, especially co-founder Julie Uhrman.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era with Angel City FC and just like every team in the NWSL, there are no guarantees who will win the next game or Derby.
Racing SpongeBob SquarePants
Racing Louisville remains a quiet team to watch out for as the postseason nears into sight. Currently 8th in the NWSL standings, Louisville is tied 3rd for the least amount of losses in the regular season. Much of their success is credited to star midfielder Savannah DeMelo who now leads the team with 5 goals and 2 assists in the regular season.
In addition, Louisville has introduced a new club star in South African international, Thembi Kgatlana who scored her first goal of the season this past weekend. In just the first half of the match, Kgatlana gave the fans something to cheer for in the attack on this Nickelodeon SpongeBob SquarePants Day. Her dribbling ability at full speed against multiple defenders is second to none and Louisville fans will be excited to see her perform for the rest of this season.
On the other hand, Gotham FC struggled to maintain possession in the midfield, particularly in the second half forcing the team to make substitutions. A bright spot was in the 59th minute when Kelley O’Hara hit the post on a header that should have been a goal to bring Gotham back into the game. However, it was a game of tactics that saw Gotham get outplayed and lose for a fourth time this season.
Chicago Faces Another Loss
Probably the most improved performance the Red Stars made this weekend unfortunately ends in a loss to the Portland Thorns. Chicago continues their losing streak, but not after a hard fought battle that saw a key player in Arin Wright go down with injury. In the opening half, Sophia Smith led the Thorns to a 1-0 advantage. As Sophia Smith does best, she spun her defender and charged forward at full speed to take a power shot into the bottom left corner. Smith and Sugita were lighting up the Chicago defense, but once the second half started, the game opened up on both sides.
As soon as Hina Sugita of Portland scored in the 63rd minute, a shift for Chicago was needed and Alyssa Naeher passed a direct ball to Arin Wright who won her team a penalty only after suffering a tough collision against Portland’s goalkeeper Bella Bixby. Wright left the match with the help of the medical staff, while Ella Stevens stepped up to the task and scored the penalty to get her team back into the game. Soon after, the legendary Christine Sinclair was given all the time of day to set herself up for a wonderful strike in the box to bring the score 3-1 in the 75th minute.
Chicago’s rookie Allison Schlegel later subbed into the match and in the 82nd minute she scored off a beautiful corner kick. There was no telling who would leave SeatGeek Stadium with all 3 points. The end to end action continued with Portland’s Morgan Weaver and Olivia Moultrie taking turns shooting on target. Bianca St.George and Cheyna Matthews joined in on the shooting practice and in the 88th minute Bianca St.George hit a shot off the post that could have earned Chicago a much needed draw. Instead, another loss will have to be accepted and Portland gets to sit second on the table for this week.
Kerolin Remains On Fire
Kerolin continues her goal scoring form leading the golden boot race with 8 goals. The Brazilian has brought the fire back to this Courage team that could very well be in contention of winning the NWSL Championship. In their most recent match against the Orlando Pride, the Courage controlled 67% of the possession and completed more than double the amount of passes of the Pride. As the season moves forward, North Carolina is gaining more support from their fans and giving their community something to look forward to on a weekly basis.
Of course, it helps when they have a player like Kerolin who loves to create attacking opportunities and seems to be finding confidence with her teammates. The entire squad both in the starting lineup and on the bench appear to be on the same page and this can be seen throughout their dominant performance from start to finish. North Carolina never came off the front foot which allowed Orlando Pride to have only one shot on target. As the season progresses, the NWSL better be on the lookout.