Opening Weekend Round UP
It was an action-packed opening weekend for the NWSL, with record-breaking attendance and history-making VAR calls. There were some surprising comebacks and falls to defeat, along with one of the most controversial games in league history. Let’s hit the highlights of a weekend filled with exceptional play and decidedly fun chaos.
The Portland Thorns remain unstoppable
Taking down the Pride with a score line of 4-0, the Thorns are back and better than ever. They had the benefit of opening their season at home and the crowd at Providence Park should’ve brought umbrellas because it was raining goals in Portland. The four goals were shared between Morgan Weaver, Sophia Smith, Hina Sugita, and Michelle Vasconcelos. They pushed Orlando to the bottom of the standings and started their season off on top with a plus-four differential, leaving everyone else to catch up. In short, they hit the ground running and not even Marta sauce was enough to stop them.
NWSL After Dark Promises more chaos to come
Two games were played well into the evening on Saturday and Sunday as the San Deigo Wave hosted the Chicago Red Stars and Angel City FC hosted NJ/NY Gotham FC. Both games were chaotic in different ways. The Saturday night crowd saw a back-and-forth match between the Red Stars and the Wave which resulted in both USWNT superstars Mal Swanson and Alex Morgan taking (and scoring) on penalty kicks. Morgan cleaned up the game with her game-winning penalty kick, leaving the Wave on top to take all three points after a high-energy 3-2 scoreline. Amirah Ali notched a goal of her own after having been sidelined most of last season due to a nagging injury.
History was made in the Angel City-Gotham match-up as Jun Endo’s exceptional strike from distance became the first goal overturned by VAR in the league. Another VAR review in the second half earned Gotham a penalty kick, which Midge Purce calmly sunk into the net to equalize the game after Alyssa Thompson’s debut goal put LA on top in the first half. The game-winner came from none other than Lynn Williams, who was playing an arm down at the time. But that didn’t matter when it came down to it, and she cleanly finished the shot off a beautiful ball from Purce to collect the three points for Gotham in a 2-1 game.
Upsets from Underdogs
Despite being counted out by most of the fans this season, the North Carolina Courage embarked on a path to change that narrative when they won their home opener against favorites, the Kansas City Current. It’s worth noting that KC was playing with the roster depleted by injuries, no Debhina in sight, but Kerolin and Tyler Lussi led the Courage to their first three points as they took down the KC powerhouse in a 1-0 victory.
Another exceptional upset took place the next day at Audi Field when the Washington Spirit reminded everyone that Trinity Rodman scores bangers and bangers only. The Reign struggled to put anything in the net, despite having more shots on goal than the Spirit and this was ultimately their downfall. They paid for not finishing those chances when Rodman drilled one into the net from outside the box, defeating last year’s shield winners in a 1-0 win for the Spirit.
Scoreless in Houston
The Houston Dash hosted Racing Louisville for their home opener, and even though no goals were scored, this game showed that both teams have improved from last year. Racing held their own against the Dash, holding off Ordoñez, Gareis, and Salmon while creating their own chances with their new attacking presences. The real star of this match was Katie Lund, who deserves ample credit for keeping this one scoreless with seven saves made for Racing.
A weekend of amazing numbers
With record-breaking attendances all across the league, this weekend showed what’s possible and what’s to come for the NWSL this year. The average attendance was over 15,000 this year, upping last year’s average by over 5,000. Not to mention San Diego broke the opening day attendance record by welcoming 30,854 fans to Snapdragon on Saturday. The Spirit had their largest home opener ever as well, with 11,281 in attendance at Audi. Angel City had a second straight home opener sell out, as both West coast clubs prove they’re here to stay in their sophomore seasons.
Some other fun facts include the first goal to be overturned by VAR. Alyssa Thomspon became the 4th youngest player to score in the NWSL. Katie Johnson and Aubrey Kingsbury logged 100 NWSL appearances, and Abby Erceg hit 13,000 NWSL minutes. Racing Lousiville became the first team in history with a lineup that included players representing six continents. Sophia Smith became the first player to score in three straight openers. Portland became the first NWSL team to clock 100 regular season wins. And last but not least, there were a total of 25 yellow cards issued over the course of all six opening games.