Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL.
While the previous weekend has been overshadowed by Olympic football, the National Women’s Soccer League continued play in the United States. After a bye-weekend, Racing Louisville and KC NWSL returned to the field and five matches were played on Saturday and Sunday.
They were important to nearly all teams. Entering the weekend, just six points separated the top and seventh positioned teams. It also represented the halfway point of the 24-match regular season for most involved.
The first match of the weekend was between the fifth ranked North Carolina Courage and the seventh ranked Orlando Pride. Both teams were looking for a win after not having had one in the previous three for the Courage and previous five for the Pride. The Pride were also in their first game under new interim manager Becky Burleigh.
The first half was largely a story of two teams trying to build up attacks but unsuccessful in converting in the final third. The deadlock was broken in the second half by Orlando. Fullback Ali Krieger stole the ball off a Carolina attacker and then made an incredible half field run before supplying a perfectly weighted ball to Sydney Leroux who scored.
It did not take long for Carolina to respond though. New acquisition Amy Rodriguez crossed the ball into the 18 yard box. It found Meredith Speck who then smartly passed to an open Brittany Ratcliffe who beat her defender and put it home. The game finished a 1-1 draw.
The second match of the day was between the OL Reign and Racing Louisville FC. After a difficult period midway through the beginning of the season, the Reign had started to find its winning ways again. Racing was hoping the boost from newly arrived striker Nadia Nadim would bring life to their scoring, having found the back of the net once in the previous three winless matches.
However, this game became all about Reign’s foreign striking import. Eugénie Le Sommer, the prolific Lyon attacker on loan to the Reign for the season, had yet to score in her first six NWSL appearances. This game was the one she would change that, with incredible form. Her first goal came in the 28th minute when she beat her defender, literally making her slip, before shooting the ball into the top of net. She then doubled the score in the 43rd minute after burying a ball received off a wonderful Jess Fishlock delivery. The game would conclude 2-0 for the Reign.
The first match of the Sunday was between the Portland Thorns and KC NWSL. KC remained bottom of the table while they were still trying to find their first franchise win. Conversely, Portland who were top of the table wanted to remain number one.
KC were lifted by their three newly acquired former North Carolina players, Kristen Hamilton, Hailey Mace and goalkeeper Katelyn Rowlands. All were in the starting lineup. While their introduction has helped KC up front and in goal, the new franchise still struggles and can be very disjointed between the lines. They are able to create chances, but more often than not those are missed.
The Portland test, in their stadium, was never going to be easy for KC. The Thorns opened the scoring in the 10th minute when Meghan Klingenberg’s shot on goal deflected off Kristen Edmonds and went in for an own goal. They then doubled their account when Sophia Smith put in a cross that was deflected in by teammate Marissa Everett. The score finished 2-0 with Portland retaining their dominance halfway through the season and KC remaining winless.
The second match on Sunday was between the Chicago Red Stars and the Washington Spirit. The Spirit overall controlled the match, having more of the ball, a greater pass accuracy and more shots than the Red Stars. Their coach’s insistence on possession once again appeared. However, it was the Red Stars who came out on top with a greater conversion of chances created.
The home team went ahead in the 19th minute with a goal from Mallory Pugh. The striker picked up the ball just after the halfway line and ran the remainder of the pitch, shaking off four attackers, before putting a perfectly placed ball in the bottom corner of the net. After being left out of the USA’s Olympic squad Pugh is once again showing why she first appeared for the USWNT aged 17.
Her teammate Rachel Hill doubled the Red Stars’ lead just before half time when she was able to deflect a loose ball that had come off a corner into the net. The Spirit would not give up though. New prolific Spirit rookie Trinity Rodman decided to show that Pugh was not the only striker on the field who could make half field runs and finishes, scoring an equally impressive goal in the 72nd minute.
The Spirit tried to equalize in the minutes after Rodman’s goal, with a great strike by Ashley Sanchez which needed an intervention by Red Stars keeper Cassie Miller. However, in the 80th minute, Washington were penalized for a handball in their box. Chicago’s Morgan Gautrat was able to put it in for what became a final score of 3-1 for the Red Stars.
The last match of the weekend was between the Houston Dash versus NJNY Gotham FC. Despite taking place at 6pm local time, the temperature on the field were close to 100F/38C. The scorcher did not stop either team from playing an intense game with both creating a number of chances on goal. The first half saw a particularly productive Veronica Latsko and Ifeoma Onumonu, who made several dangerous runs and strikes on goal for both the Dash and Gotham respectively.
The opening of the scoring though had to wait until the second half. Gabby Seiler found the back of the net in the 52nd minute after a ball which came from a corner was deflected off a header towards her. The introduction of teammate Bri Visalli five minutes later greatly increased Houston’s offensive drives, particularly on the right hand side where Visalli was operating.
However, it was Gotham’s offence who would convert next, with Onumonu finally finding the back of the net after a game of close but missed chances. The goal was a great team goal, built up through a series of passes which culminated in a Delani Sheehan pass to Onumonu just outside the box, who then right footed it home from a difficult angle.
After this previous weekend’s play, a number of teams rose and a number fell. New franchises KC and Racing are now bottom of the table. Only nine points separate first and eight placed though with Portland remaining top of the table. This upcoming weekend will see another five game match schedule spread over the Saturday-Sunday.