Impetus’ North American Women’s Football expert Catherine Paquette brings us up to date with all the action from the NWSL.
Above: Washington Spirit celebrate Ashley Sanchez’s winning goal against Orlando Pride. Photo: Washington Post.
The past week in the National Women’s Soccer League was an odd one. Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars participated in the inaugural staging of The Women’s Cup. While their first game also doubled as a NWSL match, their weekend matches against Bayern and PSG were exhibition cup games. Racing went on to win the cup by beating German champions Bayern Munich, a massive win for a club with less than six months of play under their belt.
The Portland Thorns and the Houston Dash for their part competed in the Women’s International Champions Cup, with FC Barcelona and l’Olympique Lyonnais also participating. The Thorns went on to beat OL for the title of World’s Best Club. The Dash finished fourth after having being beaten by Barça in the third place game.
The NWSL though did go ahead with four games. The first, already mentioned, occurred on Wednesday between Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars. The double meaning of the match, being both an NWSL league game and a decider for the first place game of The Women’s Cup, resulted in even more high tempo play than one normally sees in the league.
The record attendance in Louisville also spurred the home side on. Ebony Salmon, who has been electric this year for Racing, stole the ball off a Red Stars defender in the 10th minute of the match and then proceeded to nutmeg Chicago’s goalkeeper to score.
Like they have in many games this year, Louisville had a greater percentage of possession. However, their transition and specifically their penetration into the final third was often lacking. Despite having more of the ball, they were outshot by the Red Stars. Chicago finally capitalized in the 57th minute thanks to a strike from Kealia Watt. Similar to Louisville’s goal, it was a defensive error that opened the door to Chicago’s equalizer.
The game ended 1-1 with each team taking home one point in the NWSL. Louisville would go on to progress to the final of The Women’s Cup through penalties. However, that result did not affect their standing in the league. They remain in ninth place, while Chicago remain in seventh. Both are currently out of play-off contention.
Two NWSL games occurred on the Saturday. The second placed North Carolina Courage faced the league’s current bottom placed side Kansas City. KC were hoping that their first franchise win the week before would continue their momentum in Carolina. It was not to be.
North Carolina decisively beat the visiting team. This is not to say that KC did not produce. Not only did they have more possession than their advisory, but also more shots and shots on goal as well. The difference was that like most of this year, KC could not convert attempts into goals.
North Carolina for their part had no problems with that this game. Lynn Williams opened the scoring in the 12th minute. This was followed by a wonderful Jess McDonald header in the 21st minute.
Former KC attacker Amy Rodriguez, who was traded to the Courage earlier this month, then made it three in the 64th minute. While North Carolina went down to ten players in the 75th minute, KC were not able to capitalize. It was the Courage’s Meredick Speck who did in the 91th minute of play, putting the hosts ahead 4-0, the final score of the match. While the Courage crept closer to first placed Portland in the league table, both teams’ positions remained unchanged after last weekend’s play.
The second Saturday match was between the OL Reign and Gotham FC. Ifeoma Onunomu, who has been electric this year, opened the scoring in the 10th minute of play. Well placed to receive the ball in the box she made a small deflection put it in. Her second goal, which came minutes later, was the fantastic one. Again receiving the ball in the box she managed to place her body in the proper position to one touch it past Sarah Bouhaddi.
The Reign did not give up though despite the two goal deficit in the first fifteen minutes. They found their first goal in the second half, through a Kristen McNabb header. However, it was two successfully converted penalty kicks taken by Megan Rapinoe in the 78th and 91st minute of play that put OL ahead. The Reign won the match 3-2. The win put them in fourth position in the league, with Gotham FC falling to fifth.
The last NWSL weekend match was between the Washington Spirit and the Orlando Pride. Washington came out taking control of the game. However, despite dictating the pace and having good chances, they were not able to convert. The same occurred for the Pride. A number of missed chances and a double save by the Spirit’s Aubrey Bledsoe resulted in neither team finding the back of he net the first half.
It was the Pride’s Marta who scored a fantastic long range to the scoring in the 68th minute. However, just two minutes later the Spirit equalized. A cross into the box was badly deflected by Orlando’s defence straight to Ashley Sanchez who scored.
The goal of the game though occurred in the 89th minute. After Trinity Rodman received the ball in Orlando’s half off a great long pass from Tori Huster, the youngster did well to be patient with it. She then passed it to Ashley Sanchez who beat a defender and then from outside the box scored a rocket shot. The Spirit won the game 2-1.
The win put Washington in third place and dropped Orlando to sixth place. The league table has therefore separated at the top, with the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage seven and five points ahead of the third and fourth placed teams. However, from third to ninth place only six points separate the teams with some clubs having one or two games at hand. Only KC are arguably out of playoff contention.
The latter part of the National Women’s Soccer League season should be an exciting one.