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Run of Play: The Night of Own Goals

With a start against Northern Ireland, Jess Fishlock will make her 100th appearance for Wales (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Jess Fishlock scored twice for Seattle on Saturday, but only one was for her team. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Everyone loves scoring goals, right? Well, not always. In one of the most bizarre game days in NWSL history, all three games last Saturday featured an own goal, with the own goals making up nearly a quarter of the goals scored that day. In an even stranger twist, while own goals are more often than not a result of a simple bad deflection that’s out of anyone’s control, all of these were poor yet deliberate attempts at clearances.

In the 44th minute of Houston’s game at Chicago, midfielder Denise O’Sullivan gave up a poor foul just outside Houston’s box. Midfielder Danielle Colaprico lined up for the Red Stars, sending in a wonderfully lofted ball that had just too much on it, headed right for the goalkeeper’s sweet spot. Unfortunately, Lydia Williams hesitated, and whether it was because of that hesitation or a miscommunication, forward Sarah Hagen jumped up and headed the ball – into her own net.

This goal was unfortunate for a number of reasons beyond the usual embarrassment of an own goal. As stated above, Williams had every chance to come out and claim it, and with no Chicago player having any strong chance of getting to it, it should have been an easy save. Furthermore, Williams also might have had a chance of saving the header had she not been off her line. Instead, she was caught in no-man’s land with nothing doing. Also, this goal broke a scoreless deadlock just before halftime, sending the Dash into the locker room trying to figure out how to come from behind instead of starting the second half on even footing. Chicago would go on to win the game 2-0.

In the next game, Sky Blue at Washington, the Spirit had jumped to an early – and some would say unlikely – lead when eventual Player of the Week Francisca Ordega scored in just the sixth minute. Twenty minutes later, the striker was back at it, muscling past Mandy Freeman and slotting a low cross across the face of goal as goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan came out to deny her. Defender Erin Simon rushed in to clear the ball in front of an open net but couldn’t get her hips turned in time, flicking it in her own goal.

Again, it was a series of misfortunes. Kelley O’Hara had tied the game up for Sky Blue in the 12th minute with a wicked shot past goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, so Simon’s own goal handed the lead back to Washington, and they would never relinquish it, winning 4-3. Rather like Houston’s own goal, it was a result of slightly poor decision making, as the ball probably wouldn’t have gone in untouched, and no Spirit player was making a run into the box to finish it off. To be fair, it was a close call with little margin for error, but in hindsight it was better left alone.

{Related: Gordon’s 3 Things from Wild Spirit-Sky Blue Matchup}

In the final game of the night, this season’s first edition of the always entertaining Seattle-Portland matchup left home fans slightly speechless after Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock scored in the first minute off an absolute rocket. It took half an hour for Fishlock to find the back of the net again, but it was one of the rare goals she’d like back. In the 36th minute midfielder Hayley Raso drove down the right flank, beating defenders Lauren Barnes and Carson Pickett before cutting back a low cross toward Christine Sinclair. The ball skipped past the Canadian international and met the sliding feet of Fishlock, bouncing into the net past goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, who was well positioned for Sinclair but didn’t quite expect it from her own teammate.

Fishlock’s incredible work rate notwithstanding (she’d been at the other end of the pitch only seconds prior), it’s unclear to me exactly what she was intending to do here. There were an even number of Thorns and Reign players in the box, but Allie Long and Nadia Nadim were pretty well open, so she couldn’t have let it go. Perhaps the slide was intended to pop the ball over the net or out past the far post for a corner kick, but it was a rather dangerous move, and unfortunately did not go as planned, whatever the plan was. The goal tied up the game, and although Seattle regained advantage minutes later, Long equalized with a header in the second half, and that was the game.

{Related: Fishlock Stuns with First Minute Finish | Things Learned from 14th Cascadia Showdown}

No one ever wants to commit an own goal, even if your team is up 4-1 with the game in hand, but it’s not the end of the world. I don’t think these own goals are a sign of a trend (unlike the penalties, which continue) or anything other than some poor decision making in a split second’s time. While you could argue Fishlock’s may have cost the Reign points and Hagen’s changed the momentum of the game (although Chicago was the better side for the majority of both halves), no one was denying Ordega that day, and ultimately the goals will go down in history as a peculiar series of affairs in what was a goalfest of a wild NWSL weekend.

Chelsey’s column Run of Play appears every Wednesday.

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