The first full week of NWSL action without U.S. players produced plenty of drama, and already new names are stepping up to fill roles while the stars are away.
Chicago, Portland remain unbeaten
I’ll put my hand up: The Red Stars are exceeding my preseason expectations (it’s still early, though). Goals from rookies Sofia Huerta (two) and Cara Walls this week lifted Chicago past a sub-par Boston team, which tempers some of the excitement about the result. But thus far, coach Rory Dames has his team firing on all cylinders atop the table with a game in hand on second-place FC Kansas City. Portland, meanwhile, remains Portland: Unbeaten and world-beaters for stretches, but plagued by lapses that are costing the Thorns points. They’ve now conceded two goals in the opening 15 minutes in each of their last two games, and on Sunday that was a product of two terrible giveaways by Rachel Van Hollebeke and Emily Menges. Mana Shim and Allie Long remain on fire, so if the Thorns can sort things out defensively, Portland will be tough to beat.
Excitement at Yurcak Field
In the end, the Reign can only blame themselves for not finishing their chances in a wasteful and controversial 1-1 draw against Sky Blue FC on Saturday in New Jersey. Reign coach Laura Harvey said as much. And we’ve already explored in depth those wild final 15 minutes that saw Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock sent off in stoppage time, when Nadia Nadim converted the equalizing PK for Sky Blue. Concerning for Sky Blue is how much Nadim has been bottled up by opposing defenses, and her teammates haven’t yet helped enough. The striker is often left out on an island up top, struggling to find layoff options even when she gets the ball.
“I’ve been told to stay high to try to create more space for our midfielders, which is fine. That is my job,” she said Saturday. “I need to try to make it bigger. But yeah, sometimes frustrating when we don’t have the ball and we are changing from side-to-side. It’s a part of the game; it’s a process. That’s how you become a better player.”
Sky Blue will need to give Nadim some support to start finding the back of the net; they’ve scored four goals in five games.
Western New York Flash at FC Kansas City (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET)
Chicago Red Stars at Houston Dash (Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Thorns FC at Boston Breakers (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)
Sky Blue FC at Washington Spirit (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
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