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NWSL preseason roundup: Clubs close out 2018 preseason with highs, lows

It’s the final weekend of the 2018 NWSL preseason and, as a result, the majority of the league’s clubs once again took the the field for some last-minute preseason competition. The Utah Royals closed out their inaugural preseason with a commanding win over College Cup runners-up UCLA on Friday, while Saturday saw four NWSL clubs face off in some friendly head-to-head competition. Sky Blue closed out their busy preseason with a match against St. John’s University on Sunday afternoon.

Here’s a quick rundown of all of this weekend’s preseason action so far.

Utah Royals FC 4, UCLA 1

The Utah Royals closed out a six-day road trip to California with a rousing 4-1 win over UCLA on Friday. Brittany Ratcliffe, Diana Matheson, Maegan Kelly and Erika Tymrak all contributed singles for the Royals, while Gunnhildur Jonsdottir tallied multiple assists. Delanie Sheehan scored for the Bruins.

Ratcliffe opened up the Royals’ scoring account in the 10th minute after Jonsdottir’s ball deflected off the foot of a Bruin and landed where Ratcliffe was, allowing her to fire off a shot to the far post that beat the UCLA goalkeeper.

Ratcliffe then helped the Royals get on the board again in the 27th minute when she drew a foul inside the box, resulting in a penalty kick for the pros. Canadian international Diana Matheson converted the spot kick to put Utah up, 2-0.

Just seven minutes after entering the game, second-half sub Kelly put away the Royals’ third goal following a shot from Lo’eau LaBonta that the keeper managed to save, only to have the rebound knocked home by Kelly.

The Bruins worked their way onto the board in 81st minute through Sheehan, who received a corner kick before sending a low shot into the side netting to prevent the shut out. However, there was more than enough time remaining on the clock for the Royals to score one more, with Tymrak’s 88th-minute shot deflecting off the woodwork and going in for the final goal of the night.

The Royals open their inaugural NWSL season in Orlando, where they take on the Pride on Saturday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Chicago Red Stars 0, U.S. U-23 WNT 1

Catarina Macario (13) scored her fourth goal of the Thorns Spring Invitational to give the U.S. U-23s the win over the Chicago Red Stars. (photo copyright Richard Farley)

The Chicago Red Stars closed out the 2018 Thorns Spring Invitational with a disappointing 1-0 loss to the U.S. U-23 women’s national team Saturday afternoon. The result was their only loss of the preseason tournament, seeing them finish with a 2-1-0 record.

Stanford freshman Catarina Macario once again scored for the U-23s after being fouled inside the area by Danielle Colaprico. Macario stepped to the spot and placed her kick just inside the left post and out of the reach of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who guessed correctly but was unable to make the save. The goal was Macario’s fourth of the preseason invitational.

Of little consolation to the Red Stars is that they were hardly at full strength. Internationals Julie Ertz and Casey Short are nursing injuries sustained while on national team duty, while Vanessa DiBernardo and Yuki Nagasato picked up injuries during the preseason tournament. Sam Kerr also picked up a slight knock during the Red Stars’ win over Houston but not seriously, as she entered today’s match in the 64th minute.

The Red Stars will once again face the Houston Dash in their regular season opener. That match will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston on Sunday, March 25 at 5 p.m. ET.

North Carolina Courage 3, Washington Spirit 0

Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe watches as a Courage shot sails past her for a goal. (photo by Lewis Gettier)

The North Carolina Courage wrapped up their second NWSL preseason with a 3-0 win over the Washington Spirit in front of 6,235 fans at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday night. Abby Erceg, Jessica McDonald, and Kristen Hamilton all got on the scoreboard, while Sabrina D’Angelo and Katelyn Rowland shared the clean sheet for the NWSL Shield holders.

The first Courage goal came in the 12th minute when Abby Dahlkemper’s corner kick found set piece target Erceg, whose header beat goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, making her debut in net for the Spirit tonight.

McDonald then doubled the Courage’s lead just over 10 minutes later when she, too, scored off a header. Crystal Dunn, in her second appearance with the Courage, went end line before sending a lofted ball over for McDonald, who out-jumped the competition and blasted a header into the back of the net.

The final goal of the match was scored in the 84th minute when Lynn Williams played a cross to Hamilton. Hamilton got her foot on the ball to beat Bledsoe for the goal.

The Courage open the regular season at home against the Portland Thorns for the first Lifetime Game of the Week of the 2018 season on Saturday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Spirit take to the road for their season opener, visiting the Seattle Reign FC on Saturday, March 24. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.

Portland Thorns FC 0, Houston Dash 0

The Portland Thorns FC and Houston Dash battled to a scoreless draw in the finale of the 2018 Thorns Spring Invitational. The hosts finished their third annual preseason tournament with a 0-1-2 record, while the Dash finished with a 1-1-1 record.

A change in defensive tactics helped the Dash hold off the Thorns attack during the match. Houston Head Coach Vera Pauw started the game with a five-back consisting of Rachel Daly, Amber Brooks, Janine Van Wyk, Kristie Mewis and Lindsay Agnew, and that defensive stronghold held the Thorns to just one shot in the first half.

On the other side of the field, Portland’s defense—Kelli Hubly, Emily Sonnett, Katherine Reynolds, and Meghan Klingenberg—lived up to its reputation as one of the best defenses in the league, preventing the Dash from getting off a shot for the duration of the opening 45.

The Portland attack, led by midfielder Lindsey Horan, came out of halftime looking to break through the Houston defense and nearly did on multiple occasions in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. In the 48th minute, Christine Sinclair laid off a ball for Horan near the top of the box, and Horan’s resulting shot from distance forced Dash netminder Jane Campbell to make the save. Horan struck again just three minutes later with a curling shot towards the top left corner, but Campbell easily made another stop to deny Horan and the Thorns.

Campbell wasn’t the only keeper tested during the match when, in the 71st minute, Dash newcomer Thembi Kgatlana dribbled down the right flank and into the box before firing off a close-range shot near the right post. Franch was quick on her feet and able to parry the dangerous shot away to preserve the clean sheet.

The Portland Thorns open the 2018 regular season on the road against the North Carolina Courage for a rematch of the 2017 NWSL Championship. That Lifetime Game of the Week will be played on Saturday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Dash open their 2018 regular season on Sunday, March 25, hosting the Chicago Red Stars at 5 p.m. ET.

Sky Blue 6, St. John’s University 0

Janine Beckie scored a brace in Sky Blue’s 6-0 win over St. John’s. (photo copyright Jeffrey Auger, courtesy of Sky Blue FC)

Sky Blue FC ended their 2018 preseason competition schedule on the highest of notes, defeating St. John’s University, 6-0, on Saturday afternoon. Janine Beckie scored a brace, while Raquel Rodriguez, Adriana Leon, Shea Groom and Savannah McCaskill all contributed singles.

Sky Blue got on the board first when Carli Lloyd made a run towards goal before playing a diagonal ball for Janine Beckie. Beckie blasted a long-range shot right into the top left corner and out of the reach of the St. John’s keeper.

Rodriguez then found her way onto the board in the 34th minute after a series of Sky Blue shots saw Katie Johnson denied by the woodwork and the keeper make two kick saves to deny first Groom and then Rodriguez before Rodriguez was able to knock the rebound in for the final goal of the first half.

It wasn’t long after the start of the second half that Beckie completed her brace, scoring off a close-range shot in the 46th minute. Second-half sub Savannah McCaskill immediately let her presence be felt on the field, playing a low cross in front of the goal which Adriana Leon, who also entered during the second half, buried. McCaskill then followed with a goal of her own to put the pros up, 5-0.

Groom closed out scoring on the day after the St. John’s keeper parried away a shot by Leon, but the deflection flew high and was headed home by Groom, who came crashing into the box to finish the chance.

Sky Blue will now await the start of their regular season as they don’t take the field until Week 2 when they travel to North Carolina to take on the Courage on Saturday, March 31.

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