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NWSL Saturday: Debinha blast gives Courage season opening win

The 2018 NWSL season is officially here, and all but Sky Blue FC take to the field in the first weekend of the league’s sixth season. The new season kicks off with a rematch of the 2017 NWSL Championship between the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns FC, this time held in North Carolina. Then the league’s newest team, Utah Royals FC, play their inaugural match on the road in Orlando, followed by the Seattle Reign hosting the Washington Spirit to close out Saturday’s action. Week 1 concludes on Sunday as the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars face off in Houston. Here’s a quick recap of all of this weekend’s action as it happens.

North Carolina Courage 1, Portland Thorns o

Debinha’s blistering shot in the 70th minute beat Adrianna Franch for the first goal of the NWSL season and the only goal on opening day at Sahlen’s Stadium. It gave the North Carolina Courage a 1-0 win over the Portland Thorns in a rematch of the 2017 NWSL Championship, won by the Thorns. The scoreline—and goal scorer—were the same as opening day in North Carolina a year ago.

The goal came as a result of some quick buildup that began with a quasi-goal kick for Sabrina D’Angelo from just inside her box. D’Angelo rolled it right to Abby Dahlkemper who switched it Jaelene Hinkle and then ahead to Denise O’Sullivan. There was enough space ahead of O’Sullivan that she was able to catch up to one heavy touch. Lindsey Horan then came over to challenge the ball, but O’Sullivan was able to find an open Debinha who stepped into one from about 19 yards out for the goal and the win.

The match featured the NWSL debut of Darian Jenkins who the Courage drafted in the 1st round (7th) in the 2017 draft. Jenkins was injured at the time and missed the entire 2017 recovering. She replaced Jess McDonald in the 67th minute on Saturday.

The Courage (1-0-0, 3 pts) will be home again in a week’s time to face Sky Blue FC. The Thorns (0-1-0, 0 pts), who dropped their opening game for the first time in six NWSL seasons, are in Chicago next Saturday.

1. Courage — Debinha 1 (O’Sullivan), 70

-Dan Lauletta

Orlando Pride 1, Utah Royals FC 1

Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir scored the first goal in Utah Royals FC history in just the third minute of Saturday’s contest against the Orlando Pride, but a converted penalty kick by Marta in the 21st minute brought the scoreline back level, where it remained for the rest of the match. 

Following two consecutive and ineffective Orlando corner kicks, the Royals gained possession and quickly struck with their first ever attempt on goal. Diana Matheson, back on the field after missing the 2017 season with the Seattle Reign following an ACL tear, served a cross in from the far side of the field for Jónsdóttir, which the Icelandic international one-timed past Pride netminder Ashlyn Harris to give the Royals the early lead. 

Marta brought the game back even in the 21st minute via penalty following a controversial play in which Royals center back Becky Sauerbrunn was cautioned for a handball in the box despite the ball deflecting off of her face instead of her arm. Despite Sauerbrunn’s protests, the call stood, and Marta stepped to the spot for the penalty attempt. Marta shot right and Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith guessed correctly, but the shot was out of her reach and Orlando scored.

Of concern to many during the match was the number of knocks to the head suffered by players on both teams throughout the match. Alex Morgan left the field at the end of the first half after a head-to-head collision with Smith on a 50/50 ball and was sidelined for the rest of the match because of concussion protocol. The Royals’ Elise Thorsnes and the Pride’s Chioma Ubogagu (who entered in Morgan’s place at the start of the second half) and Rachel Hill all also were left shaken up after suffering knocks to the head during the contest.

The Royals (0-0-1, 1 point) next travel to Houston, where they’ll open Week 2 on Friday against the Dash, while the Pride (0-0-1, 1 point) hit the road to take on the Washington Spirit on Saturday.

1. Royals —  Jónsdóttir (Matheson), 3
2. Pride — Marta (penalty), 21

-Allison Lee

Seattle Reign 2, Washington Spirit 1

Megan Rapinoe had nearly free rein on the pitch at Memorial Stadium, and she made the Spirit pay for it. In just the 7th minute, she took a direct free kick just on top of the box and aimed for the near upper 90. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe managed to get a hand on it and push it into the post, but it deflected inside for the opening goal.

The Reign almost doubled their lead in the 22nd minute when Rumi Utsugi sent it past Bledsoe, but Andi Sullivan was there to clear it off the line. However, in the 35th minute, Jodie Taylor did just that, scoring in her Reign debut. Utsugi intercepted a poor first touch from Taylor Smith and passed it forward to Rapinoe, who laid it off with one touch to a wide open Taylor, bypassing Whitney Church. Estelle Johnson was the only defender in the area and wasn’t able to close Taylor down in time. Bledsoe was quick off her line and did all she could to cut down Taylor’s angle, but the English striker got past her.

The Reign continued to dominate the first half but took their foot off the gas in the second, allowing Washington to see the ball more often. In the 68th minute, the Spirit played the ball down their left flank before passing to the middle of the field. Estefania Banini lost the ball as she entered the box, but second half substitute Joanna Lohman, marking her first game back 11 months after she tore her ACL in last season’s opener, took possession, spun away from a trio of defenders, and launched a shot. Goalkeeper Michelle Betos lunged and pushed the ball wide, but it pinged off the post and crossed the line before anyone could recover.

The Reign (1-0-0, 3 pts) have a bye next week and resume play on April 15 when they travel to New Jersey to face Sky Blue. The Spirit (0-1-0, 0 pts) host the Orlando Pride in Washington’s home opener on Saturday.

1. Reign —  Rapinoe (unassisted), 7
2. Reign — Taylor (Rapinoe), 35
3. Spirit — Lohman (Banini), 68

– Chelsey Bush

Check back at The Equalizer as we continue updating you on all of the NWSL’s Week 1 action.


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