The season has only just begun, yet we’re on the cusp of the first international break. However, the Brazilian and Argentine players are already gone, leaving some teams even more shorthanded than they were last week. While Seattle gets a break, we get our first look at Denise Reddy’s Sky Blue. Here are the biggest storylines in NWSL Week 2.
Will Houston maintain their organization?
Utah Royals FC (0-0-1) at Houston Dash (0-0-1)
Friday, 8:00 p.m., BBVA Compass Stadium
All-time series: First meeting
No matter what you expected from Vera Pauw’s first game in Houston, it likely wasn’t what you got – a fairly organized side who looked the better team for much of the 90 minutes, even if they turned it off in stoppage time and dropped points for it. That said, it’s a young, inexperienced squad who didn’t face a huge challenge from a lackluster Red Stars side. Consistency has yet to be proven, and this time they’re facing a team full of international veterans who, at least in Week 1, looked more cohesive than they probably should have.
Dash injuries: OUT – Kyah Simon; EXA – Thembi Kgatlana
Royals injuries: OUT – Alex Arlitt, Mandy Laddish, Kelley O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez, Elise Thorsnes; INT – Katrina Gorry
Key here will be the flanks. Rachel Daly and Kristie Mewis showed terrific discipline in their home opener, aggressively tearing up the field when it was on but reading the game well and dropping back as needed. If the Royals can bait these two natural attackers into disrupting their defensive shape and then take advantage with the speed and creativity of Diana Matheson and Gunny Jonsdottir, the Dash could be in trouble, although they get somewhat of a reprieve without having to face Elise Thorsnes or Kelley O’Hara.
How will Sky Blue’s defense hold up?
Sky Blue FC (0-0-0) at North Carolina Courage (1-0-0)
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. EDT, Sahlen’s Stadium
All-time series: Courage/Flash lead, 8-4-2 (plus 1-0-0 playoffs)
Everyone is focused on how Sky Blue will cope without Sam Kerr, but I think the bigger question is how Denise Reddy fixes the defense. They were by far the worst defense in the league last year with or without O’Hara and Christie Pearce, both of whom are gone now, and Kerr’s record-setting scoring streak was rewarded with a 6th place finish. A veteran presence in Rebekah Stott, a healthy Erica Skroski, and a few rookies with promise could help, but on paper it’s unclear if that’s enough.
Sky Blue injuries: OUT — Amandine Pierre-Louis, Domi Richardson, Erin Simon, Madison Tiernan; EXA — Raquel Rodriguez; INT — Thaisa Moreno
Courage injuries: OUT — Elizabeth Eddy, Yuri Kawamura, Julie King, Samantha Mewis
They’ll be thrown into the fire from the get-go facing North Carolina. Crystal Dunn was one of the weekend’s best in a dynamic game where she showed off her creativity despite less than favorable weather conditions. The Courage have a strong counterattack led by the league’s most athletic players, and even if their shot efficiency isn’t the greatest, they’re sure to challenge Sky Blue’s retooled backline all game long.
Can Orlando score without Marta?
Washington Spirit (0-1-0) at Orlando Pride (0-0-1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EDT, Maryland SoccerPlex (Lifetime)
All-time series: Spirit lead, 2-1-2
Marta’s arrival, and her subsequent chemistry with a very in-form Alex Morgan, unlocked Orlando’s attack last year, propelling them into the playoffs with the most potent offense in the league. However, Marta is now in camp with Brazil for the Copa America, so the Pride have to figure out how to score without her on the field for the first time since 2016. They’ll want more from Sydney Leroux, who could have done better with her chances in their home opener, and perhaps more minutes for Rachel Hill, who went on a scoring streak during her time in Australia’s W-League, could provide another outlet.
Pride injuries: QUE — Alex Morgan; INT — Alanna Kennedy, Marta, Monica, Poliana, Emily van Egmond
Spirit injuries: OUT — Rose Lavelle, Arielle Ship; QUE — Cali Farquharson; INT — Estafania Banini, Yanara Aedo
Fortunately for the Pride, they’re facing what was probably the worst defense last weekend. Leroux’s notable pace could wreak havoc on the acres of space left between Taylor Smith and Whitney Church, and Caprice Dydasco needs to have a better game for Washington as well. New arrival Rebecca Quinn should be a significant boost, and figuring out how to get around her will be primary for Orlando to throw everything they have at former Pride keeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
Where will the goals come from?
Portland Thorns FC (0-1-0) at Chicago Red Stars (0-0-1)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EDT, Toyota Park
All-time series: Thorns lead, 7-1-6
It’s no secret that both teams are missing a big chunk of regular starters, whether due to injury or international duties. However, nearly every team is missing someone from their XI. It’s time for depth to play a role, and last week, neither team stepped up to provide offense. For the Thorns, Lindsey Horan did well running the midfield, but Christine Sinclair, in a withdrawn role, didn’t get enough help to threaten Sabrina D’Angelo in goal. While kudos go to both D’Angelo and Abby Erceg for their role in stifling the Thorns at every turn, those turns simply weren’t enough, and players like Mallory Weber and Tyler Lussi have to pick up the slack if Portland wants to notch points before May. It will also help if Meghan Klingenberg can provide her normal pinpoint service from the wing, which she did not in North Carolina, thwarted by Merritt Mathias.
Thorns injuries: OUT — Tobin Heath, Emily Menges, Meg Morris; INT — Andressinha, Hayley Raso
Red Stars injuries: OUT — Vanessa DiBernardo, Julie Ertz, Steph McCaffrey, Yuki Nagasato, Casey Short, Rosie White; INT — Sam Kerr
On Chicago’s part, the failure to threaten Houston (last minute snatch of a point off a corner kick notwithstanding) was just as much a shortcoming of the veterans as it was the bench. Sofia Huerta and Arin Gilliland were all but invisible on the pitch, and with the former in with the USWNT and the latter tearing up the W-League in the offseason, it’s unacceptable. These are the players who need to take the game in hand without Julie Ertz or Casey Short. Stephanie McCaffrey was a late scratch due to illness, and will miss this one too so Chicago needs to find some way to unlock an offense that didn’t give Jane Campbell much to do until they caught her flat-footed in stoppage time. Danielle Colaprico would also do well to make sure her midfield is more protective of the ball than they were in Houston, where they had the majority of the possession but didn’t do much with it.
HOT … OR NOT?
Megan Rapinoe: Easily the best player of the weekend – voted as such by the NWSL Media Association – Rapinoe ran rampant over Washington and could have added another goal or two to her tally if it hadn’t been for a few shanked shots.
The Matheson-O’Hara connection: With so many new faces, Utah would have been forgiven for a lack of chemistry, but that was not the story on their right flank, where the pair hooked up on several nice attacks, and Matheson, in her first NWSL game in over a year, picked up the assist on Utah’s lone goal.
Rachel Daly: Daly hasn’t consistently played as a fullback since her youth years, but she looked like she picked up where she left off in a game where she was the best player on the pitch.
Referee Danielle Chesky: The questionable handball call on Becky Sauerbrunn, and the bizarre yellow card afterward, were only the most egregious errors on a night of bad calls.
Portland’s offense: The Thorns put up only three shots (one on target) in North Carolina.
Taylor Smith: Smith looked the furthest thing from USWNT regular and was completely unable to keep Rapinoe in check.
Bye week: Seattle Reign FC
Note: players with season-ending injuries/maternity leaves not listed each week; QUE=questionable; INT=absence due to international duty; EXA=absence excused by team not for injury or international duty
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