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NWSL Results: Courage complete 9-point week; Gotham, Racing, Dash & Spirit, earn big wins

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

For the first time in four years, the National Women’s Soccer League had five games scheduled on the same day on Saturday.

Houston Dash 2, Orlando Pride 1

The Skinny: In front of their home fans, the Houston Dash handed Orlando their first loss of the season, and earned themselves a big three points. Orlando had been unbeaten in seven matches up until this point because of their organized team defense, but in this, their third match in a week, they looked tired and disjointed. The defensive effort and team defending, that has them still top of the table, was missing in the first half in particular. Orlando were unorganized, lacking in communication, while Houston controlled possession. Houston’s top performers were their midfield. One was Kristie Mewis, fresh off being named to the U.S. Olympic roster, the older Mewis had terrific off the ball movement to open up spaces for herself and others, also sending in some good crosses, one of which resulted in the first goal. Sophie Schmidt was another one of those midfielders who controlled the tempo and even provided the assist on the go-ahead goal with a beautiful little chip in behind (which I strongly recommend watching the video of).

Orlando came out of the break a little stronger and managed to pull one back, but they still struggled to create clear cut chances. The Pride’s goal came off a fantastic corner kick by Marta, which Gunny Jónsdóttir gave the slightest flick to, to find the back of the net. Jane Campbell couldn’t even make a play on it because she had backed herself all the way into her own goal. But chances in open play were hard to come by as they often opted for long balls that were easily cut out. Even though their possession was a little higher up the pitch than in the first half, Houston still controlled more of the ball and their two first half goals were enough to secure the win.

One Key Moment: In what is possibly María Sánchez’s last appearance for the Dash in her very short loan term, she scored a crucial goal. The player on loan from Tigres in Liga MX Feminil has looked dangerous since joining the Texas side but this is her first goal to count. If this short term loan was like a trial run for her, this goal should make Houston give her a long term offer. It was a terrific run and contact to connect with the cross and even though Ashlyn Harris made the initial save, Sánchez was the quickest to react and sent the rebound into the far corner where Harris had absolutely no chance. It was intelligent play and a kind of relentless offensive drive that Houston, or any team for that matter, need in their forwards.

Inside the Game: The main difference between the teams in this match were their midfield players. Houston’s midfield trio of Schmidt, Mewis, and Gabby Seiler, had a very strong game. They held possession for their team while preventing the Orlando midfield from playing centrally and forcing the Pride defense to have most of their possession. Gabby Seiler in particular was named player of the match for her part in setting play and disrupting Orlando. The Pride were missing Taylor Kornieck due to injury and her ball winning in the middle, as well as her link play with the forwards, looked a contributing factor to Orlando’s struggles. The visitor’s trio for the match was Chelsee Washington and Meggie Dougherty Howard alongside Jónsdóttir. They could not find space to operate, let alone connect with their forwards, and it limited their offensive production.

The Goals:

  1. Houston Dash — María Sánchez, 18’
  2. Houston Dash — Veronica Latsko (Sophie Schmidt), 26’
  3. Orlando Pride — Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir (Marta), 49’

— Bella Munson

Washington Spirit 2, Kansas City 1

The Skinny: Kansas City opened the scoring in just the 3rd minute on Saturday night. Jéssica Silva beat her defender at the end line, and found Amy Rodriguez waiting in front of goal. Rodriguez’s first time shot sailed past Washington keeper Aubrey Bledsoe.

But Washington sprung to life late to deny Kansas City three points. In the 78th minute, Andi Sullivan sent in a beautiful long ball towards KC’s box. Trinity Rodman – with defenders on both of her shoulders –  brought the ball down well, and found Ashley Sanchez. Sanchez’s first touch got her around Kansas’ defenders, and she finished with a world-class, outside of the foot shot. 

And the Spirit didn’t stop there. Five minutes past the 90 minute mark, Rodman notched a goal of her own, a left footed strike that would not be denied, earning Washington the win.

One Key Moment: Just as it looked like KC would hold onto a point, Rodman had other ideas. Deep in stoppage time, the early season standout received a pass from Tori Huster, cut around Kansas’ Rachel Corsie, and finished past Nicole Barnhart, who just minutes earlier replaced an injured Abby Smith. In particular, the cut to create separation from Corsie deserves a second, third, and fourth look:

Inside the Game: Super Saturday in the NWSL finished off with a bang – if you’re a Washington Spirit fan that is. Although they looked dull through the first hour and had trouble putting together much in the final third, the Spirit somehow created something out of nothing late. Both finishes from Sanchez and Rodman were world class. As for Kansas, a quick start and consistent pressure throughout the match should have seen them through to their first win of the year. But opportunities for insurance goals were squandered, and it looked as though KC – who played three games in a week – ran out of steam. In particular, getting dispossessed in central midfield just prior to the stoppage time goal is a crushing way to end a difficult week.

Washington now sit in fourth place with 12 points, while Kansas City occupies the bottom spot in the standings, with just two points.

The Goals: 

  1. Kansas City — Amy Rodriguez (Jéssica Silva), 3’
  2. Washington Spirit — Ashley Sanchez (Trinity Rodman), 78’
  3. Washington Spirit — Trinity Rodman (Tori Huster), 90’ + 5’

— Emily Dulhanty

North Carolina Courage 2, Portland Thorns 0

The Skinny: Lynn Williams scored a brace for the second time in four days to lift the North Carolina Courage past the Portland Thorns, 2-0, and the Courage leapfrogged Portland to move into second place. Williams scored both goals with her head, just nine minutes apart, in the second half. She scored her first goal in the 57th minute by nodding home a corner kick from Carson Pickett, then finished a header at the back post in open play, on a cross from Pickett.

Williams also scored twice in North Carolina’s 2-0 victory over Racing Louisville on Wednesday. With the victory, the Courage completed a nine-point week. After the match, Riley noted how rare a nine-point week is, wondering aloud if he had ever experienced that before.

The Thorns were most notably without Lindsey Horan, who was listed on the injury report with an excused absence. Other United States internationals across the league had their minutes managed this weekend.

One Key Moment: Williams’ second goal had a little bit of everything that the Courage have been looking for, with Debinha sparking the play with Sam Mewis, who played Pickett into the wide channel on the overlap. The combination of playing inside and back out before the cross was vintage Courage.

Inside the Game: Portland set the tone early and kept North Carolina pinned back for the opening 15 minutes, with Natalia Kuikka’s knuckling shot being the highlight of that pressure (Casey Murphy handled it just fine). Simone Charley and Christine Sinclair were driving forces for Portland.

Debinha was active in creating opportunities, as usual, and was prominently found drifting to North Carolina’s left side, to go after Kuikka. There, she combined with Pickett on the overlapping run and with either of Williams or McDonald.

The teams each took 16 shots, an indication that the Thorns were not overrun, but they also never really felt like they were in this game in the second half. There was the half-chance created primarily from Denise O’Sullivan’s uncharacteristic turnover, but Portland put just three shots on goal.

The Goals:

  1. NC Courage — Lynn Williams, 57’
  2. NC Courage — Lynn Williams (Carson Pickett), 66’

— Jeff Kassouf

NJ/NY Gotham FC 3, OL Reign 0

The Skinny: In the too many names derby, Reign were favorites coming in with their star studded lineup of talented internationals but Gotham shut them down and scored three very similar goals. Each team’s statistics were pretty similar but as the game went on Gotham, the visitors, were clearly stronger. The Reign pushed a lot of numbers forward but they were unable to hold the ball when they did. Their passing was sloppy and communication was not sufficient to create any real attack. They registered lots of shots but they were either right at Kailen Sheridan or just off target, not requiring much out of the Canadian keeper. Meanwhile, Gotham were strong defensively, getting numbers behind the ball and defending as a team. They continue to be one of the best teams in the league defensively and they were intelligent in their counterattacking, a very effective combination. Their individual defending was also strong, as they won balls back and continued to calmly play it around.

One Key Moment: Ifeoma Onumonu often comes on as a sub but today she started and scored the go ahead goal. The ball was won in midfield and sent forward by Midge Purce, who also had a terrific game. Onumonu got on the end of it and there was only one defender anywhere near her, but not able to make any real challenge. Sarah Bouhaddi was too far outside of her box and was easily rounded for Onumonu to finish on an empty net. Bouhaddi’s decision making has been extensively questioned so far, and in this case it certainly was an error, and affected her game moving forward. The next two goals came on almost identical chances. Because of this earlier mistake, Bouhaddi seemed nervous to come out and made the finishes by Gotham a little too easy by not aggressively contesting or forcing a shot one way.

Inside the Game: OL were strong in the first half but a majority of their possession was with their young backline who were forced to push forward and try to set play. Gotham’s starting midfield of Allie Long, Jennifer Cudjoe, and McCall Zerboni shut down the crucial play of Reign’s midfield, not allowing them time or space for clean progressive passing. Head coach Farid Benstiti seemed to be going for a front four with just Quinn and Shirley Cruz as the defensive midfielders, but the lines were isolated from one another. When those defensive players were forced to push higher and look for offensive opportunities, it left them particularly vulnerable in-behind on the counterattack and Gotham took full advantage of that for the three goals. Also important was where they won the ball, as it was often in the middle third with a high press. With Reign’s numbers committed forward, Gotham were able to use pace to get onto the pinpoint balls in behind.

The Goals:

  1. Gotham FC — Ifeoma Onumonu (Midge Purce), 38’
  2. Gotham FC — Midge Purce (Nahomi Kawasumi), 60’
  3. Gotham FC — Domi Richardson (Evelyne Viens), 85’

Bella Munson

Racing Louisville 3, Chicago Red Stars 0

The Skinny: After a lengthy kickoff delay due to stormy weather, visiting Racing Louisville earned a 3-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday afternoon. Despite being under early pressure, Racing weathered two dangerous chances from the Red Stars around the 30 minute mark, and struck first in the 38th minute against the run of play. Ebony Salmon, in her first start for Louisville, calmly slotted a cross from CeCe Kizer past Alyssa Naeher for the opener. The Red Stars came out of the halftime break strong, but seemed to lose all attacking momentum after Danielle Colaprico was sent off in the 55th minute for a second yellow card. Louisville doubled their lead just a minute later, when a deflected clearance from Tierna Davison fell to Yuki Nagasato, who finished off the rebound. Racing’s Savannah McCaskill added a third in the 62nd minute, another tap in at the back post. Both Nagasato and McCaskill are former Red Stars, having been picked in last November’s NWSL Expansion Draft. 

One Key Moment: This match’s key moment goes to Salmon for Louisville’s opener. It was a beautifully simple goal, the type that might not make a highlight reel but was executed well. Down the wing, Lauren Milliet slipped a ball to Kizer, who needed just one touch to send it across the box. Salmon arrived at the penalty spot with great timing, and placed her one-timed shot past Naeher.

Inside the Game: A downpour during parts of the match and a very soggy pitch made this one tough, as both sets of players were slipping and sliding throughout. For Racing, the additions of Brits Gemma Bonner and Salmon were on display, as Bonner held things down in central defense, and Salmon impressed in her first NWSL start. Salmon in particular, who excelled at Bristol City, seems to be adjusting quite well to a Louisville side that often employs a similar direct style of play. As for the Red Stars, you’d have to feel frustrated as a fan over Colaprico conceding a much deserved red card, especially when her team was trailing by just a goal at the time she was sent off. Chicago, despite creating a plethora of chances, continue to struggle putting the ball in the net, and have recorded just five goals in eight regular season matches this year.

The Goals: 

  1. Racing Louisville — Ebony Salmon (CeCe Kizer), 38’
  2. Racing Louisville — Yuki Nagasato, 56’
  3. Racing Louisville — Savannah McCaskill, 62’

— Emily Dulhanty


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