Sunday evening in the National Women’s Soccer League featured four matches, including a highly anticipated Cascadia derby.
OL Reign 2, Portland Thorns 1
The Skinny: OL Reign defeated the Portland Thorns 2-1 on Sunday in front of a historic crowd in their first ever appearance at Lumen Field. The 27,248 fans was a league record (the game was a doubleheader with MLS’ Seattle-Portland clash; the Thorns hold the standalone NWSL attendance record).
Both teams showcased their Olympians to start the match and Portland spent the first 10 minutes looking the slightly better side. It didn’t take long after that for the Reign to draw on the energy from the fans and start taking charge. Portland has a heavy majority of the possession throughout the match but it didn’t matter. The first goal came 15 minutes in, after a forced turnover in the midfield got to Jess Fishlock who threaded a great ball in behind for Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe had a lot of space and not a lot of defenders in front of her, she cut it back and finished clinically. Rapinoe would double her tally, and the lead, nearing halftime as Eugenie Le Sommer forced a handball in the box. And if there is one thing Rapinoe is great at, its converting PKs, which she did with ease.
As the last action of the first half, the Thorns pulled one back on a sweet strike from Angela Salem. OL Reign did not clear the ball well enough off the Portland free kick and it dropped perfectly for Salem.
The second half didn’t see any goals, but both teams were still working hard. Portland made several changes and continued to find spaces in the final third but the home side’s backline had a great match. Bolstered by the presence of Quinn in the six position, and veteran Lauren Barnes at center back, the defense played smart, particularly denying Sophia Smith space in behind she so often finds. Thorns had quite a few chances on target, but they weren’t good enough to cause much trouble for Sarah Bouhaddi. The Reign also continued to create chances, good ones that maybe should’ve been put away, but couldn’t find another. The Reign eventually made subs, with ten minutes left Rapinoe left the field to a standing ovation. OL Reign’s victory ended the Thorns’ eight-match unbeaten streak. Portland was playing on short rest after winning the International Champions Cup on Saturday.
One Key Moment: Rapinoe’s opener was a really great goal, and an important one. This started to shift the momentum in favor of the Reign and seriously fired up the record crowd. As soon as they saw this goal, they got excited and the cheering just kept getting louder.
Inside the Game: The Reign debuted some important tactical shifts in this game. Most notably, Sofia Huerta at outside back, a position she previously attempted to play for the United States, under Jill Ellis. She played incredibly well defensively and provided attacking threat throughout the match. Lauren Barnes appeared in her usual center back position, as opposed to outside back where she has played much of this season. Her leadership and intelligence was crucial to the Reign holding on for the win. But more than just the back line, who will not get enough credit for their performance in this match, the entire squad defended as a unit. Whether it was the hype of the occasion or general mentality, every single player was committed to preventing shots from getting anywhere near Bouhaddi, generally preventing the shot from being taken in the first place.
- OL Reign — Megan Rapinoe (Jess Fishlock), 16′
- OL Reign — Megan Rapinoe, 40′
- Portland Thorns — Angela Salem, 45’+2′
— Bella Munson
Orlando Pride 1, NJ/NY Gotham FC 0
The Skinny: Erika Tymrak’s goal stood as the only of the match as the Orlando Pride picked up three important points on the road in the playoff race. Gotham is now winless in six straight and losers of three straight as the Freya Coombe era comes to an end. Sunday was Coombe’s final match in charge as she exits her post as head coach to take the same position for 2022 expansion team Angel City FC.
One Key Moment: Tymrak’s goal proved to be the difference, and while it might look like a schross at first glance, she checks Gotham goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan’s position with her final look before striking a looping shot to the back post.
Inside the Game: Gotham’s success this season has been built on stingy defense — often outperforming their expected goals against — and winning tight games despite less than stellar offensive production. There has been some regression to the mean in August, during this six-game winless streak, but Gotham had opportunities on Sunday.
Carli Lloyd forced Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris into a sprawling save less than a minute into the match, and Harris came up big again from point-blank range in the second half to deny an equalizer by Lloyd, who was active throughout the evening at the No. 9 role. That second-half save by Harris on Lloyd was Harris’ 469th in NWSL career history, making her the league’s leader in saves.
Orlando is now 2-1-2 under interim head coach Becky Burleigh, steadying a ship which had wobbled in the final games of the Marc Skinner era. The Pride leapfrogged Gotham to move into playoff positioning and leave Gotham in seventh, below the red line.
- Orlando Pride — Erika Tymrak (Sydney Leroux), 49’
— Jeff Kassouf
Houston Dash 1, Racing Louisville 0
The Skinny: Courtesy of a Rachel Daly goal, the Houston Dash defeated Racing Louisville 1-0 at home on Sunday night. After a slow first half, both teams seemed to shake off their mid-season tournament hangovers for a more lively second 45. But it was Houston that got the winner in the 49th minute through a beautiful sequence. Shea Groom found Nichelle Prince on the edge of Louisville’s area, and Prince played a beautiful pass through the defender’s legs to Daly. Virtually unmarked in the box, Daly made no mistake with her one-timed finish that beat Louisville keeper Michelle Betos.
One Key Moment: Though the entire sequence of the Dash goal was highlight-reel worthy, tonight’s key moment has to go to a missed penalty kick call in the first half. Inside the first ten minutes, a scramble in the Houston penalty area saw a Louisville shot hit Dash defender Katie Naughton in the arm. However, the referee did not call for a penalty kick. The missed call certainly could have changed the outcome of this one for the visitors.
Inside the Game: Coming off of the Women’s International Champions Cup and The Women’s Cup (and another mid-week game for Louisville), both teams were slow to start on Sunday night. And while the missed PK call would have given Louisville the lead, they contributed little else throughout the match to their attack. Meanwhile, after a similarly dull start, Houston came out flying in the second half. After their goal, the Dash pressure continued, as they were able to find all sorts of space around Racing’s box. Players like Prince and Kristie Mewis got more active as the match progressed, with Prince in particular taking on Louisville defenders 1v1 on a number of occasions – a welcome sight for Dash fans.
With the win, Houston sit in 8th place with 21 points – though the middle of the table couldn’t be more crowded, as just four points separate them from OL Reign in third. Racing Louisville are in 9th with 16 points.
- Houston Dash — Rachel Daly (Nichelle Prince), 49’
— Emily Dulhanty
Washington Spirit 0, North Carolina Courage 0
The Skinny: On Sunday evening at Audi Field, the Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage played to a scoreless draw. Though the first half was an even affair, the second half was where all the action happened. The best chance of the match for the Spirit came in the 59th minute when Trinity Rodman made a fantastic run, beating Carson Pickett down the wing before crossing to Ashley Sanchez, whose shot was saved by Courage keeper Casey Murphy.
But at the other end, the Courage began to find their rhythm after the hour mark and kept Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe busy. Mayhem in front of goal in the 70th minute almost put the Courage ahead, but the Spirit defenders were able to clear the ball from in front of goal when Debinha got in behind Bledsoe. Then just minutes later, a fantastic ball from Debinha to Jessica McDonald gave the Courage their best chance of the match, but Bledsoe was up to the task.
One Key Moment: The moment of the match came in the 76th minute with Blesdoe’s game-saving stop on McDonald. Debinha’s ball forward beat Kelley O’Hara, and McDonald ran onto it and was in alone against Bledsoe. But the Spirit keeper timed her challenge perfectly, made herself big, and her outstretched arms got a touch on McDonald’s shot to deny a goal.
Inside the Game: Sunday’s draw featured enough quality chances for both sides that they will both be disappointed to walk away with just a point each. While the Spirit had more of the first half chances and Sanchez’s dangerous second half shot, the Courage finished off the match as the more dangerous side, with Debinha and McDonald pushing for a winner late. With the draw, the Courage remain in second place in the standings, while the Spirit sit in fifth.
Off the field, the last few days brought significant personnel news for North Carolina. On Thursday, the Courage announced that Sam Mewis will be out for six to eight weeks as she recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. And just hours before the match, a trade that sent Abby Dahlkemper from North Carolina to Houston was announced. In return, the Courage received $25,000 in allocation money and performance-based bonuses. Dahlkemper played for the Courage for five NWSL seasons before playing for Manchester City in the FAWSL in early 2021.
— Emily Dulhanty
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