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NWSL Nuggets: Matchday One

© Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The opening weekend of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season did not disappoint. There were lots of goals, VAR made a splash and we’ve got NWSL soccer again!

Angel City FC 1, NJ/NY Gotham FC 2

Lynn Williams is back! And the trio of Williams, Midge Purce and Yazmeen Ryan bodes well for Gotham. There is plenty to be said about how VAR affected the outcome of this match, and if you want more on that, give Jeff Kassouf’s column a read. But for Gotham fans, this goal is something to get excited about. Last year Gotham scored the fewest goals of any team and finished dead last with 17 losses and only 16 goals scored. Acquiring a proven goalscorer of Lynn Williams’ quality was a major part of their offseason plan to increase offensive production. Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu needed more support last year, so Gotham also invested in the future with a long-term deal for Yazmeen Ryan.

The game-winning goal was a product of this trio. Ryan won possession in midfield, fed the ball to Purce who drove straight at the defense with Ryan and Williams flanking her. Purce wound up to take the shot, but instead sent it off to Williams for the one-touch finish. Williams was playing in a rigid splint after hurting her arm, saying after the match that she knew something was wrong, but kept on playing. There’s been no official word yet on the nature of that injury, and Williams is scheduled for an x-ray. Gotham fans will be hoping that all is well, as this trio is a nightmare for defenders.

Washington Spirit 1, OL Reign 0

OL Reign still struggle to find the back of the net, but Trinity Rodman doesn’t have that problem. While both teams had the same number of shots on target, only Washington made their’s count. Rodman’s strike from outside the box was brilliant, taking advantage of the space afforded to her by the Reign defenders that appeared worried to get beat on the dribble.

OL Reign sent in 25 crosses and not a single one resulted in a goal. But the Reign produced a number of moments where players were just a step behind from finishing a ball right across the goal mouth. Expected goal models showed that the Reign should’ve scored at least two goals, but nothing found the back of the net. Laura Harvey said the match was like deja vu, they faced the same problem last season.

Forward Jordyn Huitema admitted after the game that there were chances she should’ve finished and didn’t. Midfielder Rose Lavelle used the word ‘frustrating’ several times to describe the match’s outcome. After the match, Harvey, Huitema, and Rose all acknowledged that the team worked on that being clinical in front of goal in preseason, with the added motivation from their semifinal loss, so to start the season not being able to execute was, once again, frustrating.

San Diego Wave 3, Chicago Red Stars 2

The home team won this game with an 89th minute penalty kick, calmly converted by Alex Morgan, and so earned all three points in front of a massive crowd at SnapDragon Stadium. But you can’t count Chicago out, as they are still a talented team that can do a lot of damage.

This season’s biggest returns for the Red Stars are center back Tierna Davidson and outside back Casey Krueger from an ACL tear and maternity leave respectively. Unfortunately Krueger was substituted out 13 minutes from kickoff after a head collision. Obviously with their defense conceding three goals it wasn’t exactly a stellar defensive performance, but give this defensive group time to work together and they’ve got the talent.

Offensively, Mallory Swanson is still a goal-scoring and creating machine. Perhaps under looked however, is Yuki Nagasato. It’s a curious situation as the Red Stars are playing Nagasato as holding midfielder rather than as a traditional ten or generally in the attack where she has spent most of her long and storied career. Head coach Chris Petrucelli said Nagasato volunteered for the role after seeing the team’s need.

Nagasato scored the opening goal and it’s worth remembering that she scored eight NWSL goals in 2019. This was the prime era of the Sam Kerr–Nagasato connection when the Japanese international also provided nine total assists, among tons of playmaking that doesn’t appear in those stats. Kerr and Swanson are different players but the world-class talent of Nagasato and Swanson has the potential to be similarly lucrative for the Red Stars.

For more on San Diego’s tactics:

Portland Thorns FC 4, Orlando Pride 0

Portland are still Portland. Orlando are still Orlando. The scoreline does a lot of the talking on this one for Portland.

For Orlando, Marta is back and Messiah Bright joining through the draft is great news but it didn’t translate on the field. The overall team defense was unorganized and ineffective. There are high hopes for the third overall 2023 Draft pick Emily Madril, but the defense, all relatively young and inexperienced, struggled. The attackers didn’t fair much better as they struggled to keep possession whenever they advanced the ball.

Houston Dash 0, Racing Louisville 0

Racing Louisville are exciting?? The expansion club have been working on a bit of a rebuild since their first season in the league ended but this year they are starting to look like a competitive club. NWSL’s all-time assist leader Jess McDonald was a major addition last year but she now has more offensive targets to work with. Namely Uchenna Kanu, the high volume goal scorer arrived from Liga MX Femenil’s Tigres. Kanu didn’t find the back of the net on her debut but the chances were there.

Midfield additions Ary Borges and Shuang Wang brought creativity to the attack. Defensive debutant additions Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett helped lock down defense and Pickett’s crossing ability contributed to the attack too. It seems like they’ve made good moves and they have creative offensive players that could make their attack fun to watch.

North Carolina Courage 1, Kansas City Current 0

This game was always going to be a tough one for last year’s Championship runner-ups as they were without six very talented players players, including offseason free agent signings Morgan Guatrat, Vanessa DiBernardo and Debinha.

The game-winning goal, as well as the first goal of the 2023 NWSL season, came in the 23rd minute from Mille Gejl. The Courage announced in January that they had signed the Danish international to a two-year contract and were excited about her goal-scoring ability. At only 23 years old she arguably is nowhere near her ceiling but if where she is at on the very first day of the season is scoring absolute bangers, that bodes well for North Carolina.

For a more in depth look into what we learned about the new-look Courage, check out Arrianna Cascone’s analysis.

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