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NWSL Week 18: Table Mayhem and red cards aplenty

Photo Copyright EM Dash for USA TODAY Sports

After the week 18 matches, the top six teams remain in the top six, the middle three remain in the middle, and the bottom three are still at the bottom, but as far as the actual places, every team except Houston in 10th has moved in one direction or the other after this week’s matches.

For only the second time this season, more than one game on the weekend had a red card. Oddly enough, three of the teams involved in those games were also involved the last time it happened in week 13.

Angel City’s undefeated streak hits 10

In a 1-0 win, Angel City beat Kansas City on the road Friday night. The night marked the Current’s Claire Lavogez‘s return from the SEI list after tearing her ACL in playoffs last season. Additionally, Kansas City’s Stine Ballisager Pedersen came in at the half to make her NWSL debut, and Amandine Henry made her Angel City debut.

With the win, Angel City moved up with now 24 points and into seventh place due to goal differential but would end the weekend in eighth after the Racing and Reign wins. Kansas City’s road to the playoffs appears insurmountable as they now sit at the bottom of the table.

Injury-ridden Louisville beats Portland at home

The Louisville midfield was looking kind of thin Saturday, with Savannah DeMelo out for yellow card accumulation. Jaelin Howell, Nadia Nadim, Jordan Baggett, and Carson Pickett were also out against top-of-the-table Portland. Racing started out on the front foot in the beginning but struggled to find anything but the framework. Morgan Weaver‘s press got Portland an early lead on a Katie Lund mistake but the Louisville press continued to be dangerous. In the second half, Racing was able to score two goals in a matter of minutes, both on set pieces to take the 2-1 lead. Louisville held onto the win, boosting them temporarily into sixth place until Reign leapfrogged them with their win.

With the game-tying goal, Abby Erceg seemed to salute the players in the stands. It turned out that before the match Erceg received a “winning piece of gum” from Jordan Baggett and had promised to salute her if she ended up scoring.

All the goals North Carolina and Gotham tie

What was expected to be a defensive showdown instead turned into an offensive showcase as Gotham came back from a 2-0 deficit to eventually tie the Courage 3-3 on the night. The Courage continued to prove just how dangerous they are in transition, and how explosive Kerolin could be, as the forward scored one and assisted the two other Courage goals on the night. Brazilian 2023 World Cup winner Esther Gonzalez made her NWSL debut with Gotham FC in the 65th minute shortly after Gotham clawed their first back. Gotham showed their grit, and even after the Courage went back up 3-1 just minutes after Gotham’s first goal, they continued to fight to the final whistle.

Also, ICYMI, on Friday Gotham announced that captain McCall Zerboni was undergoing surgery on her ACL which was injured in their August 19th match against San Diego and was being added to the SEI list. Additionally, the North Carolina match marked the end of forward Katie Stengel‘s short-term loan to Gotham from Liverpool.

There was a scary moment on the night when Gotham’s Kristen Edmonds took the brunt of a head-to-head collision and ended up needing to be stretchered off the pitch and taken to the hospital for checkout. Since then, Edmonds did post on social media a picture of her smiling, saying she was back home and would be taking it easy for the next few days but “I’ll be back on the field in no time.”

As Gotham and the Courage split the points, both teams actually bumped down the table one place apiece. North Carolina now sits in third place overall, while Gotham dropped to fifth, regardless both teams remain above the playoff line at the end of week 18 play.

Chicago upsets Washington

Sometimes soccer really just comes down to taking advantage of the opportunities you have. At the end of the day, Chicago may have only had five shots and two on target, but both of the shots on target were goals and lifted them to the 2-0 win over Washington. The Spirit ended the match with a 2.86xG, 21 shots–8 of those on target–but no goals to show from it. Tierna Davidson returned to the Chicago starting XI coming back from her injury aiding the Red Stars top notch defense of their box. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had eight saves on the night while both centerbacks, Davidson and Arin Wright combined for almost half of the team’s clearances.

Chicago entered the match against the Spirit at the bottom of the table and after their win have moved up to 11th in the standings, and six points away from the playoff line. Washington shifted down into that final playoff position, still at 26 points. The Spirit now haven’t won a match in their last six regular season matches, a trend they will need to buck quickly to give themselves a chance for a postseason.

Early Orlando Red Card aids Reign in 1-0 win

In one of the faster red cards in NWSL play, Orlando goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse got sent off in the 3rd minute for taking down Bethany Balcer, leading to the Pride having a long match down a player against a home-Reign squad that needed a win to get back above the playoff line. Balcer did continue play, felt some continued pain and ended up subbing out early. Carly Nelson was quickly subbed in post-red and had six saves on the night but one quick mistake shortly into the second half led to a deflection sitting pretty for Jordyn Huitema to slot home. Marta was everywhere in the midfield disrupting the Reign attacks, and being a person down limited the Orlando shots to just four in the match.

The other surprising move by the Reign was Phallon Tullis Joyce, who had previously started 16 of the Reign’s 17 regular matches on the bench, while Claudia Dickey got the nod. After the match, head coach Laura Harvey spoke of the decision, “I’m not in a position to say this person is absolutely the number one right now, but I think we’re in a position where that gap has closed and Claudia we feel right now is in a position to take that mantle on.”

For the Reign, the win moved them up into fourth place in the standings, and they couldn’t have found a better time to break the three-match losing streak. Orlando dropped from seventh to ninth in the standings with the loss and other team’s wins.

San Diego takes the top of the table with a win against Houston

After Portland and North Carolina failed to win their games this weekend, San Diego had the chance to take the top of the table with a win at home against Houston. In the 33rd minute, Michelle Alozie brought down Jaedyn Shaw as the last defender and was sent off leaving Houston with 10 players for the final 60 minutes. The Houston defense did a phenomenal job bending but not breaking under the Wave’s relentless attack until Shaw finally slipped one past them in the 57th minute.

Brazilian Andressa Alves made her NWSL debut for the Dash when she subbed into the match in the 82nd minute. Houston’s Jane Campbell had nine saves on the night, and the defense really came together to keep San Diego from pulling away any further. When the final whistle blew, the Wave had 32 shots, 12 on target and a 3.83 xG with only one goal to show for it.

With Wave head coach Casey Stoney was serving her game suspension after her red card last weekend, and assistant Louis Hunt held down the fort and is now undefeated in his time as a head coach. The win pushed San Diego atop the table with 30 points while Houston is running out of time to get themselves out of their own eight-game regular season winless streak.


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