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NWSL Week 19: Portland returns to top of the table, Angel City extends unbeaten streak

Portland Thorns FC forward Morgan Weaver (22) celebrates scoring a goal during the first half against OL Reign at Providence Park.
Photo Copyright Troy Wayrynen for USA TODAY Sports

There are still only 11 points separating the top and the bottom of the table, but the Week 19 action really made the lower half of the field much more dense. The gap from the cutline to the bottom of the table went from seven points down to five points. Again, the same top six teams remain above the playoff line, but now the separation between the fifth and sixth place positions to the 12th is much closer.

New Coach Bounce Back

The Houston Dash named assistant coach Sarah Lowden as interim head coach two days after announcing the firing of former head coach Sam Laity. Oftentimes, teams with recent coach changes have seen a positive outcome in the following game and the Dash seemed to experience that boost this weekend. They were able to scrap together a win but remain in 10th place, four points back from the current playoff cutline.

Racing Louisville did not look like the team that beat both Portland and the Reign last week as they fell to Houston at home. The team didn’t look cohesive, and post-game defender Abby Erceg didn’t hold anything back, “when you’re pushing for a playoff spot and you put in a performance like that, you’re just not going to make it.” With three games left in the regular season, Racing dropped from seventh to ninth but is still only two points below the playoff cutline.

Impactful home debut for Esther

Esther González made her home debut for Gotham last night and what a debut it was. The 2023 World Cup winner scored two goals in five minutes to give Gotham the win. González joins Sophia Smith as just the second player since 2015 to score a brace in one of their first two league appearances. The win lifted Gotham from fifth in the table up to third and put them firmly into a position to fight for a semifinal bye position in the table.

The Spirit’s downward trend has continued and they now have not won a match in their last seven regular season matches. There were long stretches in their match against Gotham that went without a shot, including one period of 39 minutes in the second half. They ended the match with only two shots on target. Washington remains above the playoff line with the loss, but they won’t be able to stay there if things are turned around in week 20.

San Diego can’t recover after disastrous start

Kansas City took the lead within minutes of the match against San Diego with an absolute banger from Debinha outside of the box. Of their five shots, only two were on target. However, both of them found netting and gave the Current the three points. Lauren made her Kansas City debut as Claire Lavogez continues to build her minutes coming back post-ACL. The win bumped Kansas City from twelfth up to 11th, and they’ll need to maximize points from the remainder of their matches to have a chance at a playoff berth.

San Diego had chances to even the score up, but getting down by two early was just too much of a challenge to overcome. Rookie Sierra Enge was able to get one back, but the finishing wasn’t there for the Wave and they just weren’t able to get that equalizer. There were a few close calls that might’ve led to penalty kicks for San Diego, but they ended with the call on the pitch standing after lengthy VAR reviews. Had one or more of those gone the Wave’s way, they might’ve grabbed some points at home. With the loss, San Diego lost its spot at the top of the table and looking into Week 20 they now sit in second, just two points back.

Portland atop the table

Coming off a loss to Louisville that allowed San Diego to leapfrog them into first place, the Thorns came out in the Cascadia clash firing on all cylinders. With two goals off set pieces in the first half, they were able to take home the three points in front of a sellout crowd of 25,000 in Providence Park and reclaim the top of the table. Morgan Weaver scored her 10th goal of the season across all competitions, and her seventh of the regular season, tying her for fourth in the Golden Boot race.

The Reign attack looked really disconnected in the match, and their momentum is going the wrong way for the end of the season as they’ve lost four of their last five regular season matches. The team was unable to challenge Portland’s Bella Bixby in goal with their chances, but even more, they were struggling to connect on a lot of the crosses in order to create more chances in the box. It was likely also Megan Rapinoe‘s last match in Providence Park, and when she was subbed out the University of Portland alumni was met with a standing ovation from the sellout Portland crowd.

The Reign dropped down to fifth in the standings with the loss, after the match head coach Laura Harvey recognized if things don’t change, “this season is going to end the way we don’t want it to.”

Exciting Sunday in Chicago

Angel City has been going Full Tweed Ahead, now having not lost in the last 11 matches–ever since interim head coach Becki Tweed took over in mid-June. They entered the match with a chance to move above the playoff line with a win. Starting off a little slow, the LA-based team jumped on the board in the first half and continued to look dangerous but was being denied by a strong showing in goal by Alyssa Naeher. Only two minutes after Chicago equalized, Angel City was able to come back and score their second but had no answer for Chicago’s second equalizer. With the tie Angel City still remains in eighth place in the standings just one point below the current sixth-place team.

The Red Stars’ new owner Laura Ricketts was on the pitch giving the players high-fives ahead of her first home match as the team owner, there were just under 9,000 fans in attendance, the second largest standalone attendance in team history. Chicago came out on their front foot for the first 35 minutes of the match, but once Angel City settled in, they got caught back in their own final third defending a lot. Alyssa Naeher was busy between the sticks with seven saves on the night. Less than two minutes after a four-player line substitution change, Ava Cook equalized. Cook’s three goals on the season have all come during games against Angel City. After Angel City’s response goal, Cheyna Matthews willed herself to once again equalize. Only gaining one point in the draw, Chicago actually dropped from 11th to 12th in the standings.

Courage can’t handle the Orlando heat

Ally Watt scored the fastest goal in Orlando Pride history on Sunday when she found the back of the net after just 39 seconds. The lead was doubled in the 32nd minute by Adriana and that would be enough for the win for the Pride to get the three points and launch themselves from ninth up into seventh and just one point below the playoff line.

After a first half that saw North Carolina go down by two, and only have one shot on goal, Manaka Matsukubo‘s goal in the 52nd minute made it feel like the Courage just might get back into the game to get at least a draw from the matchup. In the 78th minute, Malia Berkely was the last defender and took down Adriana on a breakaway, and received a red card for the foul. Down a player, the Courage just were not able to swing momentum back their way to get a point on the road. With the loss, drop a place in the standings down to fourth but still remain two points above the current playoff cutline.

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