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Lauletta: Streaks live across NWSL Week 9

Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda receives a pass in front of a Seattle Reign defender.
Photo Copyright Steven Bisig for USA TODAY Sports

It is the year of the streak in the National Women’s Soccer League. On the individual front, Sam Staab started her 100th game in a row over the weekend and Kaleigh Kurtz is less than 45 minutes from breaking the consecutive minutes played streak.

And then there are the team streaks.

The Orlando Pride won in Seattle for the first time over the weekend and in doing so matched the Reign’s league-record win streak with their seventh straight. That mark may not last for long though. Two nights earlier the Thorns waited out a two-and-a-half hour weather delay before beating the Dash for their sixth straight. They can match that same league record this Friday when they travel to..wait for it…Orlando.

“I think that’s now seven wins on the run,” Pride coach Seb Hines said, playing down the record. “It’s really nice. It’s pleasing to see that everything is starting to come together but we have a lot of room to continue to improve.”

Hines, the only Pride coach with a .500 regular season record, was less concerned about the record and more concerned with trying to earn points on the road. The club had been 0-5-3 away to the Reign before Sunday. One of those losses was a season-ending shellacking in the final game of 2022 in which the Reign clinched the Shield.

“Going into this game we spoke to the players about how it felt two years ago to come in here and lose and Seattle winning the Shield,” Hines said. “Those memories stick in your mind. There were some players who were here and they felt (Sunday) was a great opportunity to come back here in Seattle and get three points. We used that as fuel.”

The Pride also set the franchise record by remainin unbeaten in 11 straight dating back to last season. They are unbeaten in 10 in 2024, matching the Kansas City Current. Only three teams before this year have opened an NWSL season with 10 or more games without a defeat. One streak that will end in 2024. Those three—the 2024 Reign, 2016 Thorns, and 2018 Courage—all won the Shield.

“I’m very happy where we’re sitting right now,” Current coach Vlatko Andonovski said after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Racing Louisville FC.  “I don’t know if I thought where are we going to be 10 games into the season but obviously as a team we’ve done very well.”

Despite extending the unbeaten run, Andonovski was unusually terse during his postgame availability. The Current took a 3-2 lead early in stoppage time before conceding 13 minutes in. The 4th official had put up eight minutes as the minimum and most everyone thought adding five more was excessive. There was also a controversial drop-ball awarded to Louisville and a potential second yellow card to Kayla Fischer that was not booked.

“During the planned eight minutes of stoppage time there were two goals, a substitution, and multiple injuries that extended the total amount of stoppage time,” referee Nabil Bensalah said in response to questioning by a pool reporter after the match.

The answer, inclusive of the second goal, does not fully explain why the match was still going at that point. Nevertheless, the Current allowed Savannah DeMelo to dribble into the box and get off the shot that made Louisville the first vising team to leave CPKC Stadium with points.

“We need to close out games better regardless of how long we’re told the stoppage is and how long over it goes,” Gabrielle Robinson, who hit the provisional winner until the DeMelo equalizer, said. “That’s our biggest key right now.”

Still the Current entered the season with a new coach and a slew of new signings following a disappointing 2023 that saw them finish one off the bottom. They also lost their best player, Debinha, to injury during the first match. Conceding a late goal is symptomatic of greater issues defending in Kansas City, but the start to the campaign should be viewed favorably.

“I’m very happy where we’re at,” Andonovski said.

The Thorns are a different story altogether. As highlighted here last week they opened the season 0-3-1 and alarm bells sounded throughout Portland. But since Rob Gale took over as interim coach, energy is up and the results are there. Before Gale, the best start to an NWSL coaching career was 3-0-0 for Juan Carlos Amoros with the 2022 Dash. Gale is now 6-0-0.

“I can just feel the chemistry getting better and better every game,” Reyna Reyes said.

Olivia Moultrie, who scored in Houston, added about the streak: “It’s been really great. I was talking about it earlier but just feeling so much freedom, especially in the attack, to just go where we see fit and kind of be ourselves. It’s been really great. The relationships keep getting better and better.”


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Spirit radio deal

The Washington Spirit launched a new radio partnership with ESPN 630 on Saturday with the first of 13 live broadcasts. The broadcast team is led by DMV native Bram Weinstein who hosts a show on the station and has been the radio voice of the Washington Commanders since 2020. He is joined by former NWSL player Gaby Vincent and longtime NWSL broadcaster and noted league historian Michael Minnich.

“I want people who tune in to feel like, if they can’t visually see the game, to still feel part of the game (and) understand the flow of the game,” Vincent told The Equalizer last week. “Who’s in possession, who’s having more opportunities at this time, who’s playing well, who needs to improve and why they need to improve. And just creating that accessibility for people to experience the game in different ways are my goals and what I’m most excited about.”

Vincent played one regular season match and appeared twice in the Challenge Cup for the Spirit after playing for the old Utah Royals and Kansas City Current. She took inspiration from watching her friend Darian Jenkins on television where she is currently a studio analyst for NWSL matches on ION. Having done a series of practice broadcasts ahead of Saturday’s debut, Vincent said the biggest adjustment is getting used to talking out loud while she watched the game.

“It’s at first uncomfortable to be talking for two-plus hours straight,” she said. “That’s going to take some practice for me, using my words carefully and delivering what I want to say in a succinct way that the listeners can understand what I’m trying to get across.”

Saturday’s inaugural live broadcast was not short on goals or excitement with a six-goal barrage in the first half to help get the team settled in.

“It was really special to be a part of that,” Minnich said. “To go from doing it with my own gear in the preseason with a folding table on an outer field to having a full operation with a headset on the field to interview players and full production, it’s just another sign of the growth of this league. The commitment on the team side has been amazing.”

Minnich was the original voice of the Spirit when the club launched with the NWSL in 2013 and matches were club-produced on YouTube. He has been part of every locally produced Spirit broadcast since then, something he called “extremely meaningful.”

As for Vincent, another one of her goals is to amplify the voices of queer black women inside and out of the NWSL.

“Something I am proud of as well is I am a Black, queer woman so to be that representation on a stage like ESPN radio really means a lot to me. I always want to amplify the voices of queer people in the league and especially Black queer people. I’m really proud that I get to represent them. Maybe somebody listening will resonate with me and that aspect of my personality and feel like that can also get involved in the game in a different way than they have known was possible before.”

All ESPN 630 broadcasts will be available live on washingtonspirit.com as well as on the station’s website and app.

Around the league

Dash 0, Thorns 2

The Dash dropped to 0-3-2 at home this season and to 31-46-29 all-time in regular season matches played at Shell Energy Stadium. By contrast, the Reign won 34 regular season matches across five seasons at Memorial Stadium and have 13 or more wins at two different home venues since the Dash joined as an expansion side in 2014. Friday will be a battle of immovable forces when the Dash host the Courage and their 0-5-0 away mark. If the Dash do not win it will mean a full calendar year will pass between regular season home wins. The last one came June 3 against Orlando. They did beat Louisville last July in a Challenge Cup match.

Bay 2, Wave 1

Bay FC played their most solid match of the season to rally from an early deficit to knock off the Shield winners and pick up their first intra-state points. The winning goa in the 87th minute appeared to go in off Racheal Kundinanji but at the moment, Opta, the official record-keepers of the NWSL, have it as an own goal off defender Hanna Lundqvist. The hosts may have caught a little luck on their equalizer. Wave defender Christen Westphal lost her footing when it looked like she may have been able to get in KiKi Pickett’s passing lane. Instead, it rolled to Scarlett Camberos and her shot found a space between defenders before Westphal was able to recover her position. Kyra Carusa scored for the Wave who slipped under .500 for the fourth time this season. They never finished a matchday south of .500 during their first two seasons.

Spirit 4, Angel City 2

Those who braved wet weather in Washington D.C. were treated to a first-half scoring barrage that saw the teams combine for a half-dozen goals over a 25-minute stretch. The Spirit collected four of them, two by Trinity Rodman plus one each from Casey Krueger and Oulmeymata Sarr. Sydney Leroux scored for Angel City when she headed in a perfect free kick from Claire Emslies and the other visiting goal came when Clarisee Le Bihan’s cross deflected in off the back foot of Spirit defender Annaig Butel.

Courage 1, Royals 0

The Courage thoroughly dominated the Royals from start to finish but struggled to find the back of the net, finally breaking through when central defender Kaleigh Kurtz sneaked into the attack and put home a second-half rebound. Before breaking through the Courage had been held off the scoresheet for 294 minutes which set a new club record.

Playing without midfielder Denise O’Sullivan the Courage shifted to a 3-back and were a bit more direct than usual and exploited the Royals on both flanks throughout the night. On the other side the Royals were never threatening and are now winless in 8 since their only win, against the Courage in Utah. The Courage are now 5-0-0 at home and 0-5-0 on the road.

Current 3, Louisville 3

Savannah DeMelo rescued the point for Racing in the 13th (!) minute of stoppage time after they went down early in added time. In a seesaw affair, Louisville trailed, led 1-0, trailed 2-1 and 3-2 and ultimately walked away with a point for their sixth draw from nine matches this season. Since 2023 Louisville are now 7-9-15. The draws are not reflecting well in the table where the club sits 10th. Racing Louisville have never qualified for the playoffs.

Emma Sears and Abby Erceg also scored for Louisville. Lo’eau LaBonta, Michelle Cooper, and Gabrielle Robinson tallied for the Current.

Gotham 2, Red Stars 1

Gotham finally broke the one-goal hex and earned the win for their troubles. Ella Stevens headed in Jenna Nighswonger’s 90th-minute corner kick to sink her former team at the death. Gotham had been held to 0 or 1 goals in their first eight matches plus the Challenge Cup. But it was the opener that left an impression after a Nighswonger cross was a bit heavy to the back post. Esther got to it though, and looped it back over her shoulders where Lynn Williams was waiting for the easy header. Williams’ 77th goal across all competitions made her the league’s all-time leader ahead of Sam Kerr.

Penelope Hocking scored for the Red Stars, making it three games in a row finding the back of the net.

Pride 3, Reign 2

The Pride’s record-tying win came at the expense of the Reign who set the initial mark a decade ago. This year’s Reign side is not a candidate to string together a long streak as continued defensive breakdowns and a lack of oomph up top has left them ahead of only the expansion Royals. Good as Barbra Banda is, there is no way she should ever be wide open in the spot she scored the goal from below.

Credit the Reign for fighting their way back in the match, but Bethany Balcer seeing a second yellow card for dissent is one of the more misguided send-offs in recent memory. She will miss Friday’s daunting trip to Washington. The Reign are already without forward Jordyn Huitema who has not played since March 29 due to a back injury.

Free kicks

  • Sam Staab started her league-record 100th consecutive match on Sunday. That encompasses every game her teams have played since the Washington Spirit drafted her fourth overall in 2019. She was traded to the Red Stars last offseason.
  • Kaleigh Kurtz played another 90 minutes for the Courage on Friday and has now played 6,442 in a row. She is now in range of Amber Brooks’ league record and will surpass her if she starts Friday in Houston and stays on the field into the 42nd minute.
  • Laura Harvey remains stuck on 99 career coaching wins and is now 0-2-1 since snatching the 99th against the Wave two weeks ago.
  • Michelle Cooper’s goal was a thing of beauty and was likely much needed for the second overall pick from the 2023 draft who has struggled in her first season plus in Kansas City. She made a terrific move to settle the ball against two defenders and hit a gorgeous shot to beat Katie Lund.
  • The Courage finally used someone beyond the 16 from whom Sean Nahas has been rotating all season. It was only during stoppage time but it was Meredith Speck who saw the field for the first time since June 24. She has been recovering from ACL surgery. It does seem like the Courage need to utilize the depths of their roster better to survive the season.
  • The Professional Referee Organization announced this week that the handball called against Sofia Huerta against the Thorns was in error, and there should not have been a penalty kick awarded. Sophia Smith converted the penalty to make it 2-0 in the 80th minute. The Thorns added two goals in stoppage time to win it 4-0. I’ll have more thoughts on VAR in this space in the coming weeks.
  • It feels like the Reign midfield needs to do a much better job of dropping back to help mark attackers in the box on opponent crosses.
  • How hard does Trinity Rodman work on defense? It is a special trait for a forward, especially one so young and her commitment to it looks to be upped this season.
  • Gisele Thompson finally got a start for Angel City making her and older sister Alyssa the first NWSL sisters to appear together as teammates in NWSL. Gisele’s first three appearances all came off the bench, all in place of Alyssa. And by “older” sister we mean that Alyssa is 19 to Gisele’s 18. They are 13 months apart.
  • A non-NWSL note about here about Marika Domanski-Lyfors. The Swedish coach was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in April and recently announced that surgery will not be an option and she will begin seeking out alternate treatments. Domanski-Lyfors coached Sweden at the 2003 World Cup where the team reached the final before losing to Germany. Four years later she was at the helm for China when they hosted the event. That team lost to Norway in the quarterfinals.
  • In happier non-NWSL news to close, the 2027 World Cup is heading to Brazil. The news was met with glee by Brazilian players across the league, but you can’t help but wish it could have come one cycle sooner to allow Marta the opportunity to play in a World Cup on home soil. The tournament’s all-time scoring leader and 2007 runner-up recently announced she will retire from international soccer following the Olympics.

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