NWSL: Here Come the Courage…

Ok, it might seem a bit disingenuous to put North Carolina in the headline given Orlando (aptly) were able to hold on to top spot during Pride Month, but three wins on the spin has Paul Riley’s side back in the hunt for another regular season Shield. And yet June hadn’t started well for them with a visit to Chicago ending in defeat after the Courage generated just one shot on target. They recovered their composure with victories over OL Reign and Racing Louisville, and then took ‘Super Saturday’ by storm, beating fierce rivals Portland 2-0 at the WakeMed Soccer Park. Orlando, meanwhile had kept their scoreboard moving with a couple of draws and a comeback victory over basement dwelling Kansas City. But the early pacesetters would end the month with several teams hard on their heels after Houston inflicted a first defeat on Marc Skinner’s squad during Week 6. The day job has been preventing D2B from writing more words than we’d ideally like recently but we couldn’t let June slip away without another NWSL update…

Week 4 – Jostling for Position…

Chicago Red Stars celebrate victory over the North Carolina Courage…

The first match of Week 4 pitted the Chicago Red Stars (pictured) against North Carolina Courage – a reprise of the 2019 Championship Final. The Courage had never beaten the Red Stars at the SeatGeek Stadium, and that particular curse was about to strike again.

The visitors managed just one shot on target in the 90 minutes as Chicago disrupted Coach Paul Riley’s desire to play out from the back with a very effective high press which generated a raft of mistakes by Courage players turning the ball over near their own goal.

Red Stars forward Kealia Watt had some good first half opportunities but couldn’t beat Casey Murphy, but the home side eventually got their noses in front in the 29th minute. Tierna Davidson’s corner from the right was met by Morgan Gautrat and although Murphy was just able to claw the midfielder’s looping header off the goal line, she could do nothing about Rachel Hill bundling the ball in from half a yard out.

Anyone tuning in for this match would surely have felt that the Courage couldn’t be as awful in the second period, but they gave it a good go. Mallory Pugh should have given the Red Stars a cushion but her tame shot was comfortable for Murphy.

At the other end Sam Mewis, Debinha and Lynn Williams all made all failed to hit the target. Eventually Red Stars keeper Alyssa Naeher was called into action, turning Williams’s header around the post from a Debinha cross, as the Brazilian started to make more of an impact.

In the 71st minute Red Stars midfielder Alyssa Mautz returned to NWSL action for the first time since 2019, following a series of knee problems. She replaced goal scorer Hill as Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames moved to a ‘let’s keep what we have’ strategy. It was a sound call.

The Courage laboured to create opportunities up to full time. Only Williams managed to get a decent sight of goal in the 89th minute. She put her header wide. A 1-0 win for the Red Stars enabled them to leapfrog North Carolina into sixth spot.

Positive club vibes as Alyssa Mautz returns from a long term injury

OL Reign were the visitors to the Red Bull Arena to take on NJ/NY Gotham FC with Allie Long lining up in midfield for the hosts against her former club.

As in their defeat to Washington the previous week Reign made a fast start but couldn’t put away their early chances. Stand-in Gotham keeper Didi Haracic got just enough on Megan Rapinoe’s 7th minute shot to push it on to the post. Leah Pruitt couldn’t convert the rebound.

The home side took the lead just six minutes later when Ifeoma Onumonu headed in Caprice Dydasco’s corner from the left.

Onumonu would continue to look dangerous in the first half and should have extended Gotham’s lead in the 15th minute when she was played in behind the Reign defence but couldn’t hit the target.

Either side of the break the powerful NJ/NY forward had further sights of goal. She put a 38th minute effort straight at keeper Ella Dederick and later disappointingly fired wide after Midge Purce had played her in.

Reign Head Coach Farid Benstiti was forced to make some tactical adjustments after talismanic midfielder Jess Fishlock was withdrawn at half time with an injury. Dani Weatherholt joined the fray and the Reign improved as the second half wore on.

Sofia Huerta volleyed over the bar from a Rapinoe corner and then Haracic denied Rose Lavelle after ‘Pinoe’ had played her into the penalty area.

The goalkeepers swapped fine saves with Dederick tipping over a Dydasco corner before Haracic somehow clawed Rose Lavelle’s audacious chip from 25-yards away to safety.

Substitute Bethany Balcer put one on a plate for Huerta right in front of the Gotham goal but the Reign forward miscued. A 1-0 win for Gotham emphasised how committed the group is to defending their clean sheet but this victory really owed as much to OL Reign failing to find their shooting boots. It won’t be the last time you hear this…

Portland Thorns ran out comfortable winners against a Racing Louisville side still finding its feet in the National Women’s Soccer League.

There was a nice symmetry about the match stats as Angela Salem, Racquel “Rocky” Rodriguez and Lindsey Horan all registered a goal and an assist each, but the lop-sided score line didn’t in any way reflect some outstanding work being done by Louisville keeper Michelle Betos.

Salem put the hosts ahead with a low deflected drive from the edge of the penalty area eight minutes in. The Thorns pushed on for a second with Crystal Dunn thumping a shot off the bar before Betos blocked Morgan Weaver’s attempt from the rebound.

Betos parried Simone Charley’s close range header and then a combination of keeper and goal post prevented Salem from getting her second.

Rodriguez – who had earlier been credited with an assist for essentially some really poor ball control – extended the Thorns lead just after half time. Louisville switched off at a throw-in and Horan had plenty of time to weigh up a low cross from the left that the Costa Rican dispatched with her first touch.

Betos remained in obstinate mood between the sticks denying Horan twice: the first an attempt on the half-volley; then a deft glancing header. But the Thorns playmaker got her goal in the 77th minute swirling in a cross from deep out on the left flank that no one got a touch on, before it snuck inside the back post. Final score Portland Thorns 3-0 Racing Louisville.

After a pedestrian start to their campaign the Houston Dash got their second successive victory with a 1-0 win at Kansas City, but they were made to toil for it in a match of few clear cut chances.

Katie Naughton timed her run perfectly to meet Kristie Mewis’s driven corner from the left, powering home the games only goal with eleven minutes left.

Washington Spirit finally got to host a home fixture with top of the table Orlando Pride visiting Audi Field.

The game began at a fair old lick in high temperatures moving end to end. Spirit midfielder Julia Roddar rattled the crossbar with an eighth minute shot from the edge of the penalty box. The Pride striker Alex Morgan robbed Andi Sullivan and drew a good save from Aubrey Bledsoe low to her left.

Not to be outdone Orlando stopper Ashlyn Harris pawed away Emily Sonnett’s close range header at full stretch.

Heading towards half time, Washington seemed to be wrestling control with a shot count of 11 to 2. Pride head Coach Marc Skinner had chosen to rest Sydney Leroux after a three-game week and the attacking link-up between Morgan and 6’1″ Taylor Kornieck wasn’t quite firing.

Just before the break Kelley O’Hara nutmegged Ali Riley and crossed to Trinity Rodman arriving at the far post, but the rookie put her header into the side netting.

It was a warning shot that Orlando didn’t heed and O’Hara provided another great delivery in the 64th minute for striker Ashley Hatch to nod in for the lead.

The Pride were level just three minutes later with a move so quick even the Twitch camera crew missed it. Marta intercepted Bledsoe’s throw out with a cushioned volley that found Kornieck. The forward rounded a defender just inside the penalty box and lashed past the keeper.

Washington made the best chances to seal the win. Centre back Sam Staab headed an out-swinging corner from the right over the bar; moments later Harris needed to be sharp to turn Dorian Bailey’s speculative 25-yarder away from danger. But 1-1 it stayed.

Expansion Franchise San Diego, joining the NWSL for the 2022 Season…

During the month of June it was announced that the 2022 NWSL would expand to 12 teams (not 11 as originally expected). An additional franchise in San Diego will join the league alongside already-established club Angel City FC.

NWSL expansion rights originally sat with a Sacramento bid, but part-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins Ron Burkle (who was spearheading the Sacramento project) pulled out and refocused his efforts on persuading the league to buy into an alternative team based at the 6,000-capacity Torero Stadium.

Burke’s Business Associate Matt Alvarez will lead the new franchise with former USWNT Manager and double World Cup winner Jill Ellis taking on the role of Club President.

Colours and branding will follow in due course, while former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney is hotly tipped to become the new Head Coach.

“We’ve always said that growth has to be done thoughtfully and deliberately. That’s exactly what we’ve done here. San Diego NWSL has all the hallmarks of a successful expansion club: a committed ownership group with the resources required to invest in the success of our league and our players, in a community full of soccer players and fans, in a region that has been underrepresented in our league. I can’t wait to watch it all come together.”

Lisa Baird, NWSL Commissioner, via givemesport.com (9 June 2021)

After Week Four there was a short international break, which the US Soccer Marketing department wasted no time in branding the ‘Summer Series’.

Ex-Manchester United forward Christen Press in action against Nigeria… [Photo: Getty Images]

The reigning world champions beat Portugal 1-0 in Houston courtesy of a Sam Mewis header. A few days later, at the same venue, they overcame Jamaica rather more easily by a 4-0 score line.

Carli Lloyd put the USA ahead inside sixty seconds and Lindsey Horan’s penalty doubled their advantage well before the game clock had hit double figures. Midge Purce added a third in the 22nd minute and Alex Morgan converted in second half stoppage time to complete the rout.

Nigeria proved to be a more stubborn opponent in Austin, Texas, but Christen Press gave USA the lead just before half time. Substitute Lynn Williams made it 2-0 at the end of the second period and that’s how it finished.

Week 5 – Quick-Start Salmon gets Louisville Racing

Gone in sixty seconds – that’s your clean sheet Houston, that is…

North Carolina kicked off Week 5 with a home fixture against OL Reign. Former Lyon goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi made her first start for the visitors following some high profile transfer dealing that had also seen Eugénie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Marozsán penning deals with the Tacoma club.

But it would be a debut to forget for the former French international stopper as the Courage exploited some ring-rustiness.

In a first half of few notable chances Jess McDonald would be disappointed to shoot wide in the 20th minute. But the Courage striker got her name on the box score as the clock ticked into the 45th minute, reading the flight of a Merritt Mathias right-wing cross far better than Bouhaddi and nodding into an empty net with the keeper still grasping at thin air.

Lynn Williams should have done better after the break, casually running through three defenders before firing past the left hand post.

And OL Reign nearly took advantage of this wastefulness when Bethany Balcer played Sofia Huerta in behind the North Carolina backline. Keeper Casey Murphy got her angles spot on to protect her team’s slim advantage.

Williams spurned another excellent opportunity, half volleying over the bar after Debinha’s fine run and cross.

But she would atone in the 77th minute when she provided the assist for Sam Mewis to knock in North Carolina’s second goal from close range – a slick give-and-go between the two players inside the 18-yard area.

Jess Fishlock did finally get OL Reign on the board in the 86th minute with the best goal of the match. The Welsh international seized on a loose touch from Denise O’Sullivan in midfield, weighed up her options with the Courage defence backing off and chipped Murphy from fully thirty yards.

It would prove to be a consolation only and North Carolina held on to win 2-1.

Washington Spirit went unbeaten for the fourth consecutive match earning a 1-1 draw at the Chicago Red Stars.

Red Stars winger Kealia Watt nearly put the hosts in front in the 20th minute but her finish didn’t match the pace and endeavour that generated the opportunity and Bledsoe made the save.

The Spirit laboured to make clear scoring chances but eventually realised that getting in behind the Red Stars’ high defensive line could be their pathway to success. Ashley Sanchez found herself in a 1 v 1 with USWNT keeper Alyssa on the hour mark but was denied by a fine reaction stop.

Both goals came in the final few minutes of the contest. Mallory Pugh had crashed a shot off the Spirit crossbar just moments before the visitors went ahead. Andi Sullivan hit a rainbow over the top of the Chicago back line for Trinity Rodman and the youngster demonstrated great composure before nutmegging Naeher from ten yards out – her first ever regular season goal.

Chicago’s Morgan Gautrat (left) tracks Washington’s Trinity Rodman…

Chicago equalised two minutes into stoppage time from the penalty spot after the referee adjudged that defender Sam Staab had handled the ball. Morgan Gautrat (Morgan Brian in ‘old money’) stepped up and coolly sent Bledsoe the wrong way.

It was a debut to remember for young English striker Ebony Salmon (pictured) as Racing Louisville looked to get back to winning ways versus Houston Dash.

Salmon signed for the new Franchise back in May from WSL club Bristol City as she looked to keep her career moving forward following a final day relegation.

Another crowd of nearly 6,000 spectators was in attendance at the Lynn Family Stadium to see if their side could get back on track after two defeats. And a second English player – ex-Manchester City centre back Gemma Bonner – would start alongside Nealy Martin in the heart of the Louisville defence.

Both keepers were called into action in the opening quarter. Houston’s Jane Campbell tipped over Lauren Milliet’s well struck effort from the edge of the ‘D’. A few minutes later Louisville’s Michelle Betos scrambled Shea Groom’s shot away low to her right.

Houston thought they had taken the lead in the 33rd minute from a Kristie Mewis corner. Groom’s header was pushed on to the cross bar by Betos, but Mexican international María Sánchez was on hand to head in the rebound – sadly from an offside position.

Louisville looked to ride this moment of luck into a goal scoring opportunity and one came along just before half time when Emina Ekic turned into space a few yards from goal. Campbell roared off her goal line to smother the ball before Ekic could make a good contact.

There was still time before the interval for Mewis to thread Sánchez in behind the home defence. This time Betos showed excellent anticipation to prevent her opponent from scoring.

Salmon came into the match as a substitute for Ce Ce Kizer in the 71st minute. By the 72nd minute she had her maiden NWSL goal. Savannah McCaskill burst through midfield and located the striker on the edge of the penalty box. She beat one defender with a drag back and then two more with a smart turn before rifling past Campbell from twelve yards.

The Dash upped their work rate to fashion a response. Substitute Jasmyne Spencer played Veronica Latsko into the penalty area but Betos snuffed out the first attempt before Racing eventually scrambled the ball away. Kristie Mewis would try her luck from distance in stoppage time but Betos made yet another stop, this time low to her left.

A 1-0 win for Louisville would take them above the Dash into 7th.

The close final score line between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City may suggest a dogged rear guard action from the visitors but the Thorns would have only had themselves to blame had this match ended level.

From minute one, when Lindsey Horan headed Christen Westphal’s cross wide, the Thorns made a raft of decent chances. Simone Charley and Christine Sinclair were both denied by keeper Abby Smith – Sinclair unusually getting it wrong from the penalty spot.

There was a touch of fortune about the way the hosts took the lead five minutes into first half injury time. Charley chased Crystal Dunn’s clipped ball over the defence but found Smith arriving to clear the danger. The ball landed and spun back off the turf just enough to wrong foot the keeper, allowing Charley to nip in and roll the ball into an empty net.

Portland substitute striker Sophia Smith was denied early in the second half and Sinclair had another distance effort parried as the home side looked to close out the result.

They weren’t able to do so and Kansas nearly got a bizarre equalizer on the hour when Kate Bowen’s cross from way out on the right wing touchline cannoned off the cross bar.

The Thorns had keeper Adi Franch to thank for sparing their strikers’ blushes in stoppage time, just about tipping over Taylor Leach’s powerful 25-yard drive. But 1-0 to the Thorns it finished.

That result meant that Orlando Pride needed a point or better to hold on to their lead at the top of the NWSL table. They squared up to the league’s stingiest defence in NJ/NY Gotham FC at Exploria Stadium.

Marta and Alex Morgan got first half sights of the Gotham goal but it was the visitors that went into half time with a lead. The Pride gave away possession cheaply in midfield and Gotham worked a quick counter through Évelyne Viens, So-Dam Lee and Ifeoma Onumonu. Caprice Dydasco offered an overlap down the right, which was duly accepted, and though the full back shaped to cross, the ball sailed past keeper Ashlyn Harris.

Orlando looked to make an instant reply with Taylor Kornieck drawing a good stop from Kailen Sheridan before the break.

The Gotham keeper was well placed to deny Sydney Leroux in the second period after Alex Morgan had played her strike partner in. And Lee should have cashed in on that stop by doubling the visitors advantage on 70 minutes when she found herself unmarked in the Pride penalty box. She hit her tame effort straight at Harris.

Marc Skinner’s side seem to be made of stronger materials this season and would grab that all important goal / equaliser / point in the final minute of normal time. The Pride won the ball in midfield releasing Marta who found Courtney Petersen haring down the left wing. The full back took a touch, shaped to cross for her onrushing teammates and thumped the ball over Sheridan into the far corner.

A 1-1 draw was probably the fair result, but Orlando left this one very late.

Week 5 (continued) – Midweek Mayhem…

Forward Bethany Balcer [centre with head band] enjoys the moment after scoring OL Reign’s second goal…

There were three matches played out following the full programme of weekend fixtures. OL Reign got the ball rolling, recording only their second win of the regular season when they beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 at Cheney Stadium.

Shirley Cruz volleyed the hosts into the lead just 51 seconds after kick off, after Reign worked the ball from left to right and Chicago failed to adequately clear Sofia Heurta’s cross.

Bethany Balcer struck the Red Stars’ post in the 17th minute following in on Alyssa Naeher’s half-saved shot. But less than a minute later Balcer arrived in the penalty box to meet Huerta’s cross from the right and her bullet header was simply too hot for the keeper.

The Red Stars registered just one shot on goal but keeper Sarah Bouhaddi denied Katie Johnson after she’d crept in behind the home side’s back line.

At the other end Reign looked to extend their lead. Eugénie Le Sommer and Jess Fishlock both had good sights of goal but found Naeher equal to their efforts.

The following evening Kansas City faced league leaders Orlando Pride at Legends Field with the home side still looking for their first win of the campaign.

Chelsee Washington’s header hit the Kansas frame early but the hosts found their way into the contest with Mariana Larroquette firing just over the bar from range. City defender Rachel Corsie kept her head in the penalty area after team mate Amy Rodriguez had caused chaos off a free-kick, but the Scottish international couldn’t beat Erin McLeod with a close range shot.

Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta then half volleyed over the cross bar as Kansas kept the pressure on.

They eventually took the lead in the eighth minute of first half stoppage time. Jessica Silva was first to Rodriguez’s corner delivery and the ball fell to Argentinian Larroquette, who made no mistake from a couple of yards out.

But Huw Williams’ side do seem to find ways of beating themselves. With three more minutes of injury time before the break Kansas just needed to hold out. They didn’t. Sydney Leroux was allowed to cut in from the left side of the penalty area and hit a fairly tame shot that clipped Corsie’s outstretched leg bobbled past Abby Smith.

And Leroux was at it again four minutes after the restart, speeding inside Taylor Leach for the second time before drilling her shot past Smith from 18-yards.

Tails up, Orlando pushed on for a killer third. Marta and Courtney Petersen went close, but in the 85th minute they got their reward for some good midfield hustle that saw Marta cruise into the Kansas half, take a glance as she left the centre circle and clip a 40-yarder over the now-scrambling keeper. A 3-1 win, unbeaten in seven – Orlando would have a three point cushion over Portland going into Week 6.

Enjoy – Marta at her phenomenal best…

The final midweek match paired Racing Louisville against North Carolina Courage. Paul Riley’s side had hit the new franchise for five in Week 3, and were also on the right side of a 3-2 victory during the pre-season Challenge Cup.

So, defensive resilience was going to be key if Louisville were going to come out of this with anything.

Keeper Michelle Betos certainly tried to do her part saving low to her right from Debinha in the 17th minute. Sadly for the hosts they wouldn’t hold out for much longer. Sam Mewis picked Savannah McCaskill’s pocket in midfield and swept the ball out to Lynn Williams on the left. Williams cruised inside her mark, considered her options and rifled the ball into the keeper’s top left corner. Less than half an hour had been played.

Six minutes later the Courage got their second. If the NWSL has a better crosser of the ball than Carson Pickett right now D2B can’t readily think of them. Pickett swung in a delivery from a short corner routine that was pleading for someone to power home at the back post. Williams duly obliged.

North Carolina continued to push after the break without adding to their lead. Former Reading midfielder Angharad James connected with a half volley from 20-yards that Betos push around the post at full stretch. Mewis hit the bar with a glancing header off a superb Pickett free kick.

Williams had a couple of opportunities to claim her hat-trick but Betos was not in the mood to give it to her on this occasion. The Courage won the match 2-0 moving them ominously into third spot in the league.

Week 6 – Super Saturday, it’s when they ALL play

Loan striker Maria Sanchez puts Houston ahead against league leaders Orlando…

Here, in the UK, we’re susceptible to the odd moment of inclement weather. Indeed, my own beloved AFC Wimbledon (men’s team) were once beaten in an EFL League One match against Fleetwood when the ball stopped dead in a puddle allowing the opposing striker to steal in and score the only goal of the match.

But Super Saturday’s opening match at the SeatGeek Stadium between the Chicago Red Stars and Racing Louisville took ‘inclement’ to a whole new level, with rain causing a two and a half hour delay to kick off.

In fact, the match ended up starting after the next scheduled game had already begun. By the end a ten-player Chicago may well have been wishing that the whole thing had never kicked off at all…

Savannah McCaskill intercepted a poor clearance from Red Stars’ keeper Alyssa Naeher in the 8th minute attempting a Marta-style lob from fully 35-yards. The US international stopper was switched on enough to push it onto the crossbar but acknowledged the attempt with a raised hand and a wry smile.

Vanessa Di Bernardo had two attempts in as many minutes to get Chicago on the board. The first, just after the half hour, came from a Mallory Pugh cut back which the midfielder connected with but hit it too straight and Betos was able to push it over the bar. The second was a nice strike from outside the penalty box which had the keeper beaten but crashed of the corner of the goal frame.

Racing Louisville got their noses in front in the 38th minute with the rain getting progressively heavier. They worked the ball down the right flank with Chicago failing to put any pressure on the move. Ce Ce Kizer had plenty of time to pick out Ebony Salmon near the penalty spot and the striker clipped the ball first time past Naeher in what appeared to be slow motion.

The goal-shy Red Stars looked to rally after the break. Pugh’s snap shot following a corner was dealt with by Betos fairly comfortably.

Any fire and brimstone that the hosts may have been building was promptly extinguished when the referee caught Danielle Colaprico pulling back Yuki Nagasato. A second yellow card effectively ended her afternoon and, it turned out, Chicago’s.

McCaskill drove the resultant free-kick into the penalty box, the defence failed to clear it and Nagasato, a Red Star herself up to last season, finished from close range.

Smiling assassins: Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato – sticking it to their former club…

Seven minutes later McCaskill – yep, also a former Red Star – made it three. From central midfield she played a smashing pass out to Lauren Milliet on the right wing and just kept running forward until Milliet’s deflected cross arrived in her path at the back post. A 3-0 win for Louisville propelling them above Chicago into 6th spot with 10 points already in the bag – overachievement some might argue at this point.

What should have come second, was completed first. OL Reign, fresh off the back of their first win in four, welcomed Gotham FC to Cheney Stadium. There were 38 attempts on goal in this match and, blimey, were OL Reign wasteful with their 21 share?..

Megan Rapinoe, of all people, set the tone flashing a 30th minute drive past the right hand post. She then missed a much easier one inside the penalty area from Jess Fishlock’s pass.

Gotham had shown no particular desire to get on the front foot, but when Midge Purce was the beneficiary of a deflection as hosts looked to play through the middle, she immediately put Ifeoma Onumonu into space behind the Reign backline, the striker rounding Sarah Bouhaddi and stroking into an unguarded net.

Eugénie Le Sommer picked up where Rapinoe left off, volleying past the same stoic and non-judgemental goal post a few minutes before the break.

Gotham Head Coach Freya Coombes may have instilled a bit more ambition in her troops at half time and they would see some decent chances come and go early in the second period, before Nahomi Kawasumi dropped a bomb over the Reign defence on the hour and Purce won the foot race with her marker, punching in her finish on the half volley.

If OL Reign were going to get back into it they needed to convert the next opportunity that come along. It fell to French international Le Sommer, three yards from goal, off Leah Pruitt’s cross – she didn’t quite make the connection she was looking for and Kailen Sheridan made the stop.

As the home side pushed more bodies forward they were becoming ever more susceptible to a Gotham counter. This would lead to the visitors third as Évelyne Viens broke lines to create a 3-on-2 attacking overload with Purce offering an option one side and substitute Domi Richardson the other. Viens plumped for Richardson and the 28-year old didn’t let her team down, slotting confidently past Bouhaddi, putting the cherry on the icing that was already covering the cake.

A 3-0 victory for fifth placed Gotham doubled their goal tally for the regular season to date and they’ve only conceded the two. Although one has to wonder whether they will be lucky enough to bump into another opponent as profligate as OL Reign were on the day.

Lynn Williams (9) celebrates her 2nd goal versus Portland while Jess McDonald lets Carson Pickett know what she thought of the assist…

The first meeting between perennial championship favourites North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns would be the centre-piece of Super Saturday, laced with some extra spice after US international Crystal Dunn had moved from former to latter over the off-season.

Thorns full back Natalia Kuikka wouldn’t have been the first name one would expect to get the first meaningful shot away but her rasping 3rd minute long ranger needed some careful attention from keeper Casey Murphy.

North Carolina were inevitably going to play their way into this one. Debinha released Lynn Williams down the left wing and she put an excellent low cross into the penalty area for Jess McDonald – who fluffed her lines, giving Adi Franch a comfortable gather.

Portland should have taken the lead three minutes before half time. Angela Salem’s driven corner from the right whisked into the perfect zone for Rocky Rodriguez, but the midfielder headed over the bar.

That kind of wastefulness was not in the Courage plan. Carson Pickett swung in a great delivery from that same corner flag and, although defender Meghan Klingenberg got the faintest of glances on it, Lynn Williams arrived at the back stick to power Paul Riley’s team into the lead.

Seven minutes later the hosts took the game away from Portland with their second goal. Denise O’Sullivan and Sam Mewis worked the ball down the left wing, Pickett offered a nice high overlap and sent in another pinpoint cross that Williams timed beautifully at the far post, making it four goals in four days for the striker. And 2-0 it remained until full time.

Four victories from their last five matches has the Courage tucked in between Orlando and Portland in second place. They will now be hoping that the depth of quality in their squad can see them through while some key players head off to the Tokyo Olympics.

Can the real Houston Dash please stand up? There’s been a slightly frustrating suggestion of under-achievement with James Clarkson’s talented squad since they secured the 2020 Challenge Cup.

On Super Saturday, however, they hosted NWSL pace-setters, the unconquered Orlando Pride, and promptly beat them – in a match that really typified how fruitless it is trying to predict results in this league.

The Dash opted for a fast start, looking to build an unassailable lead before Orlando could hit their stride. On loan striker María Sánchez (pictured) put them one-up in the 18th minute meeting Kristie Mewis’s left-wing cross with her knee, seeing Ashlyn Harris push the ball on to the post and then staying sharp to prod in the rebound.

A couple of minutes later Veronica Latsko nearly made it two. Again Mewis was the supply line from her spot out on the left but Latsko was blocked by a combination of defender and keeper.

It would be but a short reprieve for the Pride as the striker was on the box score by the 26th minute. Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt conjured up a sumtuous little chip that arced over the visiting back line, and Latsko timed her run perfectly to nod past the onrushing Harris.

There were most likely some frank half time conversations between Head Coach Marc Skinner and his players at the break and Orlando undoubtedly improved in the second period. When Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir glanced in Marta’s 49th minute corner at the front post the Pride would have fancied their chances to complete the comeback and get out of BBVA Stadium with a point or three.

However, there followed plenty of attacking bluster from both teams with no end product to significantly trouble either goalkeeper and the Dash held on to inflict the Pride’s first regular season loss. That said, Orlando still finished June on top of the table. Houston, meanwhile, are in seventh but can at least point to three wins in their last four fixtures. They have a lot of players heading to Japan in July, though.

Last, but by no means least, Kansas City would try and get that elusive first win in their new guise against the Washington Spirit a team that boasts two of the league’s most exciting young attacking players in Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman.

For most of this encounter Kansas were the better side and they forged ahead after just three minutes when Jessica Silva showed more tenacity than Spirit full-back Camryn Biegalski on the left by-line, cutting the ball back to Amy Rodriguez who lashed the ball into the roof of the net.

The visitors nearly gifted Kansas a second strike with some loose passing at the back. Rodriguez stole in to get a shot away but keeper Aubrey Bledsoe stood up well and saved with her feet.

Washington Head Coach Richie Burke looked to change things up at half time, subbing in midfielder Julia Roddar and forward Mariana Speckmaier.

But Kansas City continued to make the running. Silva’s corner from the left caused chaos in the Spirit ranks and Tegan McGrady was fortunately placed to clear a potential own goal off the line.

In amongst all the substitutions and tactical adjustments the Burke had shifted national team midfielder Andi Sullivan to right full back, which steadied the ship defensively but also gave her a new perspective from which to generate attacks.

It was from here she started the Spirit revival in the 78th minute, pinging a measured diagonal to Rodman on the left of the penalty box. The winger took the ball down between two opponents teeing up Sanchez, who feinted past a covering defender before thumping the ball into the corner off the outside of her right boot.

Now it was all to play for and Kansas would have to finish the match without injured keeper Abby Smith. Nicole Barnhart swapped in and Sanchez gave her an early test with a cheeky 20-yard chip that the keeper just about tipped over the cross bar.

Smith’s injury meant that nine minutes of stoppage time would need to be played. Kansas imploded in the fifth of these.

Ever watchful for a Kansas error playing out from the back Spirit midfielder Tori Huster robbed Victoria Pickett on her blind side and fed Rodman on the right. There was still work to do, but Rodman veered inside Rachel Corsie towards the six-yard box, gave Barnhart the eyes to go near post and instead fired across the keeper to give Washington a 2-1 victory and condemn Kansas to their sixth defeat on the spin.

The Spirit have lost just once in their opening seven games and, sat fourth, are tied with Portland on 12 points.

As it stands with USWNT and other internationals heading off to the Olympics

Next NWSL Matches

Here are the next set of NWSL fixtures, with a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash scheduled for Independence Day…

[Eastern Time is 5 hours behind British Summer Time]

2nd July: NJ/NY Gotham FC v Kansas City (7:00 PM ET)

2nd July: Washington Spirit v Chicago Red Stars (7:30 PM ET)

2nd July: Houston Dash v OL Reign (8:30 PM ET)

3rd July: Racing Louisville FC v Portland Thorns (7:30 PM ET)

4th July: Orlando Pride v North Carolina Courage (6:00 PM ET)

All matches are available to UK viewers free on Twitch. Enjoy 🙂

USWNT Olympic Roster

Both the Mewis sisters are going to the Olympics, which must make for some proud feelings for their parents Bob and Melissa…

This week Vlatko Andonovski announced his 18-player roster (including alternates) for the Tokyo Olympics. There are no real surprises in terms of those named although Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath have been nursing injuries. Despite scoring a lot of NWSL goals recently Lynn Williams has been placed on the ‘alternate’ list.

The full list of players is:

Goalkeepers

Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars); Adi Franch (Portland Thorns)

Defenders

Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns); Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns); Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit); Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars); Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit); Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City);

Midfielders

Sam Mewis (North Carolina Courage); Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash); Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars); Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns); Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)

Forwards

Tobin Heath (Unattached); Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC); Christen Press (Unattached); Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride); Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)

==

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