NWSL: Portland Make Hay While the Olympians are Away…

It’s taken a while for the pre-season favourites to push their way to the top of the NWSL standings. All the way back in week 1 it looked as though Portland may lead out a Shield procession from the start, but North Carolina and Orlando soon had something to say about that. By week 10, however, these rivals were 5th and 7th respectively. The Thorns, meanwhile, have shown how much talent they can call on, even with their national team stars over in Tokyo for the Olympics. Three wins and a draw during July – and only one goal conceded – has lifted them up to top spot, with a slight gap emerging between them and Gotham FC in second. It’s been ‘vacation’ time for those of us residing at D2B Towers so our NWSL July catch-up is a little later than expected this month…

Week 7 – Opportunities for the Squad Players…

Keeper Cassie Miller – Stepping up to make her mark at the Red Stars while Alyssa Naeher is on international duty…

The NWSL account on You Tube would have you believe otherwise but July (not June) began with Washington Spirit hosting the Chicago Red Stars.

With the US Women’s National team now gathered for pre-Olympic matches, goalkeeper Cassie Miller came in to deputise for Alyssa Naeher in the Red Stars’ net. And the 26-year old would make one outstanding second half save to deny Trinity Rodman’s low shot from the edge of the penalty box to preserve her clean sheet.

Better still for the Red Stars they got on the board at the other end of the pitch in the 33rd minute, after Kayla Sharples arrived at the back post to power Mallory Pugh’s corner goalward. Aubrey Bledsoe stopped the header going in but the ball cannoned off team mate Julia Roddar for an own goal.

The game finished 1-0 the Red Stars but the result should have had a more flattering look to it. Television replays would show that Kealia Watt’s 20-yarder crashed in off the underside of the cross bar in the 74th minute, but the match officials were unable to confirm this in real time. No matter, Chicago held out to record their first win in four.

Houston Dash recorded back-to-back victories for the second time this season when they beat OL Reign 2-0 at the BBVA Stadium.

The Dash were one of the teams tipped to see some fall off in performance once their national team players departed for Tokyo. They have individuals representing the US, Canada and Team GB. But clearly no one told Jasmyne Spencer about this and she set about dismantling the Reign defence early doors, providing a super cross from the left that Gabby Seiler headed just over.

US WNT Olympic ‘Alternate’ keeper Jane Campbell was still available for the hosts and made decent first half saves to deny Bethany Balcer, Eugénie Le Sommer and Sofia Huerta.

All three Reign forwards were involved for their best scoring opportunity in the 49th minute. Balcer crossed from the right, somehow Le Sommer missed it completely, and Huerta mis-kicked with an open goal at her mercy.

Just sixty seconds later Spencer made them pay, zooming in behind the Reign back line to take Shea Groom’s fantastic through ball in stride and slot past Sarah Bouhaddi.

The Dash got some breathing space in the 57th minute off Sophie Schmidt’s chipped free kick midway inside the Reign half. An orange shirt won the first ball and it looped over to Katie Naughton who nodded home from six-yards.

It would be Farid Benstiti’s last match in charge of OL Reign. He resigned his position following the match.

“We are appreciative of Farid’s many contributions to the club over the past 18 months and wish him the best in all his future endeavors. [sic] We have great respect for Farid’s talents and all he brought to the organization, but in our recent conversations there was a collective agreement that new leadership was required to achieve the performances and results needed to satisfy our ambitions.”

Bill Predmore, Chief Executive Officer, OL Reign: via olreign.com 2nd July 2021

Winless Kansas City left it pretty late but ground out a much needed point at NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Very heavy rain delayed kick-off for over three hours. The tempest eventually subsided and impressive Gotham forward Ifeoma Onumonu put the home side in front on 31 minute after good work down the right wing by Gina Lewandowski and Nahomi Kawasumi. Back to goal, Onumonu spun her marker and struck a low, left-footed shot that curled inside the far post.

Kansas City’s best chance of the first period fell to Mallory Weber in stoppage time. Gotham keeper DiDi Haricic was smart off her line to smother Weber’s headed effort before Lo’eau LaBonta nodded the rebound wide.

NJ should have retaken the lead with ten minutes left but substitute So-Dam Lee couldn’t make the requisite contact on Midge Purce’s low cross.

That miscue would prove costly, but it was another mistake that would directly hand Kansas their way back into the match. Gotham full back Imani Dorsey sold her teammate short with a ‘blind’ back pass and substitute Mariana Larroquette was on to it in a flash, beating Estelle Johnson for pace before thumping a wonderful 25-yard effort over the stranded Haricic.

Nice work from Mariana Larroquette to salvage a draw for Kansas…

Gotham still made chances to grab all three points but couldn’t take them. Nicole Barnhart’s excellent double save from Allie Long and Lee respectively ensured 1-1 would be the final score.

Close to 7,000 spectators turned up at the Lynn Family Stadium to see Racing Louisville take on the Portland Thorns. But the home side couldn’t give their fans the victory they wanted, going down 2-0 to the pre-season Shield favourites.

The game was as memorable for the 83rd minute introduction of Portland midfielder Olivia ‘Liv’ Moultrie – at just 15 years old the youngest player ever to appear in the NWSL regular season.

Thorns strikers Morgan Weaver and Simone Charley had early chances but keeper Michelle Betos was positioned in just the right place to keep them out.

Portland were awarded a penalty kick on the half hour when Raquel ‘Rocky’ Rodríguez was tripped following a corner. The attacking midfielder picked herself up and sent Betos the wrong way from the spot.

Racing Louisville were able to stay in the game and almost equalised in the first minute of the second period. Ebony Salmon and Savannah McCaskill combined to fashion a cross from the right but Yuki Nagasato was denied at point blank range by Portland’s back-up stopper Bella Bixby.

The Thorns extended their lead on 52 minutes from another corner. This time they worked it short to Emily Menges out on the left and she drove in a superb cross that demanded a powerful finish and Charley’s forehead duly applied it.

McCaskill’s drive from 20-yards hit the corner of Portland’s goal frame on 75 minutes but that was the closest they came.

Betos, meanwhile, made some more decent stops from Weaver and Sophia Smith to keep the score line respectable.

The league’s top two sides faced off at Exploria Stadium with North Carolina Courage coming out on top, propelling Paul Riley’s side to the NWSL summit for the first time this season.

The result may have gone another way entirely had Courage keeper Casey Murphy not palmed away Sydney Leroux’s effort with just fifteen seconds on the clock.

Instead Brazilian international Debinha gave North Carolina an early lead. three minutes in she pounced on Meggie Dougherty Howard’s loose pass into the backline, ran in on goal, sold Ashlyn Harris the eyes that said ‘go left’ and coolly slotted the ball to the keeper’s right.

The visitors created more good chances to double their advantage. Harris was fully extended to keep out Abby Erceg’s header off a Carson Pickett centre. Lynn Williams fired a 31st minute effort over the bar. Then McDonald was hauled down in the eighteen by Toni Pressley three minutes later, but Harris – a penalty specialist – was more than equal to Williams’ rather casual spot kick. Merritt Mathias sliced the rebound off target.

Tails now up, the Pride nearly equalised when Taylor Kornieck robbed Erceg but Murphy was off her line quickly to block. Orlando took this energy into the second half and had their best spell of the match, without being able to get on the score sheet.

Murphy parried Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir’s angled drive before gathering Leroux’s diving header off a Kornieck delivery from out on the right.

It would be North Carolina that would find the net again, though. Angharad James located Williams out on the left flank with a lovely thirty-yard diagonal. The forward outpaced her marker and crossed low for McDonald, who in turn teed up Havana Solaun inside the penalty area, and the midfielder had enough time to take a touch and pick her spot.

Near the end Marta hit the Courage cross bar direct from a corner but the Pride just couldn’t break through. Instead a 2-0 victory propelled North Carolina to the top of the NWSL and avenged a week 2 defeat in the process.

Week 7 would be the last time that the clubs would see their US Women’s National Team players as they departed for a double header with Mexico before jetting off to the Tokyo Olympics.

Two 4-0 victories give the air of cannon fodder confidence-boosting but Mexico were more stubborn in the first match than the score line suggests. Sam Mewis scored in the 21st minute and Christen Press would add a brace either side of Tobin Heath’s superb 25-yard strike with virtually her first competitive touch of a football in months.

The return fixture was entirely more one-sided as the States blew Mexico off the pitch in the first half. Lindsey Horan and Carli Lloyd had the home side 2-0 up inside 11 minutes. Reyna Reyes Stubblefield put through her own net in the 37th minute and Heath was back on the score sheet two minutes after that.

Week 8 – Wobbles at the Top…

They come with smiles, but Racing Louisville are serious about making a big impression in their first NWSL season…

Defeats were suddenly arriving like London buses for the Orlando Pride – nothing for ages then one turns up straight after another. Marc Skinner’s group would have fewer days to stew on this fact, though, as they got to open week eight by hosting Racing Louisville (pictured).

Erika Tymrak should have given the hosts the lead in the 9th minute from a Crystal Thomas cross, but clipped her shot off the top of the cross bar.

Instead Louisville got themselves in front with a 21st minute strike that was a genuine thing of beauty. Starting with keeper Michelle Betos, Louisville worked the ball down the right wing with three simple passes, CeCe Kizer played a pinpoint ball in behind the Pride defence and Ebony Salmon shrugged off Ali Krieger before slotting under the keeper.

Taylor Kornieck and Savannah McCaskill traded distance strikes before the break but didn’t trouble either goalkeeper.

In the second half Orlando took control and as the match wore on they started to get plenty of joy down their right. In the 79th minute substitute Abi Kim hung up a great cross and Sydney Leroux got the jump on two defenders but couldn’t guide her header on frame. Four minutes later Leroux was in the right spot again to meet Ali Riley delivery but this time found Betos equally well positioned to make the stop.

The Pride would have to wait until the 4th minute of stoppage time to get their reward. Keeper Ashlyn Harris provided a text-book ‘Hail Mary’ into the penalty box, Kornieck was unable to make the first contact she wanted but this seemed to disorient everyone around her and Leroux ghosted in to half-volley past Betos.

Leroux would be shouldering a lot of extra responsibility with Alex Morgan and Marta away with their national teams for the best part of a month. She looked up for this one, though, and has enjoyed a very good start to the season form wise. Her never say die mentality was a big part of why Orlando got a 1-1 draw.

Casual observers may have reasonably expected a young NWSL team now without internationals Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett to struggle defensively against North Carolina Courage. But not a bit of it for the Washington Spirit. They not only beat the league leaders comfortably, but played some sensational football in the process.

After a confident opening 12 minutes the Spirit took the lead. Some neat interchanges down the left led to Tegan McGrady dropping a grenade into the six yard box that keeper Casey Murphy couldn’t get a glove on. Ashley Hatch cushioned the ball into an empty net on the volley.

Murphy was better placed to deal with attempts from Dorian Bailey and Ashley Sanchez and this kept North Carolina in the match ahead of their best scoring opportunities – both of which fell to New Zealand international defender Abby Erceg. The first, a snapshot in the penalty box, was acrobatically tipped over by Aubrey Bledsoe. From the resulting corner Erceg headed Carson Pickett’s in-swinger against the cross bar.

With the match in first half stoppage time it looked like both teams would be heading to the dressing room happy enough with where they were. Washington’s Andi Sullivan had other ideas, intercepting an under-hit pass in midfield and bursting forward to generate a 2v2. Ashley Hatch held her run just long enough for Sullivan to thread the perfect pass in behind. The striker gave it the confident finish it deserved.

The Spirit – who limited their opponents to just two efforts on target all match – picked up where they left off after the break and created the better of the chances. Sanchez hit the cross bar from 20-yards in the 65th minute and would later slide Tara McKeown into the penalty area, only to see the sub’s effort saved by Murphy.

Sanchez’s duel with Murphy continued right up to the end of the match, hitting a rasping 25-yard drive towards the Murphy’s top left-hand corner that the Courage keeper brilliantly tipped round the post at full stretch. Sanchez wouldn’t get victory in that particular battle but her team did win the war. A 2-0 score line moved Washington back up to fourth in the standings.

There were three matches scheduled for Sunday 11 July. The first – a repeat of the 2021 Challenge Cup Final – ended in a scoreless stalemate between the Portland Thorns and Gotham FC. The game, however, was anything but dull.

Just two minutes in Gotham keeper DiDi Haracic’s loose touch was pounced on by Simone Charley, but the keeper was able to scramble and atone for her error.

Portland left back Meghan Klingenberg was then denied by Haracic in the 13th minute. Klingenberg swung in a corner from the left moments later that caused chaos in the six-yard box. Haracic’s brilliant reaction stop denied Marissa Everett but Ifeoma Onumonu still needed to clear the ball off the line before Charley could convert.

It wouldn’t be the last time Freya Coombes side needed to rely on some fierce, last-ditch defending. Thorns striker Morgan Weaver engineered herself a one v one with Haracic, beating the keeper but not Estelle Johnson who prevented the ball from trickling into the net.

In front of an increasingly vocal 14,731 crowd at Providence Park, the Thorns pushed on. Weaver smashed a shot off the post from 20-yards, then Charley raced in behind the Gotham defence only to be thwarted by Haracic’s outstretched foot.

Gotham weathered the storm for an hour and did eventually make chances of their own. So-Dam Lee fired over when well placed on the hour, but their best chance fell to Onomonu who got a good contact on Midge Purce’s cross from the right, but guided it off the post rather than inside it. And 0-0 it would stay.

The Chicago Red Stars secured back to back victories for the first time this season with a solid if unspectacular performance against in-form Houston Dash.

The Dash arrived at the SeatGeek Stadium on the back of four wins in their previous five fixtures. Unpredictability, however, is a central characteristic of the NWSL and this bizarre match would culminate in Houston players scoring all three second half goals.

The first put the visitors ahead on 62 minutes. Jasmyne Spencer brushed of a sliding challenge in midfield and broke 50-yards forward and looked to play in Veronica Latsko to her left. Centre back Kayla Sharples seemed to have it covered but mis-controlled the ball. Latsko had gambled on an error and fired a low drive beyond Cassie Miller from the edge of the penalty box.

Sharples would make amends just eleven minutes later arriving to meet Mallory Pugh’s swirling free kick from the left. Sharples couldn’t make a connection but put just enough pressure on Shea Groom that she headed into her own goal without incurring the referee’s whistle.

Just three more minutes had transpired when Chicago took the lead. After a fairly pedestrian spell of passing the Red Stars moved the ball out to Morgan Gautrat on the left. She worked a yard of space on her marker and fizzed in a cross that Katie Naughton misjudged – the defender prodding into her own net against her former club. A 2-1 win would take the Red Stars back into the top half of the table for the first time since week 5.

The final match of week 8 was a battle of the ‘basement brigade’. Hosts OL Reign – roster stacked with good players – needed to start finding some consistency in order to remain in touch with the eight teams above them. Kansas City turned up at Cheney Stadium simply desperate to win – something they had not been able to do since the franchise moved from Utah in the off-season.

All sorts of things seem to go wrong for a team when they’re mired at the bottom of the table. Ultra-reliable keeper Nicole Barnhart sold Kate Del Fava horribly short with a pass out of the penalty box inside three minutes and 2019’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ Bethany Balcer nipped in for an easy finish.

It was two inside half an hour. A neat combination between Tziarra King and Sofia Huerta generated a crossing opportunity from the right and Balcer arrived in the six-yard-box to power past Barnhart.

The Kansas keeper had better fortune against King making good saves from the young forward either side of the interval.

In between, Reign keeper Sarah Bouhaddi made a fine reaction stop to deny Mariana Larroquette at point blank range after some trickery from Mallory Weber down the left flank.

Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta tested Bouhaddi again in the second half but it was a save that the former French international would have expected to make. It stayed 2-0 and Reign found themselves just six points shy of league leaders North Carolina – even though they still sat ninth in the table. Interim boss Sam Laity was off the mark with his first win in charge of the Tacoma-based squad.

Week 9 – All Change at the Top!

Pleased much? Houston’s Gabby Seiler celebrates scoring against serial Shield winners North Carolina…

Portland would be the only team in the top four that managed to win in week 9. The other three sides – North Carolina, Orlando and Washington – would each be usurped in the standings by Chicago, Houston and Gotham FC, respectively, filling the 2nd to 4th spot behind new leaders the Thorns.

Just four points separated top spot from seventh in the league table as the NWSL continued to demonstrate how evenly balanced many of the squads were – even with their Olympians now away on international duty.

Houston Dash got the ball rolling in the first match of the weekend putting leaders North Carolina Courage to the sword at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC.

The Courage had the best of the opening exchanges and put ball in the net inside 3 minutes. Jess McDonald was offside, though.

Instead Houston grabbed the lead, against the run of play, in the 9th minute, when Veronica Latsko picked Angharad James’ pocket and immediately threaded Shea Groom in on goal. Groom, celebrating her 100th regular season NWSL game received the ball in stride between two defenders, took a solitary touch to set herself and then drilled low past Casey Murphy from inside the ‘D’.

The hosts reacted well and continued to dominate possession. They equalised just seven minutes later when Merritt Mathias’ cross in from the right wasn’t dealt with by Katie Naughton and the ball ricocheted off teammate Emily straight to Kristen Hamilton, who made no mistake from a few yards out.

Hamilton would then smash in what she though was the Courage’s second goal from Havana Solaun’s tidy through ball in the 34th minute, but again the line official flagged for offside.

Head Coach James Clarkson sent the Dash out with more attacking purpose after the break. Groom was instrumental in winning the free-kick that gave the visitors their best opportunity to regain the lead – driving between Irish internationals Denise O’Sullivan and Diane Caldwell, and taking a clattering 22-yards from goal in a great central position.

Gabby Seiler stepped up to take the set-piece, using a two-player mini wall to obstruct Murphy’s view of the ball. As they stepped aside Seiler clipped the ball into the keeper’s right-hand corner. They had 28 minutes to hold out.

The Courage looked to raise their levels again and Manager Paul Riley tried to shake things up with some substitutions. But not for the first time this season they looked like a team running out of ideas.

Nonetheless, the Courage will almost always make one good chance before the final whistle and it came in the second minute of stoppage time, when Hamilton spun away from Hayley Hanson on the left and crossed into the six-yard box, only for McDonalds flicked half-volley to rattle the cross bar. They couldn’t engineer another opening and the Dash played in the corners to protect a 2-1 result.

NJ/NY Gotham FC extended their unbeaten streak to six matches, getting the better of a hard fought and entertaining five-goal thriller against ten-player Washington Spirit.

The hosts were always going to be up against it once centre back Sam Staab had been dismissed for ‘preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity’, after Midge Purce had robbed her outside the penalty area. Just five minutes had been played. It was an interesting incident where Gotham wanted a penalty and got a free-kick on the edge of the box. Washington, meanwhile, felt Staab would get a yellow card, and were horrified when Paige Nielsen was awarded a red. The referee then corrected that and gave it to Staab instead.

Nevertheless the spirited… er… Spirit went ahead in the 13th minute when Andi Sullivan released Trinity Rodman down the left wing with a great pass. The 19-year old briefly considered her options before accepting she was going to need to fly solo on this one. So she dropped a shoulder, cruised past Caprice Dydasco and rifled the ball inside the far post.

Where once previous incarnation Sky Blue may have caved, newly branded Gotham FC are made of sterner stuff under Head Coach Freya Coombe. They almost got back on terms within a sixty seconds of going behind. Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe did well to turn Ifeoma Onumonu’s header away low to her left.

Purce finally found a clear path to goal in the 22nd minute but Bledsoe stood up well to deny her. But the pressure was building on Washington’s restructured backline and Gotham were level a minute later. Dydasco swung in a corner from the left and, although Tegan McGrady was able to block Onumonu’s effort on the goal line, Nahomi Kawasumi was on hand to knock in the rebound.

Without Staab in central defence, the hosts were struggling on crosses and corners. And they fell behind in the 35th minute from a replica Dydasco delivery. This time McCall Zerboni was able to find space, completely unmarked, seven yards from goal, and head in without her feet needing to leave the ground.

Richie Burke’s Washington side have proved to have a stubbornness about them recently that perhaps belies their youthful look, and they were back on terms in the 56th minute. Ashley Sanchez had already had one good sight of goal just before the break, drawing a fine reaction stop out of DiDi Haracic. Now she was stood over a promising free-kick opportunity and served up a cracker, swirling the ball around the defensive wall and inside the keeper’s left hand post from 25-yards.

Spirit would have surely taken a point right there and then. Unfortunately there was still a good chunk of the game left and, as legs got tired, so Gotham were able to generate chances. Imani Dorsey had Spirit hearts in mouths striking the post with a rocket from 30-yards out.

But that was as good as the home side’s luck was going to get. In the 76th minute Onumonu was played into space on the right and fizzed in a terrific cross across goal that Purce met at the back post to seal a 3-2 victory. All three points would be heading back to Harrison, NJ.

OL Reign scored three times at the SeatGeek Stadium but lost the match 3-1 as the Chicago Red Stars‘ extraordinary run of own goals continued for a third game. Nearly one half of the Red Stars’ strikes this campaign have been scored by their opponents.

It was a case of ‘same old story’ for the Reign, who set off at a good pace but couldn’t see it through 90 minutes. Striker Bethany Balcer almost got on the score sheet inside 4 minutes prodding wide from close range, but she wasn’t to be denied eight minutes later when she read the flight of Celia Jiménez’s right wing cross entirely better than keeper Cassie Miller and half-volleyed into an empty goal.

Chicago lacked a bit of attacking cohesion in the first period. Kealia Watt and Vanessa Di Bernardo had half chances but couldn’t trouble Sarah Bouhaddi.

They improved after the break and levelled in the 49th minute. Morgan Gautrat released Mallory Pugh down the left, the winger crossed the ball left-footed and it hopped off of Celia’s outstretched leg and flew into the net. TV replays revealed that keeper Bouhaddi should perhaps have done better to adjust her feet and make the stop.

Six minutes later the hosts took the lead, accumulating their fifth consecutive own goal – the most recorded in the NWSL by one team for a single season. Pugh’s corner from the right wasn’t dealt with and it bounced in off off defender Alana Cook at the front post.

Chicago pushed on to find a killer third. Rachel Hill found DiBernardo in space inside the penalty box but the midfielder’s shot came back off the foot of the left-hand post.

The Red Stars did get their reward in the 64th minute and it was the excellent Pugh who got on the scoresheet. A throw-in from the left somehow bobbled its way through a crowd of bodies and arrived at Pugh’s feet. She spun away from Amber Brooks and thumped the ball past Bouhaddi on the half-volley.

Reign had twice as many attempts on goal as Chicago during the match but these didn’t translate to good scoring opportunities. German international midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán tried her luck with an overhead kick in stoppage time but the ball looped comfortably into Miller’s grasp.

The Portland Thorns took over at the top of the NWSL with a 2-1 win over suddenly floundering Orlando Pride in front of nearly 15,000 spectators at Providence Park. The match wasn’t anything like as close as the score line suggests.

Orlando had just one point from their previous four fixtures. Where before gutsy defence was supplemented with a palpable goal threat through missing players like Alex Morgan and Marta, their squad players are struggling to put opponents on the back foot as much.

Portland conversely seem to have an embarrassment of riches to come in and cover for their Olympic Stars. One of them, forward Sophia Smith, smashed in an absolute ‘worldie’ in the 26th minute to make the point. She picked the ball up from ‘Rocky’ Rodriguez in her own half, sprinted through three defenders – none of whom seemed to want to engage her directly – and put her laces through the ball from 20-yards, giving Ashlyn Harris no chance.

Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith – having a moment…

The home side were given an excellent opportunity to double their lead from the spot in the 39th minute after Kylie Strom tripped Meghan Klingenberg in the penalty area. Rodriguez was made to wait an age to take the kick by the referee, and this seemed to benefit keeper Harris who guessed left and gathered easily.

The conundrum of a highly talented young player being ‘brilliant but inconsistent’ was then painted in vivid colours just before half time as 20-year old Smith galloped on to Natalia Kuikka’s excellent through ball, got her first touch spot on and then shanked the finish horribly wide from six-yards.

The Thorns are prone, occasionally, to putting their astonishing fan base through the mixer – creating a ton of chances while scoring just one and then conceding from the only decent chance they give up. Mercifully for the ‘Rose City Riveters’, Marissa Everett was not going to let that story play out, arriving in the penalty area to meet Klingenberg’s superb, curling cross and putting just enough on her glancing header to prevent Harris from pawing it away.

The Pride managed just two shots on target during the match, but one of them found its way into the net in second half stoppage time courtesy of two second half substitutes. Ali Kreiger played Abi Kim into space down the right flank; she crossed low to Marisa Viggiano arriving in the ‘D’ and the midfielder took a touch before firing a tidy consolation strike past Bella Bixby from just inside the penalty area.

It was too little to late, though, and Portland held on to record a 2-1 victory and take over at the NWSL summit.

Women’s football kicked off at the Tokyo Olympics the following Wednesday – two days before the official opening ceremony. There were wins for Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands and Team GB.

But fans of the US Women’s National Team were in for a bit of a shock. Going into the game on the back of a 44-match unbeaten streak they lost 3-0 to an energetic and physically imposing Sweden side. Striker Stina Blackstenius scored a goal in each half before being substituted. Her replacement, Lina Hurtig, headed in the third with fifteen minutes remaining. The Americans hit the woodwork a couple of times, but gave a laboured performance overall.

Week 10 – Portland Take Control…

Emily Menges – Marshalling a top performing Portland back line…

By the end of week ten, the Thorns would earn themselves a bit of breathing space with a three point lead and a superior goal difference over their closest rivals.

The weekend began, however, with a rather underwhelming 0-0 draw between Kansas City and misfiring North Carolina Courage.

The pre-match action was more memorable than anything that unfolded on the field with Kansas striker Amy Rodriguez traded to North Carolina for Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace (plus some cash). All three featured during the 90 minutes. Mace, on as a sub, came closest to scoring firing past the left-hand post with five minutes remaining.

Kansas made much of the running. In the 23rd minute Kansas attacker Darian Jenkins brought a good save out of Casey Murphy with a 25-yarder that the keeper did well to turn around the post low to her left.

The Courage continued to look off colour but actually went closest to scoring in the 29th minute when Taylor Smith found herself free and clear in front of the Kansas goal but couldn’t beat scrambling defender Kristen Edmonds on the goal line. The draw left Kansas winless; North Carolina just about held onto their spot in the top half of the table.

The match between Orlando Pride and OL Reign was entirely more interesting but would extend the Pride’s winless run to five as Reign’s interim boss Sam Laity got his second victory in three.

Former Utah Royals manager and USWNT Assistant Laura Harvey had already been named as Reign’s incoming Head Coach, but wouldn’t be available to assume control until the international team’s return from the Olympics. Meanwhile Orlando boss Marc Skinner had left the club for a new role at WSL side Manchester United. Carl Green would take charge for this one but University of Florida coach Becky Burleigh was later officially named as Interim Manager.

OL Reign’s season has been defined by quick starts that steadily fizzle out as each game progresses. This narrative was on the cards again inside ten minutes as excellent young forward Tziarra King robbed Ali Krieger on the left and immediately fed Jess Fishlock. The midfielder cleverly spun away from her marker in the penalty area and drove past Ashlyn Harris to put the visitors in front.

This time, though, the Reign would not relinquish control. Fishlock and Eugénie Le Sommer were both brilliantly denied by keeper Harris in the 20th minute.

Courtney Petersen missed an open goal for the Pride on half time after keeper Sarah Bouhaddi’s made her customary one-goalkeeping-howler-per-match off a cross.

But the Reign kept their foot on the gas in the second half working a high, aggressive press. Harris denied Le Sommer for a second time after the Orlando backline were caught overplaying. The hosts didn’t take the hint. In the 51st minute they gave the ball away again close to home. Le Sommer’s back heel teed up King who took a touch and curled the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the penalty area – capping a player of the match performance.

Fishlock should have added gloss to the score line just after the hour, after former Manchester United centre back Amy Turner hauled down Le Sommer in the 18-yard box. The Welsh international struck her spot kick well enough to Harris’s right, but the keeper is a penalty saving machine this season and kept it out.

It would inspire the Pride stopper to remain stubborn until the end, pushing away Sofia Huerta’s distance strike in the 79th minute and blocking Dani Weatherholt’s close range effort.

Taylor Kornieck and Abi Kim both had late chances for the Pride but couldn’t guide their efforts on target. A 2-0 win for the Reign took them out of the bottom two for the first time since week five, and propelled them to within three points of Orlando’s tally.

Sophia Smith’s solitary strike was enough for the Portland Thorns to put more daylight between them and their nearest Shield chasers. They beat Houston Dash at the BBVA Stadium.

Smith’s goal came in the opening sixty seconds. Simone Charley nicked the ball off a defender’s toes and found Marissa Everett. Everett played Smith into the penalty box but the 20-year old had work to do. She nutmegged her way through one challenge before using some form of sorcery to shrug off a second and prodded past onrushing keeper Lindsey Harris.

There were 27 efforts on goal in this match with Portland edging chance creation by just one. But good scoring opportunities were actually fairly low. Thorns midfielder ‘Rocky’ Rodriguez smashed her half volley against the cross bar just after the interval and Smith curled a 20-yarder just wide of the left-hand post in the 56th minute.

Houston hung in there with diminutive winger Jasmyne Spencer becoming increasingly influential as the second half wore on.

Thorns stand-in keeper Bella Bixby had given an assured and focused performance without being significantly troubled throughout the ninety. But she had to be on her game to tip over Brianna Visalli’s distance strike in stoppage time. From the subsequent corner the keeper’s concentration finally cracked and Bixby couldn’t lay a glove on the ball, which dropped to Spencer right in front of goal – sadly for Dash fans she blazed over on the volley, allowing the table toppers to depart with a 1-0 victory.

NJ/NY Gotham FC went into the weekend unbeaten since week 3 of their campaign, but because they’d played fewer fixtures and drawn nearly half of them they had not made a top 3 in the standings since week 1. That was about to change against the Chicago Red Stars.

Impressive forward Ifeoma Onumonu nearly gave Gotham the lead inside 2 minutes after good work from McCall Zerboni and newly signed French international midfielder Gaëtane Thiney. Red Stars keeper Cassie Miller got her angles right to make the stop.

Chicago created their best chance of the first half in the 13th minute after Mallory Pugh worked a crossing opportunity on the right and picked out Kealia Watt in the penalty area. Watt’s strike was on target but DiDi Haracic saved low to her right and was then able to gather the rebound before Rachel Hill pounced.

The Red Stars fashioned nearly twice as many goal attempts as Gotham during the match but the hosts made clearer openings. Allie Long converted one of these from close range in first half stoppage time, arriving to meet Caprice Dydasco’s cross from the right ahead of Miller and finishing neatly on the volley. It was Long’s first goal for the club.

Margaret ‘AKA Midge’ Purce made it two from the penalty spot in the 70th minute after winning her own foul bursting through the Red Stars backline. Purce became the filling of a sandwich composed of defenders Bianca St. Georges and Kayla Sharples and was then unceremoniously bundled over.

The afternoon got worse for St. Georges who was shown a red card in the 94th minute for fouling Brianna Pinto. But this seemed to spur the Red Stars on to claim a very late consolation goal. Makenzy Doniak’s spin and shot from 12-yards didn’t have a huge amount of pace on it but found its way past Haracic with a minute of injury time left. A 2-1 victory put Gotham FC into second spot in the table, usurping Chicago who dropped to fourth.

Despite another decent crowd approaching six and a half thousand fans, new franchise Racing Louisville couldn’t quite get into a scoring groove against Washington Spirit who once again forced their way into the NWSL’s top three with league top scorer Ashley Hatch bagging a brace.

It took the visitors less than five minutes to get on the score board. Ashley Sanchez pressured Freya Olofsson into coughing up the ball in her own half, finding Tara McKeown in the process who played in Ashley Hatch to score left-footed from a fairly tight angle.

Both keepers swapped good first half saves. Michelle Betos saved a Sanchez free-kick low to her left before Aubrey Bledsoe dealt with CeCe Kizer’s effort from the edge of the 18-yard box.

Hatch thumped a shot off the underside of the bar in the 51st minute after good approach play from Trinity Rodman on the right.

But Washington got their second from a right-wing corner seven minutes later. Racing Louisville could only half clear the set-piece, Taylor Aylmer headed the ball back into the six-yard box and Sam Staab nodded in from close range.

Kizer nearly got the home side back in it a few minutes later but Bledsoe protected her clean sheet, smartly tipping over the bar.

Nadia Nadim, a veteran Danish international striker closing in on 100 caps signed for Christie Holly’s squad recently and came on for her debut in the 55th minute. She looked pretty sharp considering the lack of recent matches, but was unable to fire Louisville back into the match, getting in behind the Spirit defence in the 71st minute but half-volleying wide.

Marquee Danish striker Nadia Nadim debuts at Racing Louisville…

Washington closed out the game comfortably earning a 2-0 win that moved them back into the top three. Louisville meanwhile are winless since week 6 but their Head Coach remains positive about the direction of travel.

“I’ll tell you exactly what I said to the team after the game, when you’re trying to make a masterpiece, you definitely spill some paint on the floor. We just have to be in love with the fact that we’re working toward a masterpiece. We know there’s going to be spilled paint. There’s going to be mistakes. There’s going to be lessons. There’s going to be growing pains, and we have to embrace that. We can’t just embrace the end product, the outcome. We have to be totally in love with the idea of everyday grinding through a process of embracing the good and bad and the ugly.”

Christie Holly, Head Coach, Racing Louisville, via racingloufc.com 25/7/2021
Standings after Week 10: Portland, Gotham and Washington all win…

Over in Tokyo it appeared that the Chicago Red Stars lent ‘Own Goal’ to the US Women’s National Team for their second game of the Olympics group stage. ‘O.G.’ featured twice, and the team racked up four more goals in a 6-1 victory over New Zealand thanks to Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Christen Press and Alex Morgan.

Their final group G game was against Australia which ended 0-0, a result that clearly suited both teams such was the pedestrian nature of the match.

Group F winners the Netherlands awaited in the quarter finals, a rematch of the 2019 World Cup Finalists. The Dutch opened the scoring in the 18th minute through Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema, but the US had turned it around by just after the half-hour point with Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams scoring in a devastating three minute spell.

The Netherlands refused to lie down, though, and Miedema equalised in the 54th minute. Neither side could find a winner in the ninety or after 30 minutes of extra time, so the match went to penalties. The Dutch missed their first and fourth spot kicks, while the US scored all four of theirs. Megan Rapinoe dispatched the winning strike fizzing her penalty kick into the keeper’s top left hand corner.

==

Week Eleven of the NWSL has already played out and will be covered in a future post. Week 12 sees bottom sides Louisville and Kansas going head to head, which is scheduled for Sunday.

[Eastern Time is 5 hours behind British Summer Time]

August 7th – NJ/NY Gotham FC v North Carolina Courage (7:00 PM ET)

August 7th – Washington Spirit v Portland Thorns FC (7:30 PM ET)

August 7th – OL Reign v Houston Dash (10:00 PM ET)

August 8th – Racing Louisville FC v Kansas City (3:00 PM ET)

August 8th – Chicago Red Stars v Orlando Pride (6:00 PM ET) All matches are available to UK viewers free on Twitch. Enjoy… 

Hmmm, this would be a REALLY good team…

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