NWSL: Favourites Positioning Themselves at the Halfway Point… (Pt.3)

We’re back in the NWSL for the third and final part of the August review. At one point during the month, Portland had a seven point lead. Then they played in the WICC tournament allowing North Carolina an opportunity to catch up. By the end of the month, though, another team (pictured above) was fast approaching the top of the standings, and notched their second regular-season win over the Thorns in the process. Due to the FAWSL start D2B is a bit later with this one than planned. Amateur, occasional bloggers, eh?!!

Week 14 (Midweek) – Catching Up and Catching Fire

With Portland and Louisville embroiled in other trophies over the previous weekend there was a bit of catching up to do midweek. By the end of the evening there would be no change to the order of the league standings, but Portland re-established a five point lead at the top of the NWSL, while Racing fell foul of Kansas City’s recent home-field resurgence…

Kansas City secured a second consecutive home victory, with an opening half performance that was just too hot for Racing Louisville to handle.

Get in! – Kristen Hamilton celebrates her first goal for Kansas City.

US National Team keeper Adrianna Franch was making her first appearance for Huw Williams’ side following her trade from Portland.

In the other goal Michelle Betos was making an instant return for the visitors, having been substituted with an injury in the Women’s Cup Final at the weekend. And the Louisville stopper would be the busier of the two in the opening 45 minutes, saving a distance strike from Mallory Weber early on.

In the 14th minute Lo’eau LaBonta hit a superb ball down the right for Hailie Mace, who showed good speed to get past Kaleigh Riehl, but was unable to beat Betos at her near post.

When Kansas City did make the breakthrough three minutes later it was a Louisville player that applied the finish. Victoria Pickett burst into the Racing half, found Kristen Hamilton in a channel on the right and her low cross was turned into the net by defender Erin Simon.

Kristen Hamilton extended the home side’s lead five minutes before the interval, galloping on to Mace’s excellent through ball and firing low past Betos while the keeper was still scrambling to get her positioning right.

Hamilton should have made it three in first half stoppage time, haring goal-wards for another 1v1 with the Louisville stopper; but she took one touch too many and that gave Betos the opportunity she needed to make the block.

Christie Holly’s side did improve in the second period and conjured up a neatly worked strike in the 65th minute. Savannah McCaskill, Ebony Salmon and Yuki Nagasato worked the ball upfield to CeCe Kizer. Kizer broke the hosts’ midfield line, found Nadia Nadim on the right, kept moving into the penalty, took the return ball in stride and smashed her shot past Adrianna Franch from 12-yards.

That could have spelled trouble for a Kansas side that had been prone to throwing results away earlier in the season, but they were in no mood to relinquish control and restricted their opponents to just two efforts on target all night. A 2-1 win wouldn’t improve their overall place in the standings but did finally them get them to double figures on their points tally.

The quick-start Portland Thorns were in no mood to waste their game in hand, but they ended up holding on somewhat against an NJ/NY Gotham FC side that found its groove in the second period at Providence Park.

From kick-off Portland steadily built pressure on the Gotham goal and a steady stream of chances were created. Crystal Dunn got her head on Rocky Rodriguez’s cross from the right in the 17th minute but NJ keeper Kailen Sheridan hauled it in. Dunn would go close again, firing over the bar after the visitors were caught trying to play out from the back.

Sophia Smith engineered herself some space on the edge of the ‘D’ in the 25th minute but her well-struck shot took a deflection and drifted just wide of the left-hand post.

But the Thorns striker would get her reward four minutes later. Gotham pressed on with their desire to play out and Smith robbed Erica Skroski on the edge of the penalty area and fired past Sheridan.

Portland thought they’d got a second in the 31st minute when Christine Sinclair fired in a rebound after Sheridan had denied Smith. Unfortunately the Canadian’s shot nicked off Smith – prone on the goal line – and that made it offside.

Six minutes before half time Dunn got in on goal again, this time Sheridan parried.

But the hosts finally doubled their lead just a minute later. Christine Sinclair played Smith into the 18-yard box and Estelle Johnson went through the back of her, giving the referee no option but to award a penalty. Two Olympic Gold medallists squared up at the spot kick. Sheridan guessed correctly, but Sinclair’s spot kick fizzed into the bottom right-hand corner.

That duel continued after the break. Sinclair’s low drive was goal-bound but Sheridan got a hand to it at full stretch. Yazmeen Ryan and Lindsey Horan would get sights of goal to give Portland an unassailable lead but couldn’t take them.

That meant an improving Gotham were able to find their way into the contest. Right wing-back Caprice Dydasco was the main supply of problems for the Thorns backline. Carli Lloyd had already volleyed into the side netting from a driven ball to the far post, before NJ got a goal back in the 78th minute.

Jennifer Cudjoe, Ifeoma Onumonu and So-Dam Lee worked a crossing opportunity for Dydasco, and she whipped in another inviting ball that Lloyd powered past Bella Bixby.

But Bixby would ensure that all the points stayed in Oregon, saving twice from Lloyd to protect the 2-1 advantage and move Portland five points clear of North Carolina in second spot.

Week 15 – Every Rainbow needs the Reign

OL Reign were the big winners in week 15, taking the second instalment of the Cascadia rivalry with Portland before grabbing a useful midweek win at the BBVA Stadium in Houston. North Carolina could only make up one point on the league leaders with a draw in DC…

Kansas City’s away day woes continued at the SeatGeek Stadium as the Chicago Red Stars kicked off the weekend with a comprehensive victory.

Player of the Match Sarah Woldmoe bagged a brace against Kansas City. (Photo: Getty Images)

After putting together back-to-back home wins, the hope was that Kansas could get their road form moving against a team that hadn’t won in their previous three matches. But, despite control possession and maintaining pressure on the Chicago backline for half an hour, Huw Williams’ side was unable find a route to goal.

Instead, the Red Stars came out after the hydration break vastly improved and took the lead in the 36th minute. Mallory Pugh drove her corner from the right to the edge of the six-yard box and Sarah Woldmoe stooped to head past Adriana Franch – the midfielder recording her first goal of the season.

The hosts picked up where they left off after the break. Pugh found Kealia Watt in space on the right and the forward fired her shot just past the far post.

Watt returned the favour in the 51st minute bursting down the left and playing Pugh in behind the backline. The forward’s prodded effort was on target but clipped Franch and deflected wide.

If Woldmoe was about as unlikely a scorer of the opening goal, surely no one in the stadium would have predicted that she would also get Chicago’s second. The Red Stars had won a free-kick close to the left-wing corner flag which Pugh swirled over to the far post. Kansas didn’t deal with it and the ball broke to Woldmoe who stabbed in left-footed from about the same distance out as her first strike.

The result was made safe with nine minutes remaining. Watt’s quick throw-in on the left got Katie Johnson moving. She cut inside her marker and then played a clever reverse ball back out to Watt who had sprinted forward to join the attack. The winger beat Gaby Vincent on the inside and curled in a superb cross that Johnson glanced past Franch.

Presenting: Kealia Watt and Katie Johnson. Football looks such a simple game when it’s played like this…

As convincing a performance as the Red Stars had offered all season, this 3-0 win would lever them back up into fifth spot in the standings. Kansas would need to regroup ahead of there next fixture – a home match with the Courage…

Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage couldn’t be separated in a bright but, ultimately, goalless encounter at Audi Field.

Kris Ward continued to take interim charge of the Spirit following Richie Burke’s controversial departure. And his side had the first goal scoring opportunity inside three minutes as Andi Sullivan;s long punt got Ashley Hatch some space; the striker’s chip was hauled in by Casey Murphy.

Lynn Williams was the first Courage player to get sight, heading off frame from Debinha’s free-kick on the quarter hour.

Spirit forward Trinity Rodman fired over the bar in the 22nd minute.

Aubrey Bledsoe had had a quiet first half but needed to be on her toes after the break with Cari Roccaro drawing a good low save out of the Spirit stopper to keep it all square.

Not be outdone, just before the hour mark Casey Murphy showcased her shot stopping quality, brilliantly parrying a point-blank snap shot from Ashley Sanchez after good work from Rodman down the right.

Two minutes later Tori Huster played the ball out to Sullivan on the left. The midfielder picked out Sanchez at the far post , but the former Bruin volleyed against the upright.

The visitors then had a penalty shout turned down when Debinha beat Bledsoe in a foot race, went over her as she stabbed the ball goalward but was frustrated to see Sam Staab clear it away. The Courage bench was incensed feeling the game should have been brought back and a spot kick awarded, but in fairness the Brazilian herself didn’t make much of an appeal.

Bledsoe timed her rush better a few minutes later when Debinha played Jess McDonald in, charging the ball down.

Washington tried to raise themselves for a final push. Hatch hit a 25-yard, left-footed drive over the bar and Julia Roddar drew the final save out of Murphy with the NC stopper pushing the ball around the post.

NJ/NY Gotham FC fell out of the playoff spots for the first time this season after the Orlando Pride smashed-and-grabbed victory with an outstanding strike from Erika Tymrak.

Pride Keeper Ashlyn Harris (24) becomes the league’s all-time super saver. And we’re not talking coupons…

It could all have been so different if Carli Lloyd’s 1st minute thunderbolt hadn’t been acrobatically tipped away by Pride keeper Ashlyn Harris. That would not be the last time those two squared up during the game.

Lloyd spun her marker and fired over in the 8th minute with Gotham pushing hard for an early break through.

Orlando weathered the storm defensively but had to grind their way into the game as an attacking force. Marta found a yard of space on the edge of the NJ penalty area but drove wide of the target.

But the visitors got themselves in front four minutes after the break. Pride worked the ball down the right to Sydney Leroux and she kept the moving, sending Erika Tymrak galloping towards the corner of the penalty box. Tymrak checked her options, saw there weren’t many, had a quick look at where keeper Kailen Sheridan was positioned and then thumped the ball over her into the far corner of the net.

It was a sensational strike.

Erika Tymrak definitely went for this. Check out the quick look at the keeper and her body shape before she strikes it…

Spurred on by a lively crowd of 7,035 spectators there to say goodbye to outgoing Head Coach Freya Coombe, Gotham sought an equalizer. Substitute Brianna Pinto whipped in a cross from the left on 67 minutes, which evaded any sort of touch before it hit the ground. Lloyd was on it immediately spinning and shooting at the back post only to find Harris brilliantly positioned to save off her chest.

It was the Orlando stoppers 469th save – a record for the National Women’s Soccer League.

There would be one more chance for the home side to snatch something. Nahomi Kawasumi’s corner from the right was flicked into McCall Zerboni’s path but she frustratingly blazed high and wide on the half-volley.

So, 1-0 ended up being enough for the Pride to take all the points away with them, pushing them back into fourth in the table. Gotham dropped to seventh, a league position they had hadn’t seen since they were called Sky Blue FC.

OL Reign retained bragging rights in the ‘Cascadia Rivalry’ beating the Portland Thorns for a second successive regular season match, played out in front of a record crowd at Lumen Field in Seattle – home of the Sounders (MLS) and the Seahawks (NFL).

The attendance is correct, but that scoreboard changes a couple more times during the match…

It was the visitors that started the fastest, though, with Christine Sinclair thumping a half-volley against the crossbar inside five minutes, before Sophia Smith was denied by Reign keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

Reign striker Eugénie Le Sommer tested Bella Bixby’s reflexes with an angled shot that the keeper dealt with comfortably.

But the Portland stopper wasn’t able to do anything with the shot that put Reign ahead. In the 16th minute Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan was hustled into a mistake by Dzsenifer Marozsán and Rose Lavelle. The ball broke to Jess Fishlock who swiftly moved it on to Megan Rapinoe, and the left winger cut inside her marker and unleashed a low drive into the bottom right-hand corner.

Spurred on by a noisy home support Reign looked to strengthen their position. Fishlock tried an audacious overhead kick from a corner but it looped wide.

Reign’s second came from the penalty spot in the 40th minute after Natalia Kuikka was penalised for block a a Le Sommer cross with her arm. Rapinoe placed the ball and lashed it emphatically past Bixby.

The 36-year old should have claimed the match ball three minutes later but blazed arguably the easiest opportunity she’d been presented with over the bar after good approach work from Marozsán and Lavelle.

That left the door ajar for Portland and they prized it into an open position in first half stoppage time. Kuikka clipped a free kick into the box from out on the right touchline, Reign only cleared it as far as Angela Salem on the edge of the penalty box and the midfielder volleyed it flawlessly into the keeper’s top left-hand corner.

The hosts had two good chances to regain their two-goal advantage around the hour mark. Le Sommer hit the side netting from a Fishlock cross, before the two combined again to send Sofia Huerta to the right wing by-line. She put an inviting ball into the penalty box but Rapinoe headed it wide.

Unsurprisingly, the league leaders remained a threat. Horan threaded Smith in behind the Reign backline, the striker outmuscled two defenders but couldn’t keep her shot down.

At the other end, Fishlock’s power and accuracy from 25-yards was perfect, but Bixby tipped the ball over the horizontal.

With ten minutes remaining Portland’s Crystal Dunn sent substitute Morgan Weaver racing into the penalty area, but Bouhaddi showed Ashlyn Harris levels of improvisation and saved off her chest.

A 2-1 victory for OL Reign sent them back into third spot and they had a midweek game upcoming to consolidate that place in the standings. Portland, meanwhile were starting to look over their shoulders…

In the final match of the weekend, Houston Dash made up some ground on the playoff chasers edging a tight encounter with Racing Louisville with a single Rachel Daly goal.

The Dash were scrambling in the 10th minute, however, as a free kick caused mayhem in the six-yard box. Megan Oyster cleared off the goal line and Katie Naughton punted the ball away from further danger.

Louisville continued to make what running there was. Nadia Nadim tried her luck from 20-yards but Jane Campbell easily hauled it in.

Dash striker Veronica Latsko took a leaf out of Nadim’s book and took a pot shot. It achieved the same result – Michelle Betos made the catch.

Dash winger Nichelle Prince had looked lively but her end product was letting her down. She put this right early in the second half, receiving the ball on the right from Shea Groom and playing a superb ball in behind the visiting backline that Daly swept home with a first time shot – giving Houston a 49th minute lead.

On the hour the Dash put together some nice football with Daly, Prince and Latsko all conspiring down the left to get Kristie Mewis in front of goal. Sadly the US National Team player couldn’t give the move the finish it deserved, failing to even test the goalkeeper.

A minute later normal service resumed for Prince who fired over the bar from a tight angle after Daly had played her into the penalty box.

Louisville couldn’t muster a meaningful effort in the second period and the 1-0 result saw them lose ground on the playoff contenders. The Dash, meanwhile, had caught up with Gotham and were on the coattails of several other teams in the battle for a top six spot…

Technically Houston Dash hosted OL Reign on first day of September, but the match wrapped up week 15 in midweek. It was an opportunity for the James Clarkson’s team to get right back in the playoff mix. For Reign, a win would propel them to within four points of top spot.

Bethany Balcer – Former ‘Rookie of the Year’ in action against the Houston Dash.

Defender Abby Dahlkemper’s ‘loan’ from the North Carolina Courage began with this game, slotting into a back three with Megan Oyster and Katie Naughton.

Dash striker Veronica Latsko spurned a very presentable chance in just the 2nd minute, meeting Kristie Mewis ‘s in-swinging cross from the right but finding Sarah Bouhaddi positioned in exactly the right spot.

The visitors got on the board with their first effort on target five minutes later. Midfielder Jess Fishlock pressured Sophie Schmidt into an error, interchanged with Eugénie Le Sommer on the edge of the penalty area and let fly. Dash keeper Jane Campbell parried it, but Bethany Balcer applied chapter one of her ‘Striker 101’ manual and volleyed in on the follow up.

Rose Lavelle robbed Oyster six minutes later but prodded wide.

The Dash looked for a reaction. Rachel Daly got in behind the Reign defence but couldn’t beat Bouhaddi who save with her legs.

Campbell then made a good stop low to her right to deny Balcer her second goal, after a good combination between Lavelle and Fishlock.

Fishlock was at the heart of Reign’s best attacking moments and worked an opening for Le Sommer in the 47th minute. The French international’s shot was blocked.

Houston continued to grind away. Mewis whipped in a left wing cross to the far post but Nichelle Prince couldn’t find a way past Bouhaddi.

The match fizzled out somewhat as both sets of players started to feel the fatigue of two matches within four days. Reign subs Dzsenifer Marozsán and Dani Weatherholt nearly generated a moment of inspiration in second half stoppage time but Weatherholt’s left footed drive whisked over the cross bar from 12-yards out.

Another 1-0 win moved Laura Harvey’s team level with North Carolina Courage. The Dash remained in eighth.

This table does not factor in the Houston v Reign match. No positional changes but OL Reign had accrued 3 more points.

The NWSL went on to name its Team of the Month, as follows:

NWSL Team of the Month – August 2021

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