[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]ight matches were played this past week, including one on Memorial Day, giving teams another opportunity to move up and down the ladder. With each team now having completed the first third of the schedule, the standings are starting to look a little less cluttered. Let’s take a look back at some of the themes from the action in Week 7.
Chicago Showing a Killer Instinct
In the only game on Friday night, the Chicago Red Stars put its bid on the line for a potential second-place spot in the standings taking on the Houston Dash. We still haven’t seen the full potential of the Dash and with the Red Stars still on the road after playing Boston twice last week, you might think the Dash would have a chance to pick up points against a tired Red Stars side. But the Red Stars came in with guns blazing and beat the Dash, 3-1, to solidify their position behind the Seattle Reign in the league standings.
Chicago supporters can take note and be inspired by how quickly the team responded after Houston scored its first goal at home early in the second half. With the Dash celebrating their first goal at home in franchise history (and Ella Masar’s epic goal celebration), you might think the field would be tilted in favor of the hosts. However, the Red Stars scored within two minutes of the re-start to take back the lead and got the insurance goal less than 10 minutes later by finding in-form striker Jen Hoy for the third goal of the game. After a couple of weeks in which the Red Stars couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net if their lives depended on it, the squad is finding its rhythm. With some help on the way, the Red Stars could become the team other teams don’t want to play.
This Sounds Familiar
A late 1-0 win for Sky Blue FC over the Portland Thorns FC in a late May contest in Portland. It’s like we’re replaying a movie. Last year, Sky Blue started on their hot streak when they went up to the Northwest and stunned the hosts with a long-distance strike by Taylor Lytle in the last 10 minutes of the match. Well, flash forward a year later as Sky Blue defeated Portland this past weekend by the same 1-0 scoreline, as Kelley O’Hara nodded home a long free kick from Christie Rampone. It was a result that took a lot of people by surprise but the difference between last year’s result and this year’s result was that Sky Blue dictated play in this contest, forcing the Thorns into a lot of mistakes. Monica Ocampo did a lot of the dirty work up top, putting the Thorns’ back line under pressure often.
More importantly for Sky Blue, they took advantage of the Jekyll and Hyde season the Thorns are having. Portland hasn’t looked right this season, showing a lack of cohesion in the midfield and if not for the play of Nadine Angerer in net and Jessica McDonald up front, the Thorns wouldn’t be cracking the top-half of the table. With Alex Morgan close to getting back on the field, I’m curious to see what changes Head Coach Paul Riley will make to get more consistency out of this team.
The side from the nation’s capitol showed some serious determination and grit during the past week, picking up four points in two matches after it looked like it would be lucky to escape with one. In the midweek game, the Washington Spirit were down, 3-1, at home to Sky Blue FC heading into the last 20 minutes of the match before Lori Lindsey got one back in the 74th minute. Diana Matheson scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to salvage a point, after Sky Blue seemed to have the run of play throughout 90 minutes.
On Monday at home against the Houston Dash, the Spirit were having trouble holding onto leads throughout the match. Matheson scored in the 4th minute to have the lead taken away by a nice finish by the Dash’s Nina Burger. After Jodie Taylor scored within 10 minutes of the halftime whistle, Osinachi Ohale leveled the score for Houston by heading home a corner kick in the 77th minute. It seemed through the last 10 minutes the scoreline would stay 2-2 but Christine Nairn’s wonder goal in stoppage time secured the three points for the Spirit. If Washington were to make the playoffs at the end of the season, they’ll look back at moments like the ones they had this week as the fuel that propelled them into the playoffs.
Seattle Showing Some Vulnerability
The undefeated and untied record wasn’t going to hold up. We all knew the Seattle Reign were going to drop points soon because on a given day, any team can beat anyone else in this league, no matter the position in the league standings. But Seattle did draw twice this week, once on the road to FC Kansas City (who put together a very tidy performance against the league leaders) and at home against the Western New York Flash.
The match against Western New York would have been a loss if it wasn’t for Kim Little’s heroics. Little buried a shot past Flash ‘keeper Kelsey Wys in the second minute of stoppage time to split the points. The one thing I will say about Seattle is that they are a much different team without Nahomi Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe. Kawasumi has been with the Japanese National Team for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and returns soon but Rapinoe is still on the mend and there hasn’t been a confirmed timetable on her return yet. It’ll be interesting to see how long the Reign can hang on without those two before more points are dropped.
Something Has to Change in Boston
Things just haven’t been going right for the Boston Breakers this season, plain and simple. This is a team with a lot of quality on the roster and their play hasn’t been totally bad this season. However, the results have just not been there. With the Breakers marching out basically the same lineup for the past few weeks, it’s about time for Head Coach Tom Durkin to mix things up and give some players who haven’t gotten a whole lot of minutes this year to show what they have on the field. Boston will have a much harder second half to the season as the squad has already played five of its 12 home matches in the first seven weeks of the season, with another four home matches coming in the next three weeks. If it doesn’t come together soon for the Breakers, it could be a very long second half of the season
Sky Blue’s Cami Levin and Kendall Johnson had impressive outings this past week in their match against the Thorns. Levin was all over the midfield on Saturday evening, doing a lot of the dirty work and Johnson shut down Jessica McDonald, who has been one of the two main sources of goal production for the Thorns this season. It made life a lot easier for Sky Blue this weekend with the performances those two delivered.
Lots of NFL support at NWSL matches this week as a group of Washington Redskins players attended the Spirit’s midweek contest against Sky Blue, and Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson attended Seattle’s home game against Western New York. It was Wilson’s second NWSL game this season; he was at the Portland versus Seattle game earlier this season.
The Washington Spirit Reserves squad took home the US Soccer National Amateur Championships this weekend in Baltimore, defeating Real Salt Lake Women, 2-0 in the semifinals and Houston Aces, 2-0 in the final. While the majority of the squad are college players and not eligible for the NWSL, performances from players like goalkeeper Adelaide Gay, who had two clean sheets on the weekend, as well as field players Jennifer Skogerboe and Kelsey Pardue might give them a good opportunity to be amateur call-ups in the coming weeks as USWNT members head into camp to prepare for two matches against France in June.
How about that 30-yard strike from Christine Nairn for the game winner on Monday over Houston? Or the Kim Little goal late in stoppage time? Let us know which goals and saves should be in the May Top Goals and Saves of the Month video by tweeting us at @ourgamemagazine and using #OGMGoals and #OGMSaves.
What’s to Come
The big news is the return or introduction of players as they finish up league and national team duty. Teams like Houston and Chicago will gain their full or nearly full allotment of allocated players for the first time this season. With Chicago starting to put the ball in the back of the net, getting a player like Christen Press will only boost the profile of the team. With the conclusion of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, the Australian and Japanese players will also return, including the debut of Steph Catley in Portland and Emily Van Egmond in Chicago. How teams incorporate their new and returning faces back into the lineup will be just one exciting storyline to keep an eye on in the next few weeks.