Last Wednesday night started off the action for this week of the NWSL with three matches. Portland and Orlando started the evening with a 2-1 win for Orlando. Next up was Kansas City and Chicago, resulting in a much needed 2-0 win for the Red Stars. The final match of the night resulted in a 2-1 victory for Washington on the road against Houston.
Friday saw a high-scoring defeat for Racing Louisville, losing 5-0 to NC Courage. The Courage saw the return of Samantha Mewis to their starting lineup.
Saturday featured just a single game with Houston facing Chicago. Despite a goal from Mallory Pugh, the Red Stars lost 2-1.
Sunday wrapped up the week with three more matches. The first match of the day featured a 2021 Challenge Cup rematch between the Portland Thorns and Gotham FC. The result would be the same as their first encounter, a 1-0 win for the Thorns. Next up was Orlando against Kansas City, resulting in a 1-0 win for Orlando off a heavily contested goal. The last match of the evening was between OL Reign and the Washington Spirit, ending in a 1-0 victory for the Spirit, despite the return of Rose Lavelle to the Reign.
Ali Riley locks down the best attackers in the league and provides incredible crosses
Ali Riley ‘10 has been nothing short of a saving grace for the Orlando Pride. For a team that struggled in the back and was unable to keep play out of their defensive third, Riley came in and flipped the team on its head. Against Portland last week, Riley was able to nearly silence the typically high-scoring Thorns, keeping Christine Sinclair and Lindsay Horan at bay. She would lead the backline to concede just a single goal, a stark difference to the five goals Portland put past Chicago earlier this season.
The New Zealand international and former Cardinal brings not only her defensive experience, but a strong connection to the front line. In Orlando’s match against KC, Riley was responsible for beautiful crosses over the top, setting up teammates Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan for chances on goal. With the striking efforts of Morgan up top, Riley’s ability to drive the ball forward was the much needed key to full field dominance. For the first time in years, Orlando looks strong in all three thirds of the field. The win against KC would mark the third straight win for Orlando, keeping them on top of the table and giving them the best regular season start in club history.
Andi Sullivan sent off with a red card
During their match against Houston, the Washington Spirit played a good portion of the second half with only 10 on the field. Early in the second half, Andi Sullivan ‘18 received her second yellow card of the match, sending her off and disqualifying her from the next match. Despite being down a player and the game being tied at 1-1, the Washington Spirit were able to sneak in a goal in the 70th minute and keep their lead to defeat Houston. The goal was the result of a bad hesitation from Jane Campbell ‘17, allowing the Spirit’s Ashley Hatch to score 1v1. An incredible play by Washington was a bad sign for Campbell and Houston, as they conceded while being up a player.
Despite missing Sullivan Sunday evening thanks to a red card suspension, Washington was still able to secure a 1-0 victory over OL Reign with an own goal by Megan Rapinoe.
Bigs saves for Campbell keeps Houston in the game early
Despite Houston’s earlier loss to Washington, they would defeat Chicago on Saturday, much to the credit of big saves by Campbell. Mallory Pugh started the game off with an early fourth minute goal as the Houston defense was caught leaving Pugh wide open. The Dash defense would continue to struggle until straightening themselves out in the second half. Campbell would be the saving grace in the first half, saving a beautifully set up combination from Pugh and Kealia Watt in the 10th minute. Campbell made another huge save in the 13th minute before her teammate Nichelle Prince was able to level the score in the 18th.
Campbell will be competing with Adrianna (AD) Franch for the number two USWNT keeper position. Campbell, Franch and starting keeper Alyssa Naeher have been called up to the June USWNT camp, the final camp before Olympic roster selection.
Smith continues to evade the defense, has outstanding vision in the scoring third
Despite two Portland losses in a row, Sophia Smith ‘22 continues to terrorize every defense in the league. Smith got the start in the most recent matchup against Gotham and immediately made an impact. Her ability to evade the defense and play in dangerous areas gave her numerous opportunities on goal. More importantly, Smith has the ability to draw defenders towards her, freeing up her teammates. In her efforts to get in behind the line, Smith typically drew the defense toward her, freeing up teammates like Sinclair and Horan at the top of the box.
Right up until the end of the match, Smith was terrorizing Gotham’s back line, nearly converting a goal. In the 62nd minute, Smith found herself in front of an open net with a tough angle and unfortunately could not convert. It wouldn’t matter in the end, as her presence was enough to put Gotham in shambles.
Smith’s incredible performances could even earn her a spot in the USWNT for the Olympics. Smith was called up this past week and will get one more chance to prove her ability on the national stage.
Davidson and O’Hara both look solid going into the Olympics
Tierna Davidson ‘20 of the Chicago Red Stars and Kelley O’Hara ‘10 of the Washington Spirit both look solid on their respective backlines. After a 5-0 defeat for the Red Stars against the Portland Thorns, Davidson appears to have solidified the backline, not allowing any more high scoring games by their opponents. Davidson, who is anticipated to be the next starting center back when Becky Sauerbrunn retires, is looking more confident on the ball and helping shape the Chicago defense early in this season.
O’Hara, who has struggled historically with injury, looks fit and ready to go for her role in the Olympics. Playing the opposite wing as Dunn on the USWNT, O’Hara has worked to perfect the position for club and country.
Stanford fans will likely see both players make the 18 player roster this summer, a huge loss for both clubs on the defensive end of the ball.
The weekend ahead
This week in the NWSL will not feature any late weeknight games. On Saturday, June 5, the Chicago Red Stars will take on NC Courage, while Gotham will face OL Reign. The night will wrap up with a late game between the Portland Thorns and Racing Louisville.
Sunday, June 6, will feature the Washington Spirit against the Orlando Pride and Kansas City against the Houston Dash. The NWSL will then break until June 19 for the international window.