Portland Thorns vs Seattle Reign FC
This weekend's NWSL matchups kicked off with a "Match of the Season" contender at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. The Cascadia rivalry is usually a fierce matchup, but this one went to another level, seeing 4 goals scored after the hour mark. Seattle would be victorious in the end, winning 3-2.
Reign FC were without star forward Megan Rapinoe, but their attack still managed to score 3 goals. The game winner came from an unlikely source in midfielder Rumi Utsugi in the 75th minute. Utsugi rifled one in from 25 yards out.
The Thorns will feel hard done by their former teammate, goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who certainly saved Seattle's win. Portland's attack was boosted by forward Ana-Maria Crnogorčević starting for the first time this season. Unfortunately, Crnogorčević's largest contribution was on the defensive end when she fouled Jess Fishlock to award Seattle a penalty in the 63rd minute. The Thorns out-shot, out-possessed, and out-passed Seattle, but go home with the loss.
Sky Blue FC vs Houston Dash
The scoring flood gates finally opened for the Dash as they record their first win of the season with a 3-2 victory over Sky Blue FC. This match also had second-half excitement, with 4 of the goals coming after the 57th minute.
Houston got things going in the 24th minute when Nichelle Prince scored off a corner kick. But the Dash would need some late heroics to win this one. In the 79th minute, Thembi Kgatlana put a perfect cross into the box from the right wing for Veronica Latsko to slot home. Rachel Daly got on the scoresheet for the first time this season. She had started the previous 5 games at fullback, but was moved up into the attack for this one.
Sky Blue's woes continue even when they play decent soccer. Second-year forward Katlyn Johnson recorded a brace for Sky Blue FC, and almost had a 3rd in the dying moments of the match. Carli Lloyd was seemingly anonymous in this one. Sky Blue have some exciting young pieces, but if they continue to defend like they did against Houston, it's going to be a long season in New Jersey.
Utah Royals vs Washington Spirit
The late game on Saturday witnessed history as the Utah Royals beat the Washington Spirit 2-0 for their first win in franchise history.
Utah kicked off the scoring early in the first half with a beautiful finish from Kelley O'Hara in the 7th minute via a pass from Amy Rodriguez. Utah would put the game away in the 66th minute with a goal from Diana Matheson. The Royals were finally able to put together a complete performance to get their first win.
The Spirit were lackadaisical all night, and that showed on the two goals they conceded. Both of the goals came from Spirit players being caught in possession or making poor choices with the ball. They'll need a better performance next week if they have any hope of taking anything from league leaders North Carolina.
North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red Stars
In a match that should've seen North Carolina win easily, Alysha Naeher steals the show with 12 saves in the 1-1 draw. North Carolina took 42 shots, putting 15 on target in this one.
Chicago took the lead in the 37th minute with a precise counter-attack goal from Sam Kerr. The Red Stars held onto their lead until the 82nd minute when Mccall Zerboni finally put a goal past Naeher.
Despite being clearly the better team throughout the match, North Carolina only take a point from this one with the draw. The Courage extend their unbeaten run to 7 games. They lead Seattle in the NWSL Shield standings by 7 points.
What to Watch For
This weekend saw some interesting tactical shifts that brought about positive results for the teams that executed them. In particular, Utah and Houston shifted key players into different positions.
For Utah, they moved Kelley O'Hara from fullback into the offense and she was consistently an option for them in the final third, even scoring for them. For Houston, they pushed Rachel Daly and Kaelia Ohai further up the field. Those two were the crux of the attack for the Dash. Both of these teams recorded their first wins of the season this past weekend, and I think if they want to continue their scoring form, they should continue with these changes.
Seattle has been without Megan Rapinoe for 3 straight games now, and their offense hasn't missed a beat. A big reason their offense has remained so strong is because of Bev Yanez, who has split time both on the wing and as the attacking midfielder. Whatever coach Andonovski has asked of her to do, she's done it with very few missteps. With Rapinoe potentially returning to the lineup this weekend, Seattle will have a plethora of options in the attack.
(Photo: Brynn Baker)