NWSL Week Seven Rewind: Fun for the favorites

Lori Lindsey, Sydney Leroux

By MIKE McCALL

The rich got richer in the National Women’s Soccer League this week, as all four games went to the team that came in ranked higher in the league table.

Most notably, Portland and Sky Blue FC kept their first-place deadlock alive and widened their lead to eight points over the rest of the field.

It was also an important week for the next group of three challengers, as two picked up points while the third slipped.

Here is a closer look at our weekend recap and NWSL Power Rankings:

WAMBACH, FLASH COME BACK TO BEAT CHICAGO 

It looked like the Red Stars might have been ready for their first win — and an impressive one at that — when Lori Chalupny gave them a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute, but the Flash would have none of it.

Just over two minutes later, Abby Wambach headed home an equalizer from Brittany Taylor, and another Taylor-made goal by McCall Zerboni in the 65th gave the Flash the game.

That makes three 2-1 home wins in a row for Western New York, which will now hit the road for four straight.

BREAKERS SMASH SPIRIT

There would be no draw this time.

After tying the Spirit in their first two meetings, the Breakers romped to a 3-0 win at home — one made all the more impressive by the fact that star forward Sydney Leroux was left on the bench.

It’s no easy call to leave a player tied for the league lead in goals on the bench, but that decision paid off in the form of goals by Heather O’Reilly, Katie Schoepfer and Kyah Simon — with all three assists via Lianne Sanderson.

On the other side, the Spirit couldn’t muster a single shot on goal, missing out on a chance to leapfrog Boston in the standings.

THORNS SPOIL SOLO’S DEBUT

A 1-0 Portland win over last-place Seattle should hardly come as a surprise, but this wasn’t an easy one for the Thorns.

Whether it was Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo making her first appearance after recovering from a wrist injury or something in the air, Seattle looked like a different team. The Reign finished with more shots (19-13) and shots on goal (7-3) than the Thorns and seemed destined for a point at home until a controversial call tilted the scales.

An 83rd-minute penalty call (which Seattle coach Laura Harvey called “a joke”)  gave Christine Sinclair a try from the spot, and she beat Solo to give the Thorns a 1-0 win. Decide for yourself here.

But despite the loss, it was a positive step for Seattle, which has managed just a single point from eight matches.

ANOTHER WIN FOR SKY BLUE FC

Sky Blue FC continued its surprising run as an NWSL front-runner with a 1-0 win at FC Kansas City, albeit against an FCKC side that had to play most of the match with 10 players.

Kansas City defender Lauren Sesselmann gave up a penalty and was red-carded in the 22nd minute, and Sophie Schmidt converted to hand SBFC its fourth victory in a row.

That was a disappointing way to go for FCKC after a big win over Boston the week before, but it’s another step forward for Sky Blue FC, which is keeping pace with Portland atop the league

POWER RANKINGS

Here’s how they stand after Week Seven:

1. Portland Thorns FC (6-1-1, 19 pts) – Edging Seattle on an iffy penalty call was not the strongest of weeks, but you can’t win by two goals every time. | (Last week: 1)

2. Sky Blue FC (6-1-1, 19 pts) – SBFC also got its goal from a penalty, but there’s no doubt that this team is a serious title contender. A big win in KC. | (2)

3. Boston Breakers (3-1-2, 11 pts) – Cruising past the Spirit without Sydney Leroux is a very, very positive sign for the one-loss Breakers. | (5)

4. Western NY Flash (3-2-1, 10 pts) – Really looking solid these past few weeks, but the trick will be sustaining it while Abby Wambach is on U.S. duty. | (4)

5. FC Kansas City (3-2-1, 10 pts) – It’s tough to win while going 70 minutes with 10 players. This week was a lost opportunity for FCKC. | (3)

6. Washington Spirit (1-4-3, 6 pts) – No matter what the Spirit do, they might never drop thanks to the futility of those below them. | (6)

7. Chicago Red Stars (0-4-2, 2 pts) – Taking a lead against the Flash was impressive, but eventually the Red Stars have to get results. | (7)

8. Seattle Reign FC (0-7-1, 1 pt) – Hope Solo is back, Megan Rapinoe will be around soon, and the Reign are coming off a strong performance against Portland. But is it too late to turn things around? | (8)

Is Seattle ready to right the ship? Who’s the strongest out of that middle pack? Do you see Sky Blue FC keeping this run going?

Share your thoughts below.

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