By MIKE McCALL
The past weekend was destined to be a wild one for the National Women’s Soccer League, what with a slew of stars out on national team duty and both first-place teams set to take the field using weakened rosters.
And while it’s unwise to draw many concrete conclusions, there is at least one: Sky Blue FC can rightly claim to be the best team in the league.
After sitting in a dead heat with Portland atop the table, SBFC exploded with five goals this weekend while the Thorns faltered, giving the New Jersey club sole possession of first.
Here is a closer look at last weekend’s NWSL action, including what may well go down as the goal of the year and our updated NWSL Power Rankings:
RED STARS SHUT OUT THORNS
On the face of it, Saturday marked an enormous day for the Chicago franchise. The Red Stars got their first win, and they did it by shutting out the vaunted Thorns in Portland, 2-0, with goals from Zakiya Bywaters and Jackie Santacaterina.
But the achievement was diminished by the absence of Portland starters Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler, Christine Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc, who were called up for Sunday’s U.S.-Canada friendly. Considering that Morgan scored twice in a 3-0 U.S. win while Sinclair captained the Canadians, it’s fair to say the Thorns were missing quite a bit of firepower.
If anything, the game could raise depth concerns for Portland. The attack may be a tad too reliant on Morgan and Sinclair, who have scored eight of the team’s 12 goals. Then again, that’s what they were brought there to do.
On the plus side, 12,446 fans still showed up at JELD-WEN Field despite the absences, and this kind of positive result could be what the Red Stars needed to build a little confidence.
A RECORD-SETTING DAY FOR SKY BLUE FC
Over-reliance on stars was not an issue for SBFC. Playing without the league’s top scorer in Canadian Sophie Schmidt, they responded by setting an NWSL record for goals in a 5-1 victory over the Boston Breakers.
Lisa De Vanna and Danesha Adams each scored twice for Sky Blue FC, while Taylor Lytle added one and Adriana Leon found the net for the Breakers. Besides taking over first in the standings, SBFC also might have snatched the goal of the year thanks to an absolutely ridiculous bicycle kick from De Vanna (really, go watch that).
It’s worth noting that both teams were without key starters, but Sky Blue FC did come out of the weekend as the only team showing very solid depth behind its missing stars.
Here’s how they stand after Week Eight:
1. Sky Blue FC (7-1-1, 22 pts) – No more sitting behind the Thorns, SBFC has earned the right to call themselves the league’s best. | (Last week: 2)
2. Portland Thorns FC (6-2-1, 19 pts) – No reason to panic here, but the Thorns shouldn’t be regarded as overwhelming title favorites either. | (1)
3. Boston Breakers (3-2-2, 11 pts) – The Breakers would drop if anyone else had played last weekend. Even without key players, giving up five goals is unacceptable. | (3)
4. Western NY Flash (3-2-1, 10 pts) – A Wednesday match at Boston brings a great chance to move up. | (4)
5. FC Kansas City (3-2-1, 10 pts) – FCKC has a major opportunity looming as well, with a Thursday trip to Portland. | (5)
6. Washington Spirit (1-4-3, 6 pts) – Out of action until June 15. By then, Chicago might pass them. | (6)
7. Chicago Red Stars (1-4-2, 5 pts) – A nice first win, but the club needs to carry that momentum forward and beat full-strength teams too. | (7)
8. Seattle Reign FC (0-7-1, 1 pt) – A bye meant a respite from losing, and Seattle even notched a 6-0 win over the Haitian national team. | (8)
How impressed are you with SBFC? Think any goal will top De Vanna’s bicycle kick? Worried about Portland’s depth?
Share your thoughts below.