By MIKE McCALL
There’s just no separating the Portland Thorns and Sky Blue FC.
Saturday’s head-to-head battle between the National Women’s Soccer League’s top two teams figured as a great chance to end a long-standing deadlock for first place, with several stars returning from international duty and playing with the top spot on the line.
But after 90 minutes in New Jersey, neither the Thorns nor SBFC was able to seize control, and the two teams behind them moved into a tie as well. Fans came out to see star strikers Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, but it was Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc who stole the show, making several highlight-reel saves to help Portland earn a road point against a strong Sky Blue team that played well enough to win.
Here’s a complete rundown of the weekend’s action, along with our updated Power Rankings:
STEADY AT THE TOP
The chances were there, but the Thorns and Sky Blue FC couldn’t find the net in a 0-0 draw that left them knotted up for the league lead.
Portland goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc did well to keep the home side off the board, stopping all seven shots on goal — including dangerous ones from Lisa De Vanna and Sophie Schmidt.
The Thorns’ fearsome pairing of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair was kept quiet as well, with SBFC holding a 20-10 advantage in shots. That stat wasn’t enough to get Sky Blue FC a goal or the outright NWSL lead, but they can still claim first place via a head-to-head tiebreaker.
FCKC CRUISES AT HOME
FC Kansas City’s performance led to a much more clear-cut result. Lauren Cheney scored in each half to hand FCKC a 2-0 victory at home over the Washington Spirit, moving them into a tie with the Western New York Flash behind the Thorns and SBFC.
Cheney’s side outshot the visitors by a whopping 18-6 margin (11-3 on goal). As has been the case too often this season, Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was forced into a very active afternoon, but even her eight saves weren’t enough to keep Washington from conceding.
While the Spirit suffered their fourth straight loss, FCKC picked up two points on the leaders, sitting seven behind with a game in hand.
RAPINOE’S DEBUT SPARKS REIGN
It took 11 weeks, but the Seattle Reign finally have their second point.
In a sign that the club’s fortunes may be changing, the Reign went on the road and earned a 1-1 draw against the league’s hottest team, the Western New York Flash.
The result preserved the Flash’s eight-game unbeaten streak, although it dropped them into a tie with FCKC in the standings. For Seattle, it was doubly positive as midfielder Megan Rapinoe made her first appearance, played 90 minutes and registered six shots.
But while Rapinoe wasn’t able to place the cherry on top of her debut, U.S. teammate Abby Wambach made the most of her return home after a record-breaking stint with the national team, scoring in the 56th minute to negate Keelin Winters’ first-half goal.
SBI NWSL POWER RANKINGS
Here’s how they stand after Week 11:
1. Sky Blue FC (8-2-2, 26 pts) – Couldn’t get the result, but probably deserved to win the first place showdown. | (Last week: 1)
2. Portland Thorns FC (8-2-2, 26 pts) – It’s abundantly clear that the Thorns aren’t just going to walk away with a title like many expected. | (2)
3. Western NY Flash (5-2-4, 19 pts) – Would like to see a win against the last-place Reign, but at least the Flash seemingly can’t lose. | (3)
4. FC Kansas City (6-4-1, 19 pts) – Lauren Cheney is tearing it up, and FCKC is looking like a strong contender. | (5)
5. Chicago Red Stars (3-5-3, 12 pts) – Weeks ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Saturday’s match with the Reign would be as relevant as it will be. | (5)
6. Seattle Reign FC (0-9-2, 2 pts) – Call it premature, but with Rapinoe on board, the Reign are suddenly a team to watch. | (7)
7. Boston Breakers (3-4-3, 12 pts) – With one point from their last four, the Breakers need a break. | (6)
8. Washington Spirit (1-6-3, 6 pts) – Hard to place them anywhere but last based on form, results and outlook. | (8)
What do you think? Did you expect a SBFC-Portland draw? Think Seattle can turn it on with Rapinoe on board? Can the Flash or FCKC catch the leaders?
Share your thoughts below.