NWSL Week 2: A Look Back

Matheson Dunn celebrate ISI

By KAREEN DROT

In the second week of National Women’s Soccer League action, teams that dominated the league last season struggled to find their rhythm, while the clubs that rounded out the bottom of the 2013 standings ran the show.

All four 2013 playoff clubs were on the field this Saturday and none managed three points. Instead, the victories went to the underdogs.

And there has been no bigger underdog than the Washington Spirit. Last year’s last-place club clinched their first victory of the season in a captivating 3-1 victory over FC Kansas City, last year’s most decorated club. The jostling didn’t stop there as last season’s sixth place team, the Chicago Red Stars, defeated regular-season champions, the Western New York Flash, in a 1-0 victory.

On the other end of the spectrum, the league’s newest addition, the Houston Dash might have fallen to the Portland Thorns in Week 1 but redeemed themselves with a 3-2 victory over the Boston Breakers.

This week’s performances from Washington, Houston and Chicago showed that there is a new story to be told this season as these clubs are eager to re-build and push forward as worthy playoff contenders.

Here is a recap of the weekend’s action in NWSL:

MATHESON BRACE LIFTS WASHINGTON OVER FC KANSAS CITY

An unpopular trend with the Spirit last season was to get on the board late in the closing half – almost always too little, too late. This week, the Spirit refused to repeat history.

The Spirit wasted no time assembling an attack down the flank as Diana Matheson got Washington on the board early in the 3rd minute, chipping a shot from outside the 6-yard-box past goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. But, instead of falling to the pressures of an aggressive FC Kansas City side that put up 17 shots, Washington never let up, earning a 3-1 victory at home.

Matheson proved again why she is possibly the Spirit’s most valuable player after scoring her tenth goal for the club and a brace in the first half. Both of Matheson’s goals came from collaboration with the Spirit’s newest addition, Crystal Dunn. The 2012 MAC Hermann Trophy winner managed to connect with Matheson inside the box on both occasions to overwhelm FC Kansas City.

The Spirit looked to be in trouble after Amy Rodriguez drew the equalizer in the 29th minute. Rodriguez was poorly marked on her run into the box as she stopped just short of the penalty area before burying a powerful shot into the upper 90 of the net. This was likely some relief for Kansas City after Lauren Holiday was denied a penalty kick opportunity in the 5th minute with Ashlyn Harris making a massive save.

The relief didn’t last too long, though. The Spirit regrouped in the 37th minute with Matheson scoring her brace on a blast from the top of the box after Dunn beat the FCKC defense to make the pass.

The Spirit weren’t done just yet – before the end of the opening half Christine Nairn converted a beautiful long-range free kick past the wall and into the back of the net.

But for all their offensive prowess, the Spirit were just as good on the other side of the ball with Harris in net. In the 74th minute, after a scramble in the 6-yard-box, Jenna Richmond tapped a shot far post that Harris knocked just wide of her finger tips in a lunging save.

Watch video highlights of the match below:

CHICAGO SHUTOUT FLASH IN SEASON OPENER AT HOME

After last week, it appeared as though the regular-season champion Flash would not repeat last season’s cycle of starting at the bottom of the table. But the future for WNY is up in the air after falling 1-0 to the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday.

The Flash have focused on maintaining a solid midfield but a midfield lineup that led WNY to a dominant 3-1 victory against Washington just one week ago looked disconnected in Chicago. The Flash were outplayed throughout the night by Chicago, only managing to place two shots on goal, an uncharacteristic display from last year’s top ranked team, which includes goal-scorers like Carli Lloyd and Samantha Kerr.

The Flash might have been hoping to get away with a scoreless draw as the Red Stars missed key opportunities on goal for much of the game – but the Red Stars found their breakthrough in the 59th minute on a corner kick. It was Chicago’s first-round draft picks who connected for the goal as Julie Johnston headed a well-place ball in goal off Vanessa DiBernardo’s service into the box. It was a tough break for goalkeeper Lydia Williams who had denied a long-range blast on goal by Zakiya Bywaters, tipping the ball over the bar for the corner kick.

The Chicago Red Stars orchestrated the tempo of the match as the Flash struggled to maintain possession and test Chicago’s defense. The midfield contained much of the match’s action with the Red Stars’ unfaltering defense interrupting all WNY set pieces.

Chicago had an opportunity to get on the board within the first few minutes of the opening half. Captain Lori Chalupny was fed the ball inside the box by Jen Hoy, but the goal was called offside.

Watch video highlights of the match below:

LONG LEADS AGAIN AS THORNS DRAW AGAINST SKY BLUE

It’s early, but the Thorns’ Allie Long is vying to become her team’s top-scorer after again serving as Portland’s lone goal-scorer on Saturday.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw between Sky Blue FC and Portland saw a penalty kick awarded for each side, but it was the Thorns who converted and stole a point on the road. With the tie, the reigning NWSL champions reclaimed their spot at the top of the league as Sky Blue looked in need of organization.

Despite taking the lead midway through the opening half, Sky Blue found themselves in trouble at the start of the second half. Portland picked up the pace to earn five corner kicks, but the Thorns could not finish, even as they put 10 shots on goal.

The Thorns’ persistent pressure kept them in the game as they called for a handball on Sky Blue defender Kelley O’Hara inside the box as she was trying to bring down a ball heading towards her goal.

Early on, Sky Blue had looked poised to earn the win. Their back four refused to allow Portland space and defender Kelley O’Hara managed to deflect several attempts on goal by Long. But persistent pressure kept the Thorns in the game as they drew a handball call on O’Hara and Long converted the penalty kick in the 75th minute to equalize.

Both clubs went head to head throughout the night with Portland maintaining the upper hand. However, it was Sky Blue FC that earned the lead midway through the opening half. Veteran defender, Christie Rampone, earned her first professional club goal off a corner kick in the 25th minute. Katy Freels served the ball into the box but Sophie Schmidt’s header bounced off the far left post, only to be knocked back in by Rampone’s leg.

Sky Blue tried to bounce back but couldn’t develop anything concrete. They would earn a penalty kick in stoppage time but O’Hara, attempted to make up for her mistake earlier, shot what would’ve surely been a game-winning penalty kick wide, forcing Sky Blue to settle with the draw.

Watch video highlights of the match below:

PENALTY KICK DECIDES WIN FOR DASH IN BACK-AND-FORTH WITH BREAKERS

There was a lot riding on Sunday’s game as Boston and Houston both sat the bottom of the table with zero points after losses in Week 1. Unfortunately for the Breakers, they will have to spend another week in last place, fighting to prove that they are playoff worthy.

It was a tough loss for the Breakers in their first home game, as they fell to the Houston Dash 2-3. Despite owning a great deal of possession in the opening half, and clinching the lead less than a minute into the game, the Breakers struggled to eclipse the Dash in the second half.

Houston had a slow start their glory moments came midway through the second half when they brought in subs Rafaelle Souza and Teresa Noyola to boost the attack. It worked as Noyola breathed life back into the Dash and earned her first brace of the season, scoring a second equalizer and then the game-winning penalty kick.

After an early goal carried them for much of the match, Boston looked to be in some trouble by the 49th minute as the Dash scored the equalizer. Tiffany McCarty’s shot was blocked but not kept by Alyssa Naeher, allowing Ella Masar to rebound for the first equalizer. The Breakers went on the offense but the Dash held them at bay until the 70th minute when Heather O’Reilly sent up a cross into the box to find the head of Joanna Lohman, who managed to chip it over Erin McLeod.

In the 80th minute, Noyola picked up a pass at the top of the box from Souza and knocked it into the top corner of the net. Four minutes later, Noyola converted a penalty kick that was awarded to Houston after Souza was taken down inside the box by Courtney Jones.

At the start of the match, Boston did well to prevent Houston from getting on the board. The Breakers came out of the gate swinging and it only took them 55 seconds to score with Heather O’Reilly racing past Dash defenses off a through-ball from Lisa De Vanna.

Watch video highlights of the match below:

SBI WEEK 2 AWARDS

Player of the Week: Ashlyn Harris for saving a penalty kick and making a couple other important saves against a strong FC Kansas City team to give the Spirit one of their best wins in franchise history.

Team of the Week: Washington Spirit for rallying after a disappointing season-opener and outplaying FC Kansas City on both sides of the ball.

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What did you think of Week 2? Which teams impressed and which look to be in trouble? Who is your player of the week? Which team stood above the rest?

Share your thoughts below.

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12 Responses to NWSL Week 2: A Look Back

  1. Joe Mattel says:

    I think Rampone should get POTW, for her first goal, anchoring a strong Sky Blue defense, and coming back from that toe injury. She was rock solid.

  2. Hoss says:

    This is a serious question. I am not trying to poke fun at the NWSL clubs get jersey sponsors and MLS clubs cannot?

  3. Hoss says:

    Sorry – IPAD issues. My question is why can NWSL clubs get jersey sponsors and MLS clubs cannot?

    • STT says:

      I’m guessing because NWSL sponsorships are much cheaper than MLS sponsorships?

      Also, it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of NWSL jersey sponsors (and WPS sponsors back in the day) are healthcare providers – it’s NWSL clubs trying to cover for their players, the clubs are actually getting healthcare from those companies the best way they can.

      • William the Terror says:

        True. But this reminds me of Kevin Costner in Tin Cup. “Look who I’m playing for here. Woody’s Smokehouse. Rio Grande Short Haul Trucking.”

  4. STT says:

    While no-one stood out as much as Losada and Little did in week 1, there’s still definitely a good shortlist of names for PotW, I think:
    Noyola, Romero, Souza
    HAO
    Matheson, Nairn, Harris, Dunn
    VDB, JJ, Chalupny

    Even if it was a relatively easy save, I’d agree with the nomination of Harris as PotW. Had she NOT saved that potential equalizer early in the first half, we could be talking about a very different game from DC. Out of all the games, that was easily the biggest ‘lynchpin’ moment, and Harris came through.

  5. SKB says:

    “But the future for WNY is up in the air after falling 1-0 to the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday.” After two games, it’s silly to say the future is up in the air for ANY team. It’s like putting a team at #1 in the power rankings in week 1 and having them get crushed in their next game.

  6. Alex H says:

    I thought the Red Stars played the best soccer this week. It was only their first game of the season so hopefully they will improve their finishing next week and then get an additional bump in that department when their reinforcements arrive.

  7. Steve says:

    Sky Blue is going to have to take all the points they can get. Defense is going to keep them in games, but they are going to have to find some presence up top. Maya Hayes is not cutting it for them. Hopefully Monica Ocampo can get some more minutes in the next couple matches.

  8. phillypride says:

    That Souza to Noyola play was something else! Souza’s control in tight space and Noyola’s blast were just beautiful.

  9. JoeW says:

    Very nice wrap-up. It’s good to give the league some visibility other than what they get in their local markets.