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Stanford in the NWSL: Chapter 7

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NWSL opening weekend filled with only two wins

The NWSL Opening Weekend got the league off to a calm start as three of the five games ended in ties. On May 15, Racing Louisville faced off against Kansas City, ending in a 0-0 draw, a positive result for both teams new to the league. Later that day, the Houston Dash took on Gotham FC, resulting in a 1-0 victory for Gotham after a beautiful goal by Midge Purce. The lack of offensive action from Houston came as a shock to most fans and the loss of another clean sheet puts them near the bottom of the table to start. The final match of the day was a 0-0 draw between OL Reign and North Carolina Courage. The Reign, who are currently waiting for at least three players to join the squad from overseas, are fortunate to have taken a point away from the fixture. 

Sunday consisted of two of the more exciting games of the weekend. The first match of the day, between Orlando Pride and the Washington Spirit, ended in a 1-1 draw after goals from Ashley Hatch and Alex Morgan. To finish off the opening weekend, the Portland Thorns played the Chicago Red Stars, resulting in a 5-0 victory for the Thorns. The game would be the largest margin of defeat for Chicago in the history of the organization.

Labonta goes off with a head injury

Lo’eau Labonta ‘15 was brought off the field after only 30 minutes in Saturday’s game between Racing Louisville and Kansas City for precautions after a collision involving her head. The former Cardinal has become a consistent starter for Kansas City this season. 

After the injury, KC was noticeably lacking on the defensive end. Labonta, who brings a calmness to the back line, was greatly missed throughout the remainder of the match. No news has since come from the club on the status of Labonta. 

The injury highlighted a new NWSL rule this season, allowing each team up to two subs per game if a head injury occurs. The new rule is part of a series of precautions going towards protecting players in the long term.

Campbell or Harris: Which one is headed to Tokyo?

After a tie with Portland in the Challenge Cup, and a loss to Gotham this weekend, the Houston Dash find themselves losing momentum and forfeiting two clean sheets in a row. As American fans look toward the Olympics, they ask: Who will back up Alyssa Naeher? Will it be the Dash’s starting keeper and former Cardinal Jane Campbell ’17 or long time USWNT member and Orlando Pride starting keeper Ashlyn Harris?

Campbell performed well in the 2020 Challenge Cup, stopping PKs from Chicago in the semi-final and leading the Dash to win the first iteration of the tournament — and her efforts did not go unnoticed. USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski immediately called many members of the Dash squad into camp, including Campbell, and many fans assumed he was prepping her to be the consistent backup to Naeher. However, recent showings from Harris are giving Campbell quite the competition.

In a single game, Harris blocked not one, but two regular-time PKs, singlehandedly keeping her team in the competition. She also won Save of the Week multiple times throughout the Challenge Cup and has been nominated almost every week. 

Regardless of current performance, there is another factor playing into the Olympic roster decision: experience. Campbell, although a great up and coming keeper, has never played in a full-team world stage competition, whereas Harris is not short of experience playing the number two. Fans will only have to wait another month for the decision, as US Soccer has stated that a final roster will be put together by mid-June. 

Sophia Smith scores a brace and forces an own goal, we’ll give her the hat trick

Sophia Smith ’22 and the Portland Thorns had an eventful weekend, beating the Chicago Red Stars 5-0 at Providence Park. The team, coming off a Challenge Cup victory, kept the momentum alive, crushing Chicago in a game that was over before it started. 

Smith got the action started for her team, forcing an own goal off of defender Tierna Davidson ‘20. The shot originally appeared like it would be awarded to Smith but ultimately took a deflection off Davidson before finding the back of the net. Smith would continue to cause problems for the Chicago backline as the game continued. 

After another Portland goal, Smith made it three in only the 16th minute and four in the 30th. The former Cardinal was on fire after a quiet Challenge Cup run. Like many, Smith is vying for an Olympic spot and made her case as a forward. Depending on the status of recovering Tobin Heath, Smith has the opportunity to impress Andonovski and steal away a roster spot. In the highly competitive pool of possible forwards, Smith can hope that Andonovski is looking for younger talent to bring overseas. 

Sam Hiatt still out with a head injury

On the injury list once again for OL Reign was defender Sam Hiatt ’20. The former Cardinal has been out with a head injury since the beginning of the season, a worrisome note for fans. 

Kiki Pickett signs contract through 2023 

After joining the team last Tuesday for her first training session, Kiki Pickett ’21 signed a contract with Kansas City, putting her with the team until 2023. Both the NWSL and KC tweeted about the signing, congratulating and welcoming Pickett to the squad. 

Pickett has yet to be seen in a game for KC, but fans can expect to see her suited up and making plays very soon.

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Jenna Ruzekowicz is a staff writer in the sports section. She is a sophomore from Syracuse, New York majoring in Computer Science. Her teams include: Portland Thorns, Arsenal and Man City. Contact her at jruzekowicz 'at' stanforddaily.com.