Last weekend had another intense five matches in the NWSL as teams traveled across the country to face their opponents. To kick off the weekend, the Orlando Pride pulled off an incredible late equalizer to tie Racing Louisville, 1-1.
On July 10, the North Carolina Courage took on the Washington Spirit, resulting in a surprising 2-0 win for the Spirit.
The final day of the weekend saw a triple header with the Portland Thorns drawing Gotham FC 0-0, Kansas City picking up another loss against the OL Reign and for the Houston Dash, a heartbreaking match to Chicago.
Sydney Leroux equalizes against Louisville, Ali Riley plays her last match before the Olympics
The Orlando Pride have completely changed their mentality. A team known for fighting at the bottom in previous seasons and picking up long losing streaks finds themselves among the big dogs.
On July 9, Orlando went down a goal early, with Ebony Salmon scoring in the 21st minute. Salmon, who came over from WSL-relegated Bristol City, has been making a huge impact in the American league. Already racking up the goals, Salmon beat veteran defender Ali Keiger around the ball, going one on one with Ashlyn Harris for the goal. Also coming over from England is Orlando’s new signing, Jodie Taylor. The English star will hopefully add to the attacking efforts lost through Marta and Alex Morgan.
In the 36th minute, Ali Riley ’10 made a huge stop against Cece Kizer to keep the game within a single point. Orlando went into the half still down by a point, not looking like themselves.
Coming into the second half, the Pride were a completely different team, proving once again how their mentality has completely shifted. In previous seasons, the Pride would either settle for a 1-0 loss, playing a bunker defense, or overextend themselves and concede further goals. The new and improved Orlando Pride came back into the second half with a fighting spirit, playing a solid defense and pushing for every play.
Throughout the second half, Orlando built momentum, ultimately leading to an extra-time stunner. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Sydney Leroux scored a magical goal assisted by none other than her keeper Ashley Harris. The goal marked Leroux’s fifth of the season, tying her with Ashley Hatch of the Washington Spirit and Lynn Williams of North Carolina for most goals thus far.
With all the drama coming from the game, even more was dished out after an interview with Tom Sermanni. ESPN published an article the following day detailing the frustration felt by the New Zealand international team as two of their Olympic stars, including Riley, were released nearly a week after all Olympic players.
Sermanni expressed his discontent with the decision, calling out the NWSL for disrespecting the New Zealand national team. Arguably in the hardest group of the Olympic group stage — Group G — New Zealand would have to pull off extreme upsets to make it into the elimination round. However, that is no reason not to respect their efforts and release their international players with others around the league.
Despite the late release, club teams technically had until July 12 to release players under FIFA rules. Thus, even though fans and teams alike are upset with the situation, the NWSL did not violate any international window rules. Riley left July 10 for Tokyo.
Andi Sullivan and Tegan McGrady lead their team to victory
In the biggest upset of the week, the Washington Spirit defeated the North Carolina 2-0 Friday after a brace from Ashley Hatch. Although Hatch was the star of the show, Andi Sullivan ’17 and Tegan McGrady ’19 provided the picture-perfect service for Hatch, leading to both goals.
Sullivan was the star of the midfield, directing with her voice and motion on the field. It has become evident throughout the season that Sullivan is the go-to leader on the team. The captain has played almost every minute of every game so far this season.
In the 35th minute, a poor tackle call heated things up on the field and Sullivan immediately stepped in to diffuse the situation, showing once more why she deserves to wear the captain armband. The call ended with both coaches receiving a yellow card.
Strategically, Washington was able to shut down North Carolina’s unique box midfield formation of 4-2-2-2. To do so, the Spirit implemented to perfection their rotating triangle midfield, with Sullivan playing mainly at the six. When Sullivan needed to push forward, the triangle shifted to fill the gap, leaving a proper six at nearly all times. This shifting kept a strong defensive foundation for Washington. Simple through balls over the top led to beautiful finishes from Hatch.
Simone Charley gets the start over Sophia Smith
After a few games out, Sophia Smith ’22 found her way back on the pitch two weekends ago, coming on for Simone Charley late in the match. Once again this weekend, Charley started the match with Smith coming in during the 56th minute.
Portland’s expected goals were through the roof during the game after countless chances on net. As the NWSL’s top goal-scoring team with 14 goals on the season, fans at Providence Park anticipated goals from the Thorns.
However, the team holding the lowest record for goals conceded was not about to let the Thorns into their goal. Gotham FC held the Portland Thorns to a shocking 0-0 draw despite countless close calls at both ends. Fans have come to realize that any match between the Thorns and Gotham FC will be a nail-biter.
Sam Hiatt and Alana Cook face Nicole Barhart, Lo’eau Labonta and Kiki Pickett
Sam Hiatt ’20 and Alana Cook ’19 of OL Reign led the back line as they took on Nicole Barnhart ’05, Lo’eau Labonta ’15 and Kiki Pickett ’21 of Kansas City. The Reign walked away with a 2-0 victory, their first win for interim head coach Sam Laity who took over in their previous match against the Dash.
Pickett racked up a full 45 minutes during the match-up, her longest play yet, proving she is slowly making her way into becoming a consistent sub and possibly a starter for the expansion club.
Labonta showed her leadership in the midfield, holding her team strong despite falling to an early fourth-minute goal by Bethany Balcer. Balcer slotted another one past Barnhart in the 29th minute, putting the Reign ahead 2-0 at the half.
Despite a solid performance from Pickett and Labonta, the KC squad was unable to get past the brick wall center back duo of Hiatt and Cook. The incredible efforts of Hiatt and Cook were a stark difference to their performance last match. Hiatt was made available to the media following the match and had comments on the team effort it took to pick up a clean sheet.
The Reign’s defense took a hit with about 20 minutes left as goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi picked up a red card after a questionable collision. Bouhaddi has been ridiculed for her mistakes since arriving in the NWSL, but this call brought into question the general complaints on the quality of refereeing within the league.
Regardless of playing down a player for the remainder of the match, OL Reign still pulled away with a much-needed three points.
Even more shocking for fans, the NWSL’s disciplinary committee rescinded all red card sanctions on Tuesday following an appeal by the club. Thus, Bouhaddi will remain eligible for next week’s game.
More news came Thursday as the OL Reign announced the appointment of Laura Harvey as the acting head coach beginning August 2021. Harvey spent 2013-17 coaching the team.
Chicago win their second game in a row, without scoring any goals
Even though the Chicago Red Stars are missing their star center back Tierna Davidson ’19, they have still pulled off two wins in a row. Even more shocking, they have done it without scoring a single goal.
In the 72 minute, the Houston Dash was up one point, happily making its way to another clean sheet, even without their beloved Jane Campbell ’17. This is when, for many across the United States, the Paramount+ streaming of the game went out. By the time the streaming went back online, Chicago was up 2-1.
The first own goal came from a Mal Pugh corner, where Houston simply could not clear the box. The goal was given to Shea Groom who had strong complaints on the validity of the play, saying she was shoved down in the box. Less than three minutes later, Katie Naughton put another one in against her own team, giving Chicago the lead with less than 15 minutes left to play.
Chicago fans were thrilled as people throughout the NWSL reacted to Chicago’s luck of winning two games in a row off of own goals.
Los Angeles and San Diego get ready for the team launches
2022 expansion teams located in Los Angeles and San Diego have begun naming their primary staff and branding their organization. Just a few weeks back, Angel City, the LA-based team, announced their crest and team colors. This past week, the San Diego team announced that Molly Downtain would become the new general manager, and Casey Stoney, former Manchester United coach, would coach the squad. Additionally, Angel City FC announced that North Carolina assistant coach Sean Nahas would be the new head coach for the team.
The announcement from Angel City rubbed some fans the wrong way, arguing that the league needed more female coaches leading teams. Angel City has begun reconsidering its assignment. Either way, rumors are spreading that former Cardinal Christen Press ’11 will be looking to head to Southern California with one of the new teams in an effort to be closer to her home in LA. Press spent her previous season playing for Stoney in Manchester but has not commented on if she’ll remain with her former coach.
Gotham fires general manager Alyse LaHue
Gotham FC announced as of July 9, Alyse LaHue, general manager of the organization, was fired. The news came as a shock to fans who have often admired the manager for her organization rebranding and building.
Teams around the league were informed in late June that LaHue would be absent due to personal matters. This announcement made it clear there were other reasons. The league has chosen to not be transparent about the decision, stating, “following a complaint, the league conducted an investigation and shared the findings of that investigation with Gotham FC. Those findings will remain confidential and the league will not comment further on individual club personnel matters.”
The announcement has upset many as fans are angry once more at the league for their lack of transparency. Some fans have taken to social media, concerned over the inner workings of the league and the protection of players and staff.
Coming up this week
Coming up this weekend are another four matches. Tonight, the North Carolina Courage will take on the Houston Dash. On Sunday, the Washington Spirit will face Gotham FC, while Chicago will try to pick up another win against the OL Reign.
To close out the weekend, two of the most popular teams at the top of the table will go head to head when the Orlando Pride takes on the Portland Thorns.