NWSL returned this weekend to kickoff a new season in gameweek 1. The league entered its eleventh campaign. Part of the additions and changes was the welcoming of VAR. And, in true VAR fashion, it dominates the discussion of the league in its first weekend back.

Regardless, gameweek 1 in the NWSL featured great performances. Portland put together a strong performance as it begins its title defense. Then, a huge crowd in San Diego enjoyed an instant classic.

NWSL gameweek 1 recap

North Carolina Courage 1-0 KC Current 

The North Carolina Courage opened its 2023 NWSL campaign with a 1-0 win over the KC Current. Mile Geji, making her NWSL debut, converted a one-on-one with the Current goalkeeper Ad French.

North Carolina Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy kept her 18th career clean sheet in the victory. North Carolina maintained possession for much of the match, and missed several golden opportunities to score a second. Kansas City had a few really good chances, including one late in the first half. Ultimately, Murphy made three saves for the Courage.

North Carolina Head Coach Sean Nahas commented on the victory.

“It was a gutsy three points. We had some really good spells in what we were doing, and then in the second half I thought we dropped off a bit, which is normal. I thought we had several, several quality chances, thought we could maybe put the game away. But, young players are going to learn.”

“That’s [KC Current] a good team, they’re deep. I know they were missing a lot of players but we still have to go out there and get three points and I felt that the group battled. For a young group, a new group, to get three points it’s only a small step with where we want to go, but it’s a really good foundation to set.”  

San Diego Wave 3-2 Chicago Red Stars

Alex Morgan’s late penalty was the difference in San Diego’s 3-2 win against Chicago in front of 30,854 fans at Snapdragon Stadium. Morgan converted the penalty in the 89th minute following a hand ball in the area by the Red Stars’ Arin Wright. The spot kick came after about ten minutes of sustained pressure from the Wave.

Chicago suffered a blow early in the match with an injury to star fullback Casey Krueger in the 13th minute. Five minutes later, Yuki Nagasoto put Chicago ahead with a left-footed shot she placed in the top-right corner of the opposition goal. 

The lead wouldn’t last long, though, as an active crowd spurred San Diego on. In the 22nd minute, Amirah Ali beat Alyssa Naeher with a close-range header. The standout USWNT goalkeeper would put together a forgettable night. Ten minutes after the equalizer, the hosts took the lead with Jaeyden Shaw placing a shot from outside the area into the bottom right corner. On the goal, Naeher’s positioning, as well as the location of her defense, was questionable.

In first-half stoppage time, Mallory Swanson converted a penalty for Chicago after a Danieller Colaprico foul. This leveled the match at 2-2 going into halftime. 

The early stages of the second half saw Chicago create the best opportunities. Most notably, Swanson’s 54th minute attempt came after some nice team play with Nagosato on the left side of the attack. But, in the last ten minutes, San Diego took control and earned the penalty that Morgan converted. The Wave ran out winners after that. 

A notable point in this match is that both Morgan and Swanson scored, which will delight USWNT fans. They continue to look like the two most likely names to lead the line for the national team at the upcoming Women’s World Cup.

Washington Spirit 1-0 OL Reign

Trinity Rodman opened her 2023 NWSL campaign in style. She scored the contest’s lone goal in the 54th minute with a beautiful strike from outside the area. The US international took a nice pass from Doiran Bailey after an overlapping run. Then, Rodman struck the ball with her left foot and found the bottom right corner of the OL Reign net.

The victory for the Spirit came despite being outplayed for long portions of the match. Washington was sloppy in possession, and OL Reign had several big chances denied by Spirit keeper Audrey Bledsoe. USWNT standout Emily Sonnett was influential in midfield for OL Reign all afternoon. In the end, though, the Spirt did enough defensively to secure all three points. 

Portland Thorns 4-0 Orlando Pride

Sophia Smith turned in a virtuoso performance while scoring a goal and recording an assist in Portland’s 4-0 rout of Orlando on Sunday. The Thorns were so dominant, they had 16 shots on target and scored four times in front of 15,204 at Providence Park. 

The Thorns came out flying, having seven good chances to score before finally breaking through in minute 16 behind Morgan Weaver. Smith doubled the lead six minutes later. She found the top corner after a great ball from Christine Sinclair. Portland scored twice after halftime, although Orlando began to control more of the ball. This is particularly after Hina Sugita’s 49th minute goal. Michele  Vasconcelos rounded out the scoring in minute 76. 

Houston Dash 0-0 Racing Louisville

Houston Dash were held to a 0-0 draw in a cagey match in front of  5,722 fans at Shell Energy Stadium. The match took on a frenzied pace early with Jessica McDonald missing a great chance set up by Carson Pickett for Louisville. Minutes later, Houston saw attempts by Ryan Gareis and Ebony Salmon saved by Katie Lund. 

Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell proved to be the busier keeper in the second half. She made several critical saves, including a diving save in the bottom left corner on Wang Shuang’s attempt. In second half stoppage time, Lund made a late save to preserve the draw. The Dash’s Diana Ordóñez took a shot from a tight angle that was easily saved. 

Angel City FC  1-2   NY/NJ Gotham

A second-half Gotham comeback spoiled the atmosphere in front of a 22,000 fan crowd in Los Angeles. In addition, VAR made its presence felt in this NWSL gameweek 1 finale.

Angel City’s Alyssa Thompson put the crowd into a frenzy with a golazo from outside the area into the top right corner in minute eleven. Minutes later the home side appeared to double its lead when Jun Endo scored on a beautifully lofted chip from distance, but the goal was disallowed by VAR, the first ever use of VAR in NWSL. Apparently, the goal was chalked off due to a foul in the buildup.

The match went to halftime with Angel City leading 1-0. But, in the second half, Gotham was awarded a penalty on a foul by keeper Dijana Haracic. The call was reviewed and confirmed by VAR. Two picked up bookings for dissent. Gotham’s Midge Purce converted the penalty. In the 65th minute, Purce played in Lynn Williams who gave Gotham the lead with a nicely slotted shot to the far post which Haracic had no chance to save.

Following Williams’ goal, Gotham were the better side and had the best chances to score and extend their lead. In the end they ran out 2-1 winners, but VAR will dominate the discussions of this match during the week.