The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) fired back into action this weekend following a two-week international break. San Diego dropped its first match of the season, while Houston surprisingly held Portland at home. 

Portland Thorns 1-1 Houston Dash

Houston held the Thorns at Providence Park, extending the Dash’s unbeaten streak to three when visiting Portland the last two seasons. 

Crystal Dunn’s 9th-minute goal put Portland on top, and it felt like the Thorns would be in cruise-control mode for the third successive week.

Dunn took a great ball from Sophia Smith, who had drifted into space on the left side and cleanly finished it.

The goal culminated an early period of aggressive Thorns play, which included three clear-cut opportunities to score. 

But the Dash shook off the poor early start and, after minute twenty, came into the match. A flurry of chances fell Houston’s way beginning in the 22nd minute culminating with a 24th-minute goal from Maria Sanchez on a well-placed left-footed shot to the near post. 

Dunn and Smith combined again in the 28th minute, but Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell saved the right-footed shot from Smith.

Smith had two more great chances before halftime, but one hit the crossbar, and another forced a save out of Campbell. Dunn also had a chance in minute 34 that didn’t dip and cleared the crossbar. 

At halftime, the match was level, but it felt like a Portland victory was inevitable. But the chances went both ways in the second half, and Houston sometimes seemed more likely to snatch a winner.

The match was stretched with counter-attacking opportunities often bypassing midfield. But in the end, neither side could snatch a winner and Portland’s winning run to start the campaign was snapped. 

North Carolina Courage 1-2 Washington Spirit 

Ashley Hatch’s second-half penalty gave Washington Spirit a 2-1 victory at WakeMed Soccer Park.

Hatch converted the spot kick after being fouled by Emily Fox, who had been impressive with the USWNT during the recent international break.  

The Spirit claimed the lead in minute seven after a giveaway in the defensive third left Trinity Rodman alone in space, and she buried the chance from distance, beating Case Murphy.

The Courage responded immediately, creating multiple chances within minutes of the Rodman goal. 

North Carolina broke through with the equalizer just before halftime when a brilliant combination play allowed Mille Gejl to get a good look from just outside the area.

She whipped a shot that forced a handball in the box, and Kerolin Nicoli converted the ensuing penalty for her second goal in as many matches. 

We’re obviously a little disappointed with the results. I think not looking at the results we dominated, and we played really well. I think a lot of the things that we’re trying to do this year, you could really see in terms of like our possession and our aggressiveness to win the ball back and to keep going, going, going, whether it’s the first 10 or the 90th minute. So I think we’re really proud of that,” said Fox after the match. 

Orlando Pride 0-2 NJ/NY Gotham FC

The Pride’s awful start to the 2023 NWSL campaign continued with a 2-0 home loss to Gotham.

The visiting outfit used two second half stoppage time goals, including a delightful far post finish at the death by Lynn Williams, to claim the three points. 

Williams’ goal came in the 17th minute of second half stoppage time.

The added time was due to a combination of injury stoppages during the second half and a VAR delay to look at a handball in the area by Orlando’s Caitlin Cosme that took about five minutes.

The resulting penalty was converted by Gotham’s Midge Purce, about seven minutes after the initial handball. 

Despite the fireworks late in the match, this game was largely bogged down in midfield, and in terms of quality of play, perhaps the worst contest thus far of the young NWSL season. 

Significantly this is Gotham’s second road win already this season having won in Los Angeles the opening weekend. 

Chicago Red Stars 4-2 KC Current 

Unlike the game in Orlando, this matchup in Bridgeview, Illinois, was delightful to watch, particularly in the second half.

An end-to-end affair, where both sides counter-attacked with gusto and created great opportunities regularly, Chicago came out on top and earned their first three points of the season. 

The Red Stars started the match quickly and jumped on top early with a well-placed shot into the left corner by Ella Stevens in the fourth minute. Despite several half chances afterwards, the match remained 1-0 at the half. 

Stevens came out strong early in the second half and provided a beautiful through ball that freed Penelope Hocking for a left-footed effort that found the far corner in minute 49, doubling the Red Stars lead. 

Chicago struck again in the 60th minute when a lightning counter-attack culminated in Chena Matthews hitting the post with such power that the ball ricocheted off current goalkeeper Adrianna Franch into the back of the net. 

The Red Stars’ lead became 4-0 in the 67th minute when Hocking struck a right-footed shot from the left side of the area to the bottom corner of the far post on yet another counter begun with a through ball from Matthews. 

The Current got late goals from Debinha and Mimmi Larsson to claw back two goals, demonstrating some excellent quick passing moves and build-up play.

Nonetheless, the loss was Kansas City’s third straight to begin a season where they were expected to contend for a playoff spot. 

Angel City FC 2-2 Racing Louisville 

Angel City and Racing Louisville played out a 2-2 draw in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

The match was a tale of two halves as the away side scored twice before halftime, but Angel City only rallied to tie the match in the second half but peppered the Louisville area with opportunities. 

The homesteading team conceded a penalty in minute 2 as M.A. Vignola took down Louisville’s Savannah DeMelo. The ensuing penalty DeMelo calmly struck the dead ball right down the middle to give her team an early 1-0 lead. 

Louisville doubled their lead in minute 32 when DeMelo found a surging Kirsten Davis outside the area. Davis then struck a worldie from outside the area with her left foot that found the top left corner of the goal. 

Angel City almost got one back in minute 44 when Danielle Weatherholt hit the crossbar with a whipped shot from long range that was struck cleanly. 

The second half saw one-way traffic as the home team continually created chances, culminating in two goals. The first came in minute 68 when Katie Johnson finished from close-range a cross delivered by Savannah McCaskill.

The equalizer came in the 87th minute; after six minutes of intense pressure, McCaskill picked up a loose ball in the center of the area and found the bottom corner of the far post. 

Alyssa Thompson almost won the match for Angel City, hitting the left post at the beginning of second half stoppage time. The match ended 2-2. 

OL Reign 1-0 San Diego Wave

After a week of speculation about ownership and a potential relocation of OL Reign, the home-standing side put all of the noise in the background to secure a solid 1-0 win over San Diego Wave.

Olivia Van der Jagt’s spectacular finish from outside the area after a second half stoppage time corner won the match with one of the final kicks of the game. 

The match had started with the high-flying Wave, who had begun the season with two successive wins creating two good chances in the first ten minutes before OL Reign got a foothold in the match.

For the remainder of the first half the Reign were the better side, though the best scoring chance fell to the Wave in minute 34 when Kristen McNabb misdirected a free header just wide of the right post. 

The second half began with a great chance for Alex Morgan to give her San Diego team the lead, but like McNabb in the first half, she snapped a header just wide, this time to the left.

In the 49th minute, Morgan got another chance, but Phallon Tullis-Joyce saved her shot which was sneaking toward the lower left corner. 

Given Morgan missed two chances, we often see her bury; perhaps it was at this point we should have realized it would not be the Wave’s night. Both sides generated lots of chances and half chances between minutes 50 and 75. 

The best chance to break the deadlock before Van der Jagt’s winner was in 78th minute when OL Reign’s Bethan Balcer cleanly hit a header that was saved at the far post. 

The attendance of 9,219, despite the off-field speculation this past week, indicated that the Seattle/Tacoma area is still a hotbed for women’s soccer and a market that NWSL should work to ensure continues to have a club in the league.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire