The NWSL returned from the short FIFA break this past weekend and the action was non-stop. There were a combined 20 goals scored across the league this weekend, some unexpected losses and some big upsets. Honestly, we’re just so thrilled to be watching club WoSo again, all the excitement was the cherry on the top of our sundae. But, golazos aside, not all teams were equally energized by the break, and several players returned with injuries that kept them off the field on Saturday. So, let’s take a look at some of the takeaways we thought were worthy of pointing out as we head into Week 10 of the regular season.
Marta: Not Overrated – Luis Hernandez
When the Brazilian superstar Marta signed with the Orlando Pride there was a lot of hype from the team, and some people questioned how much of an impact the tthirty-one-year-old could have on the Pride’s performance this season. But ask no more, because Saturday’s match in Houston was a statement, to be sure. In the Pride’s 4-2 rout over Houston, Marta had a hand in all four of Orlando’s goals while leaping to the top of the league’s golden boot race in spite of the fact Marta missed the first match of the season and only played 31 minutes in her debut against the Washington Spirit. In seven starts, Marta has five goals and three assists.
Her influence on the team has already been apparent in the improved play from players around her. Like Jasmyne Spencer, for one. Last season, Spencer scored four goals in 20 matches. In the nine matches this season she already has three goals and two assists. Marta has also been a presence on the defensive end, as she has no qualms dropping into the midfield to track back for a ball, demonstrating a keen desire to lead by example. And, as far as the history books go, Marta scored the first penalty kick goal and goal from a corner kick in Orlando Pride history. With Alex Morgan’s return on the horizon, Marta seems to have the Pride trending in an upward direction.
Things Go from Bad to Worse for Boston – Luis Hernandez
It was a tall order for the Breakers to go to Cary and battle a weakened North Carolina Courage. It was an even harder task as they too have suddenly lost Rose Lavelle four to six weeks due to a hamstring injury suffered during the international break. The road woes for Boston continue, as they fell away from home once more. To add insult to injury, Rosie White picked up her fifth yellow of the season, and will miss the next game suspended to yellow card accumulation.
Boston will return to the friendly confines of Jordan Field to face the Courage once more in Week 10 before facing slightly more favorable matchups against Houston and Washington. Matt Beard will have his work cutout for his side as they will attempt to rebuild some of the first month’s momentum. The Breakers rebuilding project still has a ways to go, but at least the team is better than the last few seasons.
Seattle Needs a Closer – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
Five years into their NWSL journey, Seattle’s record of getting into the post-season is 50/50. After their first disastrous season, with fourteen losses putting them in seventh out of an eight-team race, their 2014 and 2015 seasons saw them winning back-to-back NWSL shields and appearing in the NWSL Championship game both years, where they put up a great performance but lost two years running to FC Kansas City. Last year, with Rapinoe still in recovery from her ACL tear and Hope Solo departing from the team after the Rio games, they finished in fifth, just two points behind the #4 Western New York Flash
At the moment in 2017, they’re sitting in fifth once again, two points behind the #4 Portland Thorns. And though we’re only a little less than half-way through the season, Seattle is going to need to perform the way they did in their second and third seasons if they want to make a return to the post-season and make a play for the NWSL Championship title that has eluded them so far. This season, that means they need a closer. With the departure of Kim Little back to the UK (and another unfortunate member of the ACL club this season) the Reign have been unable to close out games. Their blowout against the Houston Dash in Week 2 has proven to be a fluke instead of an indication of the team’s prowess on the pitch. They can score, no doubt; in fact, they currently lead the league in scoring with 19 goals. But they seem to always be struggling to catch up, to equalize, to get the draw.
They need to play for the win
And some of this falls into the defense and Hayley Kopmeyer, who, though they are doing what they can, have allowed 13 goals, a fact that has eaten away at their early impressive goal differential and their place in the standings. Whether it’s a offensive closer–someone who can take an early shot on goal and sink the ball into the net to get Seattle on the front foot of the game–or a defensive closer–a backline that can problem-solve in the moment and prevent Kopmeyer from having to make the number of saves we’re seeing her complete each week–what Seattle needs is someone who can shut a game down early, and keep it that way.
Proud about Pride – Elizabeth Wawrzyniak
This weekend several teams across the NWSL celebrated LGBTQIA+ Pride at their games. Teams spent the international break promoting equality and awareness in a coordinated effort to make it known that fans of all identities are welcome in their stands. More Pride nights will take place in Week 10, for teams on away trips this weekend, but I want to take a moment to say how much it means to me that the NWSL and its teams (not to mention the USWNT and USSF) recognize the importance of creating a welcoming environment for their fans.
Even in some stadiums which will not be hosting official Pride matches, fans and supporter groups are planning to band together to create an experience that supports all players and all fans. Looking across the crowds this weekend, it was affirming and inspiring to see rainbow flags being waved, to see men and women and children in Pride-inspired gear, to know that LGBTQIA+ fans, like myself, are not only invited, but welcomed with open arms.
For more on Pride in the NWSL, see our own Becca Kimble’s article on Pride at the NC Courage game.
Christen Press Shines in Prime Time – Jordan Small
The Chicago Red Stars were down 1-0 to the visiting Washington Spirit with 10 minutes left to go on the Lifetime Game of the Week this past Saturday. So naturally Christen Press scored to steal a point for the Red Stars. In the 81st minute, Press drove into the box where she was met by Spirit defender Shelina Zadorsky. A poorly timed tackle in the box from Zadorsky gave Chicago a penalty kick. Press stepped up to take the penalty kick that she earned to draw the Red Stars even. Very few players in the league have the ability to score consistently late in games for their teams like Press can. Once again, she proved that she should have the ball on her feet at the end of the game.
Francisca Ordega is quietly having herself a year – Jordan Small
In her first two seasons in Washington, Francisca Ordega battled injury and lack of playing time due to international duty. Now healthy and with the team full time, Ordega is starting to be the goal scorer that Washington needs. Through nine games this season, Ordega has three goals and two assists. Saturday’s match against Chicago was just another showing of the impact Ordega can have on the Spirit’s attack.
At just 23 years old, Ordega is one of the younger players on the Spirit’s roster. But that does not stop her from playing well beyond her years. Her speed and agile foot work makes her very difficult to defend against. In a match against Sky Blue on May 6, Ordega scored a brace, forced an own goal, and had a well timed pass to Havana Solaun for another goal. Then against Chicago this weekend, Ordega scored the opening goal for the Spirit. She out-ran the Red Stars defense to score her third goal of the year. If they stay healthy, Washington’s main attacking group of Ordega, Mallory Pugh, and Cheyna Williams could be very dangerous in the second half of the year.