Hitting the Home Stretch: NWSL Power Rankings, Week 16 Edition

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Week 16 of the National Women’s Soccer League saw an offensive explosion from a surging Orlando, Seattle and Chicago lose their unbeaten home records, and North Carolina and Portland establish themselves as the teams to beat. And with another week of action concluded, the Power Rankings are back again.

1 (+1). North Carolina Courage (12-5-0; def. Kansas City 0-1, def. Seattle 1-2)

North Carolina’s midweek match was a rescheduled game against Kansas City, which had been postponed from July due to inclement weather. Although the Courage controlled play for the majority of the match, poor finishing by NC and an improved defensive effort from the Blues kept the match scoreless until the 86th minute. A deflected shot from Jess McDonald landed at the foot of Lynn Williams, who struck her shot home for a late winner and three points.

North Carolina’s weekend match was a trip to the fortress of Seattle to face a Reign team eager for a result, and the home side gave their visitors all they could handle and more. The Courage were on the defensive for most of the match, but Sam Mewis gave them a shock first half lead with a well-struck volley. The lead would not hold until halftime, however, as Seattle leveled the score in the 40th minute, and rode their momentum into the second half to try and take the lead. But the NC defense, helped by several saves from Katelyn Rowland, held firm, and Mewis scored her┬ásecond goal in the 74th minute to give the Courage their first ever win in Seattle and a solid lead at the top of the league table.

Next match: 8/19 vs Washington at 3:30 PM EST.

2 (-1). Portland Thorns FC (9-4-4; def. Chicago 2-3)

A red-hot Portland squad flew to Chicago for a #2 vs #3 clash, and it would be the Thorns who emerged victorious. Hayley Raso got Portland off to a perfect start with a third minute goal, and Christine Sinclair doubled her side’s advantage in the ninth minute. But the Red Stars fought back and scored twice before halftime to erase the Thorns’ lead, keeping their unbeaten home record alive after 45 minutes. However, a Portland free kick in the 55th minute was headed in by Emily Sonnett to restore their lead, and the Thorns held on for their 4th straight win.

Next matches: 8/16 @ Kansas City at 8 PM EST, 8/19 vs Houston at 10 PM EST.

3 (+2). Orlando Pride (7-6-5; def. Washington 3-0, def. Sky Blue 5-0)

In the NWSL’s first ever Tuesday game, Orlando hosted Washington and came away with the three points courtesy of a superb second half. After both sides traded opportunities in a scoreless first half, the Pride came out flying after halftime and took the lead in the 52nd minute through Marta. Camila added a second goal five minutes later with an audacious chip from 40 yards out, and Alex Morgan finished off the scoring in the 64th minute. The Orlando backline stifled the Spirit attack, not allowing a single shot on goal to earn their first shutout in two months.

Orlando’s weekend match was the third and final match this season against Sky Blue, and the Pride picked up the offensive onslaught where they left off. Morgan opened the scoring in the 4th minute, and Dani Weatherholt added a second before the end of the half to put the home side firmly in control. The second half was all Orlando, as Morgan got her second just two minutes into the half, and Marta tallied a brace of her own to give the Pride their biggest win in franchise history.

Next match: 8/19 @ Boston at 4 PM EST.

4 (-1). Chicago Red Stars (8-4-5; lost to Portland 2-3)

For the first time in 2017, Chicago was defeated at home when Portland came to visit and began the night by putting two goals past Alyssa Naeher in the first ten minutes. The Red Stars pulled a goal back in the 16th minute after Christen Press slotted home a rebound, and Sofia Huerta equalized with an angled shot through traffic to give Chicago hope of a result. But a costly foul against Chicago was punished with a third Portland goal in the second half, and the Red Stars were unable to produce a second equalizer to end the night behind their opponents in the standings.

Next matches: 8/16 vs Seattle at 8 PM EST, 8/20 vs Kansas City at 6 PM EST.

5 (-1). Seattle Reign FC (6-5-6; lost to North Carolina 1-2)

For the second straight week, Seattle squared off against North Carolina, and back in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium, the Reign were the ones who dominated the play and created the majority of the offensive opportunities. But Seattle’s dominance did not pay off on this occasion, as the Courage were able to score in each half against the run of play. Rumi Utsugi did get Seattle on the board with a powerful diving header in the first half to equalize, but her goal was not enough for Seattle to avoid their first home loss in over a year.

Next matches: 8/16 @ Chicago at 8 PM EST, 8/19 @ Sky Blue at 7 PM EST.

6 (+1). Houston Dash (6-9-2; lost to Kansas City 0-1)

After having their unbeaten run ended the week before, Houston sought to start a new one against Kansas City, but were dealt a major blow when Carli Lloyd was forced out with an injury. Houston did earn chances in the first half and had a golden chance to open the scoring in the second half, but Rachel Daly’s point blank shot was saved, and the Dash were left reeling when KC capitalized on a late opportunity and scored. Houston was unable to deliver an equalizer in the final few minutes and ended the day with no points.

Next matches: 8/16 @ Boston at 7:30 PM EST, 8/19 @ Portland at 10 PM EST.

7 (-1). Sky Blue FC (7-9-2; lost to Orlando 5-0)

Seeking to avoid their third straight loss, Sky Blue made the trip down to Orlando, but their fragile defense was torn to pieces for 90 minutes. A Pride goal less than five minutes in put the visitors on the defensive, and while the Sky Blue offense did generate a handful of chances, they could not crack the Orlando defense, and a second goal by the home side before halftime left Sky Blue chasing for the remainder of the match. They were further punished by 3 goals after the break and headed home with a stinging defeat at the hands of Orlando.

Next match: 8/19 vs Seattle at 7 PM EST.

8 (+1). Boston Breakers (3-7-7; drew Washington 2-2)

Boston headed south to battle Washington, and were set behind quickly when the Spirit scored less than 6 minutes in. But despite being on the defensive for most of the first half, the Breakers were able to pull level just before halftime as Adriana Leon capitalized on a blocked shot for an equalizer. The second half was a similar story to the first half, with the Spirit taking the lead and Leon scoring the leveller. Boston had an unexpected chance to snatch a late winner deep in stoppage time, but Rosie White’s shot trickled inches wide and the Breakers left DC with a point.

Next matches: 8/16 vs Houston at 7:30 PM EST, 8/19 vs Orlando at 4 PM EST.

9 (+1). FC Kansas City (4-8-5; lost to North Carolina 0-1, def. Houston 0-1)

Kansas City made a quick stop at home in midweek to play North Carolina, and after a string of poor defensive performances in previous matches, the Blues’ backline seemed to be back in form, limiting the Courage to mostly half chances and shots well off target. Heading into the final five minutes of regulation, KC appeared to be on their way to a result. But it was not to be, as NC finally broke through in the 86th minute, and the Blues’ winless run extended to nine.

Kansas City’s weekend match offered a chance at revenge against a Houston side that had bested them earlier in the season, but the Blues had to weather a flurry of chances from Houston in the first half to keep the scores level. Solid defending by the KC backline brushed aside the Dash attack, and the KC offense took over in the second half, peppering the Houston defense with a number of chances. The Blues finally got on the board in the 83rd minute when a cross by Becky Sauerbrunn was headed in by Shea Groom for the lone goal of the match, and KC took home all three points for the first time since May to climb out of last place.

Next matches: 8/16 vs Portland at 8 PM EST, 8/20 @ Chicago at 6 PM EST.

10 (-2). Washington Spirit (4-9-4; lost to Orlando 3-0, drew Boston 2-2)

Fresh off a massive win over Sky Blue, Washington faced off against Orlando hoping to continue their momentum. But after a fairly even first half in which neither team could find the back of the net, the Spirit were hit for three goals in a 12 minute period during the second half, and the explosive offense of the previous weekend was nowhere to be found, as the Pride defense did not concede a single shot on goal. In the end, Washington left Orlando with no goals and no points.

Washington returned home for their weekend match against Boston, and this time the Spirit were able to find the back of the net. Estelle Johnson gave her side an early lead just six minutes in, and Cheyna Williams headed in a rebound in the second half for the Spirit’s second goal. But missed opportunities and slack defending cost Washington points, as Mallory Pugh hit the crossbar three times, and Boston twice equalized to take a share of the points.

Next match: 8/19 @ North Carolina at 3:30 PM EST.

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