The Game Changers is a weekly series looking at the most important results each week. Each section will look at one team and how its win, loss, or draw impacts the season.
Before the U.S. Women’s National Team won their fourth World Cup title on Sunday morning, there was NWSL action on Friday and Saturday nights. As players continue to return from their World Cup teams, the Starting XI’s across the league were beginning to look a little more familiar. And this week’s action was full of goals. Marta scored two goals for the Orlando Pride in their 4-3 victory over the Washington Spirit. Sky Blue managed to find two goals, earning a surprising 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars. But it was Kristen Hamilton who took the prize this week with four goals in North Carolina’s 5-2 win over the Houston Dash. Here is a complete list of results for this week:
North Carolina Courage vs. Houston Dash (5-2)
Portland Thorns vs. Reign FC (0-1)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue (1-2)
Orlando Pride vs. Washington Spirit (4-3)
North Carolina Courage look dominant again.
The North Carolina Courage are still missing many of their World Cup stars, including Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, and Jess McDonald. But that didn’t stop them from putting back five goals on Friday night against the Houston Dash. Without a doubt, Hamilton dominated the night. She scored her first goal in the 5th minute, then tacked on another one in the 18th. Kristie Mewis cut the home team’s lead with a goal of her own in the 24th minutes, but Lynn Willliams came back less than ten minutes later with another goal for North Carolina. Kyah Simon knocked one more back for the Houston Dash in the 43rd minute, so the two team’s went to the half with a scoreline of 3-2. But if the Dash thought Simon’s goal was the beginning of their comeback, they were mistaken. Hamilton scored two more goals in the second half in one of the most impressive individual performances of the season. North Carolina won 5-2.
The Courage were starting to look a little more vulnerable in May and June, with a couple of draws and even some losses. But in this match they returned to their dominating form for their second win in five matches. Is this the Courage returning to the form we expect from them or just an excellent performance from an individual player? We’ll have to wait and see.
Sky Blue beat the Chicago Red Stars
Sky Blue earned their first win of the season on Saturday, defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1. While the Red Stars created more chances and had more possession, Sky Blue was able to better capitalize on their chances. Raquel Rodriguez scored first for Sky Blue in the 23rd minute, and tacked another goal on in the 81st minute from Jennifer Hoy. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, back from her World Cup stint with Canada, made seven saves for Sky Blue, only allowing one late goal from Danielle Colaprico. Sky Blue earned the victory.
Former head coach Denise Reddy was not the only problem at Sky Blue. But the fact that the players won their first game without her doesn’t quite seem like a coincidence either. Sky Blue has a talented roster that should be performing better than they are. Will the on-the-field problems finally change with Reddy out?
Orlando Pride win in high-scoring match
The Orlando Pride also earned a win in their Saturday match; their second win of the season and their first at home. The goals started early, with Bayley Feist giving the Washington Spirit a 1-0 lead in the 7th minute. The Orlando Pride haven’t had much of a comeback mentality this season, but they equalized in the 21st minute with a goal from Chioma Ubogagu. Just five minutes later, Rachel Hill got her first goal of the season and the Pride were up 2-1. But less than four minutes after that, Chenya Matthews scored for the Spirit and the two teams went to the half with an even 2-2 scoreline.
Marta clearly wasn’t happy with that, and for the first time this season, we saw the Brazilian attacker step up when her team needed her. Marta scored her first goal in the 48th minute, putting the Pride up 3-2. Then she added on another one in the 78th minute. The Spirit were able to score a stoppage time goal, but it wasn’t enough, and the Pride won.
Ironically, Marc Skinner wasn’t on the field for this game. Instead, he watched the game from a suite at the stadium and relayed feedback to them at the half. What does it mean when the Pride’s highest scoring win of the season was also played without their head coach? And will the team get better when Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, and Ashlyn Harris return to the squad? Lots of questions still surround the Pride, but a four-goal game and a win is at least a sign of life.