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.
In Week 14 of NWSL action, many of the U.S. Women’s National Team stars returned to their NWSL teams after a week of celebrating their fourth Women’s World Cup title. The return of these players brought record crowds around the league, including sellouts for the Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars. And under the spotlight these teams did not disappoint. Here is a full list of results from Week 14.
Utah Royals vs. Portland Thorns (2-2)
Orlando Pride vs. Sky Blue (1-0)
Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash (1-2)
Chicago Red Stars vs. North Carolina Courage (2-1)
Portland Thorns continue a strong run.
The Portland Thorns have just two losses this season. This week, they traveled to Utah looking for another victory to keep them on top of the NWSL Standings. After Christine Sinclair opened scoring with a screamer of a goal against the Utah Royals, the Thorns benefited in the end from a bit of a scramble in the box and a shot off the foot of Lindsey Horan that ended up counting as a Becky Sauerbrunn own-goal. Three minutes later, the Thorns would concede again, but they still managed to earn a point on the road and stay in the No. 1 spot in the NWSL Standings.
The Portland Thorns have been in the NWSL Final for the last two years. They don’t look as intimidating this season as they have in years past, but they continue to find results even in games where they under perform. They look like the strongest team in the league right now, and if they can continue to get these kinds of results as the national team players settle back into their club teams, they have what it takes to go all the way.
Chicago Red Stars win in front of a sellout crowd.
This week was a big week for the Chicago Red Stars both on the field and with the fans. They faced off against the North Carolina Courage, currently the No. 2 team in the NWSL Standings. And they did it in front of a sellout crowd; in a game that was aired on ESPN2. The Red Stars did exactly what they needed to — they got a win. This pushed them up to the No. 3 team in the league and hopefully provided their fans with the show they were looking for.
Chicago actually conceded first with a goal from Lynn Williams in the 30th minute. But it took them just seven minutes to equalize. Arin Wright sent a ball into the box and the North Carolina defense was nowhere to be seen. Vanessa DiBernardo tapped it past Stephanie Labbé for their first goal of the game. They went into halftime with a 1-1 scoreline, but early in the first half, Sam Kerr found the back of the net with a nutmeg and a shot. The Red Stars won the game 2-1, and hopefully enticed a lot more fans to tune into their next game.
The North Carolina Courage are handed their third loss of the season.
The Courage should have benefited this week from the return of Jess McDonald, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, and Crsytal Dunn. But despite having more shots, crosses, and corners, the Courage still dropped points on the road. Lynn Williams scored first, putting one away for the Courage in the 30th minute. But in the end, her goal wasn’t enough. The North Carolina defense got owned on both of the goals from Chicago, which is not what we’ve come to expect from the likes of Dahlkemper, Erceg, Hinkle, and Mathias.
The North Carolina Courage are still No. 2 in the league, only one point behind the Portland Thorns. And the national team players still need some time to settle into their roles. Unfortunately, that cost the Courage points this week. It’s been clear for awhile now that this is not the Courage of 2018. The loss this week makes them vulnerable in the standings, but if one thing is clear, it’s that this playoff race is going to be a lot tighter than in years past.