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.
Week 15 of the 2019 NWSL season was a weak of dominant wins and heartbreaking losses. In the first set of midweek games, the Portland Thorns scored an astonishing five goals against the Houston Dash, including four goals in the first 25 minutes. The Chicago Red Stars earned a dominant 4-0 win of their own on Sunday afternoon, handing Reign FC their first home loss this season. And while Sky Blue thought they were bouncing back after the departure of Denise Reddy, this week they were handed two scoreless losses. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from Week 15:
Sky Blue vs. Washington Spirit (0-1)
Portland Thorns vs. Houston Dash (5-0)
Utah Royals vs. North Carolina Courage (1-2)
Reign FC vs. Chicago Red Stars (0-4)
Houston Dash vs. Sky Blue (1-0)
Portland Thorns dominate the Houston Dash.
The Portland Thorns won in style in their midweek match against the Houston Dash. They started scoring in the seventh minute, when Lindsey Horan put away a Tobin Heath shot that rebounded off a Houston Dash defender. Just five minutes later, Heath sent a cross into the box that Hayley Raso was able to tap in for the Thorns second goal of the match. Six minutes later, Amber Brooks took down Midge Purce inside the box and Portland was awarded a penalty kick. Christine Sinclair stepped up to the spot and didn’t miss. Five minutes after that, Midge Purce took the ball into the box drawing out the Houston defenders and goalkeeper Jane Campbell. Once Purce had drawn out the defenders, she passed the ball off to Raso, who sent the ball into the back of the net for her second goal of the night. The Thorns would tack on one more goal in the 71st minute, after a scramble in the box following a free kick. It was Tyler Lussi’s shot that went into the back of the net, but it was counted as a Jane Campbell own goal.
The Dash were able to create some opportunities against the Thorns — they totaled nine shots and called on Adriana Franch to make four saves. But Portland still walked away with a five-goal win and a clean sheet. This Portland side looks dangerous — they have scored at least two goals in four of their last five matches. And due to the earlier construction work at Providence Park, the Thorns will have a long string of home games to finish out the season. This win keeps them at No. 1 in the standings and makes them seem even more unstoppable.
The Utah Royals give up points at home.
The Utah Royals started off the season strong, but even with the return of Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, and Becky Sauerbrunn the team is still in a slump. They are winless in their last five matches, including three matches at home. On Saturday, the Royals opened up scoring with a goal from Christen Press in the 13th minute. It felt like they were dominating North Carolina for much of that first half, but then Kristen Hamilton scored her eighth goal of the season and evened things up for North Carolina. After that, it felt like the Courage took firm control of the game. Jess McDonald scored the game-winning goal in the 54th minute and the Royals were unable to come back.
The Royals now sit in the No. 7 spot in the NWSL standings. They haven’t won since a 1-0 victory over Sky Blue on June 15th. And four of their next five matches are on the road. The Royals were in talks earlier this season to be a playoff contender– if they still see themselves being one in the postseason, they desperately need to make some adjustments and turn their ship around.
The Chicago Red Stars find chemistry in 4-0 victory.
The Portland Thorns weren’t the only team winning in style this week. On Sunday, the Chicago Red Stars went to Tacoma for a match against Reign FC and completely dominated the scoreboard. Arin Wright opened up scoring in the fourth minute, tapping in a rebounded shot from Yuki Nagasato. Just ten minutes later, Vanessa DiBernardo made it 2-0. And while Reign FC had strong moments after that, they were unable to capitalize on their opportunities. Sometimes, that was thanks to create goalkeeping from Alyssa Naeher, such as her goal-line save in the sixth minute, but other times it was just Reign FC’s inability to finish. In the second half, Yuki Nagasato finally got her goal. Casey Short sent a cross into the box and Nagasato got her foot on the end of it, sending it past Casey Murphy for her first goal of the night. At 3-0, the Chicago Red Stars’ win was pretty much cemented. But Sam Kerr earned another tally for her team in the 81st minute, finishing off a pass from Katie Johnson.
The Chicago Red Stars are finding a rhythm. They sit in the No. 3 spot in the NWSL standings, just two points behind the North Carolina Courage and three points behind the Portland Thorns. But some are worried about the impact that the U.S. national team victory tour could have on this side. Things finally seem to be clicking for Chicago . . . will the victory tour take all of that away?