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.
With Week 16 of the NWSL in the books, there is someone new sitting in the No. 1 spot. This week featured a lot of close, but critical matches, with all the matches featuring two goals or less overall. The Chicago Red Stars were the only team to score two goals, defeating the Utah Royals at home. Sky Blue managed a tie with the Portland Thorns, who dropped to No. 2 after the North Carolina Courage got a victory at home over the Washington Spirit. And Reign FC earned their first victory since their 1-0 win over Portland at the start of July. Here is a full breakdown of the results:
Houston Dash vs. Reign FC (0-1)
North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit (1-0)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals (2-0)
Portland Thorns vs. Sky Blue (1-1)
North Carolina Courage climb to the top of the standings.
The North Carolina Courage jumped the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Standings this week with a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit. The Spirit went down to ten players just 24 minutes into the match, and the Courage were able to capitalize with a goal from Debinha in the 64th minute. Overall, the Courage dominated in almost every statistic, with 20 shots and 60.6% possession. Obviously, the red card changes everything about this game. But without Jess McDonald, Crsytal Dunn, Abby Dalhkemper, or Sam Mewis, the Courage were still able to put this one away and pick up a critical three points.
The Courage are not as dominate this season as they were in 2018. But they are clearly one of the best teams in the NWSL. The competition in the top four is tight right now — the Courage are just one point ahead of the Portland Thorns and two points ahead of the Chicago Red Stars. That makes this victory all the more critical. Not only did they jump to first place, but they’re keeping the race between these three teams neck-and-neck.
Chicago Red Stars cruise to another victory.
The Chicago Red Stars have had nothing but wins since the end of the Women’s World Cup. They continued that trend on Saturday, despite missing Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson, and Morgan Brian due to the U.S. Victory Tour. The game started with a goal in the fifth minute from Sam Kerr. Casey Short sent a ball into the box and Kerr headed the ball towards goal. Nicole Barnhart was able to make the initial save, but Kerr followed it up with her foot and made sure the ball found the back of the net. The rest of the match was pretty even, but an 85th minute goal from Brooke Elby secured the win for the Red Stars.
The Red Stars are getting good at just the right time. Some fans were worried about the U.S. Victory Tour disrupting their chemistry, but this week, they were able to do it without their U.S. superstars. The Red Stars sit just one point behind No. 2 Portland and two points behind No. 1 North Carolina. And they show no signs of slowing down.
Utah Royals make playoffs even harder.
The Utah Royals haven’t won a game since their 1-0 defeat of Sky Blue on June 15th. With this loss to the Chicago Red Stars, it’s hard to see how the Royals are going to qualify for the playoffs. They sit in the No. 7 spot, ahead of only the Orlando Pride and Sky Blue. They are five points behind No. 4 Seattle Reign and eight points behind the No. 3 Chicago Red Stars. Yes, they were missing Christen Press, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara this week. But even when those players were present after the World Cup, the team still couldn’t win.
The Utah Royals started off the year so well, but July was a horrible month for them and August isn’t off to a good start. If they are still hoping to salvage something from their season, they will need to put together a fantastic run and hope some other clubs slip up.