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 17 of the NWSL was packed with action, with a total of six matches spread across five days. The Utah Royals are finally showing signs of life after struggling through the last six weeks. Chicago extended their win streak and the Portland Thorns were dealt a rare loss before handing a loss to another powerhouse team, the North Carolina Courage. Here is a full breakdown of the Week 17 action.
Utah Royals vs. Sky Blue FC (3-0)
Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns (1-0)
Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars (0-1)
Orlando Pride vs. Houston Dash (0-1)
Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage (2-1)
Reign FC vs. Utah Royals (1-3)
Utah Royals bounce back.
The Utah Royals have been struggling since mid-June. They started the season hot, undefeated through their first three matches. But going into Wednesday night’s 3-0 victory over Sky Blue, Utah hadn’t won a match since June 15th — also a victory over Sky Blue. It is significant not only that they earned two victories in Week 17, but that they scored three goals in both games, the most goals they have scored in a single-match this season.
With six points in Week 17, the Utah Royals now sit in the No. 5 spot on the NWSL table, two points off of No. 4 Reign FC. They will be hit by the U.S. victory tour — Christen Press scored two of the team’s six goals this week and having Sauerbrunn and O’Hara on the backline is critically important. But for the first time in weeks, we’re again talking about the possibility of the Royals making the playoffs. They’ll have to fight for it, but at least this week, they were able to shake-off the winless streak.
Reign FC take down Portland Thorns for the second time.
It has been a mixed-bag this season for Reign FC. While they have definitely had their bright moments, they have also been plagued by injuries and struggled in some important matches. But in one of their most important areas — beating Portland — they have had a fantastic season. On Wednesday, they won their second match against the Thorns this season. The difference-maker in the 1-0 victory was a goal in the 55th minute by Rosie White, who finished off a scramble in front of the goal.
The three points against Portland also keeps the race for playoff spots tight. Currently, Portland sits at No. 1 with 30 points in 17 matches, followed by No. 2 Chicago Red Stars with 29 points in 16 matches. The North Carolina Courage occupy the No. 3 spot with 28 points in 16 matches and then Reign FC finishes things off at No. 4 with 26 points in 16 matches. Even with Utah right on their tails, this week Reign FC managed to keep themselves in a playoff spot and within four points of the No.1 spot.
The Chicago Red Stars extend their win streak.
The Chicago Red Stars are the hottest team in the NWSL right now. They have won their last five games in a row, including a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit on Saturday night. Yuki Nagasato scored the lone goal of the game, heading a beautiful cross from Casey Short past goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe in the 65th minute.
The Red Stars are getting hot at the right time. They’ve won five in a row, with victories over the No. 3 North Carolina Courage and No. 4 Reign FC. Now, they will travel to face No. 9 Sky Blue FC before hosting No. 8 Orlando Pride. Chicago is building up momentum, with the post-season starting to appear in their sights. Is this the team that can go all the way? It wouldn’t surprise me.