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.
We are approaching the final month of the regular season and the race for the top four spots in the NWSL table is still a game of inches. The Portland Thorns sit at the No. 1 spot and created a four-point gap between themselves and the Chicago Red Stars with another win this week. Meanwhile, Chicago’s winning streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Sky Blue. The North Carolina Courage were off playing in the International Champions Cup, but they still sit in the No. 3 spot. And the Utah Royals jumped into the final playoff spot this week with a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride, knocking Reign FC out of the top four. Here is a full breakdown of this week’s results:
Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago Red Stars (2-1)
Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals (0-2)
Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit (3-1)
Sky Blue FC vs. Reign FC (1-1)
Chicago Red Stars win streak ends.
The Chicago Red Stars five-game win streak came to an last week with a 2-1 loss to Sky Blue FC. The Red Stars were arguably the better team on the night — they had 17 shots compared to 11 from Sky Blue and they won the possession battle. Sky Blue relied on goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who made five saves, to keep them in the game. Sky Blue scored first in the 71st minute — Carli Lloyd passed the ball to rookie Paige Monaghan, who cut back against her defender and sent the ball into the far corner past Alyssa Naeher. In stoppage time, Sam Kerr created some late drama with a goal of her own, but Monaghan– in the first start of her career– scored a late winner from the edge of the 18-yard box. Sky Blue walked away with three points and the Red Stars went home empty-handed.
This loss is significant to the Red Stars because it creates a gap between them and the No. 1 ranked Portland Thorns. While the Red Stars stayed at 29 points this week, with a win the Portland Thorns jumped to 33 points. Chicago has six games left compared to Portland’s five, but if they want to jump into that No. 1 spot, Chicago needs to be getting points out of every match.
The Utah Royals continue their strong run.
The Utah Royals are on a win streak of their own now, winning their third match in a row Saturday against the Orlando Pride. Both teams created plenty of chances, but it was the Utah Royals who were able to capitalize. Christen Press opened scoring in the 60th minute. Lo’eau Labonta sent a beautiful high ball into the box and Press was able to finish it off, sending it into the far corner of the net. In the 77th minute, Amy Rodriguez doubled the Royals’ tally with a goal of her own. Vero Boquete slid a ball through the Orlando defense and to the feet of Rodriguez, who chipped goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and sent the ball into the back of the net. Harris had to make eight saves, but her defensive work wasn’t enough. The Pride had no answers on the other end of the field.
After a really rough stretch through June and July, the Royals are back to their winning ways. Press has scored in two of the Royals’ last three matches and has six goals on the season. Rodriguez has eight goals this season and has scored in each of their last three matches. They sit just two points away from the No. 2 Chicago Red Stars, but they also are tied on points with No. 5 Reign FC. The win this week lifted Utah into a playoff spot, but they’ll need to fight some worthy opponents to keep it.
Reign FC drop points on the road.
Reign FC traveled to Red Bull Arena this weekend to face off against Sky Blue FC. It was one of the most important games of the year, testing whether a team that has dealt with so many shortcomings could perform in an MLS stadium. The game had a certain electricity and attracted over 11,000 fans. But for Reign FC, the result on the field was disappointing. Both goals in the 1-1 draw came within two minutes of each other. Sky Blue scored first when Elizabeth Eddy sent the ball soaring over Casey Murphy. But just two minutes later, Jodie Taylor finished off a cross that bounced into the back of the net. The two teams both left Red Bull Arena with a point in hand.
With the Utah Royals win over Orlando, Reign FC are now on the outside of the playoff picture. They’re tied with Utah for points, and they sit just one point behind the North Carolina Courage and two points behind the Chicago Red Stars. But they also haven’t been able to find a rhythm — Chicago just ended a five-game winning streak and Utah is on a three-game winning streak. But Reign FC’s results have been more of a mixed bag, with two wins, two losses, and a draw in their last five matches. They need to pick up all the points they can if they want to make the playoffs — making matches like this one critical.